Renetworking House of Leaves

WebHouse of Leaves is a challenging novel, with multiple narratives, multiple frames, and even multiple versions of itself. The novel is devilishly self-aware and seems to anticipate nearly every possible interpretation, almost satirizing any attempt at analysis. As a material object, full of experimental typography, House of Leaves seems to represent either the last dying gasp of the physical book or an invigorated and revitalized form of the book.

Moreover, House of Leaves is informed—we might even say constituted—by its network, both the pre-existing web of cultural, literary, and philosophical references in the novel as well as the post-publication network of fandom that emerged around the official forum for the book in the early years of the 21st century. As the scholar Jessica Pressman has arguedHouse of Leaves is a networked novel. With this assignment you will participate in a unique experiment in re-networking House of Leaves, through a collaboration with students at four other institutions (Converse College, Temple University, Emory University, and the University of Mary Washington).

We will be reading House of Leaves alongside these other classes and contributing to a message board dedicated to our collective reading. This message board replicates as closely as possible the original House of Leaves discussion forum, which at its peak had hundreds of participants and thousands of posts. We are, in a sense, rebooting the forum.

Our ultimate goal will be to read this crucial text that teeters on the threshold of print and post-print as a network, using digital collaboration and communication to unravel its secrets and puzzles. The goal for each of us as individuals, then, is to contribute as much commentary, explanation, speculation, response, and analysis as possible to this collective enterprise.

  • First, create an account on our shared forum, Think about what you might use for a screen name (it doesn’t have to be explicitly tied to you), and think about the persona that will occupy this screen name. Who you are on this forum does not have to be who you are in offline life, and it’s possible to play with this persona in interesting ways.
  • You should then use that persona to post at least one new thread and at least five responses to existing threads over the course of our reading the novel. New threads might include questions, theories, interpretations, invitations to discussion, or anything else that might provoke a response from others on the forum. Responses might affirm, oppose, elaborate on, complement, or otherwise advance the initial thinking of an existing thread.
  • Strive for quantity and quality in your posts. More posts than the minimum or extraordinary long posts are not necessarily better, although you must contribute the minimum six required posts to get full credit for this assignment. I also encourage you to post more than this minimum, and indeed as much as possible. It would be entirely appropriate for this forum to be all-consuming for the next several weeks. In terms of quality, posts that are thoughtful and reflect engagement with both the topic and the conversation at hand are high quality, and posts that are influential, generating multiple replies or subsequent discussion, are valuable as well. Posts that are off-topic or that are merely for the sake of posting are low quality.
  • Timing is also an issue in how and when you post. Each class will be reading the novel on a slightly different schedule, so you should be aware of both giving and receiving spoilers, and provide spoiler alerts where appropriate. Keep in mind as well that it will be helpful to students from other classes if you can provide context for your posts where necessary (giving the background of a discussion in our class, for example).

This assignment is due by class time on Wednesday, October 26, our last day for discussing House of Leaves. You should submit your work by emailing me the URL of your account’s post search page. (Find this on the forum by browsing to your User Control Panel, then find the “Show your posts” link.). If you choose to contribute more than the required minimum posts, I will evaluate the six posts that you feel best represent your contribution to the forum—just indicate which you would like me to consider when you email me your URL.

Web photograph courtesy of David Reid, Creative Commons Licensed