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Blueprint(s): Rubric for a Deconstructed Age in House of Leaves
The use of colour in the printing of modern novels is extraordinarily rare, perhaps most prominently due to the cost involved. This was the hurdle that prevented William Faulkner from carrying through on his desire to use colour as a visual representation of temporal shifts in the mind of his idiot narrator, Benjy, in The Sound and the Fury.  But the publishing world has changed. Innovations in the hardware required to bring a book from manuscript form to bound product have reduced costs, thus allowing authors greater aesthetic liberties. Nevertheless, few authors have taken up the challenge. When colour is used it is often subtle, as in Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars, which includes red, yellow and green "books" to indicate Christian, Islamic and Jewish portions of the dictionary. Other authors take more extreme liberties, such as Tom Phillips, whose A Humument creates a storyline by literally painting upon the text of another novel.  Perhaps because of the implications of advertising or graphic novels, the use of colour in fiction generally functions as an organisational tool or as art, and rarely meshes with other bibliographic features like typeface. Mark Z. Danielewski has decided to push the limits of these textual freedoms.  His debut novel, House of Leaves,  relies upon a wide array of textual manipulations, from an index and multiple appendices, to various sets of footnotes printed in different typefaces, to bare, concrete poetry-style page layout. But one of the more subtle and curious techniques used in his novel is the inclusion of colour. Whenever the word "house" appears, whether in the main body of text or in a footnote, in English or in a foreign language, it is always printed in blue ink.  Thus Danielewski re-asserts an aspect of bookmaking which has largely gone unnoticed since the institution of modern publishing techniques: namely, the physical manifestation of word matter. Every word in his 709-page book is charged with meaning, not only by the context of the characters speaking them, by narrative technique and by metatextual considerations of Danielewski as an author, but also by their shape, size, colour and placement on the page.
This meaning may not be completely apparent at first glance. True, anyone taking a brief flip through Danielewski's pages will note the abundance of textual manipulations; but these could easily be postmodern games, as alluded to by some reviewers. Emily Barton, for example, notes that this "bloated and bollixed first novel certainly attempts to pass itself off as an ambitious work; the question for each reader is if the payoff makes the effort of slogging through its endless posturing worthwhile."  Similarly, contemporary critics must ask whether these manipulations are relevant or merely amusing. What makes this novel worthwhile is not its attempts to be innovative, but rather the author's efforts to re-examine traditional bibliographic techniques. With his textual layouts, Danielewski does much more than mock academic pretensions. In an online interview he challenges an identification of his shifting house and text as "meaningless." "'Meaninglessness' and 'terror' cannot exist together at the same time. At the heart of any terror is the fear of losing what we find meaningful."  His theoretical approach to text expresses a similar fear, and he addresses it by allowing his page layout, multiple fonts and use of colour to be meaningful on numerous levels.
In a number of interviews Danielewski explains his structural inspirations, often noting that he looked to medieval manuscripts as models.  For this reason it becomes important to consider his use of blue script in light of the practice of rubrication, the medieval form of notation traditionally scripted in red. The term has come to be used to denote annotation in general, but that initial conception has had significant effects upon later modes of notation. The word "rubric" derives from the French rubrique and Latin rubrica simply meaning red, though many of the word's early uses reveal its textual and authoritative implications. In the fourteenth century it referred to standards of conduct in liturgical prayer books and later to the red-letter entries of saints' names on church calendars. "Rubric" has also been used to denote the heading of a section of legal code, or more generally, any heading or division printed in red or "otherwise distinguished in lettering."  By visually charging these words with a privileged status, rubric closes a text to readers. The author of rubric sanctions - or rather insists upon - one particular reading of the text.
