“The Pantheon of Dreams”: Exploring Archetypes of Myth and Postmodernism in Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves

By Alison Stella.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

In this paper, I examine Frederic Jameson’s theories of Cultural Capitalism and the Waning of Affect through Mark Z. Danielewski’s 2000 novel, “House of Leaves.” By exploring the novel’s implicit use of mythological archetypes (specifically those found in “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” The Labyrinth and the Minotaur myth , and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”), and its explicit discussion of postmodern theories( from Deconstruction and Différance to Simulacra), I argue that “House of Leaves” not only appropriates the idea of Cultural Capitalism and the Waning of Affect, but employs a mythological cycle to reincarnate subjectivity, humanism, and interpretation in the so-called “post-hermeneutical information age.” Through a close examination of how “House of Leaves” plays with structure, narrative, character, and (mis)interpretation, this argument will show how experimental storytelling resurrects and reifies the definition of “knowledge,” “Being,” and “identity” in the modern digital episteme. The purpose of this argument is to illuminate how structurally experimental novels like “House of Leaves” mimic modern technology-based research practices through “hyperlinked” key words in the text, cross-referenced information in the main body of the text, the footnotes, and in the appendix, and through non-linear structure. In this way, “House of Leaves” asks the same ontological and epistemological inquiries as modern “post-hermeneutical” critics of today’s increasingly digitally mediated culture. While I use “House of Leaves” as the focus of my argument, I will attempt to show how novels that play with ontological and epistemological philosophy through variegated structure, mediated plot, and deliberate misinterpretations not only reinvent “the novel,” but entice the greater digi-techno-media culture back to the roots of civilization: the story.

Keywords: Archetypes, Postmodernism, Novel, Technology, Nightmare, Ontology, Hermeneutics, Epistemology, Storytelling, Digital Episteme

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.7-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 524.812KB).

Alison Stella

Graduate Student, English, Concentration in Literature, The University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA

Alison is an adjunct instructor of Rhetoric and Composition, and currently teaches at various universities and community colleges around Colorado. She earned her BA at Colorado State University, where she studied Literature and Visual Arts, and an MA in Literature at The University of Colorado, Denver. She has a background in graphic design, and studied Media Arts and Animation at The Art Institute of Colorado. In her academic and professional career, she co-founded a university-sponsored newspaper, where she worked as a head editor and layout designer, and has also been commissioned to create graphics, political cartoons, advertisements, digital mockups, and online product catalogues for regional, national, and international clients. Alison has also worked on theater projects with Professor Penelope Stella (Simon Fraser University), and edited a novel for Canadian author and playwright, Marc Diamond. She has an extensive background in both the visual arts and literary scholarship, and harbors an equal passion for both.