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Issue 5. The Uncanny - Guest editor: Anneleen Masschelein

Exploration # 6: The Uncanny in Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of Leaves"

Author: Nele Bemong
Published: January 2003

Abstract (E): This essay offers an approach of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves (2000) – a postmodernist blend of literature, architecture, philosophy and film/documentary that self-reflexively incorporates the meta-narrative perspective of theory and criticism – within the framework of the prevailing psycho-analytical theories of the uncanny. The novel can be regarded as a narrative repetition of Freud's theorisation as put forward in his essay "The 'Uncanny'", where Jentsch's postulation of intellectual uncertainty is replaced by Freud's concept of suppression. In this essay I will primarily investigate why the main characters Navidson and his wife Karen created the impenetrable and unfathomable labyrinth that suddenly appears in their house. This investigation will reveal both real and phantasmatic traumas and will ultimately lead to Freud's concept of the death drive.

Abstract (F): Dans cet article nous nous proposons d'analyser le livre-culte de Mark Z. Danielewski's, House of Leaves (2000), un mélange postmoderne de littérature, architecture, philosophie, cinéma de fiction, film documentaire, qui intègre sur un mode ouvertement autoréflexif des points de vue métanarratifs inspirés des réflexions psychanalytiques contemporaines sur la notion d' « unheimlich ». Le roman de Danielewski peut être considéré comme une répétition narrative des théories de Freud dans son essay sur l' « unheimlich », où l'hypothèse de Jentsch sur l'incertitude intellectuelle est remplacée par le concept de suppression. Cet article s'intéresse essentiellement à la question de savoir pourquoi les deux héros du roman, Navidson et sa femme, créent le labyrinthe impénétrable et insondable qui surgit tout d'un coup dans leur maison. Cette analyse mettra à jour des traumatismes réels et imaginaires, pour se terminer par une réflexion sur le conception freudien de pulsion de mort.

Keywords: Danielewski, postmodern fiction, the architectural uncanny


In House of Leaves, Danielewski seems to make the task of the literary theorist redundant. The book - the designation 'novel' no longer seems to be adequate in this case, or it has to be in a postmodernist sense - not only seems to be an ideal example of the research domain of cultural studies, since it integrates literature, architecture, philosophy and film / documentary; at the same time, it also incorporates the domain of the study of literature and of literary criticism, both in the text itself and in an extensive system of footnotes. Danielewski alternately refers to fictitious references and to existing scientific material, most importantly - in the light of this article - to Anthony Vidler's 1992-study The Architectural Uncanny. This self-reflexive mode of operation is already announced in the first chapter: "Numerous professors have made The Navidson Record required viewing for their seminars, while many universities already claim that dozens of students from a variety of departments have completed doctoral dissertations on the film." (Danielewski: 6) From these existing and fictitious studies, Danielewski will draw an endless amount of elements in order to create an exhaustive and comprehensive theoretical discourse around his story. We may however not lose track of the fact that this theoretical discourse is just as much an essential part of the book, and thus of our object of study, as the story itself. With the present essay, I would like to join those dozens of fictitious students, even though I myself will not investigate The Navidson Record - a film that is by the way entirely fictitious too! -; instead I will focus on the book, and more specifically on "its inherent strangeness" (Danielewski: 6).

1. Intrusion of the uncanny and a first, tentative exploration

Already in chapter IV, the first uncanny change occurs in the house bought by the Navidsons: after a four-day visit to Seattle, all of a sudden, they find a dark room between the parental bedroom and that of the children.

[T]he change was enormous. It was not, however, obvious - like for instance a fire, a robbery, or an act of vandalism. Quite the contrary, the horror was atypical. No one could deny there had been an intrusion, but it was so odd no one knew how to respond. On video, we see Navidson acting almost amused while Karen simply draws both hands to her face as if she were about to pray. Their children, Chad and Daisy, just run through it, playing, giggling, completely oblivious to the deeper implications. (Danielewski: 24)

The concept of the 'uncanny' in House of Leaves, on which I will focus my attention in this article, is extensively introduced, described and theoretically studied in the footnotes, where Danielewski combines the theories of Freud, Lacan and Heidegger.

In their absence, the Navidsons' home had become something else, and while not exactly sinister or even threatening, the change still destroyed any sense of security or well-being. (Danielewski: 28)

What took place amounts to a strange spatial violation which has already been described in a number of ways - namely surprising, unsettling, disturbing but most of all uncanny. In German the word for 'uncanny' is 'unheimlich' which Heidegger in his book "Sein und Zeit" thought worthy of some consideration: […] In anxiety one feels uncanny. Here the peculiar indefiniteness of that which Dasein finds itself alongside in anxiety, comes proximally to the expression: the 'nothing and nowhere'. But here 'uncanniness' also means 'not-being-at-home.' [das Nicht-zuhause-sein]. (Danielewski : 24)

Nevertheless […] Heidegger still fails to point out that unheimlich when used as an adverb means 'dreadfully', 'awfully', 'heaps of', and 'an awful lot of.' Largeness has always been a condition to the weird and unsafe; it is overwhelming, too much or too big. Thus that which is uncanny or unheimlich is neither homely not protective, nor comforting nor familiar. It is alien, exposed, and unsettling, or in other words, the perfect description of the house on Ash Tree Lane. (Danielewski: 28)

In the same vein, Vidler, in a study Danielewski himself refers to on page 359 (cf. infra), remarks that 'the uncanny' as a concept has found its metaphorical home in architecture - first and foremost in the house, "haunted or not, that pretends to afford the utmost security while opening itself to the secret intrusion of terror". (Vidler: 11) In Danielewski, this is expressed in the following manner: "Confining us to the comforts of a well-lit home gives our varied imaginations a chance to fill the adjacent darkness with questions and demons." (Danielewski: 98) According to Vidler, the passage from the homely house to the haunted house can be compared to the lexical ambiguity of heimlich and unheimliche. In other words: there is a "general drift of the uncanny movement from homely to unhomely, a movement in most ghost stories where an apparently homely house turns gradually into a site of horror." (Vidler: 32) This is exactly what happens to the house in Ash Tree Lane.

