- The Digital Topography of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves
Zampanò only wrote "heater." The word "water" back there [in The Navidson Record]—I added that.
Now there's an admission, eh?
Hey, not fair, you cry.
Hey, hey, fuck you, I say.House of Leaves
For Mark Z. Danielewski, perhaps the central burden of contemporary authorship is to reaffirm the novel as a relevant—indeed newly relevant—cultural form:
[B]ooks don't have to be so limited. They can intensify informational content and experience. Multiple stories can lie side by side on the page. . . . Words can also be colored and those colors can have meaning. How quickly pages are turned or not turned can be addressed. Hell pages can be tilted, turned upside down, even read backwards. . . . But here's the joke. Books have had this capacity all along. . . . Books are remarkable constructions with enormous possibilities. . . . But somehow the analogue powers of these wonderful bundles of paper have been forgotten. Somewhere along the way, all its possibilities were denied. I'd like to see that perception change. I'd like to see the book reintroduced for all it really is.("Conversation")
House of Leaves, the novel Danielewski wrote to reintroduce the book "for all it really is," is a tour de force in typographic and media experimentation with the printed word. From its cover page and [End Page 597] initial inset to its enigmatic final page, the novel defies standard expectations in a rich variety of ways. Making pseudoserious reference to the blue highlighting of hyperlinks on Web pages, the blue ink of the word "house" in the work's title transforms this keyword into something like a portal to information located elsewhere, both within and beyond the novel's frame. And the color collage comprising the first inset page juxtaposes what looks to be a randomly selected group of common-use objects with snippets of manuscript copy as if to suggest some underlying equivalence between them. The final page—curiously situated after the index and credits page—bears the inscription "Yggdrasil" in the form of a T followed by four lines of text and a fifth line containing a single, large-font, bold O. A reference to the giant tree supporting the universe in Norse mythology, the page startles in its apparent randomness, reinforcing the well-nigh cosmological closure effected by the novel it culminates, yet shedding no new light on just what should be made of it.
While these examples already begin to expose the medial basis informing the novel's typographic play, they in no way exhaust its engagement with media. (The adjective "medial," by now adopted as a standard term in media studies, will here mark the specificity of analyses concerned with the materiality of the medium and of media generally.) Indeed, as we shall see, these examples form so many symptoms of what can only be understood (following Danielewski's aim to reintroduce the book for all it really is) to be a media-technical, and not simply a stylistic or formal, shift in the function of the novel. House of Leaves is obsessed with technical mediation and the new media ecology that has been introduced and expanded since the introduction of technical recording in the nineteenth century. The broad outlines of a theory of the media revolution in literature have already been laid out in the work of self-proclaimed "media scientist" Friedrich Kittler, who, in Discourse Networks 1800/1900 and Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, has catalogued the disenfranchisement of literature—its devolution from the exalted role of "universal medium" to a more humble vocation as one medium among others in a hybrid media ecology consisting of audio recording, image recording, [End Page 598] and now digitization.1 Yet where Kittler seems content to identify the specific media forms—gramophone, film, and typewriter—as three broadly similar recording apparatuses, Danielewski takes pains to circumscribe the constitutive limitations of each and, in line with his stated aim, to champion the superiority of print. Paradoxical as it sounds, the privilege of literature stems less from its capacity to ape the flexibility of technical media than from the novel's long...