Mansions of Words


By Claire Dietz |

“This is not for you,” is how the reader is greeted when opening Mark Danielewski’s postmodern novel House of Leaves.

It has been more than 15 years since the work, his début novel, was published, and now the author is coming to Iowa City to show another new and innovative work, The Familiar.

Today at 7 p.m., Danielewski will make an appearance at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. He will read from volume four of his 27-volume novel The Familiar, which follows a girl, a kitten, and their subsequent adventures.

Despite being best known for his work as a postmodern writer, Danielewski doesn’t necessarily see himself as a postmodernist.

“[The term ‘postmodernism’] frames a certain time period and certain set of techniques and references,” he said. “It has its place identifying a similar series of writers, but I think it’s misused when it comes up in this day and age.”

Danielewski thinks that much of the push back against these sorts of linguistic restrictions is due in part to our advances in technology, and his novels reflect this belief.

“I think technology requires we reshape the terminology,” he said. “Which is why I came up with ‘signiconic,’ sign and icon; it’s this linguistic medium that talks about online and how we process thought and language. It shows where language comes short and how we have that space between them. I think it’s more and more relevant with the pictorial technology we are surrounded by and interact with.”

Danielewski’s other works include The Fifty Year Sword and Only Revolutions; however, House of Leaves is still his best-known work. In fact, he has been approached with the offers of turning it into a movie, which he has declined.

“I’ve said no for years; I’ve had plenty of offers and that remains the answer,” he said. “I’ve slightly mellowed because I’ve seen how television has offered a long form to address the novel, and that certainly is interesting.

“At this point, it’s become far more impractical for me. I know the industry, and I don’t want to be involved in it. I don’t have the time to suddenly change careers, at least at this point, and invest myself in shepherding that project into a new form.”

One of the more challenging aspects House of Leaves that recently came about was transferring it into a digital copy while maintaining the integrity of the original novel’s style and expression.

At the end of the day, though, Danielewski recognizes he is not the same man who published that book in 2000; now he sees himself as a “grumpy” older man. But he continues to write.

“Novels have to constantly expose us to that which is unsettling and strange and that which is difficult to understand or easy to understand,” he said. “It needs to continue to include those voices, however bizarre they seem at first because that is the world we inhabit.”

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