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The "House of Leaves" and the problem of the postmodern chronotope.

Novikau Artur Viktorovich

Postgraduate student, Department of Foreign Literature, Gorky Literary Institute.

123104, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Tverskaya, 25 str.1

Other publications by this author










Abstract: In this article, the object of research is a novel by Mark Z. Danilevsky's "House of Leaves" in the context of postmodernism. The subject of the study is the phenomenon of the chronotope in the novel by Mark Z. Danilevsky's "House of Leaves". Special attention is paid to the cultural and historical analysis of the postmodern context and the belonging of Roman Danilevsky to it. A general cross-section of the state of the socio-cultural environment from the moment of publication of the work to the present is given. The analysis of the publications of foreign researchers who have already addressed this topic, and the analysis of their views on the spatio-temporal features of Roman Danilevsky is carried out. The characteristic features of the theories of postmodernism that took shape in the postmodern era in their relationship with the novel "The House of Leaves" are singled out and described separately. By means of a comparative analysis addressed to foreign studies in the field of philosophy, as well as to literary and critical works devoted to the "House of Leaves", an indirect conclusion about the categories of space-time in the novel is formulated. The properties of the "House of Leaves" narrative related to these categories are described: layering, intersection and interaction of various narrative levels of the novel. Based on the study of the features of the chronotope "House of Leaves", the dominants are established, according to which the novel can be attributed to the current of postmodernism. The scientific novelty lies in the description of the author's narrative strategy, which led to the creation of the chronotope of the original type. The question of the future of novels based on the chronotope of the type described in the article continues to be debatable.


chronotope, house, postmodernism, space, time, House of Leaves, dominant, palimpsest, subject, modernism

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

In connection with the description of the chronotope ("The essential interrelation of temporal and spatial relations artistically mastered in literature, we will call the chronotope (which means literally "time space")" [1, p. 234]) of the postmodern novel, this work refers to the research of I. H. Hassan [11], V. M. Dianova [7], K. N. Hales [18], T. Davidson [14], M. Castells [8], D. Harvey [17], N. B. Hansen [16], J. Baudrillard [3], F. Jamison [6], E. A. Stetsenko [9] and D. V. Fokkema [15]. It should also be noted that the works of domestic researchers A. Yu. Beletskaya [2], S. Yu. are devoted to the study of the categories of space and time in postmodernism.Dvinina [5], L. V. Grishkova [4], T. V. Fedosova [10] and many others.

The description of the chronotope will allow us to identify the mediated features of the categories of space-time both for the novel "House of Leaves" and for the postmodern type of narrative as such.

Crisis is a central concept that characterizes both the postmodern novel and the era of the "death of the author". This "crisis" is noticeable in the comparative analysis of the categories "modernism" and "postmodernism" produced by Ihab Hassan, who assigned to postmodernism such characteristics as "antiform, play, anarchy, silence, performance, happening, participation, deconstruction, antithesis, absence, rejection of interpretation, schizophrenia, irony, uncertainty, etc." [11].

The reasons for this crisis are hidden in the impossibility of the existence or creation of the new in such novels, because postmodernism survives not through the invention and promotion of the new, but through the comprehensive domination of pluralism, "and this pluralism has its ancient, medieval, modern, etc. proto-forms" [7, p. 5].

In this regard, the problem of belonging to the novel by Mark Z. is actualized .Danilevsky's "House of Leaves" to the current of postmodernism. For "The House of Leaves" literally forces us to talk about innovation and about the very possibility of innovation in a postmodern novel. For example, when analyzing the shape of the "House of Leaves", the American researcher K. N. Hales uses the term "technotext" "texts that demonstrate an increased sense of their own materiality" [18, p. 794]. Hales, talking about the internal structure of the "House of Leaves", asks the question of what constitutes this kind of transformation of the novel. Is this a signal of a revival, or is it the beginning of the displacement of the classical novel by a hybrid discourse that has not yet received a name [See: 18, p. 781].

