The class blog for a section of Literature and the Contemporary, a literature and writing class offered at the University of Pittsburgh.
I actually read the letters from Johnnys mother in the first reading of house of leaves because of a footnote on page 72, which was in response to the story from Johnny about him falling with the ink, to try and better understand him. Knowing throughout the novel of his mothers condition didn't overly change my perspective on him but it was easier to believe he was going mad or schizophrenic because of her own madness. Somethings I had made note of include:-the way her notes begin by sounding like love letters (which is inappropriate for a child) pg 590-beowulf reference on 595 and similar "smart" references to illustrate she once was an intellectual-lots of color references, blues purples and a bit of green...-the rape beliefs and the way it was coded into only the first letter, which was entirely time consuming. However, I do not understand page 633.. I cannot figure out if you are supposed to be able to understand it, or if its jibberish solely to illustrate the extent of her hallucinations? and on 621 I'm not entirely sure of the reference to her hidden message of capital letters: "A face in a cloud, not a race in the crowd"...? However I do find her text (as in placement and size and such) very appropriate and definitely gives the feels of madness to her.It is weird to have read that she tried to kill Johnny through her letters, her words, believe them up until this last reading, towards the end on 517 when he remembers that she didn't choke him. But then I dont know if he's lying or not, I can't tell if he just wants to make it seem like shes not that bad and it was something else or not, because it makes sense either way. She was crazy, either she could have choked him or she didn't. He references this rememberance to 5 and 1/2 minutes though, which is interesting in the connection not only to the hallway but also the song that the group sang. While the group is fictitious, a real group called the poes did make a song about the 5 1/2 min hallway. it just seems like so much can change in just 5.5 minutes. like even in an amount of seconds but also in those minutes. I still want to talk about color at some point in our discussion however. I just realized last class the minotaur/crossed off sections in your books are red, mine are merely black. I hadnt known this before. this last section of the book also held much blue and blacks and grays etc. I noticed the dead cat on 498 and almost seems like its referencing that one girl he almost brought back and then she threw the thing out the window where it died? And then on 503 when he goes in depth about the number 9..I'm a bit lost as to the significance of that number.
On the last reading of House of Leaves, the thing I noticed most was how far gone Johnny was. He was lying more and his narrative did not make sense. It’s interesting that though Karen and Navidson finally become free of the house, Johnny is consumed by it. His writing is more erratic and he even put in a whole sequence about him getting better. This, of course, was a lie. He wrote it all down, trying to get the reader to believe he sought help and then he dashed our hopes. I was starting to feel okay about Johnny when he finally got some help. Then it turned out he lied. He also seemed oddly upset when Lude died. Maybe it’s just me but with the type of lifestyles both of them lead, it’s hard to see why someone would be shocked that he would turn up dead. Another interesting part was the narration of Navidson’s final descent into the House. At some points, specifically on pages 440-441, I wasn’t sure how to read the words. I read them from top to bottom first, assuming that it was part of the narrative to be so disoriented. Then something made me try to ready it the other way, only to realize that was the correct way to go about it. It was also distinctly disorienting to have the text on the page split between sentences and words on different pages. I found myself reading it again and again, trying to pick up the thread of the word or sentence. Reading Pelafina’s letters to Johnny was sad to say the least. She loved her son so much and yet he was taken from her. I got the impression that Pelafina’s sanity (such that it was) depended on Johnny’s reception of her letters. As long as she knew he was getting them, her narrative mostly made sense. It was when Johnny did not answer her or try to communicate back did we see her mental stability crack. I wish we understood exactly what made her be sent away in the first place. I have no trouble believing that being in a mental institution can sometimes make a person unstable. What drove her away and why did her husband let it happened? I think if there is any enigma to the story, it is Pelafina and her story because Johnny refuses to really talk about her throughout all of his footnotes.
The beginning section of this reading was especially frustrating to read because of the setup of words on the pages (upside-down, diagonal, reading from the bottom up, etc.). But while reading it I kept in mind that the way the words are written most likely to represent what Navidson is physically encountering within the House. On pages 461 and 463 I wasn't sure what we were supposed to imagine being in the bracketed spaces filled with X's.I found it interesting that the idea that the house reflects the psychology of those in it when on page 523 Zampano tells us of an Italian translator who says, "The most important light Karen carried into that place was the memory of Navidson."In looking back on that passage I made a connection with the pink ribbon in her hair to the fact that we later find out Karen suffers with breast cancer, with pink ribbons often being used as a symbol of the nation's fight against breast cancer.In regards to Johnny, it was very overwhelming to see the extent to which he had lost his sanity. In his description of what he planned to do with Kyrie's body (p. 497) I couldn't help but almost flinch at the thought of such grotesque violence. As he goes on it was hard for me to distinguish whether or not he had made up the entire story of Zampano and his work because as he traveled all throughout Virginia he claimed no one had ever heard of Zampano or Navidson, considering most of his footnotes were filled with lies anyway.