Danielewski's use of blue script functions as an anti-rubrication. The two uses of colour are similar in that they both strive to be multifaceted signifiers. Both intend to convey meaning, like any other type of written communication, but also to acknowledge the physical status of the text. Put more simply, both uses of colour give instruction on how the document is to be read. What sets Danielewski apart is that his text is anti-authoritarian. Whereas medieval red script was intended to convey authority, the blue script of House of Leaves dismantles its own authority. While Danielewski's script does not use colour in the same manner - it does not denote the product of one commentator, but rather occurs consistently throughout the novel, regardless of speaker or narrator - the colour does have a cognitive effect upon the reader. Most notably, blue script among black lettering suggests computer hypertext to the twenty-first century reader. Readers are given the impression that the word "house" is linked to other parts of the text, and that the text changes shape to accommodate the reader. Danielewski's novel, then, is not stable, but rather adaptable and plastic. Or more precisely, the novel gives the impression of plasticity. Hypertext, like Danielewski's narrative and his mysterious house, relies upon an invisible architect who codes the computer program, writes the book, or in some way stands in the shadows of the house's labyrinth. Readers take divergent paths, but the possibilities have been pre-established and are finite. 
The plot of House of Leaves is multilayered, transhistorical,
palimpsestic, and - on that count - quite similar to a medieval manuscript.
Danielewski offers not one simple story, but stories within stories. Further,
they are stories written upon stories, in which no one voice is
ever entirely privy to the full depth of another voice's words. The house
of the novel's title refers, on the least metaphorical level, to a dwelling
All of this footage is edited into a film, The Navidson Record. Danielewski presents this film to the reader through the vehicle of another character, a reclusive old man known only as Zampanò who, despite being blind, has somehow "seen" the film and written a lengthy academic critique. This writing forms the "main" text of Danielewski's novel.  He describes the action of the film, and then offers analysis drawing on real-world figures such as Heidegger, Freud and Derrida, as well as many invented sources. Psychologists, filmmakers, engineers and others offer their thoughts on the mysterious house and film.
Finally, partly between Zampanò and the reader, and partly parallel to
the reader, is Johnny Truant. This twenty five-year-old tattoo parlour
Personal experience is at the heart of Danielewski's book. This is why I identify Truant as parallel to the reader. By integrating his personal history, Truant serves as a model of how to read this book. Like the low-budget cinematic phenomenon The Blair Witch Project, to which House of Leaves is endlessly compared,  the house contains something dangerous which is never captured by Navidson's cameras. The dark emptiness serves as a resonator onto which occupants of the house, viewers of the film, and readers of Zampanò's manuscript are invited to project their own anxieties. Even within the film, Navidson wrestles with personal demons through the context of the house. He won his Pulitzer Prize for photographing a starving Sudanese child with a vulture posed behind her, waiting for her to die. The burden of guilt he feels for not saving her - for taking a picture instead - is unresolved for Navidson. One invented commentator quoted by Zampanò suggests that "[t]he horrors Navidson encountered in that house were merely manifestations of his own troubled psyche," while another states "[t]he rooms all become the self - collapsing, expanding, tilting, closing, but always in perfect relation to the mental state of the individual." 
Likewise, Truant has his own problems. Appendix II-E in the book contains nearly ten years of letters written by his mother, who resided in a mental institution. These letters convey an unhappy childhood, the death of a father and stern - even abusive - foster families.  Readers begin to understand one justification for his name "Truant". The process of editing Zampanò's manuscript serves as a type of therapy for Truant. He projects his anxiety onto the house, and this is exactly what Danielewski expects his readers to do. When asked about the darkness at the heart of his house, the author responds "[t]here are certain things that I will not comment on concerning the book. One vow I made is that I wouldn't compromise the personal experience of a particular reader's discovery," and, further, that the book is "personal in a way that is specific, not so much to me but to the reader." 
Projection underlies one of the significant implications of the colour blue in this text. As N. Katherine Hayles recognises, blue is the colour of screens used in film production.  Via special effects, a blue screen can accommodate any image. At one point, Danielewski's typographical structure has the reader follow a series of blue-edged boxes. Finally, on page 143, the text ends and the box is simply blank. Given the novel's strong ties to cinema - not only is it about a film, but Danielewski's father was a filmmaker - readers are invited to consider the box, and the house, as a screen or site of projection.