With House of Leaves, Danielewski upholds a prolific tradition stemming from the nineteenth century.1

By far the most popular topos of the nineteenth-century uncanny was the haunted house. A pervasive leitmotiv of architectural revival alike, its depiction in fairy tales, horror stories and Gothic novels gave rise to a unique genre of writing that, by the end of the century, stood for romanticism itself. The house provided an especially favored site for uncanny disturbances: its apparent domesticity, its residue of family history and nostalgia, its role as the last and most intimate shelter of private comfort sharpened by contrast the terror of invasion by alien spirits. (Vidler: 17)

Vidler even specifies his definition of 'the uncanny' by giving a special status to 'the spatial uncanny': "one no longer entirely dependent on the temporal dislocations of suppression and return, or the invisible slippages between a sense of the homely and the unhomely, but displayed in the abyssal repetitions of the imaginary void. […] This endless drive to repeat is then uncanny, both for its association with the death drive and by virtue of the 'doubling' inherent in the incessant movement without movement." (Vidler: 37-38) In Vidler's terminology, we could speak of "repetitive stages toward infinity", especially when taking into consideration the endless character of the labyrinth. (cf. Infra) This view is also explicitly uttered in House of Leaves.

The unheimlich, or 'unhomely' as the 'uncanny', is perceived wherever we are reminded of our inner tendency to yield to obsessive patterns of action. Overruling the pleasure principle, the daemonic in oneself yields to a 'repetition compulsion.' […] Freud […] maintains that "every emotional affect, whatever its quality, is transformed by repression into morbid anxiety." Among cases of anxiety, Freud finds the class of the uncanny, "in which the anxiety can be shown to come from something repressed which recurs." But this 'unhomely' might as well be called 'the homely,' he observes, "for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old-established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression."
You see emptiness here is the purported familiar and your house is endlessly familiar, endlessly repetitive. Hallways, corridors, rooms, over and over again. […] A lifeless, objectless, soulless place. Godless too. (Danielewski: 359)

On top of all this, Danielewski provides us with a historical-linguistic definition of the term 'uncanny', being the translation of the German 'unheimlich'.2 However, in translating 'unheimlich' by the English 'unhomely' instead of 'uncanny', the typical feeling of uprootedness, unhomeliness and alienation is indeed preserved. In his article "The Uncanny", Freud already pointed out this denotation of the German word 'heimlich'. The first dictionary extract he gives already starts with this denotation: "belonging to the house, not strange, familiar, tame, intimate, friendly […] friendlily comfortable; the enjoyment of quiet content, etc., arousing a sense of agreeable restfulness and security as in one within the four walls of his house." (Freud: 222) It is precisely this shade of meaning that constitutes the core of Vidler's study The Architectural Uncanny. Vidler thus summarises his interpretation of the concept of the 'unheimliche': "For Freud, 'unhomeliness' was more than a simple sense of not belonging; it was the fundamental propensity of the familiar to turn on its owners, suddenly to become defamiliarized, derealized, as if in a dream." (Vidler: 7) The 'unheimliche' seems to situate itself on the thin border between dream and reality.

This notion of derealization, of living in a dream, regularly returns in House of Leaves. In the beginning of the second chapter, this derealization is already announced when Danielewski mentions: "the impending nightmare [Navidson] and his entire family are about to face." (Danielewski: 8) Wax too, when confronted with the anomaly of the dark hallway and the sheer endless staircase, remarks: "It's so deep, man, it's like it's almost dream like." (Danielewski: 85) At the very end of the story, the notion returns in Karen's words:

Q: How did you get him out of the house?
Karen: It just dissolved.
Q: Dissolved? What do you mean?
Karen: Like a bad dream. We were in pitch blackness and then I saw, no… actually my eyes were closed. I felt this warm, sweet air on my face, and then I opened my eyes and I could see trees and grass. I thought to myself, 'We've died. We've died and this is where you go after you die.' But it turned out to be just our front yard.
Q: You're saying the house dissolved?
Karen: [No response]
Q: How's that possible? It's still there, isn't it?" (Danielewski: 532-533)

Confronted with this first manifestation of the uncanny in the sudden changes in the house, Navidson's first reaction will be one of denial, of repression: he cannot admit to himself that something in the house escapes his control.

This reaction is expressed in his desperate but unavailing attempts to offer a rational explanation for the anomaly he himself records - on the inside, the house is 6 mm wider than on the outside - by ascribing this "goddamn spatial rape" (Danielewski: 55) to inaccurate measuring instruments. Immediately after this first change, however, a second one announces itself, with much more far-reaching consequences. In the living room, a door has emerged, which leads to a dark, endless and - above all - variable labyrinth of corridors. Navidson will try to compensate his initial loss of control by an exploration of these corridors. After all, knowledge implies power. "Techniques of spatial occupation, of territorial mapping, of invasion and surveillance are seen as the instruments of social and individual control." (Vidler: 167) When he has to save Holloway and his team, and thus enters the hallway with a concrete aim, he seems to attain some certainty about this radically unknown phenomenon - initially that is:

Navidson, Tom and Reston continue forward beneath those gables of gloom and walls buttressed with shadow, lighting more flares, penetrating this world with their halogen lamps, until finally what seemed undefinable comes forth out of the shimmering blank, implacable and now nothing less than obvious and undeniable - as if there never could have been a question about the shape, there never could have been a moment when only the imagination succeeded in prodding those inky folds, coming up with its own sense, something far more perverse and contorted and heavy with things much stranger and colder than even this brief shadow play performed in the irregular burn of sulfur - mythic and inhuman, flickering, shifting, and finally dying around the men's continuous progress. (Danielewski: 154)

Immediately afterwards, however, they enter an "immense, incomprehensible space […] [of] inky oblivion, while in the background Tom stands surrounded by flares which just as ineffectually confront the impenetrable wall of nothingness looming around the Spiral Staircase." (Danielewski: 155) Navidson cannot, however, stay in control for very long. The leadership over these explorations is from the onset taken out of his hands by Holloway, which frustrates Navidson and eventually leads to an ultimate, almost fatal journey into the innermost part of the labyrinth.

The intrusion of the uncanny deprives the Navidsons "of any existing cohesion" (Danielewski: 83) and undermines the attempt at reconciliation which the war photographer Navidson and his partner Karen were planning to undertake by moving into this new house. It was their last attempt to build a solid family life with their two children. At a certain moment, Karen voices this attempt when she cries out loud, sobbing: "This house, this home, was supposed to help us get closer. It was supposed to be better and stronger than some stupid marriage vow. It was supposed to make us a family. But, oh my god, look what's happened." (Danielewski: 321) Here, we recognize Heidegger's theorisation concerning the uncanny. According to Heidegger, the post-war human being explicitly experiences the world as a homeless place. That is precisely the reason why we so obstinately try to create a safe home. As a war photographer, Navidson had had a similar experience of fundamental "unsettledness", and it was precisely for this reason that he wanted to set up an 'outpost' against the hostile and transitory world.

