Chapter 2 1/4”
Line 8: The mention of an estranged sister is revisited later on in the book chapter 14 page 347.
Line 12: is probably referring to Karen’s public complaint about the Prozac she uses, when completely necessary, making her fat (pages 59 and 347).
Line 1: “If he has horns…” this quote is a bit of a dense reference. The etymology of the word “horny” in relation to being sexually promiscuous stems from the Greek God pan who had horns and hooves and was very famous for his libido. Fast forward 1500 years when the Christians were rising to power and seeking to assimilate the greeco-roman gods and symbols into their own mythology to make christianity an easier pill to swollow they would later make pan the god of drunkeness and sexual endevors the sacrifical lamb of the faith and turn him into the icon for what the devil must look like. So calling Navidson a horny hooved man is basically saying “well he’s no angel either”.
Line 9: “Alaskan fishing boats” this specific example is interesting because of it’s tie to Johnny and how he did or claims to have worked on an Alaskan fishing boat (and survived a horrible accident, see chapter 8, footnote 119, page 104, starting on line 23). Why this specific example? We know Navidson has done work in Africa and other countries. This might be further evidence of Johnny’s tampering with the text to fit his own emotional needs.
Line 17: “He mentioned Delial again,” This name has stuck with me like a thorn. There’s no direct references to this spelling however it does keep leading me back to Delilah, Samson’s lover from the bible mythology. I found a variation spelling of Delilah as “Delila” which is just one letter switch from Delial. Anyway as we read later on, Delial is the name Navidson gives the girl in the photography which won him the Pulitzer (chapter 17, page 391, lines 17-8) which is a suiting name for the photograph more than the girl in the photograph in that this photographic moment seceded Navy beyond his own basic humanity into a state where he would betray his own morals for money. Betrayed by the medium he loved most, he lived long enough to see him self become that which he was ashamed of. It’s this photo, that name, and this medium which would lead to his downfall (Karen leaving him and taking the children) which is about when he decides to go on exploration #5 in to that dark place (similar to how samson was blinded and sent to prison). In this exploration he’s transformed into a new man, a redeemed man, saved by his wife and given strength once again. Unlike Samson, he lives in the end. This is one of the many times that Navidson is cast as a great mythological being or an archetype of these beings.
Line 30: “…like some albatross.” the etymology albatross is an example of how word choice plays a dual role of perpetuating theme (albatross is a bird like a Pelican) but also draws on symbolic imagery as well. Consider that sailors consider the sighting of an albatross to be good luck. If the Delial picture is in a sense Navidson’s albatross in that it won him the Pulizer prize which gave him great fame and fortune and yet if we read further into the symbolism of the albatross, we find that if a sailor was to shoot an albatross, it’s considered a very shameful action and that sailor is then subjected to wear that bird’s corpse to show that only him, not the entire boat, is plagued with bad luck. So the fact that Navidson shot the picture (pun on the word shoot) which has brought him much shame and his family misfortune via this white house.
Another particularly relevant note is that the same poem from which this metaphor comes, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is referenced via albatross in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein “in which Robert Walton is speaking to his sister and states, ‘…but I shall kill no albatross…’”.
In further reading, on the plot summary and interpretations of the poem from which this word choice was chosen, The Rim of the Ancient Mariner, many parallels can be drawn between the poem’s story and TNR and Johnny’s own narriative. The Gloss being the most obvious in that Coleridge felt complelled from complaints to provide footnotes in the margins explaining the symbolism of the story, but also some of the events of the story like how the ship is destroyed in a whirlpool (similar to how Johnny’s sea voyage ended) and we can even go as far as to say that the zapano papers are an Albatross that Zampano had to carry with him until it claimed his life (however the man in the poem was condemned to wander the earth telling his tale, so slight variation) and now the curse has been passed on to Johnny as it becomes his tale to tell with his own morals and gloss inserted to help him atone for the thing’s he’s done. There’s probably more to this but I digress for the sake of staying on topic.
Page 17 footnotes
Footnote 23: Noteworthy is “Jennifer Caps’ Delial, Beatrice, and Dulciena”. Beeatrice and Dulciena were women who were persued by men of debatable stability because Dante spent his entire life pining after a woman he met briefly as a child and saw only once from afar and then made her the single symbol of divine love in his epic poem The Divine Comedy and Cervante’s Don Quixote went on this quest to deliver this maiden from bondage who turned out to be a lowly serving wench whom he didn’t know, just a girl he saw and projected his image on. So in this context we’re lead to believe that Navidson is slowly becoming delusional in his quest for truth and believes that if he does this he can redem him self for what he did to Delial. This idea is touched on again in chapter 8, page 102, line 1 when Navidson decides to go on a rescue mission into the hallway he mentions “I waited too long with Delial. I’m not going to do it again.”