Danielewski further substantiates the notion of personal experience and projection onto the text typographically. He sets various voices in different typefaces and thus creates the appearance of an historical document, one that has been produced through time by many hands. Furthermore, he socially discounts Truant's authority. He presents Truant's notes in Courier typeface, while Zampanò's words are offered in Times and the rarely seen "Editor" is printed in Bookman. By this typographical manúuvre Danielewski not only distinguishes the voices from one another, he also categorises them. He judges them and assigns them personalities. As Paul C. Gutjahr notes in his examination of the King James Bible, typeface functions as an autograph of its author.  It implies an authority. The main body of the biblical text, which was regarded as "sacred script", was set in a Gothic type, implying the careful hand and revered authority of medieval manuscripts. "Human invention", such as chapter summaries and marginal notation, were rendered in a more mechanical, less-stately Roman typeface. It is likely that the typographers of the King James Bible drew a correlation between font and personality. In his handbook The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst asserts that it is a printer's duty to faithfully reflect personality. "Typography's performance must reveal, not replace, the inner composition," he writes.  Performance is an apt choice of phrase, for the typographer must always make assumptions about how the public will receive any typeface. In the case of Truant, his Courier is the print of typewriters. Readers may regard his words as less professional, as afterthoughts added to the page by any fool with time on his hands and a machine purchased at a garage sale.
It is naïve, however, to assume, firstly, that the Courier typeface seen on the page truly corresponds to Truant's writing and, secondly, that Danielewski intended the obvious correspondence between typefaces and personalities - as in, the Editor is a "Book-man" - to point back toward him, the real-world author. The names of the typefaces are presented to the reader early in the novel. Footnote 5, attributed to the unnamed "Editors", explains that the various faces are used "in an effort to limit confusion."  So though the reader may find the "unprofessional" typewriter implications fitting, it does not necessarily represent Truant but, rather, is an emblem placed upon him by commercial authorities. This detail points beyond the simple association of Truant as a carrier of the text to the public, and helps place him in relation to a capitalistic entity. Doing such may lead readers to see his typeface in a different light, regarding it not as belittling, but as anti-corporate and in that sense endowed with the virtue and praxis of an artisan. 
Stephen G. Nichols identifies the particular social dynamics and the metatextual implications of annotation, echoing what the Oxford English Dictionary tells us about rubric's history.  Nichols looks first to the use of coloured ink in Roman legal documents. Rubric emendations of legal code were meant to represent both the hand and the voice of the authoritative body behind it. "In these decrees," Nichols writes, "annatatio was both personificatio and translatio of imperial power." He explains that not only the emperor's words but also his "dignity" would be conveyed through red script (45-6). Colour serves a metonymic purpose. It is intended to suggest the presence of a real-world institution. Colour not only tells readers that these words come from an authoritative figurehead, but more importantly, colour informs the reader that these words are significantly and actually different from other words. Substantially, these words do things other words cannot do.
The use of colour in House of Leaves is particularly interesting
because, unlike rubric, it cannot be attached to a voice. It does not
carry the authority of an individual, like an emperor, or an institution,
like a church. There is no single character whose words are marked by
blueness, but rather the colour permeates all parts of the text.
"House" was a convenient choice to receive the honour. The word is, by
necessity, used frequently to discuss the curious house in
The title of this novel asks the reader, in Michael Silverblatt's words, to consider "book as architecture."  There is a structure to this book which is three-dimensional like a house, not two-dimensional like a pathway. When the action of the novel becomes most disoriented, when the explorers are lost amid the maze of rooms, Danielewski allows his page design to reflect this emotion. The footnotes in this section do not remain at the bottom of the page, but rather begin to invade the "main" body of text. They create narrative "rooms" or "windows" within the centre of the page. Sometimes the reader has to follow a note for pages as it burrows through the book like a spiral staircase. Thus Danielewski makes visual the idea of the reader's navigation within a piece of literature, not merely on top of or following a plotline. Danielewski's novel has rooms. There are events occurring in separate places. The reader might do well to imagine Truant telling his story in one room, Zampanò in another, and Navidson in yet another. The reader moves between these rooms, encountering the narratives in a fractured manner. By making people page back and forth, flip between text and appendices, and sometimes even turn the book upside down, Danielewski visually informs readers that traditional plotlines are only one way to encounter a story. He tells one interviewer that "[r]uler-wielding didacts have instilled in [readers] the notion that a book must start here, move along like this, and finish over there."  Most books do have a single narrator who upholds this format. Danielewski's structure, however, gives the impression that the reader is free to wander, and that a plotline can be determined by the reader, not the author, nor the narrator.
