Thursday, April 3, 2008

Formal Post 'nat

On page 206, a passage discussing Ken Burns gets an interesting footnote:

As you probably guessed, not only has Ken Burns never made any such comment, he's alo never heard of "The Navidson Record" let alone Zampano.
This stuck out to me the first time around. We know that this fact is true in general, that most of this is simply made up. So why point it out in this case?

I had never heard of Ken Burns, so I checked him out on Wikipedia. Check out the thing in the first paragraph:

Kenneth Lauren Burns (born July 29, 1953) is an American director and producer of documentary films known for his style of making use of original prints and photographs.

This is a guy who is not only a documentary maker, but is specifically known for using original source materials directly in his work. Later reading reveals that this particulars of this technique involve showing pictures of sources and zooming in on them and cutting to another one. Anyway, point is, here we have a quote from a guy who's known specifically for using the raw, uncut sources...and a fake quote about how 'real' the record is based on the way that it was shot.

Why is this significant? Well, it's spelling out something that we sorta know instinctually, but don't realize until it's put in front of us like this: our perception is reality. The house specifically messes with one's sense of perception, and by extention, the reality. Not only is it doing this directly, to the people that the documentary is about, but also to Johnny, who loses track of time, reads for hours, starts acting weird, etc. It begins to warp everything with its perverse twisted influence. Just the simple extra quarter inch in the beginning almost drives Navy insane, and that's a tiny little perceptive difference. In a lot of ways, this even extends to the reader. I know that when I first started reading the book, I obsessed over it, and couldn't put it down. It started taking over. I had to see what happened next. Who cares if I should be doing other work, or haven't eaten, or need to stop to go to the bathroom... okay, that might be a bit extreme. But the fact remains that this really drives the point home that we rely on our senses to inform us about the state of the world, and what we should do. When that gets tampered with, anything can happen.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

An interesting followup to this would be a project, for instance, which would analyze one of his documentaries - going back to a different kind of original source (rather than Wikipedia). I think there's some sort of generation gap here - I was amazed that you'd never heard of him.

Anyway, at a certain level it's obvious that the novel is about the theme (I'll paraphrase you) "twisted perception of reality = twisted reality." But still, it's not obvious exactly how Danielewski is appropriating dozens/hundreds of sources to develop this skewed perception of reality.

So here's what I was missing. At the end you zero in on the importance of senses - without the followup (in some ways obvious) that the book is concerned with sensory _deprivation_, with shut-ins, with a blind man, etc.
How do we understand Ken Burns if we can't see?