The House, as present in the fantastic world of Gothic texts and Latin American Literature, is full of secrets. To begin probing the idea surrounding the symbolic House, the actual structural nature of the House must first be examined. The House, fundamentally, is a box—a container utterly man-made, rigid and sterile. It isolates the individual within the House from the external organic world beyond the House walls. Especially in the night, when the world falls into black darkness, the windows of a lighted House become near mirrors when one is inside. The windows reflect the interior of the House and superimpose the internal image of the House upon the world outside. When one is inside one’s own internally illuminated House at night, one feels protected and safe, and the threat of the outside is erased; is a memory that can scarcely be glimpsed through these mirrored windows. And yet to be on the outside looking into the lighted House, the interior is enormously visible, now bathed in this trick light. More than anything in the world, one’s House is the most literal reflection of one’s mind. The façade of the House from the outside is generally like any other House, made up of windows, walls, doors and roof the way we are made up of eyes, arms, legs, and head. But within the House, the individuality of the occupant is clearly revealed. For inside, the House is littered with the life of the occupant; upon walls are the decorations of memorized paintings or memories within photographs. Within rooms are the books that influence the mind, or the television flickering distractions like vacant thoughts that smother concentration. Papers and writings locked in desks, locked in studies are the lyrics of the mind mastering itself. Bathrooms, kitchens, beds are reminders of the instinctual—eat, sleep, fuck, shit, piss, wash. The House, as present within these stories, is the representation of the individual that is struggling to maintain order in the face of chaos.
Corridors, halls, galleries, doors, hidden rooms, corners of the House all become a kind of labyrinth. The labyrinth implies an end, a purpose to be attained step by step. I’ve compiled these stories to illustrate how within the House within the stories both reader and narrators alike act as detectives seeking order within the chaos of the story. But the search for order ends and chaos erupts out of the House, like the unhinging of Pandora’s box. Alejandra Pizarnik sums up what I’ve attempted to convey, scratching the surface of what this paper hopes to probe. Briefly, profoundly, she states, “Cuando en la casa de la lengua la azotea sale yo hablo”. Translated, “When, in the house of language, the roof comes off, I speak”. Each story has a House of language—literally a House depicted with words. In the chaotic conclusions of these stories, when order falls away, there is a final burst of truth, a secret revealed.
The Orderly Houses
Each House in each story begins as that structured box—orderly and maintained, carved into the story with meticulous care and precision.
Within the first paragraph of Julio Cortazar’s Letter to a Young Lady in Paris the narrator lays out the consistent rigidity of the flat, this story’s House of Language in which the story takes place.
“It hurts me to come into an ambience where someone who lives beautifully has arranged everything like a visible affirmation of her soul, here the books (Spanish on one side, French and English on the other), the large green cushions there, the crystal ashtray that looks like a soap-bubble that’s been cut open on this exact spot on the little table, and always a perfume, a sound, a sprouting of plants, a photograph of the dead friend, the ritual of tea trays and sugar tongs…”(Cortazar, 39-40).
The narrator carefully describes this set description of the House he is to inhabit. The established symmetry and harmony the House exudes makes it painful for this narrator to “intrude on a compact order, built even to the finest nets of air, networks that in your environment conserve the music in the lavender, the heavy fluff of the powder puff in the talcum, the play between the violin and the viola in Ravel’s quartet”. The House seems, to the narrator, to be something of a literal representation of the absent soul who owns the House—and to alter even the slightest arrangement of trinket or text is an abomination, an offense to both House and owner. Even the slightest adjustment of “taking a small metal tray and putting it at the far end of the table, setting it there simply because one has brought one’s English dictionaries and it’s at this end, within easy reach of the hand” is met with a profound resistance, which narrator describes “as if suddenly the strings of all the double basses snapped at the same time with the same dreadful whiplash at the most hushed instant in a Mozart symphony”(Cortazar, 40). The introduction of the House is one of deliberate care and harmonious order. In this story, it is clear how the House of a story most perfectly resembles the mind of the owner of the House—and how the intrusion or poisoning of the chaotic mind turns that familiar order into chaos.
