Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves (2000)

In House of Leaves Danielewski seems to provide a fullstop to the postmodern project, blending the academic satire and Borgesian playfulness of Eco, the unstable ontologies of Pynchon, the epistemological uncertainty of Auster, and the eccentric verbosity (and footnotes) of Wallace into one formidable (some might say obnoxious, some virtuoso) package. The body of the novel is comprised mostly of reclusive blind man Zampano’s esoteric academic study of The Navidson Record, a documentary film about a house that is a quarter-inch larger inside than out. Following the discovery of this discrepancy by the filmmaker Navidson, the house further mutates, opening up a hallway that leads into an impossibly vast labyrinthine space into which most of the Navidson family and various friends and colleagues are compelled to enter, often with life-threatening results. Zampano’s study is found and edited by Johnny Truant, and the book as a whole is presented to us as an edited collection of Truant’s assemblage of Zampano’s notes on Navidson’s film about an unassuming and unheimlich house on Ash Tree Lane. Danielewski spent a decade writing the novel, and the ergodic aspects of the book reflect his ambitous vision. Just as the space of the house is revealed to reflect the consciousness of the character entering it, so the text of the novel reflects the space of the house: text contracts until only a few words occupy each page, or flips upside-down, or stretches across several pages at once; all according to the current status of the endlessly mutating space. Ironically for a satire of academic obsession, HOL has developed its own dedicated community of theorists online. How old is the house? What is Yggdrasil? Where is Thamyris? Danielewski extends the layers of his fiction out into the world, exerting real force and developing the staid relationship between reader and writer. From the physicality of the object to the legacy of its unanswered questions, Danielewski’s work feels not just like the culmination of postmodernism but also the beginning of something new.

Country: America
Genre: Philosophical Novel, Metafiction, Horror.
Ism: Postmodernism, Postpostmodernism.
Influences: Umberto Eco, Paul Auster, Edgar Allen Poe, David Foster Wallace, John Cage.
Influenced: ???

Nicoline Timmer’s Do You Feel it Too? The Post-postmodern Syndrome in American Fiction at the Turn of the Millenium. (New York: Rodopi, 2010):
Timmer writes how, unable to explain the extra rooms in his house, Navidson eventually decides just to explore them anyway; unable to decide on the relative reality of the film, Johnny explores Zampano’s account of it anyway: ‘in this Johnny perhaps also shows, as fallible ‘model interpreter’, the reader a way (not necessarily the way) to tread into the novel House of Leaves itself: suspend your disbelief and then see what happens. We could say that if a realistic reading results from a basic suspension of disbelief and a postmodern reading consists in a suspicion of this suspension of disbelief, House of Leaves seems to invite the bracketing of this suspicion in turn’ (256). Later, she notes that ‘the personal in House of Leaves is actually not presented as an enclosed, limited space – the personal is reconfigured in this book as shared space. And the construction of the story of the self is likewise an endeavor that cannot be taken on alone, but is an interactive process that in House of Leaves is conceived spatially, through what one may call a form of echolocation’ (289). While she doesn’t name it as such, this idea of ‘faithful reading’ and of interpersonal selfhood bears all the hallmarks of the postpostmodern literary shift towards sincerity, the so-called ‘New Sincerity.’

Further Reading: