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April | 2015 | Brandon Pownall

Monthly Archives: April, 2015

Questions of Authorship

St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Wall of room in Ward Retreat 1. Reproductions made by a patient, a disturbed case of dementia precox [praecox?]; pin or fingernail used to scratch paint from wall, top coat of paint buff color, superimposed upon a brick red coat of paint. Pictures symbolize events in patient's past life and represent a mild state of mental regression. Undated, but likely early 20th century.

I won’t even attempt to offer a normal English class interpretations for the mass amount of information thrown at me by Mark Z. Danielewski. I just want to know one thing, which character “wrote” House of Leaves? Initially, the text lead me to believe the blind Zampanò authored The Navidson Record, Johnny Truant found it, wrote footnotes for it, added the appendixes, and added letters written by his mother Pelafina. However the footnotes by Johnny often mirror the text and certain clues (yes, the experience of reading this book is like solving a mystery) have caused me to doubt the supposed authorship of everything in House of Leaves.

The first thing that caused me to begin doubting the Zampanò/Truant authorship was a little comment in Pelafina’s letters. She signs off with, “Practicing my smile in a mirror the way I did when I was a child” (615). This is quite interesting because Karen Green was characterized by the exact same thing: “Karen spent every night of her fourteenth year composing that smile in front of a blue plastic handled mirror” (58). Is Johnny’s mom actually just represented by Karen in The Navidson Record?

I later found out that on the same page the second to last full paragraph contains a little secret message, much like the much larger one 5 pages later, it reads: “My Dear Zampanò what did you lose?” This really throws me off. How would Pelafina know Zampanò? Did Johnny, or whatever his real name is, write The Navidson Record to cope with his mother’s demise? Or is Pelafina crazy enough to create all of these characters herself? Or is Johnny a side of Zampanò’s personality? There are numerous interpretations. I found a little snippet from the Appendix that Zampanò supposedly wrote on September 21, 1970 quite interesting: “Perhaps in the margins of darkness, I could create a son who is not missing; who lives beyond even my own imagination and invention” (543). This could be an answer to the question Pelafina asks Zampanò, he lost his son. Did he create Johnny as a character in a book (“the margins”)? Is Pelafina actually Zampanò, as she lost her son when she was sent to Whalestoe? Does it even matter?

I am left with no answer to all of these bizarre questions and feel a little crazy that they even arose. I feel like this is Danielewskis intention. Like me reading this book, I imagine a patient like Pelafina has a hard time piecing together her own narrative. Zampanò’s story barely exists within the text, so who knows how broken his is or if he really exists, and Johnny comes off as fairly fragmented himself. He gives us one piece of wisdom that helps me process the novel. He quips, “We all create stories to protect ourselves” (20) which shows me that while the authorship question might never be answered, there is indeed a reason for the novel’s existence.

Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/32Ao61

The Bookness of House of Leaves

Moby Dick

370 pages into Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, I’m struck by how much of a physical book it is. Almost every feature of the book itself seems to have some sort of meaning. Danielewski takes what are just normal features of a book and uses them to create or add possible meaning to the story.

First, just look at the cover. The cover is almost half an inch shorter than the pages contained inside. This is a stylistic choice and could relate to the way the Navidson’s house is bigger on the inside than the outside. The book is titled House of Leaves. The word leaf is often used in place of page and Johnny Truant calls letters, “leaves of feeling” (350). House of Leaves is composed of pages, and a book itself is a home for leaves of paper. It is a house of leaves. Is this a book about books?

With the copious use of footnotes, the way text is arranged on certain pages to reflect the story, the multiple appendixes, this novel is very aware of its status as a physical book. I feel like some of David Foster Wallace’s reasoning for using footnotes and endnotes could illuminate what Danielewski is trying to do. In 1994 he said that endnotes, “2) mimic the information-flood and data-triage I expect’d be an even bigger part of US life 15 years hence” and “4) allow/make the reader go literally physically ‘back and forth’ in a way that perhaps cutely mimics some of the story’s thematic concerns.” But they could be interpreted in many other ways. Even having the word “house” in blue is just another enigmatic aspect of the book that would work only in book form. It would be impossible to turn this into a movie and have the same effect. All of these features are something that could only be employed in the print form.

But what do all of these features mean? On the first page of chapter one, the blind author Zampanò tells us, “the house itself, like Melvilles behemoth, remains resistant to summation” (3). The author compares the house to Melville’s behemoth, Moby Dick, a book similar in size, complexity, and mystery. So if we take “the house” here to mean the book itself rather than the Navidson house, the author is telling us that all of these confusing signs just create a book with an enormous amount of interpretations. Like “Stephen King. Novelist” says:

“look at Ahab’s whale. Now there’s a great symbol. Some say it stands for god, meaning, and purpose. Others say it stands for purposelessness and the void. But what we sometimes forget is that Ahab’s whale was also just a whale” (361).

Image Sauce: https://flic.kr/p/9Uncnq

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