Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Other

Chapter V of The Navidson Record discusses echoes both in mythic and scientific terms. Zampano explains how echoes can return words with a different meaning than what they are echoing, and also how echoes can be comforting, as well as their use in terms of echolocation and relation to other senses. All of this seems very unrelated to the previous chapters, until after the discussion of echolocation, towards the end of the chapter. This passage returns the chapter to the focus of previous ones: "Unfortunately, humans lack the sophisticated neural hardware present in bats and whales. The blind must rely on the feeble light of fingertips and the painful shape of a cracked shin. Echolocation comes down to the crude assessment of simple sound modulations, whether in the dull reply of a tapping cane or the low, eerie flutter in one simple word - perhaps your word - flung down empty hallways long past midnight."

In his notes, Truant says that he would have recommended skipping the entire chapter were it not for that part, noting how personal the subject must have been for Zampano and how the passage seems to attack you after the preceding part of the chapter. Indeed, considering his blindness does seem to add a sense that the old man was speaking from experience here. But despite this, something about the passage is more sinister than the mere experience of blindness. In particular, the last few phrases are haunting: "... or the low eerie flutter in one simple word - perhaps your word - flung down empty hallways long past midnight." The first part of the phrase seems to recount how echoes can change words, reflecting only a part of a word, or otherwise changing the meaning entirely. The echo is no longer a mere repetition (though repetition itself can be terrifying), it is the voice of the unknown, the Other, who dwells in the darkness seeking to devour. Though unseen, its presence is felt. This in particular recalls Truant's experience in the shop of some nameless and invisible horror stalking him, only to disappear back into the darkness. Another thing to consider is the nature of the word; how is it yours? Is it simply the word you have uttered, or is it something more? It could be the word spoken by someone else to you, or a word that holds meaning for you. Though perhaps these would not be encountered in empty hallways. What moreover, would such a word be? "Hello"? Or perhaps something else? Either way the word is a weapon; it is 'flung' at the darkness. Is it a shout, violent so as to merit being flung? No, shouts do not have low eerie flutters. It seems to be a reluctant word, thrust quietly in an attempt to drive back the Other.

Why is this strange passage here, and why is it more than it seems? It is here to bring things back on track, to make sure we have not forgotten about the Other; to show that even in a discussion of such innocuous things as echoes, it is still there, waiting.

3 comments:

tricia said...

expand a little on how the passage at the end of your first paragraph brings us back to the previous chapters. i did not find a thesis in this paragraph either, just a recount of the end of a nearly meaningless chapter.

speaking literally, an echo is a repetition, though not an exact replication. i appreciate your acknowledgment that what goes out is not necessarily the important word, but rather what comes back that tells the speaker of his/her surroundings/position or of the lurking 'other'.

"Though unseen, its presence is felt."

This is a great sentence relating to Zampano's blindness, Navidson's experience in the house, and Truant's experience in the shop. If you'd like to expand, this might be a great place to draw on the other two apparent examples in the book.

If you are going to consider the nature of words 'flung' into empty hallways, consider what words they might be. Give us some guess of their relevance to being in an empty hallway. what word would you utter in an empty hallway?

how is this unknown word a weapon? a weapon against what, the silence? the loneliness? the other? elaborate, it's an interesting thought to consider a word as a weapon when there is presumably no one there to hear.

the conclusion is short and unfulfilling. the passage is there for a reason, you give us that reason, good. but what about its relevance to the characters? how does this passage tell us more about the situation that our characters are in? how does it foreshadow or allude to things we are as yet unaware?

Megan Schwemer said...

Chapter V of The Navidson Record discusses echoes both in mythic and scientific terms. Zampano explains how echoes can return words with a different meaning than what they are echoing, and also how echoes can be comforting, as well as their use in terms of echolocation and relation to other senses. All of this seems very unrelated to the previous chapters, until after the discussion of echolocation, towards the end of the chapter. This passage returns the chapter to the focus of previous ones: "Unfortunately, humans lack the sophisticated neural hardware present in bats and whales. The blind must rely on the feeble light of fingertips and the painful shape of a cracked shin. Echolocation comes down to the crude assessment of simple sound modulations, whether in the dull reply of a tapping cane or the low, eerie flutter in one simple word - perhaps your word - flung down empty hallways long past midnight." This passage returns us to an awareness of a continuing theme in the book – the presence of the unknown Other residing in the darkness.

In his notes, Truant says that he would have recommended skipping the entire chapter were it not for that part, noting how personal the subject must have been for Zampano and how the passage seems to attack you after the preceding part of the chapter. Indeed, considering his blindness does seem to add a sense that the old man was speaking from experience here. But despite this, something about the passage is more sinister than the mere experience of blindness. In particular, the last few phrases are haunting: "... or the low eerie flutter in one simple word - perhaps your word - flung down empty hallways long past midnight." The first part of the phrase seems to recount how echoes can change words, reflecting only a part of a word, or otherwise changing the meaning entirely. The echo is no longer a mere repetition (though repetition itself can be terrifying), it is the voice of the unknown, the Other, who dwells in the darkness seeking to devour. Though unseen, its presence is felt. This in particular recalls Truant's experience in the shop of some nameless and invisible horror stalking him, only to disappear back into the darkness. It also calls to mind the strange growling Navidson encounters in his first foray into the depths of the house. Another thing to consider is the nature of the word; how is it yours? Is it simply the word you have uttered, or is it something more? It could be the word spoken by someone else to you, or a word that holds meaning for you. Though perhaps these would not be encountered in empty hallways. What moreover, would such a word be? "Hello"? Maybe the name of a loved one, as Navidson uses in the house? Or perhaps something else? Either way the word is a weapon; it is 'flung' at the darkness to drive back the Other and the dark silence in which it dwells. Is it a shout, violent so as to merit being flung? No, shouts do not have low eerie flutters. It seems to be a reluctant word, thrust quietly in an attempt to drive back the Other.

Why is this strange passage here, and why is it more than it seems? It is here to bring things back on track, to make sure we have not forgotten about the Other; to show that even in a discussion of such innocuous things as echoes, it is still there, waiting. It hints at Navidson’s encounter in the house which is yet to come.

Adam Johns said...

Tricia - a thoughtful and detailed response, again.

Megan - I love your first paragraph, but technically speaking it doesn't have a thesis. It doesn't necessarily need one, either - but my question in the introduction is: what is the *meaning* of the presence of the unknown other?

Your long, complicated second paragraph is fascinating. I'll add a question or two to Tricia's: first, why do we tend to operate under the assumption that the Other is to be feared and dreaded? (That's something we may talk about when discussing tomorrow's assigned reading). Second, in this circumstance is the the Other precisely ourselves? That is, the echoed, Other word is nothing other than our own word... Self=Other here. Maybe.

I loved your writing here, and your questions, and much of your response to the book. I wasn't any more satisfied by the ending than Tricia was, though. I don't mind that the paper was unconventional, but I do mind that it wasn't quite finished.