Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




Of Five and a Half Minute Hallways and Useless Tunnels:

Some Notes on Nothing in Danielewski's House of Leaves

and Gass's The Tunnel

Only knowledge illuminates that bottomless place, disclosing the deep ultimately absent in all the tapes and stills—those strange cartes de visites.

(Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves 87)


I am an intransitive man. I’m reconciled to it. Even my husbanding has no object. With my tunnel I have committed the ultimate inactive act. After all, what is a useless hole? I can honestly say I have accomplished Nothing.

(William H. Gass, The Tunnel 468)

My paper considers two postmodern long novels, William H. Gass’s The Tunnel (1995; Normal, IL: Illinois State UP-Dalkey Archive, 1999), about a history professor who, after giving up poetry for history in his youth and subsequently spending his life in a chair, has a breakdown while writing the introduction to his latest academic tome and tunnels out from beneath his house (his life, his memory, his existence), putting the dirt in his wife’s dresser drawers and killing her cat along the way, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (New York: Pantheon-Random, 2000), about an aimless criminal who goes insane while editing an academic manuscript on a non-existent documentary about a house whose inside is exponentially larger than its outside, which he found in the home of a dead man, as systems novels that create shifting, nebulous networks of ersatz memory and pseudo-writing in an effort to stave off, cover over, and otherwise flee from the nothingness at the heart of existence. In comparing and contrasting The Tunnel and House of Leaves, I will argue that the space of postmodernist literature constitutes a void that engenders tragic psychosis. In The Tunnel Kohler attempts to write his introduction to Guilt and Innocence in Hitler's Germany, falls into a phantasm of flashbacks, which lead back to his drunken, crazy mother and nihilistic, sickly father, and which may or may not be real, and consequently digs a tunnel under his house in an effort to escape his mind, memory, and memoire. The real of existence is a hole in the mind veiled by language. In House of Leaves Johnny Truant, son of long-dead pilot father and an institutionalized mother who writes letters to her son in code, completely loses his mind reading a book written by Zampanò about a supposedly non-existent documentary filmed by Navidson about his house whose hallways expand in depth and whose staircases spiral into nothingness. Both characters confront the word, which under poststructuralist theory and postmodernist literature alike, has been wrenched from its referential relationship to reality and now floats in a vacuum; and consequently, both characters flail before it and ultimately foreclose upon reality: Kohler ends up in a state of melancholic psychosis, and Truant falls into a state of schizophrenia of pure drive. The confrontation with groundless language—language grounded upon nothing, language which grounds nothing—triggers a tragic, psychotic breakdown.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "Of Five and a Half Minute Hallways and Useless Tunnels: Some Notes on Nothing in Danielewski's House of Leaves and Gass's The Tunnel," 20th Century Literature & Culture Conference, Louisville, KY, February 23, 2006.