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Friday, August 25, 2006


Mark Z.Danielewski's new novel Only Revolutions is the author's most significant book since House of Leaves. The latter was a cult hit, a deconstructed multi-narrative novel that - in early, prized, editions - used fonts, typography and colour to weave an intriguing fiction about what is essentially a haunted house. Danielewski, who also designs his books, created a set of intertwined narratives and an extended musing on architectural impossibility. The idea of a house that was a little like a combination of the Winchester Mystery House (official site) and the Tardis was rendered in such a way as to make it convincingly realistic (remember that splendid web fiction about the cavers? Ted's Caving Page)

The new book jumps right off the deep end. The fonts and colours are all there, but the tale - a road trip undertaken by two 16 year olds, Hailey and Sam, is divided in two, each occupying one half of the book. The book's forums are already alive, populated by those who don't feel the deliberately antagonising typography (irregular indents, bolds, colours, caps) and split format (each page is divided in half, printed inversely to each other: 'The publisher suggests alternating between Hailey & Sam, reading eight pages at a time') is any kind of object. For those of us who got slightly lost in House of Leaves (it ate our bookmark about two years ago and we daren't venture back to find it), Only Revolutions is little more than an elegant object, a publishing anomaly that makes our inner proof-reader shudder.

More interesting, perhaps, are the themes the author touched upon in his earlier book, that of house without end and secret, unknown space. On an architectural level, the work of Escher, Eisenmann, M.R.James and more is all referenced on one level or another, as the protagonists struggle with dimensionally-challenged spaces and a lingering sense of the uncanny (and worse). It reminded us a bit of Toby Litt's Ghost Story in that respect. While much analysis of the book equates this uncanny with Freud's unheimlich , 'or the estranged familiar' (nsfw image on that last page), architectural considerations are secondary to psychological ones.

Architecture inherits psychological perception. Buildings are not born evil, or uncanny, but have uncanniness thrust upon them. There's a celebrated tale, related in Ernest Rhys's 1921 book, The Haunters and the Haunted, about Glamis Castle in Scotland, long supposed to have a secret chamber: 'Where walls are fifteen feet thick, it is not impossible to have a chamber so concealed, that none but the initiated can guess its position. It was once attempted by a madcap party of guests to discover the locality of the secret chamber, by hanging their towels out of the window, and thus deciding in favour of any window from which no spotless banner waved; but this escapade, which is said to have been ill-received by the owners, ended in nothing but a vague conclusion that the old square tower must be the spot sought.'

We recently had someone recount a similar tale about a friend of a friend, who allegedly bought a house so large that they didn't one of the rooms until long after buying it. The idea of a space so close and yet unknown cuts us to the core in our age of real-estate obsession; imagine discovering more floorspace... the flipside, one reiterated in countless films and television shows, is that the more unknown and uncanny a space, however close, the more malicious it is likely to be. MR James' Mezzotint, a short story we've referenced before, neatly subverts the expected order of the domestic, transforming an everyday object into a conduit for the unknown.

*

Other things. The sinking of the Andrea Doria / an online exhibition of the work of Marcel Breuer / images of Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan. It would be impossible for modern architecture to have the mystical allure favoured by Danielewski or even James / BBC stats, track popular stories / Vladimir Tretchikoff has died. A semi-official site. His most famous work.

My Father's Hand, a life in line drawings / 'these letters spell out the first seven lines of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. They were photographed in order, west to east, as I walked the Pilgrims' Way from Winchester to Canterbury, 28 July-6 August 2006' / Heavy Metal Concert Flyers, from the late 80s and early 90s, all three via me-fi projects, as is Nothing But Green Lights, an mp3 blog, and the enclosure project / Cenoxo makes great, link-filled posts to metafilter.

Sad but fascinating: children of hoarders / Paul Saffo's journal, musings on forecasting and other things / an interesting question about mapping and projections / Respectful Insolence, a splendidly sceptical science weblog along the lines of Bad Science / Quin Parker's website / Dan Dixon's Digital Dust / Tool-assisted Console Game Movies / Trans-Formers, 'pirated spaces' and 'spaces of uncertainty' / Iain Sinclair: When in Doubt Quote Ballard, an interview at Ballardian.

Apologies for delays with orders lately - we've had email problems.