Style, structure, and the “endless snarls of words” of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

[More on House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski — because I’m resigned that I need more than one post to process this creature. The first part of this ongoing series talks about initial impressions and first encounters with the book.]

In his introduction, Johnny Truant describes The Navidson Record, the manuscript of his friend’s dead neighbor Zampanò, as thus:

Endless snarls of words, sometimes twisting into meaning, sometimes into nothing at all, frequently breaking apart, always branching off into other pieces I’d come cross later — on old napkins, the tattered edges of an envelope, once even on the back of a postage stamp; everything is anything but empty; each fragment completely covered with the creep of years and years of ink pronouncements; layered, crossed out, amended; handwritten, typed; legible, illegible; impenetrable, lucid; torn, strained, scotch taped; some bits crisp and clean, others faded, burnt or folded and refolded so many times the creases have obliterated whole passages of god knows what — sense? truth? deceit? a legacy of prophecy or lunacy or nothing of the kind?, and in the end achieving, designating, describing, recreating — find your own words; I have no more; or plenty more but why? And all to tell — what?

And I have to agree. Elsewhere, where Truant points out an inconsistency, he also says, I have no idea whether it’s on purpose or not. Sometimes I’m certain it is. Other times I’m sure it’s just one big fucking train wreck. I have to agree with that one too. All this is basically what I feel about this gorgeous, confusing, structural-wonder of a book. That is, when I’m not thinking that it’s a gorgeous, confusing, structural-wonder of a book.

So, yeah, let’s set that aside right here: I think this is an awesome book. I don’t love every part of it — I’ll actually focus on the most problematic aspect of my experience in this post — but overall, it blew my mind. I enjoyed the mental leaps I had to make, I enjoyed playing spectator and detective re all the rabbits Danielewski was pulling out of the proverbial hat, I enjoyed the story [not all parts of it, sure] — but I liked this book a lot. A lot.

We’re just getting that out of the way because, frankly, House of Leaves is a mindfuck and I need to make sense of this, well, this creature. Thus, this post, the one before this, and the next [two-ish] to follow. You might have figured out by now that this is less about you, Dear Reader, as it is more of me talking to myself, haha.

Where was I? Ah. So: >> Zampanò’s found text, The Navidson Record, itself begins questioning the authenticity of a cult film called, also, “The Navidson Record” — which is, essentially, about a house that is larger inside than it is outside. A short film, a teaser of sorts, “The Five and a Half Minute Hallway,” was made from the original full-length. The footage reveals a ten-foot-long dark hallway within the house, a hallway that wasn’t there before, a hallway that the house doesn’t manifest from the inside. It defies explanation. There is just so much wrong in this house.

>> Zampanò’s The Navidson Record is meant to be an academic text — the arch tones, the footnotes both from Zampanò, and Johnny Truant, and the editors to whom Truant supposedly submitted the text. Hell, the novel’s very form turns this academic-text-ness around on its head, makes fun of it, it seems, while at the same time fully taking advantage of it: It’s a study of a film called “The Navidson Record” that doesn’t seem to have existed in the first place. It’s a [hoax?] film within an academic study within a found narrative within Danielewski’s novel.

>> Navidson family and the events in the house of Ash Tree Lane “The Navidson Record” [film, from which two shorter films — “The Five and a Half Minute Hallway” and “Exploration #05” — derive] The Navidson Record [Zampanò’s study] The Navidson Record [Zampanò’s study as edited by Johnny Truant] The Navidson Record [Zampanò’s study through Johnny Truant, through unidentified editors] Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel. Well. That’s how it goes. As far as I can understand. Dammit.

>> Zampanò is making all of this convoluted shiznit up. Or maybe he’s not. But then, Zampanò’s form in itself can’t be trusted, so why trust the content? And, besides, Johnny Truant isn’t the most reliable protagonist/editor. He’s influenced the original text here and there, and he doesn’t always say how. So. Note to self: A question of truth within Zampanò’s text, of Zampanò’s text. And in some unnerving instances, of Johnny Truant’s. And especially of Danielewski’s [although, well, I’ve basically forgotten about the author, given how much I have on my plate already.]

>> I’m going to try to figure out style. House of Leaves frequently plays with form and structure, using style not only to support storytelling but also to reflect the content of the narrative.

The former: easily, the premise that this is a found document, an academic text, an exploration. Footnotes, references, all suggesting a careful study — all aimed to lend authenticity. And although I’ve said that there is little to no trace of Danielewski here: this structure is, in fact, his presence. This is the author’s decision: Obliterate the writer’s ego only to raise it further: “See, this text kicks ass on its own.” Fuck.

The latter, of course: text reading diagonally, the font shrinking or looming, the one-line-a-page shtick, etc.: reflexive and reflective of 01, Johnny Truant’s psyche; 02, Zampanò’s psyche; 03, Navidson et. al. psyche; 04, the very nature of the house of Ash Tree Lane with its ever-changing dimensions — claustrophobic one moment, a giant nutjob of space the next.

[And, to tell ya the truth, a few of these parts pissed me off. So much so that I can’t bear to talk about them in detail. Let’s just say that there were times that incomprehensibility was the theme of the hour, and no one within the pages were relenting — that they had contrived to make it hard for this reader to even approximate the act of reading. Gah. [Samples of such pages in the next two pictures.] Note, too, that there are a lot of clues, the literaria-highfalutin version of Easter Eggs: codes, puzzles, whatnot. Note, too, that I missed a lot. And that I only knew I missed a lot when I Googled the bejeebies out of this book.]

Perhaps the most basic stylistic device Danielewski employs: house will always be in blue. That textual distinction — house, house, house: Dude. It’s chilling. So consistent, so atmospheric. I see that blue word from the corner of my eye and I prepare myself for a creepfest. It’s conditioning! And it’s goddamned effective. HOUSE!

There’s more, of course. I could be cutesy [albeit appropriate and dead-on] if I say that the convolutions in this novel’s form and structure perfectly mirrors the mindfuck inside. Mirrors, inspires, draws from. There are more convolutions, but I’ll end this self-ramble here. There will be a next time, though: In the next post, I’ll be talking [very shortly, because my head still hurts] about the arguments re representation within House of Leaves. Bah, I’ll figure it out.]

10 thoughts on “Style, structure, and the “endless snarls of words” of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

  1. I’ll admit to major skimming of this post, as I don’t want to know too much before I read it for myself, but thanks for the pictures of the book! I’m loving the look of the text and images, etc. Can’t wait to read it.

  2. Still sounds righteous! :-) Like Sarah, I may bow out of reading these posts too carefully from now on, since I want to go in with something like a clean slate. But really looking forward to it!

  3. I admit there might have been parts of this book that I didn’t even read, or try to read, because it was too difficult. I always wondered what I missed.

  4. @ Sarah, @ Emily — There’s really no problem. I’m just rambling and squealing over this wonderful book. And, as I said in the post after this one, the book is at its most awesome when you discover it on your own. :]

    @ Lu I always wondered what I missed. Probably the same things I missed, haha. When I got impatient, I just grumbled and sped past those parts. The Johnny Truant ramblings, especially. Oh, demmet, I came back to them a couple of times, but AUGH sometimes the structure was overwhelmingly GAH.


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