Academic journal article Studies in American Fiction

House of Leaves: Reading the Networked Novel

Academic journal article Studies in American Fiction

House of Leaves: Reading the Networked Novel

Article excerpt

Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves (2000) is a novel that is not just a book. The seven-hundred-nine page codex embraces and exploits the pleasures of print in typographical play and innovative page design; its substantial print body contains an extensive hypertextual navigation system connecting multiple narratives and reading paths. The reader hopscotches across pages and points of view, layers of footnotes and different fonts, decoding a novel that relishes a print fetish while revealing how literature and its readers encounter and evolve in relation to digital media. The book reaches beyond its bindings to a network of multimedia instantiations that collectively and collaboratively produce its multilayered narrative. The book House of Leaves is the central node in a network of multimedia, multiauthored forms that collectively comprise its narrative: the House of Leaves website (www.houseofleaves.com), The Whalestoe Letters (an accompanying book by Danielewski containing a section from the novel's Appendix), and the musical album Haunted by the author's sister, the recording artist Poe. (1) The novel was published to exist in relation to these entities, all of which were published in 2000. House of Leaves participates in a feedback loop with these works: the multimedia entities spring from, feed off, and filter back into the novel through references and clues that illuminate its narrative.

Katherine Hayles identifies House of Leaves as an example of a "Work as Assemblage, a cluster of related texts that quote, comment upon, amplify, and remediate one another." (2) Such assemblages, she rightly argues, challenge and expand the concept of the literary work. House of Leaves does this by presenting a paradox: it is a print novel for the digital age, a book that privileges print while plugging into the digital network. The novel is acutely aware of its location within the contemporary "discourse network," a system Friedrich Kittler identifies as "the network of technologies and institutions that allow a given culture to select, store, and produce relevant data." (3) House of Leaves aestheticizes and enacts this concept: it is a networked novel that connects up with the contemporary "discourse network" of the Internet. (4) I read House of Leaves across its multimedia network to show how the novel uses its assemblaged narrative to teach the reader to engage with a contemporary print novel that is distributed across the digital network. On her website, Poe articulates the relationship between her album and her brother's novel: "'House of Leaves' is one thing. 'Haunted' is another. Together they are something quite different." (5) It is this third "thing" that interests me: the connections across and between media forms that forge a networked aesthetic, foster new reading strategies, and foreground the importance of House of Leaves as a print novel for a digital age.

Written in the age of the Internet boom and crash and published in 2000, House of Leaves reflects and refracts its digital environment in its print pages. Formally, the novel is structured as a hypertext, a system of interconnected narratives woven together through hundreds of footnotes. Every appearance of the word "house" is blue, the color of an active hyperlink on the Internet. (6) These colored signifiers are textual acts of "remediation," the term Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin use to describe how older media, such as books, "refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media." (7) Besides imitating the interface and navigation structure of the Web, House of Leaves positions itself as a node on the information network before its narrative even begins. Beneath the copyright and publisher's information is the web address for the official House of Leaves website: www.houseofleaves.com. Sharing the title of the novel and its publication date, the website is its fraternal twin. …

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