It is also important to note that the novel "House of Leaves" raises ethical issues: from the family and the values corresponding to this concept to the significance of human life, the role of aesthetics and knowledge in it. Which is significant, since in the era of forgetting the truth, axiology is "hidden" from the reader by the postmodern space of eclecticism, pluralism, irony as a means of interpreting and overcoming the complexity of being, etc. But if we are talking about innovation and axiology, is it legitimate to say that the work still belongs to postmodernism?

Thomas Davidson in the article "Spatio-temporal dimensions of the "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danilevsky: "real virtuality" and "ontological indifference of the "information age" [14] unambiguously refers Danilevsky's novel by its spatial-temporal structure to the logic of postmodernism. He states the fact that the labyrinthine network of narratives inside the novel is arranged in such a way that it resists both chronological and spatial systematization, violating classical ideas about space and time.

Focusing the analysis on the spatial-temporal distortion inside the fictional house on Yaseneva Street, as well as inside the book itself as a material object, Davidson described how Danilevsky used modern ideas about these categories when creating the chronotope "House of Leaves" on the principle of palimpsest.

In this regard, the researcher refers to the works of D. Harvey "The state of postmodernism" [17], M. Castels "The Information Age: economy, society and culture" [8], M. Hansen "Digital topography of the "House of Leaves" Mark Z. Danielevsky" [16] and K. Hales "Saving the subject: mediation in the "House of Leaves"" [18].

Correlating Harvey's research and Danilevsky's novel, Davidson examines the concept of space-time described by Harvey, which took shape in the postmodern era and is now in an intense phase of its own compression, having a disorienting and destructive effect on political and economic practices, on the balance of power among classes, as well as on cultural and social life [See: 14, p. 71; 17, p. 284]. Davidson notes that for Harvey, after the total dissolution of the differences between subject and object, there remains only a certain set of objective qualities capable of expressing space and time. Davidson also highlights Harvey's idea that in such conditions the "house" "becomes a private museum to protect against the destructive effects of space-time compression" [14, p. 71]. What is applied to the "House of Leaves" is a statement with the opposite sign: "In a split second, a white wall with drawings glued with yellow tape is replaced by black. <...> She [Karen A.N.] just steps forward and disappears behind a black curtain. A second later, this cold depression disappears, and a wall appears in its place, just like before, only without children's drawings" [13, p. 449,566]. In this episode, it is possible to fix the fact that the space of the chronotope of the "House of Leaves" is mobile and changeable. It reacts to the presence of a person, while modifications occur under the guidance of its own spatial logic, hidden both from the inhabitants of the house and from the readers of the novel.

Thus, the blurring of the threshold boundaries between public/private, internal/external, producer/consumer reaches such an extent that neither the house on Yaseneva Street (the artistic image of the house inside the novel), nor the text of the work itself have any truth or at least meaning. What Davidson repeatedly fixes, for example, referring to the episode "House of Leaves", which can be interpreted as a reflection of the novel about its own shape: "The windows were tightly nailed and plugged with foam. Both doors entrance and exit are reinforced against the storm. Even the ventilation was taped" [13, p. xxiv]. According to Davidson, these efforts of the owner of the apartment Zampano are aimed at keeping something that lives outside from penetrating inside, which is why the blurring of the boundaries between internal and external space is manifested. At the same time, the contents of the diaries scrawled pieces of old wallpaper, napkins, postcards, torn envelopes, postage stamps, etc. become public, because "through Truent's eyes, the reader is initiated into their contents" [14, p. 71]. Here there is an exemplification of the destruction of the threshold boundary between public and private, but already in relation to the textuality of the "House of Leaves". Where an unpredictable space allows for the penetration and presence of an outside observer in private life.

