House of Leaves as Post Print Fiction

In my paper I’m going to discuss how Danielewski’s transformation of the role of the reader contributes to the genre of “post-print” fiction. The sources I’m consulting are Hansen’s The Digital Topography of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves,” Hayles’ “Saving the Subject:Remediation in House of Leaves,” Pressman’s “House of Leaves: reading the networked novel,” and, to a certain degree, Hamilton’s “The a-mazing house: the labyrinth as theme and form in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.” The sources have all been very useful since they discuss a lot of the varying arguments as to why House of Leaves can be considered “post-print.” For example, the idea behind House of Leaves is that a house can not contain itself, which is very similar to the idea that a book can not contain itself. In order for the reader to absorb the entire story, he/she must go beyond the physical book and explore other forms of media such as music and the internet. It is only when the reader learns to change their reading habits from simply extracting information from the tangible source of the book, to exploring other, less tangible, but just as informative sources that the reader is rewarded with a better understanding of the narrative. In this way, the role of the reader must change in order to read post-print fiction.

Another way House of Leaves calls attention to the changing role of the reader is through its discussion of “the uncanny ” or “unheimlich.” The definition that is presented in the story is something familiar being made unfamiliar. There are many examples of this within the story such as the house (which is supposed to be the very essence of familiarity) being made into an unfamiliar place. The text, itself, is also “uncanny” in this sense because the story is bound in a codex book (a very familiar form), but integrates innovative and unfamiliar typography and other forms of media into the story that make the role of the reader unfamiliar. In her essay, Hamilton notes that House of Leaves has “an unheimlich quality” and that the “bizarre and unfamiliar typography of the book…makes the act of reading the novel an unfamiliar experience.”(6)

At the same time, House of Leaves must restore and/or reference familiar conventions of print novels, because the genre isn’t “anti-print”, its “post-print.” The new genre builds off of what the old has created. House of Leaves couldn’t solely exist as a work of electronic literature just as little as it could exist solely as a work of conventional print literature.

Braid and the Condemnation of Books


After a couple hours of playing Braid I said to myself, “I hate this game. There’s too many ways to fail.” And while I do think this is true for inexperienced gamers, like myself, I forced myself to consider this idea from an experienced gamer’s perspective, and in that sense the game is incredibly rewarding because there’s so many ways to win. That having been said, a lot of the puzzles in this game are extremely difficult and require you to manipulate time in such a precise way that the kinds of people that are able to achieve these rewards are such experienced gamers that the reward of solving a puzzle has lost its novice (and therefore, excitement). I think Blow is trying to reach these kinds of gamers in particular, the ones who solve puzzles just to get to the end of the game. I think further evidence for this can be seen in how many references Blow makes to popular games like Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong. Blow is trying to discourage the analytical process that many gamers go through in order to reach a predictable, vaguely-satisfying end.

I, being an inexperienced gamer and incredibly impatient (possibly the reason I’m so bad at video games), was forced to go online and look at several video walkthroughs (which Blow adamantly discourages) and the Wikipedia synopsis of the plot to get a better understanding of the game as a whole. Several walkthroughs revealed the narration-suggestive puzzle-portraits and the ambiguous end (or endings) of Tim’s search for the Princess. I found the puzzle portraits particularly interesting, as they all included some kind of beverage -implicitly alcoholic- and Tim’s emotional state within several different worlds (which seem to get progressively worse as they become less magical and more urban). Its somewhat ambiguous as to whether his surroundings or the beverages are connected to his emotional state, but I do think the consumption of alcohol is supposed to represent Tim’s development in age, and we can conclude from this that he was happier when he was younger. There are several other aspects of the game that suggest this idea, such as one of the alternate endings of the text at the epilogue in which the princess is somewhat of a maternal figure to Tim and she encourages him to remain a child by consistently walking by a candy store. I think, here, Blow is suggesting that video games are more fun for younger audiences because the experience of the game is rewarding and entertaining enough. Kids often don’t make it to the end of a video game, because its not their initial goal. As adults with more experience with the idea of video games, we can expect that a game has an ending that will give us more satisfaction than the experience of the game itself, and thus we are completely distracted by this goal.

