Sunday, October 7, 2012

P.S. - Post Singularity:

P.S. - Post Singularity

The Post-Novel:

While living in Portland Oregon, I purchased a book from Powell’s stacks, that shook me to my very core. It is the only book that I have thrown away from myself while reading, because I felt threatened by it - threatened by its implications, and menaced by the physical book itself. This book is House of Leaves, and was written by Mark Z. Danielewski.

We’ve talked about the tangible nature of epistolary story-telling: how a collection of found artifacts, or a transcribed correspondence gives more weight and credence to material, whether fictitious or not. When I look at the signature of John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence, I know that that man literally rested his hand on that same piece of paper, some 236 years ago - thereby giving that document more concrete grounding in the fabric of reality.

We’ve also been dancing around the idea of the Suspension of Disbelief - that when approaching inherently fictitious material, so long as said material is infused with some grain of truth, the reader can set aside their suspicions and simply believe that the tale is true. In so many words: if we can believe part of a story, it usually follows that we can believe it all.

From motion pictures, Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window is a case in point: as the film unfolds, the little compartmental lives of the protagonist's neighbors are treated with a fascinating amount of screen time. The viewer, like Jimmy Stewart, has become a voyeur whether they intended to, or not - and as we observe their ordinary day-to-day activities, we come to believe that we are right there as Mr. Stewart slowly discovers one neighbor's sinister plot, and we, as he, become accessory in that design.

There is also the vicarious meta angle of seeing something that isn't yours. In print, the dedication page of House of Leaves reads simply,

"This is not for you."

Ominous. Threatening. Concise. How could the reader's curiosity not be piqued? And since the book is already open ... well, why would reading just one chapter hurt, after all?

In conjunction with this proximate curiosity of the material, there is something direct and bracing about such works. Since the reader is necessarily and constantly held at the same moment as the characters within the artifact's story (present tense), there is a proclivity to verisimilitude within this genre, rarely seen in other sorts. The proximate interest then becomes the proximate relationship, further reinforced (often) by the tangible nature of the collection. (Opening the letter, hearing the telephone call, etc.)

Stories by their nature are fascinating relics - they have passed, the events have elapsed, and the reader is assured that the events described therein cannot directly harm them in any way. There is no danger, save for the contrived danger recounted (past tense! I cannot emphasize this enough!) in the story.

I would argue, therefore, that some stories are necessarily more fascinating than others by the sheer virtue of their invasive medium - and House of Leaves is the poster child.

What made House so dangerous, was the degree to which it rooted itself in reality - citing articles from Redbook, and Reader’s Digest; referring to actual locations in Virginia; providing the reader with transcripts and verified reports of evidence taken from the locations described; immersing itself in layer upon layer upon layer of corroborated, approved, fact-checked literary analysis- it is practically impossible to not believe that it is real!

And there I was, breathing heavily in my chair, heart pounding, as the book gently settled against the wall opposite me - like a cannonball, sent from the world of lies and fear, to surge quietly by my wooden shelf of books.