Control, Anatomy, and the Legacy of the Haunted House
I watch this video essay at least once a week. Sometimes I sit down to watch it, other times I listen while I brush my teeth or do chores. This video made me read all of House of Leaves in three days. It sort of led me to make this website. It's influenced my autodidactism as it pertains to space, technology, and where the two meet. What is it, I wonder, that draws me into this video — like Will Navidson into the house on Ash Tree Lane, like the player in Kitty Horrorshow's Anatomy — over and over again?
In the psychology of the modern civilized human being, it is difficult to overstate the significance of the house.
This line is oft-quoted in reviews and retrospectives of Anatomy, in which you navigate a low-poly house in search of cassette tapes, listening each time as a dry voice expounds on the anatomy of a house as said house closes its corrupted walls around you. The voice draws numerous parallels between the human body and the house: heart and hearth, spine and stairs, brain and bedroom. Geller likewise refers to a leprous house in Leviticus as "a house with a human disease." The identification with human and home is a projection, much like creating god in our image or imagining if our animal companions could speak. But we do not sleep inside of our gods, do not walk the hallways within our cats and cows.
I think also of Burke's sublime as found in HP Lovecraft's descriptions of architecture (your weekly reminder to read his stuff on Gutenberg and not to buy it! That incorrigible racist and his estate deserve nothing! Remember the cat!!). Edmund Burke's sublime is, in short, a feeling of astonishment rooted in fear, obscurity, and/or magnitude among other things. Here's a nice write-up and video about it from Nature of Writing. My understanding of the sublime is feeling dwarfed by something on a spatial, temporal, or existential scale. Cosmic horror fits right in. But I'm putting aside R'lyeh for a moment and thinking more along the lines of "The Rats in the Walls." Houses in HPL's works range from the disheveled farmhouse of the Whateley farmhouse in "The Dunwich Horror" to the stately mansion of "The Rats in the Walls" and the ancient tunnels beneath its foundation. In all of them, the homes are clearly malignant, made hostile by the alien energies found within that twist their occupants toward madness. I suspect HPL was of the same mind as Shirley Jackson and Kitty Horrorshow, imbuing the house with something of his own mind and heart. The bumps and creaks are not from something so trite as ghosts, but something far less distinct. Something sublime.
I'll make a whole other thing about House of Leaves one day, but looking briefly at Ash Tree Lane, I cannot shake the theory that the house is benevolent, if not misguided and ironically immature. This is a house haunted by abandonment. We don't know what it did to chase off the other inhabitants before the Navidson family, but we can presume it revealed its infinite underbelly in some way. For the Navidsons, who moved in to fill in the cracks in their relationships, the house wanted to offer itself as an agent of connection. It connected their rooms, and when that was received unfavorably, it offered them more space. When Navy paces, unsatisfied with suburban life, the house offers him the infamous infinite hallway to explore, complete with looming monster and mythical undertones. Navy wants to be an undeniable hero for once — what better way to give him that than to cast him as Theseus?
There's not a thesis or a point or an argument here. I just love this video essay, and every time I watch it again I go down another rabbit hole of research. Maybe I'll add to this on future watches. ✌