There have been many reactions to Braid by experienced, adult gamers who are frustrated by the text-heavy yet morally ambiguous ending of the game. Their argument is best displayed in Braid: Why it Fails. I’m actually not sure if this reaction is intentionally ironic, because so many people (especially gamers) are adamantly opposed to text in general. Blow calls attention to this in the fact that he places so much dependence (creating incredibly difficult puzzles as the only way to reach the end) upon the text at the end. He almost sets up the audience to be disappointed by their expectations of extravagant graphics and a tangible purpose of the game.

New Rules of Notice

When I first started playing the electronic literary games by Jason Nelson I was somewhat at a loss for the purpose in them. A lot of the text that was written on the screen and the random pop-ups didn’t seem to have a lot of relevance to the game itself and I found myself frustrated at playing a game just to get from point a to point b.

I think part of my frustration grew from the fact that the rules of notice that I had learned from reading the same kind of fiction for so long didn’t seem to apply to these games.When I tried to fit the rules of notice into the game, I wouldn’t get very far by stopping to try and read every single word on the screen and making sense of it. However, when I stopped applying the traditional rules of notice to the game and formulated my own based on repeated trials and errors, I would get much farther in the game. I think in this way, Nelson might be encouraging his audience to make up their own rules of notice as a way of reaching their own interpretation and meaning from all works of literature, not just electronic.

And although I don’t think Nelson wants us to try and make sense out of all of the stimuli that overwhelms us in his games-in I made this. You play this. We are enemies. he actually says “don’t try and ‘get’ it”- I do think he wants us to take notice of what is on the screen as opposed to just trying to get from point a to point b. I think he wants us to give us as much information as possible in order for us to make the most out of getting from start to finish. In fact, I think many of the games won’t allow you to finish, and so if you didn’t experience anything interesting along the way, you are left feeling cheated. In Evidence of Everything Exploding there is a level that doesn’t have any restricted pathways, nor starting and ending points. At this point, the game is testing the player to see if they are invested in the game in an exploratory sense or if they are merely concerned with “winning.” I think Nelson is encouraging his players to be exploratory and open to the experience as opposed to being singularly focused on a teleological goal.

Just another love story?

At the beginning of the semester one of our classmates said that If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller was just another love story, and Professor Sample said that each of the stories we would read this semester might, indeed, be a love story.  I think anyone would say that People of Paper is definitely a love story, but I think this is true in more ways than one. On the surface, the story is about love lost (more specifically, men losing the women they love), but if you connect all of the love stories together, you get the story of an author’s love of fiction.

The narrator, or “Saturn,” is the implied authorial persona of Salvador Plascencia. We can see his love of fiction in many different aspects of the story. The fact that Plascencia references so many well known stories, characters and  like that of Samson, Rita Hayworth and Nostradamus shows how much he reveres established fiction. He also fictionalizes them within his own story: likening himself to Samson, creating a fictional subplot of Rita Hayworth’s rise to fame and, well, Nostradamus is a baby.

Plascencia also shows his respect for fiction in the attention he shows to the delicacy of the material that stories are printed upon: paper. Antonio’s paper creatures are initially created as a way of filling a hole created by sadness. This could be a metaphor for the people who use fiction as a way of replacing real life with fantasy. And while the paper people of the book are all women, and thus stereotypically “fragile,” Plascencia warns the reader to “be cautious of paper-to be mindful or its fragile construction and sharp edges.” This shows all of the agency that the author gives the paper people, or the characters of a story. The “sharp edges” also create a lot of the bloody imagery that speckles the novel.

Another way that the author shows his love of fiction is the metafiction that runs rampant in the novel. Plascencia creates a very visual structure within the novel that the characters call attention to and even create a diagram for. In this way, Plascencia celebrates the different ways that fiction can be structured.

The Results of Interactive Fiction

At first glance I thought interactive fiction was purely focused on creating innovation in the structure of a fictional story. Its so vastly different than any form preceding it, almost annoyingly calling attention to this fact. But after experiencing interactive fiction, I realized the structure is merely a tool to get the reader to focus on the progression of the story itself. True, in many cases we are at first solely focused on “winning” or the end result of the story. But this is also true with most conventionally structured stories. We ultimately judge a book’s worth on the level of satisfaction with which the ending provides us (in relation to everything else that happens before the ending).

