writings

House of Leaves is structurally a non-traditional nested narrative: The physical book by Mark Z. Danielewski is comprised of Zampanò’s detailed manuscript of the Navidson’s 1990 family documentary, commented on and compiled by Johnny Truant, with revisions from Truant’s editors, complete with exhibits, appendices, indexes, colophon, etc. Still similar to other nested narratives such as David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas that embeds one story into another into Matryoshka stories, and to David Foster Wallace’s “Depressed Person” in Brief Interviews of Hideous Men, Danielewski’s House of Leaves resembles, too, a rabbit hole of footnotes culminating in an ergodic textual labyrinth.

  John Cage described in his interview with Richard Kostelanetz (1991) that he was moving away from his conceptual work on silence and was instead moving toward the themes and tropes of theatricality. In particular, theater in the round was a conceptual platform from which to jump: He decided against closing the audience out as with the proscenium theater in favor of an all-encompassing, interactive performance. In the proscenium theater, the interior architecture situates the audience members hierarchically and privileges the middle section over the sides. This seating arrangement positions the audience as mere observers, passive subjects of the performance. Instead, understanding theater as life, John Cage idealized each member of the audience as actor, performing composed music, talking or singing along, engaging with all five senses the environment around them. In composing what he would define as a theatrical piece, he defines theater as unrestrictedly as possible: “I would simply say that theater is something that engages the eye and the ear” (Kostelanetz 1987, 101). An untitled performance at Black Mountain College in 1952, often considered the first Happening (Fetterman 1996), represents an anticipatory move to Cage’s transformation of the audience as participators. Four non-touching, inward-facing triangles provided the stage for which the participating performers moved about the large, X-like space, while David Tudor played Water Music (Fetterman 1996). Though the actual event was to become known as a Happening, the mobilization of the audience into part of the performance—what I will call ameublement kinesthétique, allowed the performers to circumambulate and pass through the audience members, while engaging kinesthetically and at multiple levels of sensory attention.[1]

Line count starts at the title. (Oh, let me go back.) First, the traditional title serves as an amuse-bouche of the poem, a compendiary taste of the lyrical feast to come: for example, Robert Lowell’s “Skunk Hour” promises skunks and delivers skunks. However, in the conversationalist trope of Postmodernist poetic aesthetic, the title is the first line of a poem and is to be read first, the first line is read as the second, the second as the third, and so forth. The title is the first breath of narrative, and an author encourages his or her readers to read on—a rhetorical trick of unadulterated authorial intention as he or she strikes his or her first strokes to the page. James Schuyler breathes his first breath, “Dining Out with Doug and Frank,” as this promise of this narrative. Through the first several words, a rhetorical analysis suggests that the ambiguity between converging and diverging definitions, as well as being attracted and yet straying from narrative, demonstrates the isolation or fortitude one can feel surrounded by water in the middle of Manhattan.