Monday, April 25, 2011

Blue House of Leaves: A Projection of Heaven

Mark Z. Danielewski refuses to comment on why every word “house” in his House of Leaves in printed in blue. Critics have made connections to media, especially the internet, but Danielewski asserts that it is each individual’s right to make of it what one wishes and therefore cannot impose his own meaning. In one perspective of the novel, my perspective, every house is blue in order to thematically represent heaven and the hope of not only entering heaven but of a better life while on earth. Once understanding this concept, different passages in the book can be better understood, such as Karen’s short film and the children’s drawings.

In a critical examination of House of Leaves, Jessica Parker illustrates how the novel cannot only read by itself, the experience lies also with the accompanying website, second text The Whalestoe Letters and music (107). Because of this take she likens the blue words of every house to that of hyperlinks on the internet, like the interaction of different sources on a vast variety of knowledge since the novel is not only out of order but constantly linking back on itself in different scenarios (108). However, Parker goes back on herself when including an interview with Danielewski; he states that the “blue color of ‘house’ is not meant to invoke digital technology but rather to represent cinematic effects” (121). Cinematic effects such as special effects to illustrate fantasy worlds (like the film The Matrix) or cinematic effects such as subtle color changes to illustrate differences in society (Pleasantville)?

Since special effects have no place in written media, understanding Danielewski to mean ‘cinematic effects’ like that of Pleasantville—where the film gradually gains color as the community becomes less naïve and less disillusioned to the teenage empowerment—House of Leaves and its colors begins to strike a deeper chord. Martin Brick, in a critical essay on the novel, asserts that the blue is in actuality a modern version of rubrication (the medieval tradition of highlighting certain words in red for emphasis and power) in order to catch the readers’ attention but not demand authority (paragraphs 3 & 4). While Brick makes no conclusion as to the meaning of such blueness, Katherine Halyes connects the blue of the text to “the blue screen of a movie backdrop onto which anything can be projected, then the text is attempting to project into this space the linguistic signifiers for everything in the world, as if attempting to make up through verbal proliferation the absolute emptiness of the House as a physical space” (792). Case and point being that there are multiple ways to interpret Danielewski’s use of blue for every written “house” from internet hyperlinks to medieval script, to film projection.

Stemming from the final film projection, and its ability to be nothingness with the possibility of what’s to come, the blue “house” has stood out to mean the endless expanse of hope and even its vague end of a heaven. As the beginning screen to any film the blue projection offers similar features: the open possibility that anything may follow, the hope that this following will be pleasant to behold, the reaching goal that the ending will suffice our needs throughout the film…This is similar to needs in life: for life to go smoothly, the boundless hope people carry throughout it, and the goal of reaching and/or achieving all that life has to offer. This perspective of the color blue can be seen throughout its different positions within the novel.

Heaven is defined as the overarching goal to an “ethereal and gentle place” after life as Danielewski describes it during Navidson’s dream (398). In this dream Navidson is in a bare room with nothing but a well that has a long slide attached to the bottom, where the water usually is. He understands that to go down the well and fall forever down that slide is like a hell, a forever in agony and never reaching any sort of end, however, “if he has lived a good life, a blue light will carry him to some ethereal and gentle place” (398). He will go to heaven, because of this blue light. In addition to this, when Navidson is in the house he is on the verge of dying from exposure, he sees another blue light. This light is the last thing audiences can see—that presumably Navidson can see—before the next shot comes of Karen cradling Navidson out on the front lawn (489, 523). Inches from death he sees this blue light and is transported to the safety and security of the outside world again. In both instances, the blue light can be seen as a symbol for heaven. In the first, it is literally transporting the dead into another world and in the second example Navidson leaves the hell of the frigid, black house to life again. Heaven is the place in which one yearns for.

In a similar vein to the first example of Navidson’s death dream and transporting people to heaven, a third example has nothing to do with Navidson but merely the act of dying. In a side story made up by Johnny, he describes the baby “with holes in its brain” born with severe health issues (518). This baby was also born cyanotic. Blue. The baby lasts mere days before dying with miracle-like fashion: before the doctors have a chance to disconnect the life-support, the mother whispers her permission for him to “go now” and he flat lines the next instant (521). This baby had more or less been born already half-dead, caught between the earthly world and heaven, which was illustrated through Danielewski’s description of his birth as cyanotic. This follows the previous examples of blue pertaining to heaven as an otherworldly place. The final example brought to light is in the letters from Johnny’s mother. She describes her dream of Johnny as if he were water, “so beautiful and elegant and all blue...Gods assembled around [him] and paid their respects” (592). Once again, blue in the sense of otherworldly, even godly, like heaven. And heaven is a place of paradise, of every positive thing imaginable, of a world of good, nice people, a place of hope (for what is life without hope for the future?) and thus blue has roots in projecting hope throughout House of Leaves as well.