Interactive fiction somewhat forces you to focus on the present as a means of getting to the end. We can see this idea best in Violet, because the game won’t allow you to make it to the end until you have completed a certain combination of events. Once you figure out the remedy to one distraction, another inevitably pops up. There are oodles of combinations that will yield  a favorable result, and even more that yield an unfavorable one. But the fact that there are so many different possible stories suggests that its not the end result (of which there are only two possibilities- good and bad) that is important, its the experience you have getting there. I also noticed this in all three of the stories, in that as long as you continue the game (i.e. do not close the window-I figured this out the hard way) every step of your progress is documented and saved. Being able to scroll up and down to view all of the errors you’ve made or new information you’ve discovered, really calls attention to the story, and not the end.

Dear Mrs. Sample

Dear Mrs.  Sample,

I feel you are actually asking two different questions here, because while The Navidson Record may not (and probably is not) be real, I’m not sure that the author’s intention of fabricating the film was to “write an unusual book.” I think all authors want to write something new and unique, but I don’t think that was Danielewski’s only goal in writing House of Leaves.

I do think Danielewski is trying to get his readers to ask the questions you have posed, though. It definitely seems like he wants to blur the lines of what is real and what isn’t real. For example, there are many fabricated footnotes and quotes in the book, but the people who spoke them are real. Also, the book refers to a Pulitzer-prize winning photograph of a dying Sudanese girl that is in fact a real photograph that won an award.

I also think he wants us to question why he wrote the book the way he did. If, in fact, it was just “to be unusual” or to raise thought-provoking questions (many of them abound the pages of the book), or to call attention to the role film and other newer forms of media have played in interpretation of real life and fiction.

Good luck in finding answers to your questions!

Caitlin McKenzie

Somewhere In Between

Although initially Brita doesn’t seem to be as important of a character as Bill, Scott or Karen, there are many details (seen through the application of rules of notice) that suggest otherwise. For example, Brita’s sections of narration are always more unbiased and clear than any other character’s. This is especially true in her final scene of the novel. True, we know that she feels “detached” from Rashid and his translator, and that “she wants to stand inside” the chaotic city of Beirut, but these perceptions don’t seem to cloud the reader’s sense of reality the way Karen or Scott’s narrations do(237-238). The scenes are mostly dialogue, which is unbiased in itself, but especially so because we know what both the translator and Rashid say. Rashid is not speaking in English; Brita can’t understand him, but we can because the narration isn’t so closely tied to her perception. The narrator also rarely slides into using Brita’s idioms and thoughts as narration, and thus we are left with descriptions of scenes and characters as they naturally are.

I think this style of narration is a testament to Brita’s character. She is somewhat in the happy medium of admirers of terrorists and leaders of massive religious movements like Reverend Moon. Scott is obviously a follower of terrorists, if we can assume that Bill is considered a terrorist. Scott wants to follow Bill because Bill is an individual. Scott admires everything about Bill’s solitary life and despises the idea of Bill being among and available to the masses. Karen, ( like the crowds of people surrounding Khomeini’s gravesite) is conversely a follower of massive movements. She kind of floats around, spreading the words of unidentified “masters.” Karen also admires Bill, though, for the impact he has on the masses. Though he works as an individual with his own aims, Bill has the power to control the thoughts of the masses, and Karen admires this. Brita is somewhere in between Scott and Karen. She loves Bill’s work, and the fact that he’s an author, but she doesn’t let it consume her thoughts the way Scott and Karen do. She “loves writers” but at the same time she “feels like an outsider” because she has thoughts and perceptions independent of them(37).

I think the fact that Brita is such a reliable narrator and because her last scene is the last scene of the entire novel, we can assume that Delillo wants people (readers, more specifically) to be like Brita. He wants people to have an appreciation for art and literature, but not in a way that makes us lose our identity.

