Indexing Fact and Fiction:

Creating a Comprehensive Bibliography for Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves

The Assignment

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves embodies, according to critic Jessica Pressman, the post-modern paradigm of the “networked novel” in that it relies on inter-, intra-, and con-textual reading practices in order to relay its assemblage of central narratives. And, of course, much of that inter- and intra-textual reading takes the form of overt bibliographic references. For this project, students in 511: Theorizing the Digital in Literary Study were assigned sections from Danielewski’s novel. Working with their assigned sections in particular, they were then instructed to compile and record any and all bibliographic references that they encountered using Zotero, an online, open-source, digital bibliography tool. Zotero allows researchers to easily store and compile the bibliographic sources encounter by saving them directly from a researcher’s web browser to a stable auxiliary folder. But, with Danielewski’s House of Leaves, there comes a catch: many of the bibliographic references in Danielewski’s novel are real, but many of them are not. Zotero, fortunately, also allows users to manually add information about references that might not be locatable on the web. Students were assigned to use Zotero to catalogue these “fake” bibliographic references, too, so that we might collectively, as a class, understand Danielewski’s uses of both real and fictional archives.

The Process

Students were instructed to download and install Zotero on their personal computers (both the standalone and Firefox compatible versions). We then discussed procedures for setting Zotero user preferences in order to generate MLA-compliant citations, and for setting up distinct folders for both “authentic” and “inauthentic” bibliographic entries. As a class, we practiced using Zotero to add citation listings, .pdf files, etc. and also surveyed the process for adding entries manually. Students then independently tackled their assigned sections of the text; most of those sections were about 100 pages or so in length, but varied widely with regards to both the quality and quantity of bibliographic references.

Analysis

After putting together their completed bibliographies, students exported their collections as .rdf files in order to create one comprehensive file combining all of their individual sources and reference lists. They then were instructed to compose a 2-3 page written report analyzing what they had discovered throughout the process, and responding to the following questions:

- What types of “real” sources comprise this archive?

- Are there certain trends among them (specific themes, subjects, authors, historical periods, etc.)?

- What types of “fake” or inauthentic sources does Danielewski invent and add to this archive? What purpose might they serve?

- What kinds of bibliographic codes, conventions, etc. does Danielewski seek to emulate when he creates these “fake” sources? Is satire a component here? If so, what is Danielewski satirizing and why?

- As a whole, how does this archive relate to the narrate taking place in your assigned section of the text? How do the two documents correspond, interact, or speak to each other?

Results

Screenshot from the comprehensive course bibliography .rdf file

The result was a comprehensive bibliography that includes over 2400 citations for references used in Danielewski's House of Leaves. In class, we surveyed the ways in which this kind of data might be made useful to scholars, discussing data visualization, corpus analysis, and similar, spin-off bibliography projects that students thought might augment or expand the critical conversation surrounding Danielewski's novel.

Students also discovered that, despite the fact that they followed the same set of instructions, they each developed their own protocols for recording bibliographic information with Zotero. Some students developed extensive tagging systems for capturing metadata while others focused on author/publication information exclusively. The result is that the comprehensive .rdf file displays a range of radical differentiations where the entries themselves are concerned -- the standardization of which may become a project for another, future class.