Davidson notes that this brings the "House of Leaves" closer to the position taken by JeanBaudrillard in the "System of Things" [3]. Baudrillard states that the struggle of postmodernism with previously "objective" concepts of space-time reality led to the destruction of traditional concepts of forms, when the form of an object had an absolute boundary between the internal and external. In the postmodern understanding, there is a gap between the internal and external "formal partition" and the associated "dialectic of the essence and visibility" of things. As a result, a certain qualitatively new understanding of them took shape [See: 3, p. 33]. That is, with the destruction of the very boundary of any material form, it was freed from symbolic content, historical memory, lost the individuality of existence; therefore, the world is now thought of "not as a gift, but as a product", from now on it is "something ... described and controlled, in a word acquired" [3, p. 33].

It is at the moment of this gap that it is possible to fix the contrast on which, according to Davidson, the "House of Leaves" is based in relation to the category of space. When Danilevsky "blurs the threshold boundaries", inner existence symbolic, existential, historical, mythical, etc. "filling" the form of the "House of Leaves" does not disappear, does not retreat into the past, as described by Baudrillard, but comes into motion and resists the "new" understanding of space, which the characters of the novel are endowed with.

No matter how consciously the house on Yaseneva Street does not lend itself to manipulation, description, control, or even consumption, the contrast arises from the struggle with video cameras and research expeditions of Nevidson, with Karen's attempts to organize and subordinate the interior, with the thirst for control and dominance in the house, with the thirst of the inhabitants of the house to "use" it for its intended purpose.

The "House of Leaves" was created during the Internet boom of the 1990s, which Harvey called the "phase of maximum change", when "the spatial and temporal foundations for maintaining the social order underwent severe transformations" [17, p. 239]. It was these "rigid transformations" of the social structure and Harvey's concept of space-time, as Davidson notes, that formed the basis of Manuel Castells' study "The Information Age..." [8].

In the "Information Age..." Castells, appealing to Baudrillard's postulate that there are no distinctions between reality and its symbolic representation, stated that our era is the era of real virtuality, in which "reality itself (i.e. the material/symbolic existence of people) is completely captured and immersed in virtual images, in a fictional world where external displays are not just on the screen through which experience is transmitted, but they themselves become experience" [8, p. 351].

Davidson records a reference to Castells' "era of real virtuality" at the beginning of The House of Leaves, in Truent's introduction. The latter, speaking about the object of Zampano's research (about the documentary film "The Nevidson Film"), around which the novel is built, says: "... if the documentary film at the heart of this book is fiction, then this does not change anything. Zampano knew from the very beginning that what is real or not real no longer matters. The consequences are the same" [13, p. xx].

Davidson comes to the conclusion that Castells' statement, according to which there is no clear boundary between online and offline spheres in the modern hybrid world, mirrors Danilevsky's thought about the futility of attempts to distinguish fact and fiction. That is, the "House of Leaves", Davidson believes, belongs to the logic of the Castells world paradigm.

Another analytical tool that forces Davidson to recognize the inconsistency of the space-time structure of the "House of Leaves" was Brian's theoryMcHale, described in the work "Literature of Postmodernism" [19]. In it, McHale proves that the dominant novel of postmodernism is the ontological problem, and the modernist one is the epistemological problem.

McHale addresses the theory of dominates of the Russian formal school, in particular to the lecture of RomanJacobson 1935: "It (the dominant A.N.) can be defined as the focusing component of a work of art: the dominant controls the other components, defines and transforms them. It is she who ensures the integrity of the structure" [12, p. 119].

According to McHale's theory, the dominant of works in which the poetics of modernism prevails answers the questions: "How can I interpret this world of which I am a part? What am I in it? What else do you need to know? Who knows? How do they know this and with what degree of confidence ... etc." [19, p. 9].

In the case of works where the leading role is assigned to the poetics of postmodernism, the dominant answers such questions as: "What is the world? What worlds exist, how are they arranged and how are they different? What happens when different worlds come into confrontation or when borders are violated between them? What is the mode of existence of the text, and what is the mode of existence of the world (or worlds) that it projects ..." [19, p. 10].