Of Edar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, we receive a House already mingled with chaotic and orderly elements. The façade of the House, the narrator describes as such,
“Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn” (Poe, 319-320).
Upon the House of Usher, organic decay has begun to pollute the House externally. Fungus grows and bits of stone crumble, but the monstrosity of the House in its entirety emulates a sturdy structure, “the fabric gave little token of instability” save for a slight crack, a fissure that suggests the imminent collapse of the House, secrets and all. But for the moment it is sturdy, orderly and only slightly does the suggestion of chaotic organic creep across its body (Poe, 320). It is cracked, but it stands looming, battling the natural elements that threaten to consume it, natural elements that will here represent the chaos that filters throughout the story.
Internally the House reflects the external struggle between rigid sterility and the creeping of chaos and darkness. Passing long corridors, zig-zagging hallways, passing rooms and tapestries, the narrator soon finds himself in the room of Roderick Usher, a room which subtly suggests the mental preoccupations and state of Usher’s mind. For Usher is suffering from a mental malady, undiagnosed and hereditary. Its symptoms include an acuteness of all five senses—rendering him unable to stand but the faintest light, the blandest food, the lightest clothes, the softest sounds and the slightest scents. Of Usher’s room, the narrator explains that it
“…was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellissed panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene” (Poe, 320-321).
Usher’s mind receives too much information from each sense, so he must dilute the sensory elements in his House. He is estranged from his acute senses; he must make it such that as little sensory information as possible will permeate his mind. It is, in a way, a tricky natural chaos rejecting the orderly ordinary senses by heightening them to extreme and intolerable levels. In response to this strange sickness, Usher must slightly invite chaos into his House and mind. The windows, we understand, are dull, dark and foreboding, letting in only semblance of light that does little to illuminate. The room is in a dark order, furniture worn and weary, books and instruments serving little to distract Usher from his malady. Thus, the suggestion of chaotic darkness seeps through the House like a gas leak, waiting to be ignited.
Of Jorge Luis Borges’ Death and the Compass, the House is given to us very late in the story, and it is the most impressive representation of the Houses of order. We reach the final pieces of the tale in which the detective Lonrot has unraveled the riddle of the series of crimes he has been investigating. The answer to this riddle reveals the final scene of the final murder, which is to take place in the perfectly symmetrical House. As Lonrot marches up to the House, he notices that,
“Close up, the house on the estate of Triste-le-Roy was seen to abound in superfluous symmetries and in maniacal repetitions: a glacial Diana in one lugubrious niche was complemented by another Diana in another niche; one balcony was repeated by another balcony; double steps of stairs opened into a double balustrade. A two-faced Hermes cast a monstrous shadow” (Borges, 6).
The imagined House of Death and the Compass does not hold any literal semblance of the chaos that will emerge soon within the story like the House in The Fall of the House of Usher, nor does it resound with the same extreme hostility of the House in Letter to a Young Lady in Paris when it is in anyway altered. Only the words that make up this House of language reveal anything ominous. Here, the symmetry and repetitions are described as “superfluous” and “maniacal”, the doubled statue’s dark shadow is monstrous. An ugly order engulfs the House that seems to be pushed to the extreme in which the overwhelming symmetry itself is chaotic. This notion is further provoked as Lonrot enters the estate. He explores:
“He traveled through antechambers and galleries to emerge upon duplicate patios; several times he emerged upon the same patio. He ascended dust-covered stairways and came out into circular antechambers; he was infinitely reflected in opposing mirrors; he grew weary of opening or half-opening windows which revealed the same desolate garden outside, from various heights and various angles; inside, the furniture was wrapped in yellow covers and the chandeliers bound up with cretonne. A bedroom detained him; in the bedroom, a single rose in a porcelain vase – at the first touch the ancient petals fell apart. On the second floor, on the top story, the house seemed to be infinite and growing. The house is not this large, he thought. It is only made larger by the penumbra, the symmetry, the mirrors, the years, my ignorance, the solitude…” (Borges, 6).
This House serves as something of an immense labyrinth, utterly symmetrical to the point of chaotic. The infinite mirroring symmetry, Lonrot himself notes, adds to the monstrosity of the House. Mirrors reflect and windows reveal their same respective images over and over. But to find the underlying and ancient presence of chaos within this labyrinth House of utter symmetry that reeks of Greek nuances, we must look no further than the most famous labyrinth that resides in ancient Greek tragedy, the Labyrinth of Daedalus. For in that labyrinth stalks the ferocious Minotaur, who devours the Athenian youths chosen and sent into the labyrinth as sacrifice. Here, Lonrot is the sacrifice, roaming about the labyrinth House in search of the murderer who is to be Lonrot’s Minotaur.
These Houses of language here each suggest the introduction of some chaotic element serving to betray the orderly aspects of the Houses. Of the House in Letter to a Young Lady in Paris, the overwhelming discomfort and hostility the narrator feels within the House when he alters it foretells the nearly undeniable fate that the House will be shifted. The mental malady that upsets Usher’s mind has been maintained, but that single fissure that splits the façade of the House suggests something more chaotic will worm its way into the story, splitting the order that the House battles to control. The labyrinth House of monstrous symmetry in Death and the Compass remembers the Minotaur potentially lurking behind any corner. The Minotaur’s presence of potentiality recalls the chaotic emotion of panic. Panic, when experienced, is so powerful that it is able to bring the future into the present—a fear of the future that is so extreme that it engulfs the present. But here, in the present pieces of each story the Houses are orderly and chaos is nothing but a flickering shadow of the future.
The labyrinth is a perfect symbol for the complex balance of order and chaos—for when viewed from above with the eye of a God the labyrinth appears in perfect symmetry. But when one is a human caught in the twists and turns of the most complex labyrinth, its natural chaos is clear and only heightened by the ominous looming presence of the Minotaur, of death, that one knows one must confront sooner or later. Each House, and each story here is a labyrinth. The characters are the human sacrifices sent in by the author and we watch as Gods the story being played out.
The Chaotic Sickness
From here, we turn to the introduction of the chaotic sickness of the individual that will slowly consume the House, and the battle to smother secrets under order.
In Letter to a Young Lady in Paris, the narrator explains that last Thursday, when he was moving in, “Between the first and the second floors, then, Andrea, like an omen of what my life in your house was going to be, I realized that I was going to vomit a rabbit” (Cortazar, 41). The narrator’s secret revealed rather suddenly—his abnormal sickness is one that forces him to vomit rabbits every month or so. He explains that this is not unusual; it is something of a secret habit that simply occurs at some sort of set interval. “Habits” he says “are concrete forms of rhythm, are that portion of rhythm which helps to keep us alive. Vomiting bunnies wasn’t so terrible once one had gotten into the unvarying cycle, into the method”(Cortazar, 42). He found that he could maintain his peculiar sickness—attach some semblance of order to the chaotic rabbits. He had a developed routine, he would simply “put [the rabbit] in with the clover” he grew in his home for each vomited rabbit and at the end of the month, “made a present of the rabbit” to an acquaintance (Cortazar, 42). However the vomiting of this particular rabbit is a shock even to him, for prior to this rabbit the rabbits he vomited would appear every month or so. The chaotic sickness of this character has wrenched itself from its own orderly rhythm as rabbits continue their utterly inconsistent expulsion from his throat. It is a sickness of hyper-fertility, a chaotic feminine birth, an enormous multiplication of creatures already prone to multiply. Within the stifling presence of this orderly harmonious House, the chaos of this feminine sickness erupts to tear the ordered House apart.
