Thursday, April 11, 2013

Poe Gives Danielewski's "5-1/2 Minute Hallway" a Voice -- RJ Sepich, Blog Essay 8, Option 2

Sorry this is late. Found the CD online and wanted to finish listening to it tonight before I posted.

Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves relates closely with the album Haunted by rock artist Poe, who happens to be Danielewski’s sister. Both exhibit long, drawn-out and complex narrative sequences followed by brief, rapid sections. Both feature similar subject matter, often referencing haunted things, repression and other creepy topics. But beyond their obvious similarities on a broader scale—the album serves as the soundtrack for the book in many ways—there are also instances in both pieces of art that can help the reader or listener better understand a specific moment in the other piece. An example of one of these occurrences comes from Poe’s song “5 & ½ Minute Hallway”, which directly discusses the hallway with the same name in the Navidson house from Danielewski’s book.

“I live at the end of a 5 and ½ minute hallway/but as far as I can see, you are still miles from me/in your doorway,” Poe begins the song. From the very first line of the song, it is clear that Poe isn’t speaking from the perspective of any of the characters in Danielewski’s novel who view the hallway cautiously; instead, she is speaking for whatever is at the end of the hallway, whether it be the hallway itself, the house, or even another force such as a ghost. Regardless of what Poe specifically is representing, her voice gives the one unspoken for character in the book a voice: whatever is haunting the house. When the Navidson’s first discover the hallway, the family doesn’t understand its meaning, but it certainly scares them. “The hallway also remains meaningless, though it is most assuredly not without effect. As Navidson threatens to reenter it for closer inspection, Karen reiterates her previous plea and injunction with a sharp and abrupt rise in pitch. The ensuing tension is more than temporary” (House of Leaves 60). I envision the beginning of Poe’s song to be in this moment, with the Navidson’s looking down the hallway nervously and Poe’s voice representing the hallway looking back and giving the family a warning.

Later in the song, Poe sings “5 more minutes and I’ll be there/inside your door/but there’s more to this story/than I have exposed/there are words made of letters/unwritten.” This passage increases the eerie factor to the voice of the hallway. The first two lines imply that whatever is at the end of the hallway could enter the Navidson’s house in a matter of minutes, and then it acknowledges that it doesn’t have much of a voice in the novel by stating that “there’s more to this story than I have exposed.” The rhythm of the song in these lines further adds to its creepiness, as it is one of the slower moments in the entire album and resembles a ghost moaning with a fading voice at times.

By creating the character of the hallway and giving readers and listeners some insight into what is haunting the hallway feels and thinks, Poe’s song adds another level of depth to her brother’s already layered book. The house finally has a voice, and it is just as creepy as most fans of House of Leaves would’ve imagined it.


Adam said...

If that's not my favorite first line ever, it sure is close.

The introductory paragraph covers good territory ("Both exhibit long, drawn-out and complex narrative sequences followed by brief, rapid sections. ") without establishing a clear direction - I would have liked to see you jump more directly into the 5.5 minute hallway, if you're going to do a short essay, especially.

I like the concept that Poe is spoken for the unspoken, given an oppositional/appositional point of view. If this is true, the point should be developed further - can we pin down who/what that is? Or, alternatively, can you develop the idea through the music as well as the lyrics?

The closing two paragraphs develop your analysis of the lyrics, of course. The idea of incompleteness here is well developed "there's much more to the story than I have exposed" but rather than leaving with what is absent, I'm curious whether there's anything more you could have said about what is implicit here, what can be deduced or even speculated about what is in the hallway?

Or, if it really is ultimately about what is indefinite and absent - as it may be - can any of that be developed through an analysis of the music other than/beyond the lyrics?

GinoC said...

I realize I am five years too late to the party, but on the off chance anyone happens across this, I'd like to throw my two cents in. I always interpreted the song as being more representative of the relationship between Navidson and Karen, and, in a broader sense, the general nature of personal relationships and the way they decay, or the way they may not have ever been what they appeared to be in the first place.

This is evidenced by the correlation between the hallway and the characters in the Navidson Report specifically, and the Zampano character directly references these parallels several times throughout the book. One notable example is towards the beginning of the book when Zampano notes Navidsons word choice when referring to the house as an "outpost" for himself and his family. Zampano draws connections here to Navidsons mental state and his realtionshop with Karen and the hallway itself, foreshadowing the way Navidson's own psyche influences the shape and nature of the hallway itself.

Poe's lyrics are not so much representative of a literal character in the story as they are of the general theme of personal relationships, specifically that what relationships appear to be on the surface level may not be what they actually are, even as perceived by the participants. When you take into account the fact that Poe's song contains audio of her own father speaking via audio records he had left to her after his death, it becomes clear that, to Poe, the song is about far more than the literal story of the Navidson Report. I would go on to pose that Danielewski felt similarly, being Poe's brother and having shared a father.

I feel this is an important distinction, since the vague nature of House of Leaves is dependent on a lack of explanation. If you give the hallway an understandable, relatable human agency, it cheapens the entire value of the story. The hallway, being representative of the rift of unknowability that grows between friends, family, lovers, as they find themselves becoming strangers to one another, to give it an understandable form or motivation is to relieve it of purpose.