The Identity of Crowds

It seems as though most people are concentrating on the theme of crowds in Delillo’s Mao II, and for good reason, as it seems to be one that dominates the novel. It starts with the mass marriage that includes Karen, amongst thousands of others taking part in the ceremony of the Unification church. Here, the narrator describes the crowd with a foreboding tone, suggesting the dangerous implications it might have. Though, not in the mob-mentality type of danger one would instinctively associate with dangerous crowds. No, the narrator is referring to a much more subtle kind of danger in the fact that everyone is losing their identity, their ability to reason in being a part of this crowd. Delillo describes this crowd as made up of “living beings” who “are a nation…founded on the principle of easy belief.”(7) At the end of the prologue, Delillo also eerily claims, “The future belongs to crowds.”(16) These words on their own are not so eery, but when juxtaposed with the photograph on the following page of a tightly packed and anxious crowd of young boys.

Though not so many literal allusions to crowds persist in Part One, we can still see it in the narrative style of the novel. It is third person omniscient in that it knows all the perceptions of each character, but unlike most third person omniscient narratives, this narrator is allowed deep within the thoughts of each character, no matter how insignificant or important they might be. These different perspectives are not neatly contained within their own chapter as in other novels that play with omniscience in this way, but all jumbled up, sometimes within the same paragraph. In the opening of chapter six, we are guided through the flashback by Scott’s perspective, as it is he who, “wonders,” “remembers” and “was glad.”(76) And then, without any warning, Karen is owner of the story, because we know that she “often thought of her husband, Kim” and that “she believed deeply in Master.”(78) And then Brita’s perspective dominates and then Bill’s, and the perspective changes back and forth constantly until it is so mixed up that it becomes everyone’s story. In doing this, Delillo is creating the sense that the crowd is narrating the novel, the most creepy effect of this being that the reader feels as though the crowd is inside one’s own mind. I also get the sense that this is how Bill Gray must feel as an author, and is the reason for his intense seclusion. He tells Brita that  he feels “One of my failings is that I say things to strangers…that I’ve never said to a wife or a child, a close friend.”(38) I interpret this to mean that because speaks to crowds (or audiences) full of strangers, he has nothing to say to the people about whom he really cares. In this sense, Bill is somewhat similar to Karen, in that he loses his identity to massive crowds.

We Are Authors

After re-visitng We Feel Fine under the context of Foucault’s What Is An Author?, I began to see many different definitions of an “author.” Foucault argues that the definition of an author stems from the author’s “functioning of certain discourses within an society.” (Foucault, 108) He then questions “how can one use the author function to determine if one is dealing with one or several individuals,” which immediately made me think of We Feel Fine (Foucault, 110). The four criteria for an author that Foucault quotes from Saint Jerome are what seems to discredit Jonathan Harris’ We Feel Fine project as one of a story with an author. We Feel Fine seems to break against all four of Jerome’s criteria. Foucault concludes from Jerome’s four criteria that an author is “defined as a constant level of value…as a field of conceptual or theoretical coherence…is conceived as a stylistic unity…is seen as a historical figure at the crossroads of a certain number of events.”(Foucault, 111) But because of the consistent manner in which We Feel Fine goes against Foucault’s definitions, one might conclude that it is this nonconformity that defines the author of We Feel Fine.

None of the blog authors of We Feel Fine share common ideals or opinions (not on purpose, anyway). In fact, the blog authors contradict each other all the time. But all the blog authors’ works are being gathered for a common reason: they all feel. This also speaks to the third criterion, in that each blog author has their own, distinct style. It is these distinct styles that lets the reader know that these blog authors are individual people with their own set of feelings, instead of an emotion-spouting, standardized computer. Finally, We Feel Fine’s blog authors are not single historical figures, but many figures existing in many different periods of time standing at many different crossroads simultaneously. They are all unified because they are standing at these crossroads, and writing about them.

I haven’t forgotten the first criterion. In fact, its probably the most important in defining We Feel Fine’s author. Foucault describes an author as “a constant level of value.”(Foucault, 111) Although there are many different blog authors who contribute to We Feel Fine, one is not valued more than another, because it is their being there together that gives the project its value. True, one blogger may seem more intelligent than another, based on the content and/or style of their post, but each blog resonates differently within each reader, based on the reader’s own context, perspective or experience. It is from everyone’s differences, readers and writers alike, that We Feel Fine draws its strength and poignancy. Its not They Feel Fine, its We Feel Fine.