Lines 3-4: “…sitting quietly on the corner of Succoth and Ash Tree Lane…” fearful_syzygy wrote a wonderful essay expanding upon this imagery of this story taking place on the cross roads between Succoth (a reference to hebrew mythology) and Ash Tree Lane (a reference to the Norse belief that the tree of life was an Ash Tree and thus Ash Trees are sacred):
One of the things that makes of Leaves like Dante’s Commedia is the contiguity of Biblical and Classical elements. For instance, on p. 18 we are told that the Navidson house sits ‘quietly on the corner of Succoth and Ash Tree Lane, which clearly situates it at a nexus between Biblical and Pagan traditions. In fact Chapter III begins with a reference to the Commedia, but goes on to highlight how Navidson is fundamentally different from Dante the Pilgrim, in that he asks the same ‘why me?’ question but ‘[t]he house responds with resounding silence. No divine attention. Not even an amaurotic guide’ (p. 21),¹ which has some fairly obvious implications.
When Dante populates his Inferno with figures both from the Bible and classical antiquity (as well as contemporary Italy, but that’s a different matter), even going so far as to have a non-Christian poet as his guide on his divine journey, it is his way of including the great historical and mythological figures of the past in an otherwise manifestly Christian opus.
When we encounter the same thing in of Leaves there is a slightly different reason. Since none of the characters (with the possible exception of Karen, but more on her later) believes in God, religion and myth are essentially the same thing: comforting illusions used to fill the space that science and reason cannot explain:
- One incontrovertible fact stands in their way: the exterior measurement must equal the internal measurement. Physics depends on a universe infinitely centred on an equal sign. As science writer and sometime theologian David Conte wrote: “God for all intents and purposes is an equal sign, and at least up until now, something humanity has always been able to believe in is that the universe adds up.”^37 (p. 32)
But of course myth and religion are more than just illusions; they are traditions, passed down from generation from generation because there is a sense that there is ‘something else’, something beyond our understanding that requires articulating.
Just like the itself, traditions are built on far older foundations; a fact that is made explicit in footnote 146 which traces the roots of architecture right back to the pyramids before admitting that it goes back even further than that. The same thing is of course true of religion and mythology. Everything is derived from something else. For example, the only word to appear twice on p. 633 is ‘easter’. Why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that long before it was Christianised, Easter was a pagan festival celebrating the coming of spring. So just as the Navidson is at a junction between Biblical and Pagan traditions, so too does Easter have multiple meanings and associations. The same is true of the Hey Zeus Theatre in Seattle where Taggert Chiclitz’s play The Minotaur was performed (pp. 110-111). ‘Hey Zeus’ might be a reference to the Prometheus myth, but when read aloud it becomes something more akin to the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, with a slightly Spanish twist. More on this later, but for the moment, suffice to say that myth and religion meld into one in of Leaves, because, essentially, they both serve the basic purpose of ensuring that we have something to fill in that impossible, empty space that just doesn’t fit. And as Navidson discovers, that space can be very large indeed. Nigh on infinite, in fact.
In Chapter V, Zampanò asserts that Hollander is wrong in saying that ‘echoes of our voices and motions mock our very presence in the hollow space’ because
- ‘the hallowed always seems to abide in the presence of the hollow. The reason for this is not too complex. An echo, while implying an enormity of a space, at the same time also defines it, limits it, and even temporarily inhabits it.’ (p. 46)
In other words, Zampanò doesn’t like infinity, because ‘if L, W, and H all equal ∞, f will equal 0′; in an infinite space there can be no comforting echoes. What Zampanò wants, like Johnny, is ‘a closed, inviolate and most of all immutable space’ (p. xix), because if you’re blind as a bat you need those echoes to guide you.
The reader experiences a similar feeling of disorientation during the Hol[lowa]y Tape section. We can quite comfortably fill in the gaps in words and sentences just by using the context, but when the context vanishes, such as in footnote 290 (p. 334), we are completely lost. In other words, we can instantly see what is missing in most cases, but sometimes all we can see is that something is missing. Johnny didn’t have to provide the [ ] except in the cases where large sections are missing, but he’s chosen to account for every ash burn, I suppose in an attempt to be faithful to the original, but also to involve the reader in the editing process and to accentuate the discomfiting effect of the larger burnt sections.