I found the last reading of HOL to be a bit anticlimactic. This may have been due to the fact that I was expecting the book to end like a typical horror film/novel where no one makes it to th end. Navidson's injuries (loss of his right hand, crushed lower extremity) and Karen's cancer are another part that I found interesting. I thought it was interesting how in the end Navidson and Karen both lost what they had used to get ahead in life, things that had defined them. Karen lost her beauty & health, while Navidson is no longer able to physically explore the World like he did in his prime.The most troublesome part of this reading was the quick degradation of Johnny's health. I really thought that escaping his flat would have positive effects on his life. Instead it was the opposite. This also reaffirmed my prior thoughts that everything going on with Johnny was strictly mental. However, why didn't we get the "happy ending" like we did in The Navidson Records"?
In the Whalestoe Letters, I found it interesting to see another way how Johnny was being shaped, not only from the Zampano's writings and Navidson's House, but also by his own mother. For example, from the first couple letters, his mother spoke of how she would gradually be shaping him like "mother cats shape their cubs in the wild" (587) And due to her deteriorating mental stability, it's no surprise how Johnny came to be so inevitably bound to mimic his mothers own crazy nature: She can only show her love through her "...tongue of ink..." (588), perhaps as Johnny came to do by way of editing Zampano's work. His mother's letters, which in time as one know, begin to constrict, twist, and become "lost": Meanings and reasons become confusing - at first glance I suppose. It was also interesting to see how focused his mom was on proper knowledge of vocabulary - I feel as she thought there was freedom in words: However, it was quite the opposite. Lost in words - inklings among Leaves. His mother begins to fall apart and hopelessly yearns to be with Johnny. She losses her mind like so many in the House: Their own "interpreted" House of Leaves - their countless novels, revisions, and letters.
I would have to say that Johnny's mother's letter was the most is significant part of the last reading. It felt like I was reading another book that is a sequel to The House of Leaves. Johnny that we saw in the House of Leaves, was just a tattoo artist that had no hope, no vision, sleeping with different women, who started to get really into the house. However, Johnny that was described in these letters were a sweet, darling, lovable and innocent little boy. It sometimes was very heartbreaking to read some of Johnny's mother's letters because her love for Johnny was too great. I could really see that she loved Johnny with her whole heart, more than anything. On page 591, whe she said "Never could I have imagined how your tender words would repair so much of my failing heart" (Danielewski 591) when she got Johnny's first letter. Man, she really must have missed Johnny. Although it was understandable to see her expression for love toward Johnny, some of the parts were too extreme that it was kind of uncomfortable to read, and also explained why she cannot be with Johnny now and has to be in an institution. When she was cursing a guy who hurt johnny, she says "I would like nothing more than to tear out the liver of your purported protector and feed it to him with a hiss...take up immediate residence in his body, daily chewing on his flesh, nightly gnawing on his bones..." (597). I mean, it is understandable that she is mad that her son is heart but most of parents would not use such graphic words and curse them. Her breakdown is further shown in later pages, starting with 623. As we are used to Danielewski's use of space and different forms of paragraphs and writings, we could see that Johnny's mother's condition was getting worse and worse just by looking at the texts. they were as if telling us her minds were going crazy that she could not even organize her mind to what to say to his darling son. In addition, I still wonder what one jewelry that Johnny claimed at the end and if that symbolizes anything.
After reading the letters from Johnny's mother, all I can say is WOW. No wonder Johnny is so screwed up. Even though we are not directly told that she is in a mental institution until July 24, 1985, three years into her letter writing (605). In addition to the fact that mental illness may run in Johnny's family, we can see some of the reasons for his lack of ambition or commitment. First is the fact that he lacked a stable environment growing up, and his Marine foster father acted violently toward him, as it appears Johnny informed his mother (604). Second, his mother never criticized him for anything other than the infrequency of his letters. She dismisses numerous reports of bad behavior, even laughing off the fact that Johnny got into 15 fights at school in a single week. Her failure to hold Johnny accountable extends to the academic field, where she says "how dare your teachers misread your beautiful words..disregard them" (613). Ultimately, this caused Johnny to be the self indulgent, lazy unstable bum we know earlier in the novel.
I found the ending of this novel to be somewhat troublesome. I knew that the novel was building up to a horror story, but even still the ending seemed abrupt and unexpected. Also I didn’t expect Johnny’s health to falter so quickly after he left his flat. It did confirm the way in which Johnny’s mind affected his condition.When I read the letters from Johnny’s mother a lot of his personality started making a lot more sense. His mother was obviously not a very stable part of his life. She laughed off his poor performance in school, and most likely set the ground work for the apathetic person Johnny becomes. It’s interesting how Johnny’s own mental illness is mirrored by his mother’s own craziness. The fact that Johnny neurotically edits Zampano’s work mirrors the way in which his mother only expressed herself to Johnny through her letters.