However, because Navidson and Karen react in diametrically opposed manners to the manifestation of the uncanny, their relation perceptibly gets worse. Navidson undertakes ferocious attempts to master the unknown, trusting fully on the modern religion of the exact sciences; he is the "classic hunter. [He] select[s] weapons (tools; reason) and […] track[s] [his] prey (a solution)". (Danielewski: 37) Karen refuses to discuss the anomaly, she "refuses the knowledge. A reluctant Eve who prefers tangerines to apples. 'I don't care,' she tells Navidson. 'Stop drilling holes in my walls'." (Danielewski: 30) She develops her own mechanism against this intrusion of the uncanny, the 'unhomely', by leaving her stamp on the space: she hangs a couple of bookshelves on the wall in an attempt to introduce normality. This demeanour is typified as denying as well as showing maturity, in which case maturity has everything to do with the acceptance of 'not knowing'. She is the (female) archetype of the collector, the accumulator. The hallway, which "offers no answers" and "remains meaningless", "though it is most assuredly not without effect", of which the presence is "incontrovertibly there but virtually inviolate to interpretation", rouses the "domestic tensions" and breaks up the family. (Danielewski: 60, 62) Navidson, the adventurer who has always been ready to put his personal safety at stake in order to attain his goal, now finds himself opposed to Karen - flag-bearer of responsibility and categorically opposed to any risk that might endanger her family or happiness.

[F]inally the lack of physical intimacy and emotional understanding leads both of them to make privately voiced ultimatums.

Karen: But I will say this, if he goes in there, I'm outta here. Kids and all.
Navidson: If she keeps up this cold front, you bet I'm going in there." (Danielewski: 62)

In psycho-analysis there have been two major theories concerning the uncanny and more specifically concerning its 'causes'. Danielewski refrains from opting for one of these theories; instead, both can be applied to the "inherent strangeness" in House of Leaves. (Danielewski: 6) Initially, the uncanny effect seems to be caused by intellectual uncertainty; it is precisely this intellectual uncertainty that Jentsch poses as the essential condition for the feeling of uncanniness. The uncanny in Jentsch's conception

seems to express that somebody who has an uncanny experience is not quite zu Hause [at home] in the matter, that he is not heimisch [homely], that the affair is foreign to him. Jentsch attributed the feeling of uncanniness to a fundamental insecurity brought about by "a lack of orientation," a sense of something new, foreign, and hostile invading an old, familiar, customary world. […] he ascribes the central factor in the production of the feeling of uncanniness to intellectual uncertainty; so that the uncanny would always, as it were, be something one does not know one's way about in. The better oriented in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny in regard to the objects and events in it. (Vidler: 23)

So there is a relation of "the uncanny to the spatial and environmental, that of 'orientation,'3 , 'knowing one's way about.'"4 In this light it is obvious that no compass can work in the house - "the needle never stays still. North it seems has no authority there." (Danielewski: 90) - : the impossibility of orientating oneself thus increases the uncanny feeling already present. Freud, in turn, refutes Jentsch's thesis. He characterises the uncanny as everything that should have remained secret and concealed, and nonetheless has come to light. In Freud's theory - contrary to Jentsch's - the uncanny is not something new and unknown, but something old and familiar, something that suddenly returns, completely unexpectedly - "in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression." (Vidler: 55)

The uncanny effect in House of Leaves can then be understood as a combination of Jentsch's intellectual insecurity, and of Freud's characterisation of the uncanny as everything that should have remained secret and concealed, and has nonetheless come to light. In House of Leaves, Danielewski narratively repeats Freud's movement: at first, Jentsch's postulation seems to describe most accurately what is going on: the uncanny feeling arises from the not-knowing, the not being able to explain the phenomena taking place in the house. As the story evolves, however, Freud's concept of repression, caused by real traumas or phantasmagoria, will come forth more strongly. The idea of intellectual uncertainty is however never completely abandoned; exploration (knowledge) of the hallways eventually becomes a true obsession for the men, especially for Navidson, until the point where they are willing to risk their lives in order to attain this knowledge. The structure of the novel - a framestory - contributes to this intellectual uncertainty.5 Whereas in many stories this intellectual uncertainty is evoked and maintained by a narrator who wilfully leaves the reader in the dark about which laws (natural or fictional) to abide by, the specific structure of House of Leaves makes it clear from the onset that this hallway does exist for the characters and the reader, although the external reality seems to contradict its existence.

In one continuous shot, Navidson […] momentarily focuses on a doorway on the north wall of his living room before climbing outside of the house through a window to the east of that door, where he trips slightly in the flower bed, redirects the camera from the ground to the exterior white clapboard, then moves right, crawling back inside the house through a second window, this time to the west of that door, where we hear him grunt slightly as he knocks his head on the sill, eliciting laughter from those in the room […] before finally returning us to the starting point, thus completely circling the doorway and so proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that insulation or siding is the only possible thing this doorway could lead to, which is where all laughter stops, as Navidson's hand appears in frame and pulls open the door, revealing a narrow black hallway at least ten feet long, prompting Navidson to re-investigate, once again leading us on another circumambulation of this strange passageway, climbing in and out of the windows, pointing the camera to where the hallway should extend but finding nothing more than his own backyard - no ten foot protuberance, just rose bushes, a muddy dart gun, and the translucent summer air - in essence an exercise in disbelief which despite his best intentions still takes Navidson back inside to that impossible hallway. (Danielewski: 4)

2. A second, more thorough exploration- in search of a meaning

A haunting question has been lurking since the uncanny change was mentioned for the first time. What is the meaning of the labyrinth? Does it even have a meaning?6 I will now try to answer this pressing question. The formulation of such answer will however take the shape of an exploration in itself, albeit not of a labyrinthine house, but of a text - itself a construction in its kind.