The narrator, however, attempts to maintain the order of the House and the creatures he has birthed that now live within the House. He first tries to smother his chaotic secret within the House, behind locked doors. “You must love the handsome wardrobe in your bedroom, with its great door that opens so generously, its empty shelves awaiting my clothes. Now I have them in there. Inside there”(Cortazar, 44). But the narrator cannot keep the rabbits locked up within the wardrobe, just as he “realized that [he] could not kill” the first rabbit that appeared out of him last Thursday (Cortazar, 44). He maintains some sort of queer maternal responsibility for the rabbits—they are his own born creations and he strives to contain their chaos, to maintain his secret by forming a solution. He lets them out at night, cleans up after them and returns them to the closet by day. For,
“Their day begins an hour after supper when Sara brings in the tray with the delicate tinkling of the sugar tongs, wishes me good night – yes, she wishes me, Andrea, the most ironic thing is that she wishes me good night – shuts herself in her room, and promptly I’m by myself, alone with the closed-up wardrobe, alone with my obligation and my melancholy. I let them out, they hop agilely to the party in the living room, sniffing briskly at the clover hidden in my pockets which makes ephemeral lacy patterns on the carpet which they alter, remove, finish up in a minute”(Cortazar, 45).
Thus the chaos of the rabbits the narrator contains in the darkness of night, letting them roam free and returning them to secrecy by the orderly light of day. These vomit-rabbits begin to chip away at the order of the House, which the narrator tries so hard to mend. He writes,
“I’m doing the best I can to see that they don’t break your things. They’ve nibbled away a little at the books on the lowest shelf, you’ll find the backs repasted, which I did so that Sara wouldn’t notice it. That lamp with the porcelain belly full of butterflies and old cowboys, do you like that very much? The crack where the piece was broken out barely shows. I spent a whole night doing it with a special cement that they sold me in an English shop – you know the English stores have the best cements – and now I sit beside it so that one of them can’t reach it again with its paws” (Cortazar, 46-47).
The cracks created by these creatures continue to corrupt the order of the House, but it is the gentle chipping away of the order and sanity of the narrator too. He constantly consistently defends his peculiarity as an abnormal sickness for which he ought not be blamed, for which he spends his days (or nights) attempting to control. As his routine continues, the narrator becomes more mentally mangled. Nights and days begin to blur and the clear order of the light of day intermingles with the dark chaos of night; “It’s night while I’m writing you. It’s three in the afternoon, but I’m writing you during their night. They sleep during the day” (Cortazar, 46). He both loves and hates the creatures, but cannot destroy them without destroying himself. So he lets himself become slowly unhinged in his attempt to uphold this solution he has hastily adopted, trying desperately to keep the House in order. He writes, “How can I tell you about it, Andrea, the minute mishaps of this soundless and vegetal dawn, half-asleep on what staggered path picking up butt-ends of clover, individual leaves, white hunks of fur, falling against the furniture, crazy from lack of sleep…” (Cortazar, 47). Despite his delirium, the narrator holds on to a single hope, a single hopeless hope that keeps him consistent in his attempt to maintain order. He explains “my consolation is that there are ten of them and no more. It’s been fifteen days since I held the last bunny in the palm of my hand, since then nothing, only the ten of them with me…”(Cortazar, 47). With a consistent number of ten rabbits, the narrator is able to maintain his delirious habit of control over them. Ten rabbits the narrator knows he is able to handle, and he vomited the tenth long enough ago to be hopeful. But this chaotic sickness cannot be suppressed with order or routine. No matter how he will try to smother his secret, it will eventually burst.
