Thursday, March 9, 2000 7pm ET House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski
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On Thursday, March 9th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Mark Danielewski to discuss HOUSE OF LEAVES.
Cary from bn.com: Good evening, Mark Danielewski, and welcome to barnesandnoble.com! How are you? Where do we find you tonight?
Mark Z. Danielewski: Doing very well, living under my bridge. You can make of that what you want.
MD: It was a ten-year process.... There are many ways to answer the question. Early on I always had a sense of this large novel, but I wasn't aware of the particulars. Like the way Joseph Conrad would describe approaching a coastline in the fog: you could sense that there was something large out there, and occasionally you'd get a glimpse of a crag or cove, but it was unclear whether this was a small island, or a rock, or even a new continent. I suppose I'm using a metaphor now because it's a good question, but it would require such a long answer that instead I've used a metaphor as a means to compress the answer.
MD: The short answer is "sure." A longer answer would be that there was a careful attention to working with certain biographical moments and certain fictional moments and ultimately getting into that whole territory of what makes a fiction a fiction and a biography a biography. That was a heady answer.
MD: That has never been my comparison; others have made that comparison. Like the house, the Internet is full of these long and endless [the editor slows Danielewski down]...go ahead, destroy my rhythm, man...endless corridors which you can explore for your own edification and pleasure, your own prurient interests.
MD: I wouldn't say it's a large influence, but it's an important aspect of the way ideas, characters and events are represented. One area where typography pushes the limits is its revelation that it actually is an important part of our understanding of language, our experience of communication. When I was typesetting the book at Pantheon, late one night, I was all alone, the lights were flickering off and on and off (theme music here), and I had to type a note to myself, and I did it in some obscure font that I had located in the Knopf font library. I discovered that I'd made a couple of spelling errors. I figured it was because I was tired. Later I was typing up a similar thing with a different font that I was familiar with, no spelling errors. As I began to think about this I realized that the graphic representation of words in the obscure font I had found was foreign to me, and that its foreignness had been having an effect on me. An example of this is the way that, whenever we want to remember how to spell a word, we typically write it out in our own hand. It's the most personal, valuable font we have, and we recognize it infinitely. So just considering these experiences, and starting to assess that there is some quality to the graphic representation of words, we can begin to theorize that they do have certain communicative values of their own, and I was very interested in exploring that notion.
MD: Absolutely separate process. It was incredibly satisfying to post the book and to have friends reading it, and friends of friends, and eventually strangers. So it was the first edition. It lacked certain appendices, and it didn't have the index. But it had a great deal of the story. The agent was a completely different process. And actually very standard.
MD: "Deconstruction" is a very complicated word. It's been misused frequently. Its common parlance now really means very little. I think we might want to substitute "dismantle" to get away from the philosophical difficulties. This I say in my most scholarly voice. As to the question of my connection to Zampano, it's a good question. And you should find out who Zampano is, and I'm not going to tell you.
MD: I was certainly involved in presenting the artwork that Johnny Truant provided. The relationship between image and language, as well as the one between language and music, is very important. To loop back to the other questions, the notion that typography is important -- that it relates to language, that graphics can play a part in words, color, even music -- is heretical by academic standards today.
MD: What do you mean by kooky? That sounds like a great story. And they are the ones that will be able to answer the first question best.
MD: I have seen it. The question of whether or not it's real . . . is prickly. Is it real in the sense that there are alien intelligences within some fantastic vehicle, or is it real in the sense that it is meteorological.... I'm guessing you mean "are there aliens in it?" and I'm skeptical. But I think it does matter, because this desire for people to discover intelligence in the universe is so enormous that they need to create these fantasies.
MD: Absolutely. We have just completed a CD called EXPLORATION NUMBER 4, which has spoken word pieces on it and bits of music. Probably the best way to get it is...all the tracks will be available on MP3 on the Net somewhere. And we love Atlanta. We were just there on her tour. Can't wait to go back. I do play some instruments, but I'm not involved in the process at all. The CD will be coming out in June, and there is no doubt that you can attain a greater understanding of the book by listening to the CD, and you'll certainly understand the CD more by reading the book.
MD: Probably a good eight or nine years. I know how long it will take. I think it's more valuable to readers for authors to pack in things of substance. If I'm going to spend several weeks reading a book, I want to get a lot out of it.
MD: I don't buy any of it...'cause they give it to me for free! But it feels great.
MD: They are great, but you shouldn't take them too seriously. Any place where you can write is a wonderful place, but if you can't get into them, that means absolutely nothing.
MD: A great deal. Frankly, most young writers are influenced by film or TV. And now, even the Internet. But I was raised on film. My family would go see movies, discuss movies. My father would screen films. My sister and I would argue about the meanings of various scenes, the ideologies implicit in the cinematography of silent films. And this country was consumed with dialogue about cinema, but that has waned. In the 60s and 70s people took its impact on culture more seriously. And now people talk more about film-gross and the mechanics of distribution and the gossip that surround actors' lives.
MD: Homer, Shakespeare, Milton. And Emily Dickinson.
MD: No editorial slicing and dicing. The book was very fluid, or, I should say, it was molten. So there weren't really rewrites in a traditional sense. The trunk never changed, but various limbs were pruned so other limbs could grow forth. It was a long process. It was not an easy book to publish. But it is done now. It was reported somewhere that it grew 200 pages, but those pages weren't spawned in four or five months. There were chunks, that had already been written, that I decided later to include. When the book was purchased, my editor was introducing me to various people, and he took me to lunch with this other editor. At one point he said, "we're going to cut the book down by a third." And we know what happened.
MD: Film rights not for sale. Films are bad for books. I'm tired of seeing role models for younger generations validated because their lives have been made into TV movies or films. There are other great pursuits, and this culture is the less for not pursuing them. And it's my way of putting my money where my mouth is by saying "no" to film rights. The book is designed to have the reader participate in the imaginative structure. If you see a movie and then read the book, you are going to "download" those images in your head of who the actor is, what the house looks like, and you will deprive yourself of a much more intimate and interesting and imaginative world that you would create because of what the words suggest.
MD: I really am looking forward to the day I can get some sleep.
MD: People who think they are never scared.
MD: Be careful. [This book] will change your life.
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