The fact that Holloway becomes ‘Holy’ is, of course, no accident, since it would appear that all that is holy is really just a big hole. In his letter to Karen on pp. 389-393, Navidson says that his house is God, but as we know the house is nothing but a big, dark, cold, empty space. It seems to me, however, that he’s wrong. The house isn’t God, so much as the space He’s meant to occupy, but not in the sense of being a big God-Shaped Hole, left behind by a god that has forsaken us, but rather the space that God is designed to fill. This is why of Leaves is not so much an atheist as an agnostic book, because even though its characters seem reluctant or unable to believe in God or a god,² they nevertheless sense the space (yes, the elusive ¼”) and feel the need to fill it or at least explore it in an effort to understand it. The may be empty, but it is still manifestly and inescapably there, and its presence is universally perceived as threatening or dangerous in some way.
- “Beware,” she might have whispered. “Another holy Other lessens your great hold on slowing time,” as she would have described it, being the mad woman that she truly was. (p. 502)There’s nothing there. Beware / Be careful. (p. 4 / 550)
Starting with the ‘intrusion‘ during the Navidsons’ absence and the subsequent appearance of the ¼”, Navidson and co. can’t deny that there’s ‘something else‘, something beyond human understanding, something pretty huge. They are looking for something, anything in that place but there’s only nothing, until the ‘nothing’ becomes ‘something’ unto itself. ‘Behold the perfect pantheon of absence’ (p. 423). So in the end Navidson doesn’t find what he was looking for, but he does find something else. A sort of compromise, if you will, but only because ‘something else’ is marginally [sic] less scary than nothing at all.
But ultimately all the different characters have to find their own way of filling that gap because the whole god thing just isn’t working out.
Chapter XXII is entitled ‘Faith’ (p. 540), presumably because Karen becomes ‘like Hawthorne’s Faith’ she is wearing pink ribbons in her hair. So what saves Navidson in the end is his faith (or his Faith, rather), whereupon the , that implacable space, dissolves. Moreover, I think it’s important to note that Navidson doesn’t find his faith inside the house, she/it has to go in after him in order to save him. But it’s not faith in God that saves him, it’s still Karen; he just puts his faith in her.
Karen, for her part, rejects Feng Shui and all the items she had previously placed her faith in, dismissing them all as ‘some such shit’:
- ‘Karen has begun to deconstruct her various mechanisms of denial. She does not continue to insist on the ineffectual science of Feng Shui. She recognizes that the key to her misery lies in the still unexplored fissure between herself and Navidson. Without knowing it she has already begun her slow turn to face the meaning, or at least one meaning of the darkness dwelling in the depths of her house.^262‘^262 Gail Kalt’s “The Loss of Faith—(Thank God!)” Grand Street, v. 54, fall 1195 [sic!], p. 118.’
As we go on to read, Karen not only throws out all her Feng Shui stuff, but also ‘the Bible, several New Age manuals, her tarot cards, and strangest of all a small hand mirror.’ (p. 316)
All of these things that were meant to fill the void have proved useless, but ‘[b]y following her heart, Karen made sense of what that place was not.³ She also discovered what she needed more than anything else’ (p. 369). What, love, love, love?
- “Love the lion.” But Love alone
does not make you Androcles. And
for your stupidity your head’s
crushed like a grape in its jaws.^296
Evidently you need more than that, John.
Holloway, for instance, doesn’t have a faith that can come and rescue him. Nor does he love the lion. He simply puts his faith in himself, his rifle, and his own identity, but that’s not enough and he gets eaten alive.
- [“]It’s just out there waiting. I don’t know what for. But it’s here now, waiting for me, waiting for something. I don’t know why it doesn’t [_______________________] Oh god . . . Holloway Roberts. Menomonie, Wisconsin. [chambering a round in his rifle] Oh god[__].”
Zampanò suffers from the same problem. He has ‘nothing to share with’. The reason the ‘happy ending’ of The Navidson Record seems so forced is that it’s a complete fairytale ending concocted by Zampanò, who is holed up in his dingy apartment all on his own. He’s either never had faith or he lost it/her somewhere along the way.
Pelafina repeatedly asserts that she is an atheist, even claiming to ‘head up’ that bunch. But for an atheist, she certainly talks an awful lot about faith, hope, and charity (love), the three cardinal virtues. Odd, to say the least. Johnny himself asserts on p. 380 that her letters were “loaded with advice and encouragement and most of all faith.” Which is odd, seeing as faith is actually the least prominent of the three in her letters. Almost every letter ends with ‘love’, and there are several references to ‘hope’, most notably in the coded letter, where she seems to imply that nothing is worse than unanswered hope. Better to submit and drift than to shout out and run the risk of there being no echo.