The earlier position that the dark hallway offers "no answers" and "remains meaningless" (Danielewski: 60), is refuted only a few pages later in the book (in the mean time, Tom has installed a door to barricade the hallway): "Sadly, even with the unnatural darkness7 now locked behind a steel door, Karen and Navidson still continue to say very little to each other, their own feelings seemingly as impossible for them to address as the meaning of the hallway itself." (Danielewski: 61) The hallway, and the labyrinth that is shaped by its windings do not seem to be as meaningless as what may appear from the previous pages of the book. What their exact meaning might be, still remains an unanswered question. It does however look as if there will be more than one meaning to it. The text itself offers a whole series of possible interpretations. "Is it merely an aberration of physics? Some kind of warp in space? Or just a topiary labyrinth on a much grander scale? Perhaps it serves a funereal purpose? Conceals a secret? Protects something? Imprisons or hides some kind of monster? Or, for that matter, imprisons or hides an innocent? As the Holloway team soon discovers, answers to these questions are not exactly forthcoming." (Danielewski: 111)

[N]o one, not even a god or an Other, comprehends the entire maze and so therefore can never offer a definitive answer. Navidson's house seems a perfect example. Due to the wall-shifts and extraordinary size, any way out remains singular and applicable only to those on that path at that particular time. All solutions then are necessarily personal. […] While some portions of the house, like the Great Hall for instance, seem to offer a communal experience, many inter-communicating passageways encountered by individual members, even with only a glance, will never be re-encountered by anyone else again. Therefore, in spite of, as well as in light of, future investigations, Holloway's descent remains singular. (Danielewski: 115 and 118)

On closer examination, the house primarily seems to externalise the psychic problems and anxieties of its inhabitants in its architectural structure, corresponding to Vidler's characterisation of 'the uncanny' as "outgrowth of the Burkean sublime": "[i]ts favourite motif was precisely the contrast between a secure and homely interior and the fearful invasion of an alien presence; on a psychological level, its play was one of doubling, where the other is, strangely enough, experienced as a replica of the self, all the more fearsome because apparently the same." (Vidler: 3) The anomaly of the house, the terrifying dark hallways, are thus a projection of one's own fears. Or, as Vidler states: "the 'uncanny' is not a property of the space itself nor can it be provoked by any particular spatial confirmation; it is, in its aesthetic dimension, a representation of a mental state of projection that precisely elides the boundaries of the real and the unreal in order to provoke a disturbing ambiguity, a slippage between waking and dreaming." (Vidler: 11) "The architectural uncanny" does, in other words, not refer to buildings summoning an uncanny feeling on the basis of for example "special effects of design". One can only say that "the buildings and spaces that have acted as the sites for uncanny experiences have been invested with recognizable characteristics. These almost typical and eventually commonplace qualities - the attributes of haunted houses in Gothic romances are the most well known - while evidently not essentially uncanny in themselves, nevertheless have been seen as emblematic of the uncanny, as the cultural signs of estrangement for particular periods. […] Spatial estrangement [...] represented precisely that mingling of mental projection and spatial characteristics associated with the uncanny." (Vidler: 11) Likewise, the mutations in the house on Ash Tree Lane reflect the psyche of its owners.

reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it. Dr. Haugeland asserts that the extraordinary absence of sensory information forces the individual to manufacture his or her own data. Ruby Dahl, in the stupendous study of space, calls the house on Ash Tree Lane 'a solipsistic heightener,' arguing that 'the house, the halls, and the rooms all become the self - collapsing, expanding, tilting, closing, but always in perfect relation to the mental state of the individual. (Danielewski: 165)

In many ways, Navidson's house functions like an immense isolation tank. Deprived of light, change in temperature and any sense of time, the individual begins to create his own sensory [ ], [ ]d depen[ ]ng on the duration of his stay begins to project more and more of [ ] personality on those bare walls and vacant [ ]allways. (Danielewski: 330)

In this view, the horrors with which Navidson was confronted in his house were nothing more than manifestations of his own confused mind. The same idea is to be found in E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Sandman", where Klara explains the horrors Nathanael experiences as existing solely in his own mind, where a dark psychic power takes on a form reflecting or mirroring, as it were, his own being, thus leading him to grant belief to that power and give it the necessary space to fulfil its dark work. The outer world only plays a minor part in these strange manifestations. (Hoffmann: 145)

A glance at Navidson's youth teaches us that his father was a violent alcoholic who was more often absent than present, and that his mother soon left Navidson and his twin brother to make a career as an actress - mostly in a horizontal position. Navidson's very first human relationship was thus characterised by absence, the legacy of which he would carry with him all his life.

Perhaps one reason Navidson became so enamored with photography was the way it gave permanence to moments that were often so fleeting. Nevertheless, not even ten thousand photographs can secure a world, and so while Navidson may have worked harder, taken greater risks and become increasingly more successful, he was ultimately misled in feeling that his labor could make up for the love he was deprived of as a child and the ultimate sense of security such love bestows. (Danielewski: 22-23)

"On every woman falls the shadow of the mother, what immediately imparts her with the power, possibly the omnipotence, of the mother." (Verhaeghe 1999: 53. My translation8 ) This absence of the proto-relationship cannot, however, explain in itself why Navidson had to create such an impenetrable / unfathomable labyrinth. A lot of questions are raised here, to which we cannot immediately formulate an adequate answer - keeping in mind the multi-interpretability of the concept of the labyrinth itself ("the house frustratingly resists any single interpretation" (Vidler: 119)).

This might be the right place to turn our attention to the theories of Freud and Lacan. "In 1995, parapsychologist Lucinda S. Hausmaninger claimed that Navidson's house was analogous to the blind spot created by the optic nerve in the retina: 'It is a place of processing, of sense-making, of seeing.' However, she soon altered this supposition, describing it as 'the omphalos of all we are.' It did not matter that the house existed in Virginia, only that it existed in one place: 'One place, one (eventual) meaning.'" (Danielewski: 414) Now, as Verhaeghe points out, "[f]rom a Lacanian point of view, this [notion of the omphalos, "the core of our being" N. B.] can be understood as the relationship between the Real and the other two orders [the Imaginary and the Symbolic, N.B.]. Freud's core, navel, primal scene or mycelium, i.e., the dynamic drive element, is the impossible Real that lies beyond the Imaginary and the Symbolic, resisting every attempt to give it representation. […] The Real is apparently traumatic in itself and yields a primal anxiety as a basic affect." (Verhaeghe 1999 (a): 28) Thus, it is everything but "a place of processing, of sense-making, of seeing", it lies precisely outside of any determinant. The core of our being as well as the omphalos of the dream share ""the opacity of the trauma (…) its resistance to signification" and "the pathogenic nucleus as what is being sought, but which repels discourse - what discourse shuns."" (Verhaeghe 1999 (a): 28-29)

