Polarizing Gender Domination of House of Leaves and “Haunted”
Listening to the Goth-Pop album “Haunted” by Poe offered a polarizing voice to the voices of House of Leaves: a dominant feminine voice. From primary reading of House of Leaves, my reaction to the voice of Johnny was the only experience I had of awareness to the dominant male voice. But the foiling, powerful, and characteristically female voice of “Haunted” brought greater attention to the relentless masculine-centric plot and feeling of House of Leaves.
The dominant male of House of Leaves begins with Johnny and his friend Lude (notice the name). The pair spends their leisure time “chasing tail” with extremely demeaning methods. The voice of the narrator, Johnny, inserts stories related to Zampano’s writing; stories which are nearly invariably about conquest of some woman. The only features Johnny ever acknowledges about a woman are their genitalia and, occasionally, some other physical feature. His deepest infatuation is with a stripper. He recklessly flirts and sleeps with married, engaged, and dating woman, and offers nothing more to them. But this is only Johnny’s hobby, because his main occupation lies in the devotion to the tales and stories of men: compiling and interpreting Zampano’s writings of the Navidson Record. Both of which are stories of men on conquest of knowledge, meanwhile using women in the effort, without paying much mind to them. Zampano, though in a less obvious way than Johnny, is using women to satisfy a need of his as well as in effort to discover understanding of the Navidson Record. Johnny informs us of the numerous female guests he had to read literature for him. “Exhibit B, Bits” is vital in a deeper understanding of Zampano’s relationship with these women. The editors inform us that a number of these brief passages are “written by someone else,” possibly one of his female visitors (Danielewski, 542). Bit [J] on page 545 reveals how Zampano treats the women: “Goddamn!... Yes, of course write it down! Write down all of it down! Everything I say!.... Goddamn her wrong!” This conveniently displays that Zampano is both using a woman, and abusing her to write his masculine reflection through the Navidson Record. This is emphasized further by Bit [H], where he not so subtly calls his female ghost writer garbage. And in his account of the Navidson Record he occasionally viciously demeans the sole female character, Karen. She is carefully portrayed as an unsupportive, insubordinate, adulterous wife. This is in contrast to the sympathy with which Navidson is portrayed as he disregards his wife’s wishes in order to pursue the knowledge of the hallway. Navidson’s relationship with Karen is equivalent to the relationship Zampano and Johnny have with women: satisfying a need, but rejecting attachment in order to continue pursuing knowledge of his respective labyrinth. Zampano is also sure to include detailed discussion on the nobility of defeating a mutiny, justifying Navidson’s pursuit into the hallway. The three male voices each echo and justify the oppression and objectification of women while in the midst of their respective investigations.
But as dominant as House of Leaves portrays the male voice, “Haunted” foils this with a female voice, both in the literal voice of Poe and in the subject matter of the album. The album, released nearly simultaneously, echoes House of Leaves, but with a slightly different meaning. This echo is solidified literally by one Bit with the phrase “Bada-Bing, Bada-Bang, Bada-Gone!” (544) which is responded with the “Bada-papa” background of the track “Haunted” and elsewhere through the album. But the echo that responds is a feminine telling of the narrative, with examples like “Spanish Doll” which could be understood as the effect of a man using and abandoning a woman, voiced through a woman. This sentiment is hardly representative of the album as a whole, which is emphatically supportive of woman mutiny, feminine control, and gender role reversal. Track “Walk the Walk” is evidence of this. It has definite feel of country music, a genre fairly dominated by the male voice, and focuses on woman independence from male control. The female voice attempts to inspire women (evidence by the call of “Hey everybody”) to “walk to the beat of [their] own drum” (Poe). Tracks like “Control” reveal the intent of a female voice taking over dominance and has a distinct feeling of carefully executed aggression. While in tracks like “Hey Pretty” and “Not a Virgin” focus on a gender role reversal with female voice in the position of dominance demeaning and controlling a man. The female voice in “Hey Pretty” is driving the car, typically the man’s role as the driver is in control, and addressing her, presumably male companion as pretty. In “Not a Virgin,” the feminine narrator is relatively proud and boastful about her sexual prowess. With the male background literally suppressed in volume, she asserts her dominance over the man with cockiness in her demand of hearing a true story. Poe repetitively focuses on feminine power to the same extent the House of Leaves focus on masculine exploits.
While Mark Danielewski is not likely a supporter of a male-dominated society, House of Leaves is representative of that sentiment. Because he and Poe are siblings, and the two works were released nearly simultaneously, must be considered reasonably as two voices telling the same tale, but with different perspectives. The polarization between the two works about the dominant gender helps to enlighten the fact that each is indeed dominated by a gender. The concluding track of “Haunted,” “If You Were Here” appears to be a resolution between the female voice and the male voice. Because the album echoes the story of House of Leaves, and I have not completed the book, the track may be foreshadowing a similar resolution between the voices of genders in House of Leaves as well.