House Of Leaves Study Questions: Things To Think About Reading House of Leaves

Cinders posted on Apr 23, 2008 at 06:15AM
The author of these questions is Professor Mark Patterson of the University of Washington. I thought they would be interesting for fellow House Of Leaves enthusiasts to consider.


Mark Patterson
English 355
Some Early Thoughts on House of Leaves

1. One way to understand the complexities of this novel is to begin by simply describing some of its features. First the layers of narrative:

Navidson: (forms of representation: film, photography, video, etc.)

Zampanò: (forms of representation: typewriter, handwriting, photography?)

Johnny Truant: (forms of representation: typewriter, handwriting, sketch, tattoo)

Editors: (forms of representation: typewriter, computer, print, photography)

Consider some of the parallels between the layers. While they might not offer complete understanding, they will at least begin to yield thematic repetitions. For example, Navidson’s relationship with his brother Tom offers some parallels to Johnny Truant’s relationship with Lude. Karen and Thumper, as different as they are, provide views of women, while Holloway and others, offer us different constructions of masculinity. Part of the process of reading, then, requires us to understand each layer separately, that is, the form it takes and the narrative it constructs, but, more importantly, this process (aided by the footnotes and other apparatus) requires us to find connections among the layers.

One thing we can conclude is that the novel foregrounds the epistemological problem of what is known as remediation. “Remediation” is the term critics use to describe how older media, such as books, "refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media." But remediation is also a strategy of representation that foregrounds how it becomes nearly impossible to get at the truth of some event or experience in our world as it get represented through different media (an experience is filmed, then represented in language, then edited, then typeset, then reedited, etc.). Against the distancing features of remediation, we also have the reproduction of the material conditions of the medium. The “body” of the text becomes something that we can attempt to “read,” much as Johnny Truant’s tattoos become bodily markers.

2. Another way to think about the novel is to put it in a class of fictions we call postmodern. I’ve already presented some features of postmodernism, but I’ll repeat them here as a way to think about ways in which the novel’s form offers connections to intellectual and critical issues. Think about these issues and how the novel might use them to get at its own production.
a. Modernism critiques the idea that there is a common truth (seen in the multiple perspectives of modernist art and narrative. Postmodernism, however, claims there are competing realities. But postmodernism goes further by using the form of pastiche, that is, the mixing of genres, media, forms. This isn’t parody, since parody assumes something real that can be copied. Rather, postmodernism is about dissolving boundaries.
b. Again like modernism, postmodernism foregrounds medium of production (like language), but postmodernism goes a step further by suggesting that language (like all media) is fragmented into competing discourses.
c. Undecidability. If there is no underlying truth, or overarching reality, or absolute values, then we don’t have easy access to frameworks that make the world easily understandable. This doesn’t mean that we can’t decide, only that our judgments are contingent on the assumptions we bring with us.
d. Simulation (the simulacrum). Postmodernism tells us that a copy is not a copy of something “real,” but that the real is inextricable from the significance and effects of the copy. The car you see on TV is more exciting and “real” than your car; and, contrarily, when you drive your car, you’re also driving all the images of cars that exist in our world.
e. Surfaces. In a modernist, cubist painting, surfaces were put together to create the sense of depth. In postmodernism, surfaces are all we really get.
f. The Compression of Time & Space. Modernism was international, postmodernism is global, at least in the sense that it is part of our ability to compress time and space. Often the compression occurs through different media (Iraq may only seem a room away at times). Modernism tended to emphasize time (in the form of progress or modernization), while Postmodernism tends to emphasize different kinds of space.

Remember, Michel Foucault has the concept of heterotopia (as opposed to utopia), which is the coexistence in what he calls “an impossible space” of a “large number of fragmentary possible worlds,” or more simply, incommensurable spaces that are juxtaposed or superimposed upon each other.

Study Questions for Wednesday:

1. Compare and Contrast Johnny Truant’s and Zampano’s version of the story. What kinds of readers are each? For example, look at how Zampano close-reads on p. 23. Compare with Johnny’s reaction to the text on p. 25.
2. In his Introduction, Johnny warns us: “Old shelters . . . won’t protect you anymore” (p. xxiii). What does he mean by this? What are the old shelters (homes?) in the novel, and do they no longer provide protection, and against what?
3. Consider the issue of the “uncanny” raised in chapter IV and of “Echo” in chapter V. How are we to understand these issues within the context of the novel and as critical tools to use to interpret it?
4. This novel comes complete with its own critical apparatus—footnotes, editorial comments, etc. Compare this use of an apparatus with Baker’s. What’s the effect of all this material, especially since much of it is fictional?
5. Navidson, Karen, and their children are the novel’s “family.” The other characters tend to be alone or hold onto other tenuously. What are the forms of connection here and how does the novel critique and/or reconstruct issues of the individual and the family? Think, especially, about the issue of gender as it is raised throughout.
6. What forms of space do you find in this novel? How are they interrelated?

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