Henceforth I will take on a Lacanian perspective to try to come to terms with the meaning of the dark hallway. In this perspective, we can regard the subterranean corridors in House of Leaves as the Real that has to be dealt with defensively in the Imaginary and/or the Symbolic. This defensive assimilation takes the shape of repression. Freud discovered that this repulsive material is always a passive trauma, characterised by lack of desire - in Freud's theory, passive equals feminine. "To be more accurate: passivity became a substitute signifier for femininity because even Freud could not find the right words for it. In other words, the traumatic Real, for which there is no signifier in the Symbolic, is femininity. Freud had discovered the lack in the Symbolic system: there is no signifier for The Woman." (Verhaeghe 1999 (a): 39) The implication of this Lacanian reading is that the labyrinth expresses femininity - that which is without signifier. With this line of reasoning, we have reached Freud's theory of desire and urge or drive. That it is precisely the passive feminine that constitutes the Real (that should be repressed) in House of Leaves, is expressed in the work itself. In a (fictive) interview with Karen, (the real) cultural critic Camille Paglia says:

Notice only men go into it[?] Why? Simple: women don't have to. They know there's nothing there and can live with that knowledge, but men must find out for sure. They're haunted by that infinite hollow and its sense-making allure, and so they crave it, desire it, desire its end, its knowledge, its - to use here a Strangelove-ian phrase - its essence. They must penetrate, invade, conquer, destroy, inhabit, impregnate and if necessary even be consumed by it. It really comes down to what men lack. They lack the hollow, the uterine cavity, any creative life-yielding physiological incavation. The whole thing's about womb envy or vagina envy, whatever you prefer. […] How would I describe [that place]? The feminine void. (Danielewski: 357-358, 364)

The house as vagina: The adolescent boy's primary identification lies with the mother. The subsequent realization that he is unlike her (he has a penis; she doesn't; he is different) results in an intense feeling of displacement and loss. The boy must seek out a new identity (the father) … Navidson explores that loss, that which he first identified with: the vagina, the womb, the mother. […] Navidson's house is an incarnation of his own mother. In other words: absent. (Danielewski: 358)

Paul Verhaeghe's collection of essays Love in a Time of Loneliness, from which I have quoted above offers a number of indications for such an interpretation. Verhaeghe notes that within each patriarchal monotheism (itself evolved from a matrilineal clan system), it is the female who has to be mastered; the danger supposedly residing inside her has to be curbed before it is even named. (Verhaeghe 1999: 133, my trans.) "Sensual pleasure, as well as anxiety and aggression will be directed against the female, who has to be either mastered or fled. 'Female' stands for something different, something indescribable, something real, beyond any form of - always partial - pleasure." (Verhaeghe 1999: 140, my trans.) The female is thus regarded as a danger which the male should master. This attempt at mastering is the most obvious in the institutionalised genital mutilation of the clitoridectomy. In the most serious form of clitoridectomy - called infibulation -, next to the excision of the entire female genital, the remainders of the labia majora are stitched up as well. This kind of mutilation is directed against the - by the male supposed and feared - female lasciviousness, a lust reducing the male to a mere object, "an unresisting, spineless instrument that is used and consumed. […] What the male fears, is the transgression, the crossing of a boundary beyond which he no longer exists. The female, merely through her femininity, invites him to cross this boundary, awakens the need in him to transgress this limit. Every female opens up the abyss, in which the male fears, but at the same time longs to fall into." (Verhaeghe 1999: 143, my trans.)

In House of Leaves, the hallway seems to force Navidson to penetrate deeper and deeper into it. Every corridor he cycles through during his last exploration, runs downwards, into the heart of the labyrinth. "It's as if I'm moving along a surface that always tilts downward no matter which direction I face." (Danielewski: 425) A way out no longer exists since there is only one way: downwards, inwards. "The male fear for the female, for her supposed lasciviousness, is the fear to disappear in the female body. His fear is thus a sexualised modelling of a much more ancient anxiety, which affects both man and woman in their status of children. Beyond the female, the figure of the Omnipotent Mother arises, together with a primitive logic: we stem from it, so consequently, the way back lies open." (Verhaeghe 1999: 145, my trans.)9 Here we arrive at the origin of the mythological consuming genital, the vagina dentata. This myth presupposes an insatiable mother, desiring an unlimited sensual pleasure and using her product, her fruit to this end. The pleasure of the Other thus becomes threatening for us. Camille Paglia characterises the struggle between the sexes as follows:

'For the male, every act of intercourse is a return to the mother and a capitulation to her. For men, sex is a struggle for identity. In sex, the male is consumed and released again by the toothed power that bore him, the female dragon of nature.' Sex is a battle that the man always loses; still he keeps joining it, driven by an inner force unknown to him and therefore situated outside himself, in the woman, where it has to be fought or fled. At the cost of that woman. (Verhaeghe 1999: 143-144, my trans.)

Freud however adjusted his initial theories, and it is precisely this more balanced theory that applies to Karen. Apparently it is not only the male who flees from the presupposed and frightening female pleasure. "What every subject flees from, is the passive position towards the other10 ; what every subject has to manipulate, is the resulting fear." And yet, as Verhaeghe adds: "What Freud does not emphasize, is that the thing or condition most fled from, is at the same time the most desired. Beyond the fear lies the desire for that passive position, for the subjection to the other, to that other. For the disappearance in the other." (Verhaeghe 1999: 180, my trans.)

In House of Leaves, it is precisely the characteristic of endlessness11 that frightens the men to death. Willy-nilly they hope to find the exit to the labyrinth. From the moment that any return seems to be impossible, panic however strikes. The lacking of such a necessary end point is an essential characteristic of the drive or urge, the 'jouïssance'.12 The distinction between desire and urge is primarily a distinction in the related perception of time. Desire is delineated or scanned in time, thus offering a safe anchor. The jouïssance or enjoyment lacks precisely this delineation, "carrying in itself the risk of losing oneself in it, of disappearing in the shoreless stream and of no longer being able to return." From this lack of delineation stems the anxiety of the ego for the enjoyment. There is however a secured form of enjoyment, namely the (male) phallic-orgiastic one, where "the body has built in a security mechanism through the installation of a direction and an end point, the genital orgasm."13 (Verhaeghe 1999: 168, my trans.)