It should, however, be fairly obvious that the one she directs all her faith, hope, and love towards is her suon, Johnny, around whom her world revolves. Of all the characters, this inveterate atheist’s space-filler is the most religious in nature. She practically turns Johnny into a secular messiah, JT instead of JC — ‘My darling J, I remain your only Mary’ (but whether she means the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalen or indeed both is debatable).
Incidentally, it is perhaps redundant to point this out, but ‘Christ’ is not actually Jesus’ surname, any more than ‘Truant’ is Johnny’s; they are both just epithets.
After the lengthy salutation on p. 632, the first word on p. 633 is ‘thaumaturgist’, a worker of miracles. One famous miracle worker was of course Jesus Christ, but it’s fairly obvious that she’s referring to Johnny here, particularly if we refer back to the letter on p. 599 (June 26, 1984), in which she describes how Johnny has turned his mother into ‘Hawthorne’s Faith’ because ‘[his] sentences cast spells’. Now, as mentioned above, the only word to appear twice in the September 19, 1988 letter is ‘easter’. The first instance is in the sequence ‘easter vexillology pelican à la St. John day’.
Now, as we know, Johnny was born on the summer solstice, an important pagan festival. And Jesus Christ was born on Christmas, an important Christian festival. But, as with Easter, these two dates are actually not that specific in their relevance. Because Christmas also coincides with the Winter Solstice, which is an important pagan festival as well, and the Summer Solstice, or Midsummer, is actually also the birthday of St. John the Baptist.
The site to which I provided a link from the word ‘day’ in the hypertext edition of this letter, offers up the following:
- ‘The symbolic role for John in Christianity is to act as the “tanist” or sacrifical twin for Jesus, the dark twin of the summer solstice being replaced by the light twin at the winter solstice. Pagan religion is packed with such sets of twins, as discussed in detail in The White Goddess, a seminal work by Robert Graves.’
Twins and brothers also play a fairly major role in of Leaves, you may recall. Johnny (Pelican) is a Cancer, ‘à la St. John’, whilst Jesus is a Capricorn, tropical twins on either side of the equator.
At the end of her coded letter (May 8, 1987), Pelafina implores Johnny to come and save her ‘in the name of your father’. But of course he never does. He can’t be her Saviour after all. And years later when he finally goes back to the Whale, she’s long gone. So did he fail her? Or did his infrequent replies and visits provide her with the reassurance she needed until she finally died?
‘Of course it’s final, right?’ (p. 504) Perhaps death is not the end. Johnny, like everyone else (except the pets), seems to want simultaneously to believe that it is and it isn’t. Or rather, he wants there to be something else, but there’s still only nothing.
- ‘I waited all night in the very room it happened, waiting for her frail form to glide free of beams of glass and moonlight. Only there was no glass. No moonlight either. Not that I could see.
‘Come morning I found the day as I have found every other day — without relief or explanation.’ (ibid.)
¹ Incidentally, Navidson’s question of “How the fuck did I end up here?” is all but identical to the question Zampanò asks himself at the top of p. 546.
² And you will notice that no distinction is made between God and god: both are listed in the Index with the exact same references.
³ In Buddhism, Nirvana (the state of mind where one is not controlled by either fears or desires) can generally only be described in negative terms; i.e. ‘it is not this, that, or the other’. I find it interesting how the Navidson is constantly being defined in terms of what it is not (e.g. foonotes 144 & 146). Why the hell would you want a huge long list of everything the house isn’t unless that were the only adequate way of describing it?
- Chapter 2: 1/4″ page 8 (houseofleavesblog.wordpress.com)
- Chapter 2: 1/4″ page 9 (houseofleavesblog.wordpress.com)
- Chapter 1 Page 4 (houseofleavesblog.wordpress.com)
- Bastille and Coleridge: “to have an albatross around the neck” (gjungle.wordpress.com)
- Chapter 1 Pages 5-7 (houseofleavesblog.wordpress.com)
- Chapter 2: 1/4″ Johnny’s story Footnote 18 Pages 12 – 16 (houseofleavesblog.wordpress.com)
- Chapter one Pages 1-3 (houseofleavesblog.wordpress.com)
- Chapter 2: 1/4″ page 12 (houseofleavesblog.wordpress.com)
- Albatross – Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, Behavior (expertscolumn.com)
- Chapter 2: 1/4″ Page 11 (houseofleavesblog.wordpress.com)