Thursday, April 4, 2013

“The Straining Nature of Chaos: Connecting ‘House of Leaves’ with Poe’s ‘5 & ½ Minute Hallway’” – Taylor Hochuli: Blog Essay #7, Prompt #3

                Putting oneself in danger both affirms one’s life and denounces it at the same time. The glory involved in stunts as climbing Mt. Everest or going into space seems to outweigh the risks…as long as one survives the danger.  Such a paradox of daring is investigated in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a book both critiquing and describing a haunted house home movie. In the book, several fictional writers edit and inspect this (also fictional) movie as they begin to experience hauntings themselves. The director of the film Will Navidson and his wife Karen are fleshed out by the writers and their relationship is discussed thoroughly from their interactions on film to outside articles on their partnership. It is also brought up in the album Haunted by Mark Danielewski’s sister Anne Decatur Danielewski, who goes by the stage name Poe. The song “Five and Half Minute Hallway” on the Haunted album is both shaped by the events within the household as well as Will and Karen’s relationship.

                The Five and a Half Minute Doorway in the novel acts as a teaser for the movie Will Navidson releases years later. It is a short “optical illusion” examining a doorway “climbing outside of the house,” but when looking through a window there is “nothing more than [Navidson’s] backyard” (pg. 4, Danielewski 2000). During the final cut of the Five and Half Minute Hallway as described in the book, the book discusses Karen’s outburst warning Will not to go into the hallway in more detail as follows:

“Navidson has always been an adventurer willing to risk his personal safety in the name of achievement. Karen, on the other hand, remains the standard bearer of responsibility and is categorically against risks especially those which might endanger her family or her happiness.” (pg. 60, Danielewski 2000)

Eventually, Navidson does enter the hallway titling his findings “Exploration A” (pg. 63, Danielewski 2000). He directly defies Karen’s warnings since he is used to danger and exploration as an adventurous documentary director. During this voyage, he finds the space to be very vast and ever changing, nearly getting lost after travelling into a giant room at the end of his house’s new hallway.  However, the actual new rooms are very plain and not much actually exists in the space. A ladder and more hallways are found during later explorations, but otherwise, nothing of significance is found in the physics-defying space. Toward the end of the required reading section, things start to become chaotic only when one of the investigators named Holloway goes crazy and injures his fellow explorers while hunting a monster who’s growling is heard in the never-ending halls.

                The song “Five and a Half Minute Hallway” does not begin scary at all. There are no eerie sounds or tritones that would coincide with the footage of the same name, nor does it make use of organ or synthesizer music common to most haunted house movies. Instead, the listener is introduced with a guitar and the sweet sound of Poe’s voice.  The tune is very basic and sad as Poe continues to sing. As the song progresses, more and more instruments are added including a violin and a drum. The music grows more chaotic until Poe’s voice escalates and creates a resounding echo at the lyrics “’Cause I was hoping it would fix it all” and “I forgive you for leading me on” (Poe 2000). Such echoes are discussed in the book and act as the singer crying out down this hallway to reach the person she loves. The song continues to escalate in volume until at the very end, the sound fades away completely leaving just a slight echo with words overtop of the near silence.

My reading of Danielewski’s novel affected my listening of this track as what happens to Navidson as he explores the hallway. Will Navidson and Karen move to the shape-shifting house to initially settle down. As Navidson explains, they just want to “settle in, maybe put down some roots, interact, hopefully understand each other a little better” (pg. 9 Danielewski). Such is embodied by Poe’s very personal and quiet guitar melody at the beginning of the song. A dissident violin section brings in the drum which then moves the song, much like the introduction of the mysterious doorway stirs up the peaceful family.  The family ties begin to strain as seen when Karen flirts with Holloway and Navidson goes against Karen’s wishes to film “Expedition A.” The reader also sees Navidson’s son, Chad, begins to spend “more and more time outside by himself” and even has a fight at school (pg. 91, Danielewski 2000). This tension is found in the moments when Poe cries out into the “hallway” with very dissident chords that make the listener feel uneasy as the echoes trail away, only to be brought back again later in the song. As the action ramps up in the household when the explorer Holloway goes crazy in the hallway, the volume increases in the song to a point that is quite the opposite of the original guitar and voice combination. This increase in chaos and tension in the household is reflected in the song completely, although one part of the song goes unexplained. The fade off at the end has not yet been implemented in the book and may foreshadow an event yet to come that ends the chaos, but is completely silent unlike the soothing guitar at the start of the song.

Poe’s musical reflection of the book House of Leaves also comments on Will and Karen’s relationship though the lyrics and nature of the song. Poe sings that she is living “at the end of a five and a half minute hallway” and that the person that she is talking about is “miles away from [her].” The “hallway…keeps growing” and the singer (Poe) is having a hard time reaching the doorway where the person who she loves is waiting. Oddly enough, the time until she reaches her love grows shorter (from “five more minutes” to “thirty seconds”) despite the hallway growing (Poe 2000). This representation of the hallway as more personal rather than a simple anomaly in the house is an interesting way to look at Karen and Navidson’s relationship. As Navidson journeys deeper and deeper into the hallway, this couple in the house grows more disconnected. As mentioned before, Karen begins to flirt with Holloway, Navidson investigates the hallway against Karen’s wishes, and Karen even kisses a member of the investigation team named Wax (pg. 96, Danielewski 2000). Despite this, it is still Karen who is trying to keep Navidson away from all this chaos and keep him from investigating the hallway. Much like Poe runs down the hallway to reach her loved one, Karen is trying to reach out to Navidson in order to pull him back to a simpler life than one that involves risking his life. The shouts of Poe are comparative to the shouts of Karen trying to keep Navidson out of the hallway in order to get away and secure their family life like they originally intended to do.  Both the action of the novel and the more personal relationships of the book are brought to life in Poe’s music and reflect the situations going on as the story progresses.

Works Cited
Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.
Danielewski, Anne D. "5 & 1/2 Minute Hallway." Haunted. Poe. Atlantic Records, 2000. MP3.


Janine Talis said...

This is a pretty good essay. I did find that a lot of the main body was summary, especially in the introduction and second paragraph. If anything, I think the best paragraph was the last one. There were some great points and connections about the how the lyrics of Poe's song relate to the growing disconnection between Navidson and Karen. I think it would have been a very good paragraph for the main body of the essay as opposed to the conclusion.

Adam said...

Nice opening, especially the opening sentence. Maybe a little long, but good writing.

Good explanation of what the five and a half minute hallway as, although again I wonder if it couldn't have been slightly more compact.

The really good thing here is that rather than strictly obsessing over the lyrics (which is what most people do with this topic), you really talk about the *music*, operating under the assumption that, with the music as with the book, the form and the content can't be distinguished from one another. Good discussion of the dissonance - I'd like to see your analysis of the fading!

Anyway, this was all quite good. One other thing to keep in mind if you continue to be interested in this topic: there is also a pivotal hallway in Johny's life, which is a very important way that Johny's story and Navidson's story come together.

Re: Janine's comments - while some of the summary was necessary, I basically agree, which is why I found the early paragraphs a little long