But the use of this method in the analysis of the "House of Leaves" leads to certain difficulties. So, according to Davidson, the "House of Leaves" contains several worlds at once, which refer to the completeness of external information fields: the world recorded on the "Nevidson film"; the world of Zampano; the world of Johnny Truent. In the novel, as a whole, there is a violent destruction of the boundaries between the worlds (between the narratives that create them), as well as the layering and convergence of the worlds due to the constantly changing point of reference, a change in the perspective of mediation, through which the recipient tries to discern a relatively stable plot event underlying the "House of Leaves". This event is a collision of a person with what lives inside the house on Yaseneva Street, and with what breaks out of its borders.

Thus, it is through the analysis of the spatio-temporal dimensions of the novel that it is possible to achieve a more complete understanding of the phenomenon described above and explain the resistance of the novel to the McHale theory of dominants.

Linking Harvey's postulate that all concepts of space and time are created by the interaction of material practices and processes that serve to reproduce social life, Davidson argues that for Castells these practices and processes are determined by modern information technologies of the culture of "real virtuality", where time is experienced in two forms: simultaneity and timelessness. The linear sequence of events is broken, "events can now occur simultaneously: timeless time has no beginning, no end, no sequence" [14, p. 73]. Now, according to Castells, as a result of the emergence and formation of a network society, time depends on space, which acts as a source of its ordering and organization.

Fredrik also argues in a similar veinJamison in the work "Postmodernism: or the cultural logic of Late Capitalism" [6]. Jamison states that there was a mutation of the architectural space itself, while the perception of a person immersed in it did not keep up with these transformations. The habits and "organs" of perception of the current subject were formed under the influence of the previous type of space the space of modernism: the current subject "still has no perceptual equipment that would allow an adequate response to this new hyperspace" [6, p. 146].

The "House of Leaves", to a certain extent, exemplifies Jamison's new mutated space, which, consequently, binds itself to postmodernism. For example, when Jamison talks about the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, he comes to the conclusion that the hotel "aspires to be a total space completed by the world... this new total space corresponds to... a new mode of movement and gathering of individuals... the mini-city of Bonaventure Portman ... should not have entrances at all, since the entrance is always a seam, which connects the building with the rest of the city..." [6, pp. 147-148].

The fact that the house on Yaseneva Street aspires to be a total space is obvious, since the internal space of the house goes not only beyond the "physically" defined boundaries of the building, but also extends to the hyperreal space (footnotes, forum, etc.). The mode of movement and gathering of individuals at the "House of Leaves" is also special, and spreads both at the house on Yaseneva Street and outside the book into hyperreal space. And finally, at the very beginning, the house on Yaseneva Street really does not have an entrance to the "other" space. The "seam" (the door in the bedroom), which is this entrance, appears only after the wedding of the Nevidsons in Seattle.

But if Jamieson talks about the real architectural space, then Castells considers the development of the "information technology paradigm and social forms and processes" that influenced the transformation of both space and time, now taking shape in the "space of flows" [See: 14, p. 73; See: 8, p. 354]. And the space of flows, according to Castells, "is the material organization of social practices in divided time, working through flows" [8, p. 386].

Castells contrasts the space of streams with the space of places, since the prevailing part of the world's population lives in specific places that have physical boundaries, unlike the space of streams, where the laws, value and essence of places are mediated and absorbed by the world Wide Web. And just as the flow space is characterized by "a network of geographically dispersed, but interconnected nodes through which activities are distributed", so "the cacophony of footnotes and hyperlinks in Danilevsky's novel and their expansion by a scattered community of readers on an Internet forum typifies this form of space" [14, p. 73]. According to Davidson, in the dialectical opposition of the space of flows and the space of places, the solution to the supernatural nature of the novel is hidden. Probably, in the same phenomenon lies that elusive intentionality that resists the practical use of McHale's theory of dominates for the analysis of the "House of Leaves".

Considering the "House of Leaves" through the Castells paradigm, Davidson comes to the conclusion that both the house on Yaseneva Street and the numerous narrative layers cannot be described from the standpoint of traditional cultural representations, precisely because, as one moves through the narrative fabric of the novel, the reader does not feel either linear temporal logic or the stability of space, relying on which the would be a narrative. The same thing happens with the characters of the novel exploring the house on Yaseneva Street.