Moreover, it is no coincidence that it is the male who, time after time, is driven to the female; he is after all the part that fell off, that was left behind, and irresistibly returns to his origin. The drift is a serious step backwards in relation to the desire, where we are satisfied "with the identification, the absorbing of the desire of the other". (Verhaeghe 1999: 184, my trans.) 'Le désir de l'homme, c'est le désir de l'autre', to use Lacan's words. The drift is the "incorporation, the literal absorption of the other himself"; a frightening incorporation, since it presupposes a totally, passively being absorbed by the other, and thus the disappearance of the own self. As Verhaeghe puts it: "The price for the totality is extremely high, one pays it with oneself, one disappears as a subject. 'Jouïssance': usufruct, fruit of and for the Other." (Verhaeghe 1999: 60, my trans.)

It is exactly this (incomprehensible,) irresistible urge to return that drives Navidson: "The obsession just grew and grew until it was Navidson who was finally possessed by some self-destructive notion to go back there and yet completely dispossessed of any rational mechanism to override such an incredibly stupid idea." (Danielewski: 386) There is a "notion of an impulsion toward a loss of the subject into dark space, linked directly […] to the death drive." (Vidler: 175) In this perspective, the fact that Tom, Navidson's twin brother, tries to create a sense of security "by installing a door to close off the hallway" (Danielewski: 61) becomes acceptable, just like his attempt - right after their escape from the devouring tunnels (where two men lost their lives and two other men barely escaped the same fate) - to barricade the door and thus 'stitch up' the entrance to this frightening 'female genital'.

Afterwards, Tom hands the keys over to Karen. At first sight, this seems rather strange since she is a woman, and as a woman, she should be mastered as well. However, Verhaeghe puts us on the track of a possible explanation. In the course of the novel, it becomes clear that Karen - most likely - has been sexually abused by her stepfather. In a psychopharmacological investigation Karen once participated in, there was no evidence of a history of sexual abuse. "However it does not seem unreasonable to consider a traumatic adolescent experience, whether a fantasy or real, as a possible source for Karen's fears." (Danielewski: 347) Tom's handing over the keys can be understood as a concession to a fantasy of Karen's which is common to victims of sexual abuse (whether real or fantastic), namely "the rewriting of a scenario through which one gets a better role than before, and can pass on the Black Peter. 'Better' usually means active-controlling instead of passive-enduring." (Verhaeghe 1999: 170, my trans.) So it is an attempt to give Karen some kind of control, or at least a feeling of control, over the horrors behind the door.

In her first confrontation with the dark, unknown hallway, Karen suffers a fit of claustrophobia - a form of the original global anxiety expressing itself in an "anxiety to 'fall', to 'disappear', to 'get beside oneself'." (Verhaeghe 1999: 145, my trans.) The fact that the claustrophobia turns up precisely in the confrontation with this dark space is not surprising, since "space is assumed to hide, in its darkest recesses and forgotten margins, all the objects of fear and phobia that have returned with such insistency to haunt the imaginations of those who have tried to stake out spaces to protect their health and happiness." (Vidler: 167) When Navidson enters the house as a modern Jonah to ward off the storm, and Karen takes the liberating step in the dark out of love for him, the uncanny anomalies disappear like snow in summer. Ultimately, the hallway was a challenge to Karen as well as to Navidson. Should we dare to conclude that without the hallway, which seemed to mortgage the attempt at reconciliation entirely, this attempt might never have worked?

3. Answers - Delial and the death drive

Finally I have come to the point where I can formulate an answer to the previously asked question why Navidson had to create such an impenetrable / infathomable labyrinth, and what he thus wanted to conceal. To answer this question, we have to go back to Navidson's past. As a war photographer, he had won the Pulitzer price with a photo of "a Sudanese child dying of starvation, too weak to move even though a vulture stalks her from behind." (Danielewski: 368) Navidson named the little girl, whom he could not save from death, Delial. Only at the end of the novel it becomes clear what this mysterious name, that Navidson keeps mentioning in his dreams, signifies. In a letter to Karen, written the night before his return to the house in Ash Tree Lane, he tries to justify this return (which he himself significantly calls a "penance", Danielewski: 391). In a long, very emotional interior monologue, written down without punctuation and full of spelling mistakes, pointing out the state of mind he was in at the moment of writing it, he reveals the significance of the name 'Delial': she represents his failure - "'I waited too long with Delial. I'm not going to do it again.'" (Danielewski: 102)

"[…] and now I can't get Delial out of my head. Delial, Delial, Delial - the name I gave to the girl in the photo that won me all the fame and gory [sic], that's all she is Karen, just the photo. And now I can't understand anymore why it meant so much to me to keep her a secret - a penance or something. Inadequate. Well there it's said. But the photo, that's not what I can't get out of my head right now. Not the photo - that photo, that thing - but who she was before one-sixtieth of a second sliced her out of thin air and won me the pulitzer though that didnt keep the vultures away i did that by swinging my tripodaround [sic] though that didnt keep her from dyding [sic] five years old daisy's age except she was pciking [sic] at a bone you should have seen her not the but her a little girl squatting in a field of rock dangling a bone between her fingers i miss miss miss but i didn't miss i got her along with the vulture in the background when the real vulture was the guy with the camera preying on her for his fuck pulitzer prize it doesnt matter if she was already ten minutes from dying i took threem [sic] minutes to snap a photo should have taken 10 minutes taking her somewhere so she wouldnt go away like that no family, no mother nor day [sic], no people just a vulture and a fucking photojournalist i wish i were dead right now i wish i were dead that poor little baby this god god awful world im sorry i cant stop thinking of her never have never will cant forget how i ran with her like where was i going to really run i was twelve miles from nowhere (Danielewski: 391-393)

The remembrance of this failure, that has been haunting him ever since he came back from Sudan, has become even more vivid after Tom's death in the latter's attempt to save his niece Daisy when the house collapsed on its inhabitants. Tom handed over Daisy through the window to Navidson, who was already outside the house and thus in safety, and who subsequently had to watch his twin brother being swallowed up by his house and die in a horrifying manner. Again, Navidson himself was safe while a little child (this time his own daughter) was in danger of her life. Again, he was powerless in the confrontation with death.

i had no one to [sic] her to no window to pass her through out of harms way no tom there I was no tom there and then that tiny bag of bones just started to shake and it was over she died right in my hands the hands of the guy who took three minutes two minutes whatever a handful of seconds to photograph her and now she was gone that poor little girl in this god awful world i miss her i miss delial i miss the man i thought i was before i met her the man who would have saved her who would have done something who would have been tom maybe hes the one im looking for or maybe im looking for all of them". (Danielewski: 393)

In the pages following the revelation, Danielewski again, in his usual style, comes up with a whole series of critics, all ventilating their own opinion concerning Delial, and what she concretely meant to Navidson. Most of them agree on one point: Delial would soon transcend the meaning of her own existence. "Memory, experience, and time turned her bones into a trope for everything Navidson had ever lost." (Danielewski: 395) As Danielewski himself - in his assumed role of literary critic - points out, Delial also comes to represent the loss of Navidson's twin brother Tom, although his death takes place twenty years after hers.