There is a different chaotic sickness that has stricken Usher. He suffers from that strange acuteness of sense, but another mental malady grips Usher—the fate of his twin sister. “He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more natural and far more palpable origin – to the severe and long-continued illness – indeed to the evidently approaching dissolution – of a tenderly beloved sister – his sole companion for long years – his last and only relative on earth”(Poe, 323). The sister is spiraling into chaotic decay; sick and weary. As her fate lingers in Usher’s chaos-infected mind, he comes upon a decision. Secretly, unbeknownst to the narrator of this tale, Usher decides to bury her alive in the tomb of the House. So the sister diminishes, and apparently dies—Usher and the narrator set out to set her beneath the House in a deep dark vault. The narrator describes the procedure:
“The body having been encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in which we placed it (and which had been so long unopened that our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave us little opportunity for investigation) was small, damp, and entirely without means of admission for light ; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment” Poe, 329).
Thus, the chaotic secret is buried within the House, within the basement specifically and directly beneath the narrator’s chamber. This living corpse is entombed deep within the basement, the basement which is smothered beneath the House, lacking any illumination and utterly dark. The dampness suggests mold, and organic elements slipping again about the House. Both secret and sister are buried, parallel, within the bowels of the House and the bowels of Usher’s mind. A chaotic order then smothers the chaotic secret. But it unravels, the chaos bursts out and coincides with the fall of the House of Usher.
In Death and the Compass, Lonrot has found and faces his Minotaur and his bringer of death, Red Sharlach. Sharlach reveals that he had created this complex riddle to ensnare Lonrot, and explains why. He states,
“Three years ago, in a gambling house on the Rue de Toulon, you arrested my brother and had him sent to prison. In the exchange of shots that night my men got me away in a coupe, with a police bullet in my chest. Nine days and nine nights I lay dying in this desolate, symmetrical villa; I was racked with fever, and the odious double-faced Janus who gazes toward the twilights of dusk and dawn terrorized my dreams and my waking. I learned to abominate my body, I came to feel that two eyes, two hands, two lungs are as monstrous as two faces. An Irishman attempted to convert me to the faith of Jesus; he repeated to me that famous axiom of the goyim: All roads lead to Rome. At night, my delirium nurtured itself on this metaphor: I sensed that the world was a labyrinth, from which it was impossible to flee, for all paths, whether they seemed to lead north or south, actually led to Rome, which was also the quadrilateral jail where my brother was dying and the villa of Triste-le-Roy. During those nights I swore by the god who sees from two faces, and by all the gods of fever and of mirrors, to weave a labyrinth around the man who had imprisoned my brother” (Borges, 6-7).
Here we see how the mind within the House turns the order of the House into chaos. Sharlach’s delirious state of mind and body clashes beautifully with the symmetry of this House he had been brought to with a bullet in his chest. His mind mangled with the chaos of sickness thriving within this House of symmetry literally twisted the orderly lay out of the body into chaotic repetitions. His recited delirium is slathered with chaotic repetitions, beginning with the announcement of double-faced Janus. For Janus is the in between God wearing two faces, gazing always at the future and the past. It is this past experience that makes this present the fated future of that past. Twilight is the doubled in-between place bridging the order of day and the chaos of night at dawn and at dusk. The nine days and nine nights that are smothered in chaotic disarray are an intriguing inclusion, for it is usually every nine years that the Minotaur meets the sacrificed Athenians. The labyrinth finally becomes a voiced word and an acknowledged theme in the text. In his fevered mind, Sharlach realized that the world is nothing but a labyrinth and to occupy the world is to be the human struggling through that chaos of Daedalus’ labyrinth of infinite complexity.
There is always a mingling of chaotic order within the House, as there is a mixture of chaotic order within the body and within the mind. How orderly we seem, symmetrical, two eyes, two ears, two legs, two arms—a perfect mirror splits us in half. Yet raging, always raging, in each mind is a chaos of thoughts. We are assembled and packaged in an orderly façade that reveals nothing of the chaotic mind. Only through speech and language can we seek to reveal our chaos, and language is the single bridge that unites us all together. These stories weave words of language together to bring light and order to the chaos of each select character eternally plunged into the battle between order and chaos.
