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3.4.08 | Danielewski [day2] • Business • Procedure • Small Groups • Debrief • HW • More questions • Keep reading. • Papers Friday.
PROCEDURE • We will walk up to the café upstairs. • I will put a question on 6 tables. • Sit at one of the tables. 5 people MAX for any question. • Discuss the question for 7 mins. After 7 mins, I’ll ask you to write a paragraph summary of your discussion to leave for the next group. • Switch tables. • Repeat.2x • At 2:10 we will retreat back to the usual classroom to debrief.
1. Truant’s Sanity • Throughout the novel, the story that Zampano has accumulated is presented along with notes by Johnny Truant. These notes describe Johnny's haywire lifestyle involving drugs, sex and crazy encounters, not to mention the emotional turmoils of his childhood involving his mother and the beatings he received from his foster father. So is Johnny already on the edge of becoming a paranoid, delusional, borderline insane person before he encounters Zampano's works, or is it the story itself that makes him fall off the edge into his paranoid, semi-schizo life? • In the introduction to the book, Johnny makes sure that we know that there is no such film as the Navidson Record, and that the majority of the footnotes and supporting information are fictional as well. Why then, does he let this story essentially ruin his life and drive him to madness? Did the fragile state of his mind make him susceptible to such a decent into madness, or was there some other aspect of his life or personality that caused this story to affect him so much? • Why does Johnny Truant feel obliged to keep writing Zampano's story? He seems to become more and more traumatized by the situation, yet he cannot stop interpreting the scrawls and compiling them into a story. What is driving Johnny to do this, and why does he not stop if it is having such an impact on him? It seems as if the monster from the story is chasing Johnny in his own life--why doesn't he just stop reading the story?
2. The Textual Variation Effect • Normally in books, it seems as though most or all of what is written is important or significant. However, in House Of Leaves, it seems as though this is challenged. Huge pieces of the text are distorted, (such as upside down, mirror image, crossed out, weird characters, etc) making it difficult to read, further complicated by the fact that the writing style itself makes comprehension difficult in places. My question is, does the fact that the text can be very difficult to read place more emphasis on what is said, or less? (Basically, do you read it more carefully to try to comprehend, or do you skip it?) • Do the sideways, backwards, and upside down texts in this novel distract you from the story? If so, how does this effect the way you read this novel compared to other books and do they make you more aware of what you are reading? • Is there a specific sequence of thought needed to be pursued or is this style left solely to individual interpretation? Is there a right or wrong way to read the text? • Some is crossed out, some sideways, others upside down or slanted. How does this affect the way the reader approaches the reading and how the reader perceives this information given to them?
3. Character Development In this novel the technique of representing a character's thoughts and feelings are completeley absent, since the reader only gains access to the events in the house on Ash Tree Lane through Zampano's commentary. Can the characters that appear in "the Navidson Record" be considered fully developed characters?
4. The All-Knowing Author The House of Leaves challenges our perceptions of the real, unreal, true, and untrue. Ultimately, the book is challenging the notion of the “all-knowing author,” by obscuring the facts that the author presents. Does this strategy change Danielewski’s stakes? How does it enhance/complicate the story?
5. The House and the Mind On page 330, the house on Ash Tree Lane is described the following way: ”In many ways, Navidson's house functions like an immense isolation tank. Deprived of light, change in temperature and any sense of time, the individual begins to create his own sensory [ ], [ ]d depen[ ]ng on the duration of his stay begins to project more and more of [ ] personality on those bare walls and vacant [ ]allways.” (Danielewski 330) Karen refuses to acknowledge the uncanniness of the house, she puts up bookshelves to conquer the space, and finally she escapes. Navidson on the other hand, has the urge to be able to understand and control the house. If the house really is a reflection of his mind, what causes the house to be such a labyrinth? And does Navidson manage to overcome the house?
6. Editorial Influence So far, it has been impossible to tell to what degree each character has played a role in the shaping of this story. Navidson has edited footage of his "real" life (p.10), which is Zampano's creation (xxii), but Truant is addng his own creative license, too (p. 16), and for all we know the editors are responsible for much of the splicing of commentary. I predict that Truant has taken Zampano's basic notes and filled in enough to make a plausible story about the film The Navidson Record. When on page 16 Truant said, Is it just coincidence that this cold water predicament of mine also appears in this chapter [alongside Karen's complaint that 'the water heater's on the fritz']?/ Not at all. Zampano only wrote 'heater.' The word 'water' back there--I added that. I couldn't help but wonder what else he has taken the liberty of adding, but failed to point out to the audience.
7. Fear The following quote epitomizes Johnny Truant's paranoia: To get a better idea try this: focus on these words, and whatever you do don't let your eyes wander past the perimeter of this page. Now imagine just beyond your peripheral vision, maybe behind you, maybe to the side of you, maybe even in front of you, but right where you can't see it, something is quietly closing in on you, so quiet in fact you can only hear it as silence. Find those pockets without sound. That's where it is. Right at this moment. But don't look. Keep your eyes here. Now take a deep breath. Go ahead take an even deeper one. Only this time as you start to exhale try to imagine how fast it will happen, how hard it's gonna hit you, how many times it will stab your jugular with its teeth or are they nails?... [Danielewski 26-27] The Navidsons' home "destroyed any sense of security or well-being"  for the Navidsons, and it is apparent the Navidsons' Record took a similar toll on Johnny Truant. What are the differences between the Navidsons' and Johnny Truant's fears? How are their fears similar? Are their fears even comparable?