“A goddamn spatial rape.” — An examination of the uncanny and the house on Ash Lane Tree in House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielweski

[More rambling and squealing over House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. The first two posts: initial impressions and encounters with the book, then the style and structure of the book. Methinks this post will be the penultimate. If you have not read the book, or wish to read the book without my inanity in your ears, go ahead and skip! Because, really, this book is awesome to discover on your own.]

This book, it is scary. Why is this book scary? Before I bore myself, I’ll focus all this on the premise. Aherm. So. Maybe because it hits at a tangible object, my gahdamned reality: physics, measurements — a solid house, for crying out loud.

In anxiety, one feels uncanny. Here the peculiar indefiniteness of that which Dasein finds itself alongside in anxiety, comes proximally to expression: the “nothing and nowhere”. But here “uncanniness” also means “not-being-at-home” [das Nicht-zuhause-sein]. In our first indication of the phenomenal character of Dasein’s basic state and in our clarification of the existential meaning of “Being-in” as distinguished from the categorical signification of ‘insideness’, Being-in was degined as “residing alongside . . .”, “Being-familiar with . . .” This character of Being-in was then brought to view more concretely through the everyday publicness of the “they”, which brings tranquilized self-assurance — ‘Being-at-home’, with all its obviousness — into the average everydayness of Dasein. On the other hand, as Dasein falls, anxiety brings it back from the absorption in the ‘world’. Everyday familiarity collapses. Dasein has been individualized, but individualized as Being-in-the-world. Being-in enters into existential ‘mode’ of the “not-at-home”. Nothing else is meant by our talk about ‘uncanniness’.

The Navidsons moved into the house at Ash Tree Lane [suburbia] from the bustle of New York City. It’s meant to be a settling down, a remedy to the [impending] disintegration of the family. And Will Navidson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, decides to make a documentary about this move — he rigs the house and equips its occupants with cameras to chronicle a common enough milestone of an average family. Of course, there are mundane, domestic layers: the raising of children, Will and Karen’s relationship, and so on.

With this set up, the discomfiture [the horror] is multi-layered. For the Navidsons, it begins when they discover a strange, spatial violation: the interior of the house is a quarter of an inch longer than its exterior. It’s just so fundamentally wrong.

What is the nature of the house on Ash Tree Lane? First, lemme give you samples of what the text offers — which is to say, not a lot of clear answers [especially considering that the following four statements come from four different points of view]:

[01] . . . the purpose of that vast place still continues to elude them. Is it merely an aberration of physics? Some kind of warp in space? Or just a topiary labyrinth on a much grander scale? Perhaps it serves a funereal purpose? Conceals a secret? Protects something? Imprisons or hides some kind of monster? Or, for that matter, imprisons or hides an innocent?

[02] Some critics believe the house’s mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it. Dr. Haugeland asserts that the extraordinary absence of sensory information forces the individual to manufacture his or her own data. Ruby Dahl, in her stupendous study of space, calls the house on Ash Tree Lane “a solipsistic heightener,” arguing that “the house, the halls, and the rooms all become the self — collapsing, expanding, tilting, closing, but always in perfect relation to the mental state of the individual.”

[03] You know when I first saw the [juju in house — (Sasha’s paraphrase!)], I thought it was a Keeper. I still think that. It’s a very mean House Keeper who vigilantly makes sure the house remains void of absolutely everything. Not even a speck of dust. It’s a maid gone absolutely nutso.

[04] Is it possible to think of that place as “unshaped” by human perceptions?

And let me give you a little anecdote. My boyfriend, a licensed architect [who claims that his architect-ness — thus, his superiority over me in matters spatial — doesn’t lapse even if the man has been a painter fulltime for the past six-ish years], saw the phrase “a goddamned spatial rape” scribbled on a Post-it. He then demanded that I explained myself. The essence of the shouting match, er, conversation, as follows:

S – So, imagine a house. A box, basically. And it’s a box inside and out when you first see it. But then it starts to change dimension. Inside. It grows inside, sprouts hallways and rooms and great halls and stairs. It flexes! It morphs! People get lost inside! But it remains unchanged from the outside. It’s infinitely ginormous inside, no boundaries, all darkness — but it’s perfect little box when you look at it outside.

P – That’s stupid.

S – Of course not! How dare you! Danielewski is a genius. It totally makes sense! The house! Is bigger inside! Than it is outside! Inside, you’ll see a dark hallway through one wall. But when you lean over the window to see the house from the outside, it’s not there. But the hallway exists! And everything else it chooses to produce!

P – I reject this idea.

S – You can’t reject the idea. That’s not allowed! It’s the reality, as it exists in the house on Ash Tree Lane! That’s how it is! I don’t know why. No one knows why. But that’s how it is. Remember Stephen Hawking talking about physics isn’t the same in two universes, given that there’d be an actual second universe? That’s like this! Our rules of physics don’t apply! Giant house inside small box!

P – It’s still stupid. It goes against everything we know to be true and real. It goes against everything I learned as an architect. We’re still in this universe, by the way, and that can’t happen. It’s impossible. The same spatial dimensions always apply, inside-outside-upside-down. It’s just not possible, baby. And, in the first place, how can you rape space? I reject that metaphor. Where do you get these things?

S – Why are you being so stubborn? And stop talking to me in italics! The author makes sense! He makes it real! It’s reality as, when, because, he wrote it!

P – What?

S – What, what? I’m talking about the 736-page novel I’ve been waving about while we’ve been having this discussion!

P – Oh. Why didn’t just say so? Okay, that’s really cool, then.

Again, where was I? Oh, yes. The scary side of things, re this monstrosity of a house — a scariness I know I won’t be able to successfully convey given that little anecdote up there. So. Aherm.

Because the strangeness — the wrongness! — of the house is a gradual discovery and a gradual revelation, even realization: this all only heightens the anxiety, the apprehension, the anticipation of horror.

This is not a coward’s book. Yes, the scare factor is only a part of the awesomeness of this book — because I do believe it’s much much much more than a horror story — but goddammit it is scareh. More so when you get the wonderful idea of reading it through the night, while you are all alone in a sectioned-off room in a giant, abandoned house. Dammit.

You have to read it to be scared shitless, for seriously. You have to read it to wonder at the intricacy, and the chilling believability of Danielewski’s work, of the house on Ash Tree Lane.

But let me approximate, with a scene that had me screaming at three in the morning right after the first sentence. [Yes, to those that live in the Katipunan area, that high, shrill stab of sound, that was me.] Johnny Truant, in a footnote, sums up his own heebie-jeebies:

To get a better idea try this: focus on these words, and whatever you do don’t let your eyes wander past the perimeter of this page. Now imagine just beyond your peripheral vision, maybe behind you, maybe to the side of you, maybe even in front of you, but right where you can’t see it, something is quietly closing in on you, so quiet in fact you can only hear it as silence. Find those pockets without sound. That’s where it is. Right at this moment. But don’t look. Keep your eyes here. Now take a deep breath. Go ahead and take an even deeper one. Only this time as you start to exhale try to imagine how fast it will happen, how hard it’s gonna hit you, how many times it will stab your jugular with its teeth or are they nails?, don’t worry, that particular detail doesn’t matter, because before you have time to even process that you should be moving, you should be running, you should at the very least be flinging up your arms—you sure as hell should be getting rid of this book—you won’t even have time to scream.

Don’t look.



An essay called “Exploration #6: The Uncanny in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves” by Nele Bemong explores what all the rambling up in this post with marked intelligence, and, well, sense. I wish I had written something like this, haha. Oh, and also, I did not read it when I drafted this post. I wish I did, hee.

8 thoughts on ““A goddamn spatial rape.” — An examination of the uncanny and the house on Ash Lane Tree in House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielweski

  1. That argument is hysterical, especially the abrupt ending!

    I’ve just been skimming your posts because I do intend to read this someday, but I did read that last extract, and I can see why it’s scary. If I were to let myself get immersed in that (which I’m less likely to do reading onscreen), I would totally freak myself out.

  2. @ Teresa — Understandable, the skimming. :] I’m excited to see what you think when you get to read it!

    @ Isabella, @ Eliza — Thanks, girls. This is really one of the best books I ever read — as evidenced by, I suppose, the number of posts dedicated to it in this blog. :] “Existential” creepfest, yes!

  3. This post is my absolute favorite. You really got me thinking and helped me remember some of the parts that had frightened me most while reading The House of Leaves. I am having such a hard time reviewing this book! – Maria


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