According to Davidson, the novel is located in the logic of a new culture, which Castells describes as follows: "the communication system radically transforms space and time... Localities are deprived of their cultural, historical, geographical significance and are reintegrated into functional networks or into imaginative collages, bringing to life the space of flows replacing the space of places" [8, p. 353]. In the new communication system, the familiar concept of time is transformed. Now it is programmable: the past, present and future can coexist and interact in the same message. The system of "timeless time and the space of flows" becomes the material basis of a new culture that surpasses and includes in its own composition a variety of transmitted historical systems of representation.

All of the above theories lead Davidson to the earliest and most authoritative (already mentioned before) study on the "House of Leaves" the study of Catherine N. Hales "Saving the subject: Mediation in the "House of Leaves"" [18].

Davidson noted that Hales, trying to rethink the concept of the subject, gives the key to understanding the nature of space-time in the "House of Leaves". In her opinion, the subject of the "House of Leaves" is a palimpsest, that is, the surface from which the text is erased and reapplied.

For the first time, the term "palimpsest" as a characteristic of a postmodern text, in accordance with the work of Douwe V. Fokkema "The History of Literature, Modernism and Postmodernism" [15], was applied by Edmund Wilson when in essays on the history of European symbolism "Axel's Castle" (1931), the researcher discussed the "Work in the Work" of JamesJoyce. Fokkema writes: "The postmodernist believes that the social context consists of words, and each new text is written on top of the old one" [15, p. 46]. In the case of The House of Leaves, when Hales talks about the palimpsest, it is no longer about the "social context", but about the novel's own context, which is layered on itself.

It is this continuous layering of narratives that breaks the linear sequence, distorts and thickens the novel time in accordance with the palimpsest principle, which, according to Hales, has the following fourlayer structure: "... the initial level is Will and Karen during filming; the mediation of the footage by Davidson during the editing of the film; the initial viewing of the film by the old man Zampano; the recreation of the Zampano episodes of the film for us, the intended viewers, who read the words and do not see the images and therefore add a fifth level of mediation" [18, pp. 779-780].

Hales describes the very internal form of the space-time of the "House of Leaves", the ways of its expression or fixation through the text as follows: "The architecture of the narrative is considered as a combination of alternative paths inside a huge maze of artistically projected space-time, which resembles a rat's nest of inscribed planes... Located in labyrinthine spaces, the text binds together the objects presented and the information means used to represent them" [18, p. 784].

Such a "narrative architecture" means "that we cannot "objectively" determine the location of the Nevidson film; we can only assume that it is located somewhere inside the changeable narratives of Zampano and Truent that do not have strict boundaries" [14, p. 74].

So, Davidson, referring to Mark B.N. Hansen's study "Digital topography of the "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danilevsky" [16], where the manifestation of "ontological indifference" in the novel is postulated [See: 16, p. 601], cites episodes in which Danilevsky managed to fix the manifestation of this property. He's writing: "We never have an accurate idea of the layout of the corridor, the Nevidson camera will never fix its internal dimensions. ...Holloway declares: It is impossible to photograph what we have seen. When Karen tries to arrange things according to the Feng Shui current's understanding of space with the help of a compass, she discovers that the arrow never stays in place: "The North does not seem to have power here"" [14, p. 74].

This means that the continuous layering of rewritten narratives, creating a palimpsest on the principle of a "rat's nest of inscriptions", as a result forms simultaneity and timeless time interacting with the space of streams. This is the basic space-time principle underlying the novel "The House of Leaves", its chronotope, if I may say so.

In addition, the "House of Leaves" can be considered as an integral part of the postmodern era itself, that is, a way of representing its internal laws and energies, in accordance with Jamison's theoretical description of space.

