House of Leaves is a novel by Mark Z. Danielewski, which includes poetry of various formats, including sonnets, narrative poems, and concrete/shape prose. House of Leaves purports to be an attempt by a third party to assemble an unfinished dissertation by a man known only as “Zampanò” on a film, called “The Navidson Record.” The film is told to the reader immediately as being fictional, as the assembler (who goes by the name Johnny Truant) can find no evidence of its existence. However, as Danielewski quickly makes clear-- there is reason to doubt this. This begins Danielewski’s journey to not only provide a world that’s dark and mystic, but to question the very acting of writing/reading a book. The first clear example of this, can be found in the story itself.
The reader is presented with a discussion about a film they cannot see. This is the first clear statement by Danielewski on the power of writing. He seeks to create images of such vivid quality and authentic tone, that they transcend the page and take root in the mind as clear as if one had seen “The Navidson Record” first-hand. This is not only a bold move by Danielewski to question medium, it serves as a testament to the power of literature itself. Danielewski seeks not to just create something that questions the purpose of writing, but to create something that could only exist as written word. House of Leaves is a novel that must be read by someone-- it cannot be read to someone. Even the simple act of making sure even instance of the word “house” is in blue, and the typewriter-style font used by Johnny Truant in his footnote journals, create a feeling of mystique and intrigue, that could never be expressed in words alone. His words must be not just read, but seen. The greatest asset that Danielewski has at his disposal towards this goal is his disorienting use of formatting.
The first time this occurs, it is as a footnote, floating in the middle of the page, in a blue-bordered box. At first, it would seem to be a visual inspired by the discussion on that same page of the endless corridors and passageways of the “The Navidson Record’s” dark maze. However, as one turns the page, it becomes clear-- it is a window. One can tell this is a window, because the writing seen on the previous page is still visible, albeit backwards-- creating the illusion of reading words written on a clear pane of glass. The footnotes have also transformed in this section, becoming stairs that lead down on the far side of the left page, and up on the far side of the right page. These new fixtures also serves to condense the room the text has on the page, creating the narrow passages discussed earlier. Danielewski has taken the reader into a very different “house,” one where the leaves are the very pages being read (Danielewski 119-121.)
There are countless examples of this style of formatting throughout the text each time serving the same two purposes-- to evoke the dark passages and shifting walls of the maze, and create a text that defies conversion. Danielewski is openly rebelling against the age of audio-books and film adaptations, and strives to create a format that can exist only in the written form. Not only does he succeed, but Danielewski helps remind the reader that the most satisfying experience one has with media, is when it is visceral and requires participation of the audience. This doesn’t just have to be through a complex narrative, but can be as simple as having to turn a page upside down to read it, or having to translate a poem from French into English. House of Leaves is a creature that must be wrestled with, one that at times seems to resist being read-- but, in actuality, is challenging the reader to press forward, to conquer it.Overall, House of Leaves serves as a testament to the enduring quality of literature. It can often seem burdensome to read what can be just as easily be listened to, or even watched. However, there is a quality to literature that lets it endure the technological progress of media as a whole. Danielewski helps remind us of this, by creating a world that explores film, photography, and sound-- without ever needing them.