Finding room for empathy in House of Leaves: a curious examination of re-mediation and affect 2017

Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

John C. Leffel


The tri-centennial anniversary of Burke's birth is little more than a decade away, yet somehow the words he so eloquently penned as part of his treatise, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, all those many decades ago still ring true today, perhaps even truer. Curiosity, as I will help to elucidate, is an emotion, as opposed to a simple cognitive predisposition, and not only that, it is one which allows literature, specifically fiction, specifically the novel, specifically Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, to both bridge gaps interpersonally and manage trauma intrapersonally. Simply put, curiosity makes room for empathy, and House of Leaves provides readers with the blueprint for making that room.

With empathy and emotion in mind, even the most cursory glance at Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves leaves even the most dubious of readers with a distinct feeling. This feeling may not always immediately be, as Edmund Burke would idealistically hope, curiosity. It may be fear; it may be confusion; it may be unadulterated joy. Eventually, all feelings lead to curiosity; it is the bridge, or hinge, as Adam Frank supposes in his Transferential Poetics, which links and stretches the boundaries of the disparate binaries of the world. When it comes to reading fiction, it is pure curiosity that allows one the luxury of the "willing suspension of disbelief." All the same, any early 21st century reader of House of Leaves would be hard-pressed not to develop a particular sensation about the text before them, be it curiosity or some other emotion, and why this might be is of the most pressing importance.


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