Given this instability of narrative structure, blue becomes a tremendously appropriate colour. Danielewski could have printed "house" in any colour if he merely wished to highlight it. The association with hypertext suggests an unseen network; that at any moment the reader could click on the word and be transported to another part of the book. Everything is tied and the reader is expected to play an active role in navigating House of Leaves.
Consideration of the similarity between the structure of House of Leaves and hyperlinked documents uncovers the profound irony of Danielewski's novel. The text of House of Leaves - to use text as Jerome McGann does, meaning a reader's experience rather than an author or publisher's product  - is undeniably fluid, yet the author chose to present it in a static format. The novel is, in fact, utterly dependent upon the concrete nature of the bound book for its meaning to be fully expressed. Prior to publication Danielewski posted his manuscript on the internet. The plethora of footnotes, appendices and divergent narratives would make a hyperlinked version of House of Leaves convenient to read, eliminating the need to turn the book, to endlessly flip through pages and to use two bookmarks. Danielewski, however, posted the pages as PDF files, thus ensuring that the reader experience the textual layout as he designed it. The author's comments regarding the significance of the reader's personal experience of the text suggest that Danielewski would find a hyperlinked House of Leaves too linear in appearance. The irony would be exactly opposite that of the print version of the novel. HTML files are inherently "unstable" in terms of structure. They allow a user to jump from one place to another in seconds without any impression of passing through space or over other material. Thus one might contend that HTML more faithfully represents the structure of Navidson's house. It shifts to accommodate the visitor. This structure, however, would largely go unseen. As readers click blue script they jump unaware of what is being passed over, and the ultimate experience is linear and "stable."
The paradox of an unstable text which must be presented through a stable medium in order to make its instability apparent furthers the notion of blue print as an antithesis of rubric. While rubric strives to be regarded as an indefatigable authority over the text, blue script undermines its own authority in deference to the reader's experience and impressions. Despite rubric's endeavours to assert itself as a privileged voice within a text, it must always call attention to its status as different from the main text. It is always an emendation. Nichols explains that rubric "reveals a series of creative tensions between what we may call the nuclear work, composed at some prior point in time by one individual possessing a specific aesthetic, philosophical, linguistic and historical point of view, and the 'extended work,' the text with all its extradiagetical, illustrated, interpolated, and abbreviated manifestations produced by one or usually more individuals often decades or even centuries after the writer composed."  Despite a rubricator's credentials, the reader is made aware of the fact that annotation is an interpretation.
The authority of medieval rubrics is heightened in modern critical editions. The removal of colour and the setting of script in modern type reduces the presence of the hand, the personificatio of the rubricator, and thus the work becomes "radically ahistorical," in Nichols' words. Notation melds with the nuclear text on the printing press to become falsely regarded as one "ideal" text. In such situations the re-introduction of colour would help the reader recognise multiple authorship. Despite the rubricator's inflated intentions, the notes signal only one possible reading and the reader is free to depart.
Ultimately, the blue print of House of Leaves achieves the status of anti-rubric by paradoxically guiding the reader towards a "single" reading through an utter lack of authority. This seeming contradiction is possible because the blue script acknowledges a single author despite the varied voices. As demonstrated by Danielewski's decision to post his book using PDF format instead of HTML, the author is clearly interested in each individual reader's experience of the text. This idea is reinforced when, in interviews, he disregards all questions concerning the meaning of the house. He tells McCaffery and Gregory "I would consider it criminal to abuse the reader's faith with a promise of a sense of meaning or significance that the author knows does not exist."  The darkness of the house is an unstable signifier; or perhaps, as discussed earlier, a resonator of whatever fear or meaning the reader chooses to attach to it. So, though Danielewski does not attempt to ascribe a meaning to his text, he retains for himself the difficult task of making readers aware of their own participation in the text. All aspects of this novel - the mystery of the house, blind Zampanò's curious ability to critique a film, Truant's anxiety, the textual layout, suggestions of cinematic techniques, cultural, philosophical, and literary references - prompt the reader to question the author, Danielewski. While the novel is structured to appear transhistorical, it is more "ahistorical" than any critical edition of a medieval manuscript.