The Calm Conclusion of Death
Each story here is silenced ultimately with death. After the battle between chaos and order is waged, death brings the final conclusion of the tales.
Of Letter to a Young Lady in Paris, death is embraced as we reach the final chaotic convulsion that leads to the end of the narration: the eleventh rabbit. “You understand: ten was fine, with a wardrobe, clover and hope, so many things could happen for the better. But not with eleven, because to say eleven is already to say twelve for sure, and Andrea, twelve would be thirteen”(Cortazar, 49). At the birth of this eleventh rabbit, the narrator has lost hold of the single thread of hope and order that he had strived to maintain. With this eleventh rabbit comes the hopeless realization that there may always be more rabbits, more creation, and more loving and loathing obligation that has tormented the narrator throughout the entire story. With this eleventh rabbit comes the final chaotic smothering of order. With this eleventh rabbit comes the narrator’s plea of innocence—“Enough now, I’ve written this because it’s important to me to let you know that I was not at all that responsible for the unavoidable and helpless destruction of your home” (Cortazar, 48). With this eleventh rabbit comes the utter collapse of the orderly House. “They tore the curtains, the coverings on the easy chairs, the edge of Augusto Torres’ self-portrait, they got fluff all over the rug and besides they yipped, there’s no word for it, they stood in a circle under the light of the lamp, in a circle as though they were adoring me, and suddenly they were yipping, they were crying like I never believed rabbits could cry” (Cortazar, 49). Finally, a voice is given to the secret that consumed the mind of the narrator. This chaotic secret he has tried to smother with routine and order is released. The order of the House is destroyed, the order of the rabbits is destroyed and so the narrator finds himself a final and ultimate solution. He ends his letter with these words “I don’t think it will be difficult to pick up eleven small rabbits splattered over the pavement, perhaps they won’t even be noticed, people will be too occupied with the other body, it would be more proper to remove it quickly before the early students pass through on their way to school” (Cortazar, 49-50). The narrator thus finds a last ray of light, the final and ultimate solution that is in itself a mingling of order and chaos—self destruction. He will establish one final routine, one by one dropping the rabbits off the balcony and then follow them to his death. This solution continues to be the final silent calm after the ferocious chaotic storm of each story and each tragic hero; death is the ultimate end.
In The Fall of the House of Usher, days pass as Usher falls more and more into his mental turmoil, until one night when the forces of nature clash in a furious ferocious storm, chaos rages against the castle and the suppressed secret erupts from the depths of the basement.
“It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity; for there were frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind ; and the exceeding density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with which they flew careering from all points against each other, without passing away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this – yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars – nor was there any flashing forth of the lightning” (Poe, 331).
This raging storm is deeply natural, chaotic and utterly dark—no illuminating light from forked lightning nor twinkle of stars or moon provide any sort of light. It is a chaos that threatens the shredding semblance of order and structure that the smothering House offers. And it is within this storm that the knocking begins, the hollow sound within the walls signifying the secret which has found voice at last. It is the twin sister, Madeline, awake and emerging from her premature death. In a frenzied fit of his mind, Usher cries aloud to the narrator,“Not hear it ? – yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long – long – long – many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it – yet I dared not – oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am ! – I dared not – I dared not speak ! We have put her living in the tomb ! …It was the work of the rushing gust – but then without those doors there did stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher (Poe, 334-335). With sick deliberation, the sister now near death plunges upon her murderous brother—the twins, entangled, die together as they were born together. The narrator, struck with predictable horror thus flees the House and his dead companions. Yet the chaos of the night has not ceased its war upon the House. The narrator describes the final force that crumbles the story and the House into completion.
“Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued ; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened – there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind – the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight – my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder – there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters – and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the ‘House of Usher’”(Poe, 335-336).