It is no coincidence that as Navidson begins to dwell on Delial he mentions his brother three times: 'I had no one to pass her to. There was no window to pass her through out of harms way. There was no Tom there. I was no Tom there. Tom, maybe he's the one I'm looking for.' It is a harrowing admission full of sorrow and defeat - 'I was no Tom there' - seeing his brother as the life-saving (and line-saving) hero he himself was not. (Danielewski: 395-396)

An explanation for the sudden importance of Delial in Navidson's last letter - after twenty years of silence; before the appearance of "The Navidson Record", neither friends nor family nor colleagues knew that Delial was the name Navidson gave to the starving Sudanese child - is grounded in

a repressive mechanism enabling [Navidson] to at least on a symbolic level deal with his nearly inexpressible loss. After all in a very short amount of time Navidson had seen the rape of physics. He had watched one man murder another and then pull the trigger on himself. He had stood helplessly by as his own brother was crushed and consumed. And finally he had watched his lifelong companion flee to her mother and probably another lover, taking with her his children and bits of his sanity. (Danielewski: 395)

"She [Delial] is all he needs to find." (Danielewski: 394) Everything happening in Navidson's life in some way gets connected with Delial, thus making Delial the centre of a web of different meanings. The very shape of the hallways, as Navidson experiences them during his last exploration, is partly determined by his past: "[Environmental image, a generalized mental picture of the exterior physical world] is the product both of immediate sensation and of the memory of past experience, and it is used to interpret information and to guide action." (Danielewski: 176) The repressed keeps coming back.

This interpretation of Navidson's letter is however refuted by other critics in Danielewski's book, who characterise the letter as

drunken babble chock-full of expected expressions of grief, re-identification with a lost object, and plenty of transference, having less to do with Navidson's lost brother and more to do with the maternal absence he endured throughout his life. The desire to save Delial must partly be attributed to a projection of Navidson's own desire to be cradled by his mother. Therefore his grief fuses his sense of self with his understanding of the other, causing him not only to mourn for the tiny child but for himself as well. (Danielewski: 397)

This refutation in fact points back at Freud's earlier discussed concept of transference, according to which "on every woman falls the shadow of the mother, what immediately imparts her with the power, possibly the omnipotence, of the mother." (Verhaeghe 1999: 53, my trans.) Indeed, the repressed keeps popping up where it is least expected.

Danielewski suggests that only after 'finding' Delial and reaching an understanding about his own life, Navidson will be able to properly escape the house. To Navidson, the house (and only the house) offered "the possibility that he could locate either within himself or 'within that vast missing' some emancipatory sense to put to rest his confusions and troubles, even put to rest the confusions and troubles of others, a curative symmetry to last the ages." (Danielewski: 402) He sees himself as the biblical Jonah. During his very last exploration of the house, the somatic and psychological symptoms of everyone exposed to the house decreased (Danielewski: 406: table);

[e]ven more peculiar, the house became a house again.
As Reston discovered, the space between the master bedroom and the children's bedroom had vanished. Karen's bookshelves were once again flush with the walls. And the hallway in the living room now resembled a shallow closet. Its walls were even white.
The sea, it seemed, had quieted.
'Was Navidson like Jonah?' The Haven-Slocum Theory asks. 'Did he understand the house would calm if he entered it, just as Jonah understood the waters would calm if he were thrown into them?'" (Danielewski: 406)

In the scraps of paper to be found in the Appendix, however, this positive outcome is refuted, suggesting Navidson did not wholly come to terms with his own past.

"The only ominous note was struck by the ambulance driver who took Navidson and Karen to the hospital:
It was late afternoon, nice, real peaceful, and we got him on a stretcher and loaded up, and she started to cry a lot, sort of coming out of the shock of it, I seen that happen a lot. It was real intense - he being about to die and she crying and all - so I shouldn't have noticed anything else but I kept hearing this banging. Over and over, bang, bang, bang. So finally I lookt [sic] over at the house and sure enough their screen door was slamming open and shut. I forgot about it until I'm driving back to the hospital. See, I told you it was nice out. Well that was true. Real nice, there weren't [sic] no breeze to speak of. The trees weren't swaying, nothing, just still. But that screen door was banging open and shut like we were in the middle of a darned hurricane. A few weeks later I drove by the house but the door was closed and they'd started putting up that big fence. […] The house still stands on Ash Tree Lane. Karen still owns it. It is not for sale. As she warns: 'There is nothing there. Be careful.' (Danielewski: 550)

His last enterprise seems to have failed too. The reason for this new failure - again expressly offered in the book itself - can be found in Navidson's unconscious desire for death.

"Navidson began believing darkness could offer something other than itself. […] 'Even the brightest magnesium flare can do little against such dark except blind the eyes of the one holding it. Thus one craves what by seeing one has in fa ct not seen. […] That house answers many yearnings remembered in sorrow.
The point of recounting these observations is simply to show how understandable it was that for Navidson the impenetrable sweep of that place soon acquired greater meaning simply because […] it was full of unheimliche vorklänger and thus represented a means to his own personal propitiation. […] when Tom died every 'angry, rueful, self-indicting tangle' within Navidson suddenly 'lit up,' producing projections powerful and painful enough to 'occlude, deny and cover' the only reason for their success in the first place: the blankness of that place, 'the utter and perfect blankness.'
It is nevertheless the underlying position […] that Navidson in fact relied on such projections in order to deny his increasingly more 'powerful and motivating Thanatos.' In the end, he sought nothing less than to see the house exact its annihilating effects on his own being. […]
Thus emphasizing the potentially mortal price for beholding what must lie forever lost in those inky folds." (Danielewski: 387-388)

Navidson's return to the house could, in the last resort, be regarded as an encounter with the threat of death, which, as a photographer, he never had felt, because he had always placed someone else between himself and the threat. "Returning to Ash Tree Lane meant removing the other. It meant photographing something unlike anything he had ever encountered before, even in previous visits to the house, a place without population, without participants, a place that would threaten no one else's existence but his own." (Danielewski: 422) "Only my end exists. […] Maybe that is the something here. The only thing here. My end." (Danielewski: 472) At the end of the tunnel, Freud's death drive was awaiting him…

"Non enim videbit me homo et vivet". (Danielewski : 388) 14

4. References

Danielewski, Mark Z. 2000. House of Leaves. London: Doubleday.