This is the single reading that separates Danielewski from medieval rubricators. Though he eschews the concept of what we may call a meaning, a thesis or - more dangerously - a moral behind his book, it remains true that Danielewski's writing, his unreliable voices and his use of unstable blue script are all signifiers pointing to one signified: the text itself. While medieval rubricators would have their readers deny the materiality of the text except for its ability to point towards an authority behind it, Danielewski desires the opposite. The text in its material sense - as pages printed with ink, arranged in a certain way, appearing a certain way to the eye - is ultimately all that can exist.
Danielewski himself gives the reader clues to the metatextual manner in which he would have his book read. Throughout the novel there is evidence of the unreliability of narrators. In one early example Karen Green, Navidson's spouse, remarks "[t]he water heater's on the fritz".  This is accompanied by a footnote from Truant who explains how, coincidentally, he awoke that morning to find his water heater broken as well. On the most basic level this instance displays how Truant strays from the text in order to comprehend its meaning better, to complement the family's experience on a personal level. Truant understands Karen's emotion as expressed in the manuscript, and so re-articulates that feeling finding an emotional corollary, thus providing a printed model of what we as readers are always invited to do. But there is a more latent theme present in the water heater scene. Zampanò included it in his critique of the film as a means of analysing the communicative skills of the family. He examines how "Will and Karen need each other and yet how difficult they find handling and communicating those feelings."  Truant's footnote does more than mention the water heater. He spends four pages ranting about his need for a shower following a long night of drinking. The bulk of the note recounts a very tall tale he and a friend fabricated to impress some women they met. This wild storytelling ought to alert readers to Truant's lack of integrity, and indeed, by the end of the footnote he has admitted to a manipulation of fact. "Zampanò only wrote 'heater.' The word 'water' back there - I added that."  On the one hand, readers can regard Truant's reading as a model of personal projection, but his deviation from the verbatim content of the film also signals the importance of thematic harmony. Any effort to truly "forget" the fiction of the novel and accept it as a work fashioned by multiple individuals disintegrates when the reader stops to consider integrity. Truant takes liberties for the sake of his story, and this only serves as a reminder that all the characters are part of one story, created by Danielewski.
While the blue script, with its implications of instability and personal projection, questions the notion of an authority behind the text, Danielewski takes his point a step further. The existence of a "red" edition complicates any assumption of Danielewski as a final authority. If the persistent occurrence of the blue "house" through all voices and types of text points towards Danielewski's creative authority, then its absence in the red edition asserts corporate control. Blue script tying all of the voices together reminds us that one hand penned the entire novel, but varied editions remind us that books come to readers only through publishers with corporate interests.
Danielewski often denies the "innovative" qualities of his novel. Despite comparisons to postmodern groundbreakers - Nabokov, Pynchon and David Foster Wallace to name a few - he asserts that the structures of his book should not shock or confuse readers. His textual layout merely amalgamates what has already been done in medieval manuscripts, modernist poetry, and books of deconstructionist philosophy. As he tells Sophie Cottrell, "[b]ooks have had this capability all along."  He also explains to Cottrell that his novel offers information in a way that people are used to receiving it. In the age of the internet, television, newspapers and radio, people are accustomed to multiprocessing. Similarly, medieval rubric often functioned as a means of presenting stories to an audience in a more familiar way. Keith Busby notes that rubric functioned as a "replacement for any oral commentary which may have been provided by the performer."  Danielewski and medieval rubricators alike rely upon typographical features to establish parallels between the solitary activity of reading and public performances (such as courtly readings of romances or, for the modern reader, film, television and the world wide web). The materiality of Danielewski's text, his narrative technique and, of course, his use of blue print, function as a rubric for the deconstructed age.