This is the moment for which the title is coined, the end of the story is the fall of the House of Usher. The House caves in upon itself after the secret of Madeline’s living death had been given voice. ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ resonates with that short single poem of Alejandra Pizarnik’s I referred to earlier, for in the moments that the secrets are revealed, the House literally comes apart.
In Death and the Compass, as the world falls steadily into twilight, then dusk, then night, Lonrot and Sharlach stand by one another, each aware of the unalterable fate of death that creeps closer.
“For the last time, Lonnrot considered the problem of symmetrical and periodic death. ‘In your labyrinth there are three lines too many,’ he said at last. ‘I know of a Greek labyrinth which is a single straight line. Along this line so many philosophers have lost themselves that a mere detective might well do so too. Scharlach, when, in some other incarnation you hunt me, feign to commit (or do commit) a crime at A, then a second crime at B, eight kilometers from A, then a third crime at C, four kilometers from A and B, halfway enroute between the two. Wait for me later at D, two kilometers from A and C, halfway, once again, between both. Kill me at D, as you are now going to kill me at Triste-le-Roy.’‘The next time I kill you,’ said Scharlach, ‘I promise you the labyrinth made of the single straight line which is invisible and everlasting.’ He stepped back a few paces. Then, very carefully, he fired” (Borges, 8).
Death again ends this story, as death will end all our stories. In this story and in many stories, all labyrinths lead to death. The riddle-labyrinth Sharloch has woven around Lonrot, the House labyrinth in which Sharloch awaited his prey, the life-labyrinth that ends for Lonrot here in the House of symmetry—the Minotaur signifying death stands here now holding a gun avenging his brother’s capture. But Lonrot begs a different labyrinth, the labyrinth of the single line, the labyrinth of time. I cannot say exactly why he proffers this labyrinth as a suggestion in the next encounter they might have in another life. Perhaps irony, for the labyrinth of time is present here, is always present. Perhaps a subtle plea, for Lonrot’s time on earth is nearly ended. Perhaps a sly sneer for they are both woven within the web of time, and it is an all-encompassing labyrinth that controls even Sharloch, the great weaver of labyrinths in this tale. None of these suggestions seems to be the key to this mysterious ending but it is the ending of death I am articulating in this chapter so I will let it hang unsolved for now.
Death is the ultimate conclusion of order and chaos. It is orderly in its consistency as conclusion; nothing can evade its eternal grasp. It is chaotic in that it is utterly unknowable, indescribable, evading any category or attempt to smother in order. It is a title looming with unknowing suggestions, and smirking at the inadequacy of its own title, because how can anyone give a simple name to death?
The full, overarching structure of each of these stories maintains a remarkable resemblance to the structure of the ancient Greek tragedies. Within Greek tragedies there is always some unlucky individual who battles to maintain an order in the face of his chaotic fixed fate—until ultimately meeting a tragic and chaotic end. The House and individual are comprised of both order and chaos. Order weaves itself around the notions of sterility, and rigidity. Order is illuminating in both senses of the word; it represents light and truth. Order is the imposition of rules and laws, of civilization on the freedom and chaos of nature. Order is the masculine, the discipline, and the tunnel vision. Order is a line. Chaos is more like a strange healthy sickness; that which is suppressed by order oozes out and infects order. Chaos is associated with the organic, with what succumbs to decay. It is darkness, intoxication, and confusion. Chaos is the secret; it is the secret unknowable truth. It lurks within the feminine; it is freedom and the natural rhythm of the universe. Chaos is a spiral. Though they do seem to be oppositional, they are intertwined in an indescribable complex balance. They are two opposing ends of the same spectrum—chaos is the order of the universe that we cannot comprehend. And throughout the stories I lay out in my essay, chaos and order are revealed to be intertwined, within the House, and within the mind. They mingle, simmer and bubble—chaos battling to consume the smothering order, until chaos wins over and the story falls quiet. But that’s all right because it was order that began the story in the first place, and order that told the story.