Foster, Hal. 2000. Compulsive Beauty. Cambridge (Ma): MIT P.

Freud, Sigmund. 1964. "The Uncanny". The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. XVII (1917-19) London: The Hogarth P: 217-256.

Hoffmann, E.T.A. 1969 [1815]. "The Sandman." Selected Writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Volume 1: The Tales. Ed. and trans. Leonard J. Kent and Elizabeth C. Knight. Chicago: U of Chicago P.

Verhaeghe, Paul, 1999. Liefde in tijden van eenzaamheid. Drie verhandelingen over drift en verlangen. Leuven: Acco.

----.1999 (a). 'Does the woman exist?' From Freud's Hysteric to Lacan's Feminine. Trans. Marc du Ry. London: Rebus Press.

Vidler, Anthony. 1992. The Architectural Uncanny. Essays in the Modern Unhomely. Cambridge: MIT P.


1. A frequently asked question at the publication of "The Navidson Record", was: "was the subject a haunted house?" (Danielewski: 6).
2. "While unheimlich has already recurred within this text, there has up to now been no treatment of the English word uncanny. While lacking the Germanic sense of 'home,' uncanny builds its meaning on the Old English root cunnan from the Old Norse Kunna which has risen from the Gothic Kunnan (preterite-present verbs) meaning know from the Indo-European (see OED). The 'y' imparts a sense of 'full of' while the 'un' negates that which follows. In other words, un-cann-y literally breaks down or disassembles into that which is not full of knowing or conversely full of not knowing; and so without understanding exactly what repetitive denial still successfully keeps repressed and thus estranged, though indulging in repetition nonetheless, that which is uncanny may be defined as empty of knowledge and knowing or at the same time surfeit with the absence of knowledge and knowing. In the words of Perry Ivan Nathan Shaftesbury, author of "Murder's Gate: A Treatise On Love and Rage" […]: 'It is therefore sacred, inviolate, forever preserved. The ultimate virgin. The husbandless Madonna. Mother of God. Mother of Mother. Inhuman'. See also Anthony Vidler's "The Architectural Uncanny: Essays In The Modern Unhomely" (Cambridge, Massachusetts; The MIT Press, 1992)." (Danielewski: 359)
3. Navidson, during his last and almost fatal exploration, "is slowly becoming more and more disoriented. He suffers from surges of nausea, 'like I've got a bad case of the spins.' Questions plague him. Is he floating, falling, or rising? Is he right side up, upside down or on his side?" (Danielewski: 465)
4. Vidler: 23. It is for good reason that Holloway takes Jed, who "possesses an uncanny [!] sense of direction" and Wax, a guide, with him. (Danielewski: 81). "'I guess all we've got now is your sense of direction,' Wax jokingly tells Jed, which as Luther Shepard wrote: "Only helps to emphasize how real the threat was of getting lost in there'." (Danielewski: 90). "Though Wax puts his faith in Jed's unerring sense of direction, Jed admits to some pre-exploration apprehensions: 'How can I know where to go when I don't know where we are? I mean, really, where is that place in relation to here, to us, to everything? Where?'" (Danielewski: 94). "The problem, of course, was that the certain 'something' Holloway so adamantly sought to locate never existed per se in that place to begin with." (Danielewski: 95)
5. Entirely according to Kofman's theories. (Kofman: 150)
6. The house seems to deny all laws of nature concerning supporting power. "So that place, beyond dimension, impossibly high, deep, wide - what kind of foundation is it sitting on?" (Danielewski: 355) Something without foundation, has no ground, ergo no meaning… Or: "I trace the lines, do the math, study the construction, and all I come up with is… well the whole thing's just a hopeless, structural impossibility. And therefore substanceless and forgettable. Despite its weight, its magnitude, its mass… In the end it adds up to nothing." (Danielewski: 361) "Just as a nasty virus resists the body's immune system so […] the house resists interpretation." Meaning could only originate "if you tied the house to politics, science or psychology. Whatever you like but something." (Danielewski: 356). Moreover, one should keep in mind one issue: "It could represent plenty of things but it also is nothing more than itself, a house - albeit a pretty weird house." (Danielewski: 361).
7. The darkness reigning in the hallway is not coincidental. At the end of the 18th century, the fear of darkness brought about a great fascination for everything concerning the dark side of life, for a fantastic world, filled with dark stone walls, hiding places and dungeons. A spatial phenomenology of darkness came to life. "Absolute darkness [was] the most powerful instrument to induce that state of fundamental terror claimed by Burke as the instigator of the sublime." (Vidler: 169).
8. I have not been able to consult the English translation of this collection of essays. (The reference of the translation is: Verhaeghe, Paul. 1999. Love in a Time of Loneliness - Three Essays on Drive and Desire. New York, London: The Other Press, Rebus Press). All translations of Verhaeghe 1999 are therefore mine, as will be indicated.
9. This interpretation gains even more power through the support of another quote: "Realizing what is about to happen, Navidson makes a desperate grab for the only remaining thread connecting him to home, but he is too late." (Danielewski: 293) This thread of course suggests the umbilical cord, connecting the new-born to its mother, but irrevocably waiting to be cut through.
10. When asked for his interpretation of the house, Derrida answers: "The other. [Pause] Or what other, which is to say then, the same thing. The other, no other. You see?" (Danielewski: 365)
11. When asked for his description of the house, Hofstadter answers: "A horizontal eight." (Danielewski: 364). ¥ : the mathematical sign of infinity.
12. Both in its sense of enjoyment as in its sense of usufruct. From here on, I will use the word 'enjoyment', but one must keep in mind both meanings of the word.
13. "The shores are delineated and the energy is channelled. The thrust reaches its height, the dams break, but the finish is in sight. The 'I come, I come' is truly the right expression, for, beforehand, the I was far gone." (Verhaeghe 1999: 168, my trans.)

14. "Maurice Blanchot translates this as "whoever sees God dies." (Danielewski: 388). The literal translation goes as follows: 'The man who sees me and lives does after all not exist.' In his letter to Karen, Navidson writes: "God's a house. Which is not to say that our house is God's house or even a house of God. What I mean to say is that our house is God." (Danielewski: 390).







Nele Bemong is currently working on a Ph.D at the department of Dutch Literature at the K.U.Leuven on the historical novel.



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