How do you source the hypersourced? Getting trapped in “House of Leaves”

House of Leaves is a labyrinth in many ways. The sheer amount of effort people have put into decoding the linguistic games Danielewski plays is astounding. After reading through theories for a while, one begins to forget that one is dealing with a novel instead of a math problem…which, don’t get me wrong, is entertaining.

But spending hours on end compiling the first letters of words can very easily cause a reader to lose sight of the big picture…until you run up into something like a source blogging assignment. How do you source something whose sources are already included? In fact, not only are the sources already included, they have been reviewed, proofread, and modified by (presumably) at least three different groups of people – which we should really be thankful for, considering they are so exaggeratedly numerous. But then, as Johnny admits with some pride at several places in the work, it’s possible they’re making it all up (as when he invents the story about moving to Seattle with his friends). And on page xx, he incorrectly says a source doesn’t exist when it actually does. So those layers of security in editing quickly become three layers of exponentially increasing insecurity, and how are readers supposed to react except by checking all those sources themselves? And then we’re stuck in the same trap as the people spending years reading into the acrostics.

Ignoring the content in order to avoid getting trapped, the structure of the sourcing in House of Leaves is beautifully done. Although the piece starts out structured like a dry thesis, as the characters in The Navidson Record are slowly pulled into the mystery – and horrors – of the house, the footnotes get more and more erratic. When the characters actually enter the cave – as during Exploration 4, from pages 118 to 148 – the structure spirals out of control. As the house envelops the characters, so do the structural rebellions envelop the reader. The deeper the characters go, the longer the chapters are, but the less footnotes and more blank space appear. Paired with Johnny’s increasingly paranoid entries, this again traps the reader; not only are they reading a story about people trapped in a labyrinth, they themselves are becoming increasingly engulfed in the work and losing what little, shaky basis they had for trusting the narrators and editors. During the most intense periods in the house, the footnotes disappear entirely and the reader is left alone with the characters (particularly during Navidson’s final visit at the end of the work).

Deleuze and Guattari tell us that “to be rhizomorphous is to produce stems and filaments that seem to be roots, or better yet connect with them by penetrating the trunk, but put them to strange new uses,” and that “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be.” One of the reasons House of Leaves is so hard to tackle without getting lost is that so many points connect to one another, whether it be acrostic codes in the appendix pointing to an earlier chapter, or a hexadecimal code in the cover of the book indicating an album that explains a code in a different part of the appendix. To extend the metaphor, House of Leaves is so much a rhizomorphous text that, except in the most abstract sense, it may have lost its trunk (and the irony of the title is not lost here). At any rate, the sources in House of Leaves are just one such rhizomorphous network of intertwining lies and truths, and are simply another trap – although really, isn’t that half the fun?

Source: Deleuze, Giles and Felix Guattari. “Rhizome.” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota: Minneapolis, 2000. 3-25.

-jocelyn petyak


~ by jocelynpetyak on March 14, 2010.

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