From Writing Machines by N. Katherine Hayles & Rewiring the Real by Mark C. Taylor:
The book’s putative subject is the film The Navidson Record, produced by the world-famous photographer Will Navidson after he, his partner Karen Green, and their two children Chad and Daisy occupy the house of Ashtree Lane in a move intended to strengthen their strained relationships and knit them closer as a family. Precisely the opposite happens when the House is revealed as a shifting labyrinth of enormous proportions, leading to the horrors recorded on the high-8 videos Will installed throughout the house to memorialize their move. From this video footage he made The Navidson Record, which then becomes the subject of an extensive commentary by the solitary Zampanò (p. 110, Hayles).
Zampano turns out to have been a blind recluse who wrote an extensive commentary on The Navidson Record. When Johnny Truant, whose name suggests that he is a Johnny-come-lately, and his friend Lude, whose real name is Harry, discover Zampano’s body in his crypt-like apartment, Johnny inherits a monstrous truck that contains pages and pages of the old man’s reflections on the film. The twenty-something-year-old kid … assumes the onerous responsibility of organizing Zampano’s ramblings into something resembling a coherent narrative. Johnny appends notes explaining his editorial procedures and adding his own observations and reflections, which are so extensive that they eventually overwhelm Zampano’s text (p. 115, Taylor).
Zampanò’s narrative, set in the typeface Times, occupies the upper portion of the pages while Johnny’s footnotes live below the line in Courier, but this initial ordering becomes increasingly complex as the book proceeds (p.110, Hayles).
Johnny Truant reveals that the film The Navidson Record, about which he, Zampanò and others write thousands of pages, may in fact be a hoax: (p. xix-xxx). Yet, as many pages that follow testify, the lack of a real world referent does not result in mere absence (p.111, Hayles).
Though Danielewski’s name appears on the cover and copyright page, the title page indicates that Zampano is the author and Johnny Truant has contributed an introduction and extensive notes (p. 115, Taylor).
This book about a book layers text upon text. In addition to Navidson’s film, Zampono’s commentary, and Johnny’s commentary on the commentary, House of Leaves includes an elaborate textual apparatus citing scholarly comments, articles, and books either about the text or relevant to it (p. 118, Taylor).
Moreover, though many of the authors cited are real and the articles and books noted have actually been published, many of the passages quoted are made up, and pages referenced are either incorrect or do not exist (p. 118, Taylor).
Every time the reader images a new way to interpret the text, he turns the page only to discover a footnote or footnote to a footnote in which some “author” has anticipated his analysis (p. 119, Taylor).
The complexity of the work is compounded by a graphic design that enacts or performs the ideas that the multiple authors and characters explore (p. 113, Taylor).
In a sense House of Leaves recuperates the traditions of the print book and particularly the novel as a literary form, but the price it pays for this recuperation is a metamorphosis so profound that it becomes a new kind of form and artifact (p. 112, Hayles).
One afternoon, while working as an apprentice at the tattoo shop, Johnny suddenly has the strange feeling that “something’s really off. I’m off.” What makes this experience all the more unsettling is that “nothing has happened, absolutely nothing” (26). … he reports …. “Though my fingers still tremble and I’ve yet to stop choking on large irregular gulps of air, as I keep spinning around like a stupid top spinning around on top of nothing, looking everywhere, even though there’s absolutely nothing, nothing anywhere” (27) (p. 123, Taylor).
Only if we read “nothing” as a substantive does this passage make sense, a negation converted into the looming threat of something, although it is impossible to say what unless it be negation itself, working to obliterate our everyday assumptions about reality (p. 119, Hayles).
The text is about nothing – always about nothing. Nothing is what keeps the text in play by rendering it irreducibly open and in/finitely complex. The nothingness haunts the text marks its border by exceeding it. This excess is the siteless site where difference endlessly emerges (p. 109, Taylor).
As speech emerges from silence, so writing emerges from a void that is never completely erased. Yet precisely this emptiness is what much – perhaps most – writing is designed to avoid. … Above all else, stories are supposed to protect us from the emptiness, meaninglessness, absence and the nothingness they nonetheless harbor. All such efforts, however, prove futile because nothing can be a-voided; there can be no story without the haunting emptiness it is written to fill (p. 125, Taylor).
The scene is related by Zampanò, who positions his readers as first-person viewers watching the film of The Navidson Record along with him. Since the film does not exist, his description, which inevitably interprets as well as remediates, creates the film as an object within the text and also as a putative object in the represented world (p. 113, Hayles).
It instantiates the crisis characteristic of post-modernism, in which representation is short-circuited by the realization that there is no reality independent of mediation (p. 110, Hayles).
The inscription technologies include film, video, photography, tattoos, typewriters, telegraphy, handwriting, and digital computers. The inscription surfaces are no less varied, as Johnny Truant observes about Zampanò’s notes, including writing on “old napkins, the tattered edges of an envelope, once even on the back of a postage stamp” (p. xvii) (p. 111, Hayles).
… in House of Leaves consciousness is never seen apart from mediating inscription devices. The text emphasizes that people within the represented world – Will Navidson and Karen Green on one level, Zampanò on another, and Johnny Truant on yet another – exist only because they have been recorded. Moreover, these characters participate in further cycles of remediation as they use inscription technologies to explore past trauma, reenvision relationships that have been damaged, and understand the relation of themselves and others to the inscriptions that bring them into being (p. 116, Hayles).
Images sourced from Google Images:
Pages 140 – 141.
Pages 128 – 129.