 In a 1929 letter to his agent, Ben Wasson, Faulkner writes, "I think italics are necessary to establish for the reader Benjy's confusion...I wish publishing was advanced enough to use colored ink for such..." See André Bleikasten, William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: A Critical Casebook (New York: Garland, 1982), pp. 3-4.
 Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel, trans. Christina Pribicevic-Zoric (New York: Knopf, 1988), and Tom Phillips, A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980).
 Unlike most contemporary authors, Danielewski
played a very active role in the typographic layout of his novel, travelling
 Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves (
 Pantheon also released a "red" version eighteen
months after initial publication. This was done partly in response to
information given on the copyright page of Danielewski's novel. Here
he alludes to the existence of variant editions, some including Braille
and colour pictures. In the "2-color" editions, "[e]ither house appears
in blue or
 Emily Barton, "Typographical Terror," Village Voice 86.45 (April 18 2000): 86.
 Sophie Cottrell, "A Conversation with Mark Danielewski," Bold Type (April 2000) <http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/0400/danielewski/ interview.html> 15 March 2003.
 More widely, he cites "e.e. cummings...,
Talmudic pages...and Derrida's Glas." Michael Silverblatt, interview
with Mark Z. Danielewski, Bookworm, KCRW,
 Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2d ed., rubric, n. and a. <http://dictionary.oed.com/>. 16 September 2003.
 I would like to thank Celeste Langan for her engaging contribution on this point.
 I am grateful to the referee who alerted me of Danielewski's apparent allusion to John Guare's play, The House of Blue Leaves.
 I put "main" in quotation marks because a major aspect of Danielewski's narrative structure is the subversion of any hierarchy of textual authority. No voice dominates his book, whether speaking in terms of control of the plot or degree of intellectual "thoughtfulness." "Main" simply means that Zampanò's text is what occupies the centre of most pages, and that his words provide the stimulus for later annotators to add their notation. Even this definition, however, proves problematic. This text, edited together from thousands of scraps, represents a "remediated" text, not truly Zampanò's at all. These problems highlight the value of examining blue script as anti-rubric. Clearly authorship and authority are divergent, often conflicting concepts.
 The Blair Witch Project, dir. Neal Fredericks, prod. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez (Artisan Entertainment, 1999).
 Danielewski, p. 21, 165.
 These letters have been published separately
as The Whalestoe Letters (
 Rod Gudino, "The Fearful Symmetry of House of Leaves," Rue Morgue 17 (September/October 2000): 10-15.
 N. Katherine Hayles, "Saving the Subject: Remediation in House of Leaves," American Literature 74.4 (December 2002): 793.
 Paul C. Gutjahr, "The Letter(s) of the Law:
Four Centuries of Typography in the King James Bible," Illuminating
Letters: Typography and Literary Interpretation, ed. Paul C. Gutjahr
and Megan L. Benton (
 Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style, 2nd edn. (Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks, 1997), p. 21.
 Danielewski, p. 4.
 Again, thankyou to Celeste Langan for her contribution.
 Stephen G. Nichols, "On the Sociology of Medieval Manuscript Annotation," Annotation and Its Text, ed. Stephen A. Barney (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 43-73.
 Unheimlich/uncanny occur several times throughout the novel, but see pp. 24-28 in particular.
 Silverblatt, "Interview with Mark Z. Danielewski".
 Cottrell, "A Conversation with Mark Danielewski".
 See Jerome McGann, The Textual Conditions (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991). His introduction, "Text and Textuality", provides a good overview of his non-material definition of text. He writes: "Today, texts are largely imagined as scenes of reading scenes of writing. This 'readerly' view of text has been most completely elaborated through the modern hermeneutical tradition in which text is not something we make but something we interpret," p. 4.
 Nichols, "On the Sociology of Medieval Manuscript Annotation," p. 48.
 McCaffery and Gregory, p. 122.
 Danielewski, p. 12.
 Danielewski, p. 16.
 Danielewski, p. 16.
 S. Cottrell, "A Conversation with Mark Danielewski".
 Keith Busby, "Rubrics and the Reception of Romance," French Studies 53.2 (April 1999): 131.
ISSN: 1449 - 0471