The House of Leaves: Designed to Dissociate

Culture, Books | by Kathryn McDermott | 10.30.2015

When design is impeccable it provokes a visceral reaction regardless of the medium. Rarely do we perceive works of fiction as a qualifying candidate for well-executed design, but when accomplished the results are sweet. And when reading for pleasure, we tend to coast. We desire an outlet that allows us to lean into something impactful, yet we hope to achieve self-satisfaction without an incredible amount of effort. We may not be looking for a tour-de-force for our summer reading, but perhaps we should be?
A modern example of ‘ergodic art’ is Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a-turn-of-this-century, horror-come-love story that stands staunchly against a stale status quo for modern fiction. Creating a full-sensory reading experience, it moves through a mystery of modern curiosity into a clusterfuck of characters spinning tales laid out in the strangest of forms in a way that could intimidate even the most sophisticated bibliophile.
It’s a standalone piece of New-American avant-garde in the same category as what Andy Warhol, the king of weird and wonderful, put forth during his Factory days; something incredibly different. Notes Chronogram:

“While most of us appreciate Warhol’s impact on the art and advertising worlds, few realize that he had a lifelong obsession with books. His work blurred the boundaries between media forms and broadened the definition of what a book could be, an approach expressed in his famous aphorism, “Art is what you can get away with.”
Danielewski got away with it; developing House of Leaves as a literary assault on the senses—which makes for a terrifying yet exciting and satisfying ride. Perception is reality in this metamodernist masterpiece; each page, narrator, font change and nuance tells its own individual story. And with an appreciation for mixed media messages, Danielewski’s sister created a companion soundtrack that builds more evocative intrigue into a rich reading and aural experience.
Leap into the dark with the House of Leaves. If we really expect to be profoundly moved we can’t be scared or sedentary, right? We must search for what makes us reach a little further into our psyche—delving deeper into what unsettles us. Go on, give it a try, dive in—cultivate your own terrifyingly terrific experience with a truly unforgettable and quixotic tale.