Mark C. Taylor interviews Mark Danielewski

Rewiring the Real

This week our featured book is Rewiring the Real: In Conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo by Mark C. Taylor. Remember to enter our Book Giveaway to win a FREE copy of Rewiring the Real. Today, the last day of our giveaway and blog promotion for Rewiring the Real, we have a special interview between Mark C. Taylor and one of the authors featured in Rewiring the Real, Mark Danielewski. In this interview, Professor Taylor and Danielewski discuss the influence of film and technology on House of Leaves. The entire interview can be found on the CUP website.

Mark Taylor: All right, let’s talk a little bit about various kinds of technologies and your work. Film obviously pervades your work in a variety of ways. Indeed, House of Leaves is modeled, among many other things, on a horror film, in certain ways. Only Revolutions is something like a road movie through American history. You grew up with a filmmaker as a father. You studied film at USC. Can you talk a little bit about the intersection of film in your writing and how film has shaped the way you think about writing?

M. Danielewski: I was raised by parents who made sure that we were watching movies in our basement. My father would bring home 16 mm prints of films by Kubrick, Welles, Ford and Sturges. I would have to change the reels.

Between reels, there was a discussion about what the movie was about. Some of my friends, who thought they were just there for movie night, would suddenly hear my father’s voice asking, “What is the political angle of this shot?”

My father would talk about choices – of color, costume, angles, camera movement, how a scene was constructed, the grammar of crossing the line or not crossing the line, the kind of equipment used. So, I was very fortunate to internalize that.

I’m always a little hesitant about terms like “experimental” and “avant-garde,” because I feel like so much of what I’m doing is built on what so many profound visualists were already doing. I mean, I’m not the first one to move text around.

But I think one little addition that I’ve been steadily working on is applying to text the grammatical laws of how we see things, in a very specific and limited way. So, there’s a way of leading the eye to a certain place, and then when you change the shot – or the page – if the eye is continuing to where it expects to continue, it’s actually kind of relaxing and pleasing.

But for action scenes, or scenes that have more intensity – you can think of A Touch of Evil at the very end where Heston is following Orson Welles – the camera angles are all over the place, but the eye is specifically being led to different corners of the frame, so that when the sequence is then cut, the eye has to travel from the right side – the upper right corner to the lower left corner.

So immediately, there’s that sense of searching for where the thread is continuing. By applying that to text and to the page, it could actually intensify the emotional experience of the reader.

A simple example is in the labyrinth chapter of House of Leaves. It intentionally slows you down. It confuses you. It disorients you. Then the following chapter has only a few sentences per page, and suddenly, you’re reading 100 pages. No matter who you are, there’s something very satisfying about reading 100 pages in a few minutes

With Only Revolutions, it very much uses light the way James Turrell uses light. It’s about seeing even if there are very few vocabulary words that are even part of the family of seeing. Colors, with the exception of two, are not present – the word “seeing” is not present. The way the world is perceived through the eye is not there . . . So that particular book floats somewhere between light and music.

Mark Taylor: I want to come back to this whole issue of design, which is crucial in this, but there’s another question on various technologies. Film’s not the only technology that’s important for you in many ways. I mean, House of Leaves began, and continues, online. It’s a text that involves not only a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, but it isn’t contained between the covers, as it were. Your new work – we’ll talk about that more later – you’ve described as modeled as something like a TV series. One might say that part of what you’re exploring is what it means to write and read in an age of electronic reproduction, in certain ways. That you are really asking questions about the ways in which these visual technologies transform the ways in which we read and write. Is that something that’s self-consciously in your mind as you –

M. Danielewski: Well, everything transforms us, right? My father said something that was very important, and it was one of those early lessons I’ve held onto, and I see no reason to deviate from it, which is – imagine first, then find the technology that helps you embody that imaginative moment.

So I always start with wandering in my head. I start with a pencil and paper. I start scribbling. I start toying with different things, using my hands, whatever it is. And only then do I start to conceive of the software, the technology, that can be used to tell that story.

[…]

Mark Taylor: Can you talk a little bit about – because that’s an exceptional process, when you look at the complexity and the subtlety of a lot of this design work. So, you delivered to them, more or less, copy-ready text?

M. Danielewski: Yes. And it’s a cycle. While I’m conceiving something, I’m also educating myself on what, for example, CS6 or other various technologies can do. So, of course, that’s going to cycle back into my imagination and begin to influence me in certain ways.

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