Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sometimes, they think the owl is saying "who?" (graded blog)

So let's talk about animals. Danielewski does. A lot.

On page 87, there's a quote in German that ends up leading Johnny on this whole big tangent about Kyrie and this awesome car and this great sex that ends in Kyrie crying:

"aber da, an diesem schwarzen Felle/ wird dein starkstes Schauen aufgelost."

Eventually the Editors give us the English translation:
"But here within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze will be absorbed and utterly disappear."

This is part of the poem by Rainer Marie Rilke called "Black Cat."

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

It is my humble (and most likely crazy) opinion that this poem combined with the various animal references are a summary of the book. It's interesting that it begins with ghosts. This is sort of a ghost story, if only in the way that the guy who wrote half of it was found dead at the beginning of the book. Zampano's "ghost" is telling half of the story, but we know that we're only getting the parts of the story Zampano wrote through Johnny. Johnny's narrative is an echo to Zampano's, because in spite of whatever randomness it reads like, he's saying almost the exact same things that Zampano is saying, only… crazy…er. Maybe that's a stretch. But wait, there's more! There always is.

The difference between Zampano's exploration of the house through Navidson and Johnny's exploration of the house through Zampano is that they both had filters by which to experience the house. Sure, it made them nuts, but that's nothing compared to what Navidson is experiencing, which is this thick black pelt, in which "[his] strongest gaze [is] absorbed." Navidson is that strongest gaze. He is a photojournalist and huge parts of the book emphasize how every shot he takes is perfection. He can make anything look good, but that's just the thing. There's nothing in the house, he can't take a picture of it, can't make a video of it, there's nothing. This black cat is the house.

That being said…

It's ironic that there's a chapter about how animals aren't affected by the house. The simple explanation then, is that the house itself is an animal. Chapter Six (pg. 74) explains that animals are simply themselves, bereft of thought or wonder or anything. Everything they do is instinctual. Becker says they don't fear death, and then Norberg-Schulz talks about man's necessity for "orientation" in order to act. Man needs direction, animals don't. Another reason, perhaps, that the house is directionless. There is no north. If the house was a man, then of course there would be a north.

Once Chapter Six brought up the concept of animals, I began to notice a ton of animal imagery to describe the darkness inside the house. The sounds Navidson registers as growls may just be the house shifting, "the darkness instantly slaughters every smile and glance" (82), "the darkness just swallowed the flares right up" (85). Men are referred to as monsters as opposed to animals. Johnny must refer to every guy he meets except for Lude as a monster, even himself. Raymond, especially, is given claws and teeth wet with meet and a musky scent.

The Minotaur theory, the key, is that the monster at the center of the labyrinth is us. I said that in class already, but in the context of special relations. I guess the thing that ties this all together for me is that Rilke is referenced a lot earlier in the book. On page 28, the first question raised about the house is Wer? That's "who" in German. That word is referenced to footnote number 34, where Johnny said he found the translation of the word in a poem called "Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes*," by Rilke. It can't be random that the question of "Who?" would be answered by Rilke, who wrote the Black Cat, which I believe is a metaphor for the entire book.

*Orpheus travels to the Underworld to gather his wife Eurydice to died on their wedding. The deal he strikes with Hades is that Orpheus will lead his wife out of the Underworld, but only if he does not look behind him. If he does so before reaching topside, he'll lose her forever. In the poem, when Orpheus looks back too soon (idiot) and Eurydice is immediately back in the Underworld, Hermes tries to explain what happened to her. He says (and I'm summarizing here) "Orpheus came to free you." Her response: "Who?" The darkness of the Underworld takes away your memory. In the house, things that go forgotten actually disappear. Shoelaces.


Adam Johns said...

That's the great thing about this book. You can read it 4 or 8 times, and there are still things - like this - which, when examined in detail, change everything around. Again.

Perversely, all of this discussion of animals and nothingness connects to Derrida (who James was talking about last time) -- Derrida is interested in animals and in nothingness and, sometimes, I think, in both at the same time. So Rilke's Black Cat relates to Derrida as well as to Poe in the context of this book.

So monsters (which are also cyborgs, that is, mixtures of animal-human-machine (and maybe God), I'd argue, following Haraway) are people, and animals are nothing, except also the house itself (which is very Derrida).

Kind of.

Very nice.

Yomi said...

The amount of relavant information you have for every topic we encounter amazes me.