As the aforementioned example of Navidson on the verge of death in the house, one could say the blue light he saw could represent hope of rescue or escape. The theme of hope through rescue or escape back to a better place is also illustrated through Johnny. At points it is obvious Johnny is having mental problems ranging from paranoia to schizophrenia, and at one point he even visits a doctor (assuming a psychiatrist) who prescribes him “chalk-blue” pills (179). Regardless of the fact Johnny does not take them, the pills offer a way out of his madness, a hope for a return to sanity, a hope of a rescue or escape from insanity. Danielewski wrote these pills to be blue in order to convey such messages. Other examples illustrate this subtle mention of hope through the color blue as well. Such examples include Johnny’s initial dealings with Thumper and Karen’s hand mirror. In his initial dealings with Thumper, after the initial shock and passion, Johnny describes Thumper through his minds projection: “hips curving like coastal norths, tits rising and falling beneath her blue sweatshirt the way an ocean will do long after the storm has passed” (52). Her sweatshirt is blue. He has hope for her, hope of fucking her. This hope is just like Karen’s hope of dismissing the demons of her fourteenth year. As noted by a fictional article in House of Leaves, Karen had once been “exuberant, feisty, charming, independent…and most of all fearless” when she was fourteen, but by fifteen had shut up inside herself and wasn’t as outgoing (58). In order to maintain her composure, however, she would practice her smile in a little blue hand mirror, in hopes to avoid looking as if she held demons. For her, the hope was to return to normalcy.

Taking such a perspective on the color blue and how it is projected in different parts of the text to connect to heaven and hope, offers different interpretations of other aspects of the text that also incorporate color. Two specific incidences—Karen’s short film and the children’s drawings—can be put into new perspectives through the ideals of hope and heaven.

Karen begins her work on a short film when she leaves the house in Virginia with the kids, but does not see Navidson. In their separation she creates a film on his life, starting with his parents and family life, snaking through his experience overseas, and lastly ending on his family with him holding his daughter up to the sun (366-368). In a first read this is a documentary on his life; she makes it of him because she misses him; audiences are fully aware of his life and psychological stance. When taken into account the aspect of blue, one notices the film starts with a blue screen (“so in the first black frame, what greets [audiences] is no sinister but blue”). Not only is the short a documentary about Navidson, but it is Karen’s hope for a future again with him, regardless of her previous ultimatum. At this point readers are aware of her sentiments towards Navidson, but are questioning her following through on leaving him since he journeyed into the house. At this moment when the first blue screen appears, the doubts disappear, readers know that she wants him back, misses him, yearns for the family life with him again, the heaven of their peak years. In conjunction with Hayles and her blue meaning the beginngin projection to a film theory, the blank blue frame in the beginning of films offer all of this hope for the future yet to come.

Secondly when readers come across the chapter dealing with the children’s drawings in chapter eight, the first and second glances are not so similar. Both children are asked to draw pictures of their houses, just as normal schoolchildren are. In Chad’s drawing there is a large black square taking up more than half of the page and it is surrounded by terrifying creatures (tigers, dragons, wolves) (313). In Daisy’s drawing there is another black square—though this time mixed with cobalt—surrounded by creatures (314). Upon first reading it seems demonic, both of these drawings, and while they are quite disturbing, there is something beneath the initial reaction. When combining with the theory that blue represents hope and heaven, the wolves from Chad’s drawing that are protruding from “cadmium woods” and Daisy’s square “composed of several layers of black and cobalt blue” are in essence yearnings for peace (313, 314). In both scenarios, to include blue, means including a layer of hope and this hope is pointed to what the children want more than anything: not to be afraid any longer. The black abyss of the house has the entire family out of whack and people are getting hurt, the children in their nativity want nothing more than the peace of normalcy again, which is reflected within this blue stain on their drawings.

Through the use of blue throughout his novel, Danielewski illuminates layers of meaning behind his already layered text. The blue of every “house” stands out to point readers to look and notice the other colors within the novel and from there connect them to each reader’s own perspective. Blue has connected throughout the novel with ideas of hope and longing, of the endless reach of one’s own hope in this world, and for that of the world beyond, whatever that world may be. In realizing such a connection the novel reads differently as a whole, but specifically when blue is concerned minutely in deep passages (such as Karen’s short or the children’s drawings). With this new perspective other themes pop from the otherwise obvious scenes. Danielewski not only writes his House of Leaves, he paints it.


Brick, Martin. "Blueprint(s): Rubric for a Deconstructed Age in House of Leaves." Philament. The University of Sydney.

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2002. Saving the Subject: Remediation in House of Leaves. American Literature, 74, 779-806. Retrieved from Project MUSE.

Pressman, J. (2006). House of Leaves: reading the networked novel. Studies in American Fiction . 34, 107-129. Retrieved from INFOTRAC.

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