In their interview with Mark Danielewski, Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory make several assumptions that characterize their questions throughout. They assume, first, that House of Leaves was an entirely intentional creation on Danielewski’s part—that is, that even if a text does not end narratively, it is ultimately still bound to its creator, or author, and by virtue of this deep connection has a certain degree of finiteness. Following that, they make two critical assumptions about Danielewski’s motives in creating the book: that it’s ultimate value rests in its (purposeful) mimickry, or recreation, of other media formats (most importantly, film), and that the characters are intimately connected with Danielewski’s childhood (most importantly, his father).
McCaffrey and Gregory’s interview with Danielewski assumes, from the outset, a predictably hierarchical structure: he possesses knowledge, specific knowledge about the book and its interpretation, which they and their readers do not. Referring to words being indexed, McCaffrey comments these words are “obviously not just being included to mock the whole notion of indexing” (118, em. mine). The word ‘obviously’ characterizes most of his questions; he assumes Danielewski has absolute authority on the meaning of the text, and not only that, that every textual decision was completely intentional on the part of Danielewski (and no other). He uses it again, earlier, in referencing the increasing importance of images in postmodern culture: “[Danielewski is] an author who had obviously been influenced by and was open to visual influences, but whose commitment to words and print-bound books was even more obvious” (117). Here, McCaffrey assumes Danielewski is responding to, 1) a threat to words from images, and, 2) people receive most of their information through “visual representations rather than through books” (116). He makes an assumption about Danielewski’s intentional authorship, based on two equally shaky assumptions—the dominance and threat of images over words. In other words, he assumes a binary opposition, Images vs. Words.
McCaffrey’s pointed questions about Danielewski’s childhood play out these two problematic assumptions; for the first, the threat of “devaluation of the word as images increasingly become people’s main source of input about the world” (116), is shown in the discussion of film and of sound vs. sight. Sound is held up, strangely, as a writer/reader ideal: “[Johnny’s] love affair with language in general—his fascination with the sound of words” (111). Going back to the text itself, the reader has no indication that Johnny is in love with the sound of words any more than he is with the image of words on the page; are we meant to think he read Pelafina’s letters aloud to himself? We don’t know, and Danielewski provides no answers. McCaffrey’s preference of sound as a source of narration, as opposed to static images, is shown again by his assumptions on page 109, in which he paraphrases Danielewski’s words back to him, instead of asking questions: “But I understand… This sounds like… but I gather…” What he ‘gathers’ is that the oral descriptions of film, specifically Danielewski’s father’s films, are greater than the images of films themselves. The recreation of the disembodied, imageless oral experience of his father’s films, McCaffrey implies, is the purpose of Danielewski’s House of Leaves.
The possible connection between Zampano and Danielewski’s father was particularly interesting to me. The dismissal of sight, the visual, is particularly important in this connection because of Zampano’s blindness, his dictation of the words rather than actual writing (to Zampano, the text only existed through oration). But reading is necessarily a visual experience; I would be curious to hear how Danielewski reconciles these two competing (colliding?) sensory forms in House of Leaves, the oral narration coming only through the visual text.
In discussing the bullring, McCaffrey and Gregory choose to focus on the moments of darkness, devoid of sight: “Do you recall feeling your father’s presence?” Feeling is heavily emphasized: the presence of a thing depends more on feeling and sound than on sight. The presence of House of Leaves, as noted earlier, is intimidating simply due to its size—however, it is important due to its complexity and the complexity of the trans-technological networks it has inspired, often through mediums (like the internet) devoid of sensory touch, or presence. Is physical sensory intimidation necessary for importance?
Despite all suggestions otherwise, House of Leaves is a finite thing, a physical book, possessing a finite number of pages, words, etc. However, the network growing out of it, particularly on the internet, has an infinite potential for knowledge-creation/transformation. Can a thing which inspires conversation ever be finite, or ‘whole,’ to put it another way? Does the bound artistic work (a book, a film) always encourage the expression of infinity as readers imagine the work removed from its physical bounds?