Thus, the chronotope of the "House of Leaves" is a complex, multilevel phenomenon, which, as a rule, is the chronotope of a postmodern novel. The exemplification of violations of causal relationships of this kind is, for example, the episode "House of Leaves" already known to us, where Nevidson, lost in a maze, reads the only book he took with him on the expedition. The book is called "The House of Leaves" and, according to Zampano's commentary, consists of 736 pages, which is equal to the number of pages in the book that the reader holds in his hands. That is, Nevidson is reading a work that has yet to be written by Zampano and edited by Truent, not to mention the history of its publication. Such an ontological impossibility is a feature of the chronotope of the postmodern novel: "The movement of events is so rapid and accelerated that the past, present and future run into each other and intertwine, as different interpretations and assessments of what is happening are intertwined" [9, p. 180].

The concepts of "space-time compression" embodied in the "House of Leaves", the concept of "maximum changes" of the Harvey society (digital era); "the space of flows and timeless time" by Castells; the principle of palimpsest or "rat's nest of inscriptions" by Hales; the absence of the heroes of "perceptual equipment" by Jamison, which would allow them to answer the new hyperspace; Hansen's "ontological indifference"; Baudrillard's understanding of the world "not as a gift, but as a product" these are the signs that, in addition to the dominant theory of McHale's postmodernism novel, determine the principles and strategies for constructing space-time in the novel "The House of Leaves". The space here is discrete, mobile, variable, boundless; this space is both in the digital dimension and in the material; it is not tied to time and does not lend itself to "description", which makes it impossible to determine the direction of movement in this space. Time here is stretched, compressed, has no sequence. Different time intervals can occur simultaneously or be outside the space of the work itself. All of the above characteristics of space-time allow us to talk about a special type of chronotope of the novel "House of Leaves".


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The article "House of Leaves" and the problem of the postmodern chronotope" presented for consideration, proposed for publication in the journal "Litera", is undoubtedly relevant, devoted to the consideration of the description of the chronotope of the postmodern novel. The work is essential both for the general theory of literary criticism and contributes to the study of the writer's work. The author in his work refers to the description of the chronotope and makes an attempt to identify the mediated features of the categories of space-time both for the novel "House of Leaves" and for the postmodern type of narration, as This work was done professionally, in compliance with the basic canons of scientific research. We note the scrupulous work of the author on the selection of material and its analysis. The article presents a research methodology, the choice of which is quite adequate to the goals and objectives of the work. The author turns, among other things, to various methods to confirm the hypothesis put forward. The main research methods are descriptive, comparative and comparative. The research was carried out in line with modern scientific approaches, the work consists of an introduction containing the formulation of the problem, the main part, traditionally beginning with a review of theoretical sources and scientific directions, a research and a final one, which presents the conclusions obtained by the author. Structurally, the article consists of several semantic parts, namely: introduction, literature review, methodology, research progress, conclusions. The bibliography of the article includes 14 sources, among which are works in both Russian and foreign languages, as well as foreign translated works. However, like any major work, this article is not without drawbacks. Thus, errors in the design of the bibliographic list were revealed, violating generally accepted rules and the current GOST. The author does not follow the generally accepted alphabetical order of the cited works, as well as the traditional separation of works in a foreign language from Russian-speaking ones. In addition, let's pay attention to the quality of the bibliographic list. Thus, the article does not contain references to fundamental works such as monographs, PhD and doctoral dissertations. A greater number of references to authoritative works, such as monographs, doctoral and/or PhD dissertations on related topics, which could strengthen the theoretical component of the work in line with the national scientific school. The article contains technical typos, for example, in the source 14 of the "siiergetic". However, these remarks are not essential and do not relate to the scientific content of the reviewed work. In general, it should be noted that the article is written in a simple, understandable language for the reader. The work is practice-oriented, representing the author's vision of solving the issue under consideration. The article will undoubtedly be useful to a wide range of people, philologists, undergraduates and graduate students of specialized universities. The article "House of Leaves" and the problem of the postmodern chronotope" can be recommended for publication in a scientific journal.
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