House Animals

Chapter VI of House of Leaves is “dedicated” to the house’s lack of effect on animals, or to the lack of investigation into this subject.  Given that Zampano comments on Navidson’s glossing of this subject and Johnny comments on Zampano’s relative laconicness on the same, I figure that some analysis is in order.

The opening quote by Ernest Becker posits animals as living in “a state of dumb being,” and “lack[ing] a symbolic identity and the self-consciousness that goes with it” (74).  This is linked to the idea that the house’s shifting structure is a result of the psychology of the person who enters – since the animals have “no” psychology (as Becker would have it) the house has nothing to play (a term which strips the house of its more sinister elements) off.

However, anyone who has a pet will be quick to tell you that Becker’s assertion is severly off the mark.  We often attribute personalities onto our pets – we can tell if they are happy (when they see us), angry (such as the behavior Zampano attributes to the elder Hillary), or proud (when they won’t look at us after paying attention to another animal).  Of course, these behaviors could be described as instinctual, instincts being to what Becker ascribes their motivation.   That being said, our pets can tell the same things about our personalities – your dog nuzzles you when you are distraught to comfort you and look downcast when you are angry with her/him.  Pet owners often assest that their animals “just know” when something is wrong.

Becker also intones that animals are unaware of their life or their death, that they “live and they disappear with the same thoughtlessness” (74).  This comment is also inaccurate.  Dogs are more than aware of death – dogs, when old and sick, nearing death, will run off to spare their masters the final agonizing moments.  A terminally ill dog will act differently after struggling with a disease, usually signalling that their time is over.  Animals are also used in retirement and nursing homes and seemingly seek out those nearing death.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the evidence about animals and personality provided here is anecdotal, but the fact that there exists animal psychologists in our culture should lend credence to these notions or prove the extent of people’s obsessions with their pets.

In that same chapter, Karen remarks how here Feng Shui objects, all animals nonetheless, does nothing to counteract the “awful energy” (74) of the house.  Later on, these animals and other objects disappear, as related in Tom’s Story (269).  Earlier in the same section, Tom makes shadow puppets on the walls, all of which are animals (Johnny makes the same connection back to chapter six).  Strange then that “fake” animals cannot exist in the house (the Feng Shui animals disappear) but can do so in the impossible part of the house (Tom’s shadow puppets), while real animals can exist normally in the regular part but simply pass through the sinister section of the house.  These shadow animals truly would have no psychology or personality (Becker), yet they do not simply vanish or refuse to be shown on the house’s ashen walls.

Later, Tom wishes that was “a creature any creature – even a mouse” (271) in the house with him.  The minotaur which may or may not inhabit the labryinth would be half-man and half-animal, so it is odd to that such a creature could be found in those halls, given how the house “reacts” the Hillary and Mallory.  It may be that the minotaur’s ambiguous nature accounts for the ambiguous status of its existence.

Zack Manko


Danieleswki, Mark Z. House of Leaves. 2nd Edition.  New York, New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.


~ by gottgeist501 on March 21, 2010.

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