In the “mission” section of We Feel Fine, Harris states that “We Feel Fine is an artwork authored by everyone.”(Harris, Kamvar) I interpret Harris’ “everyone” to mean all the people who’s blog posts contribute to the We Feel Fine database, Harris and Kamvar as creators of the database, and the people who explore and interpret We Feel Fine (the readers). Without any of these people, We Feel Fine cannot exist. We Feel Fine is a project that celebrates the individuality of the human race, and it is this individuality that defines its many, many authors.

Reader-Writer Relationship

The further I delved into If on a winter’s night a traveller, the more confusion and utter nonsense I was forced to make sense of. The more I tried to make connections between the characters, settings and plot lines of each individual story, the more they became disconnected. Even the somewhat familiar and linear story of the two Readers seemed to go off on tangents. The only thing that seemed to draw them all together is the idea of literature itself. The idea that literature is the common meeting place between the completely opposite and distant worlds of readers and writers. In chapter eight, Silas Flannery struggles with the incompatible relationship between himself (a writer) and his reader (Ludmilla). He notes that their incompatibility stems from the opposite nature of their duties as reader and writer, respectively: “reading is a necessarily individual act, far more than writing.”(176) He also notes that, “Only the ability to be read by a given individual proves that what is written shares in the power of writing,” which implies that the reader has more power in the reader-writer relationship (176). This is a possible result of the fact that in the act of reading, a reader transforms what she is reading “into what in her is most personal and imcommunicable” while “whatever [he] writes bears the stamp of artifice and incongruity.”(170)

Nothing seems further apart than the characters of Ludmilla and Mr. Okeda, or Silas Flannery and the Professor who is haunted by ringing telephones, or even ourselves, external readers from the author, Italo Calvino. But what Calvino tries to show us is that all of these things find a common ground in the actual pages of a novel. The shared experience of the story itself, regardless of the role one takes in the process, (reader, narrator, writer, character) is what brings all of these elements together. And in that shared space, as Corrina puts it, “nobody can be sure what is true and what is false.”(212)

Flannery also complains in chapter eight about how he is incapable of writing without injecting part of himself into the story. He cannot help but include his own perspective in some aspect, regardless of how minute, of the story he writes. He wants, instead, to write as if he “were only a hand, a severed hand that grasps a pen and writes…the tellable that nobody tells.”(171) He despises analytical readers like Lotaria because “she has read them only to find in them what she was already convinced of before reading them.”(185) What he is searching for is this common ground between writer and reader; where readers read something he doesn’t know but only because they expect to read something they didn’t know (185). What does this have to do with the novel as a whole? Well for one thing, the novel would be considered successful in the eyes of Flannery, but more importantly, Flannery’s struggles as a writer are not common. Calvino is merely using Flannery’s abstract complaints as a way of showing the reader how much distance there really is between writers and readers, and that it is, again, only in the shared space of the story that writers and readers can meet as equals.


As an English major, when I begin to read a book I also begin to analyze it. Upon reading Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, I felt somewhat silly in attempting this process. The internal reader, or initial narrator, instructs me, the external reader, in the reading/analyzing process (and is borderline bossy in doing so). Before reading the actual stories (If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Outside the Town of Malbork etc), the internal reader tells the external reader how to approach reading these stories, from picking it out of many other books in the bookstore, all the way down to the precise body position I should place myself in: “you rest your temples against your hands, curled into fists”(7). Originally, I was (somewhat irrationally) defensive of this other reader telling me what to do. But as I kept reading, I noticed that the internal reader had good reason for telling me what to do, as he seemed an expert on all things concerning reading. He knows the countless categories of books, “the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading…the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages, the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success” to name a few(5).We can see he knows about the process of manufacturing books when he becomes enraged at the misprint in his copy of If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler (25). He even tells the external reader what to analyze and pay attention to within the actual story when he notes that “what counts are the physical details that the novel underlines.”(35)

What this leads me to believe about this book in general is that it is a type of metafiction. It seems to be a book that is more about reading than writing, since it seems to celebrate the reader more than the writer. True, the internal reader is celebrating the writer and the stories, but the external reader is more emotionally invested in the internal reader than the characters of the stories. I am more concerned with whether or not the internal reader finds Ludmilla more than I am concerned with Gritzvi’s background information or future.