Loving/Hating Postmodernism by Nick

Oh, postmodernism...you fickle, fickle beast. Why can you not be satisfied with one discipline, with working within a single genre at a time? You mash genres together like Girl Talk mashes songs. Your manifestations are ubiquitous, pervading our culture, our landscape, and our.... uh, cultural landscape. You emerged as disillusionment with modernism (and really, who can blame you, I mean modernism is totally lame!) You represent yourself as moving images on highway billboards, as orchestral compositions that celebrate minimalism and incorporate ethnic traditions, as Jane Austen combined with zombies! Your architecture is art and your art is architecture. But, my erratic friend, in my opinion your greatest literary achievement is House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski.

Never before have I read a book that doesn’t merely experiment with fusing genres together, but actually celebrates it (and in such a way that it forces the reader to celebrate it, too). You see, you don’t actually read House of Leaves, you participate in it. And I don’t mean that in some hokey, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure for adults type book, either. Let’s see... House of Leaves utilizes a self-reflexive meta-narrative, there’s third person omniscient, there’s scholarly peer-reviewed journal writing, there’s faux-architecture as narrative, philosophy, scholarly dissertations....And these are simply the genre/structures I can think of off the top of my head.

Ostensibly, the book is a frame story of a house that supernaturally grows larger. It adds rooms, doors and closets of unspace. Total darkness. But the house doesn’t alter its shape from the outside. Without giving away too much here, I’ll also tell you that the house ‘grows’ an enormous, terrifying abyss on the first floor. This book is as terrifying as it is interesting in its own design. Flipping through, you will find pages that have all but white space and maybe one or two random words on the page; others cram sentences on top of sentences, and as the protagonist’s psychological state gradually devolves, the writing on the page mirrors his fractured psyche. This creates an unsettling equally agoraphobic and claustrophobic experience.

I recommend this book for horror lovers, for architectural students, readers of experimental literature and of classics alike. Readers who enjoy a thoroughly psychological read and above all readers who enjoy taking an active role in reading. When passing your eyes passively over the page just doesn’t do it for you. Maybe only in a postmodern tradition can one single work appeal to such a variance of interests. Oh, postmodernism, you win again you crazy brute.


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