Chapter no 15

House of Leaves

Mit semen Nachtmützen und Schlafrockfetzen Stopft er die Lücken des Weltenbaus.

– Heine


[322- “With his nightcaps and the tatters of his dressing-gown he patches up the gaps in the structure of the universe”-which he quoted in full to his wife, as well as alluded to in chapter Six of The Interpretation of

Dreams and in a letter to Jung dated February 25, 1908.] [323-Heine?] [Freud. – Ed.]



Karen Green sits on a park bench in Central Park. She wears a russet sweater and a black cashmere scarf. All around her we see people milling about, enjoying one of those sparkling February days New Yojic City sometimes deigns to deliver. Patches of snow lie on the ground, children shriek, carriages clatter past taxi cabs and traffic cops. A war is going on in the Persian Gulf but those affairs hardly seem to matter here. As Karen explains, more than a little time has passed:


It’s been four months since we escaped from our house. It’s also four months since I’ve seen Navy. As far as I know, he’s still in Charlottesville with Billy- conducting experiments.

[She coughs lightly]

We used to talk on the phone but now even that’s stopped. This whole experience has changed him. Losing Tom, I think changed him the most.

I’ve called, written, done everything short of going down there, which is something I refuse to do. I’m up here taking care of our children and looking after his film. He did some work on it but then he just stopped and shipped me all of it, the negatives, the tapes, the whole mess. Still, he won’t leave Virginia. And to think, two months ago he told me he was only going to need a few more days.

My mother keeps telling me to get rid of him and sell the house. I’m thinking about it but in the meantime I’ve been working on the film. There was so much of it I decided to cut it down to thirteen minutes [*-More than likely, an eight minute version of Karen’s abridgment became the second short now known as “Exploration #4.” However, it remains a mystery who cut out five minutes (which must have included Holloway’s suicide) before distributing it. Kevin Stanley in “What Are You Gonna Do Now, Little Man?” and Other Tales of Grass Roots Distribution (Cambridge: Vallombrosa Inc., 1994) points out how easy it would have been for one of the professors or authors who received a copy to make a dupe. As to why though, five minutes were excised, Stanley unconvincingly chalks up to Karen Green’s own ineptitude: “She simply must have misstated the length of the tape.”] to find out what people thought of it.

And I showed it to everyone I could think of too-professors, scientists, my therapist, village poets, even some of the famous people Navy knew.

(Coughs again]

Anne Rice, Stephen King, David Copperfield, and Stanley Kubrick actually responded to unsolicited copies of the video I sent them.

Without further ado then, here is what everyone had to say about that house, [325-Interestingly enough neither __________ nor __________ , both of whom actually saw the hallway, ever provided any comments.









out with what looked suspiciously like black crayon and tar.]


* * * *


A Partial Transcript Of

What Some Have Thought

by Karen Green


[327-Originally The Navidson Record contained both of Karen’s pieces: What Some Have Thought and A Brief History Of Who I Love. However when Miramax put the film in wide release, What Some Have Thought was absent. At a Cannes press junket, Bob Weinstein argued that the section was too self- referential and too far from “the spine of the story” to justify its inclusion. “Audiences just want to get back to the house” he explained. “The delay that piece caused was unbearable. But don’t worry, you’ll have it in the DVD release.” [328-To date, I haven’t heard back from any of €he people quoted in this “transcript” with the exception of Hofstadter who made it very clear he’d never heard of Will Navidson, Karen Green or the house and Paglia who scribbled on a postcard: “Get lost, jerk.”]]



Leslie Stern, M.D. Psychiatrist.

Setting: Her office. Well lit, Chagal print on the far wall, requisite couch.


Stern: It’s quirky. What do you need my opinion for?


Karen: What do you think it is? Does it have some kind of, well, … meaning?


Stern: There you go again with “meaning.” I gave up meaning a long time ago. Trying to get a table at Elaine’s is hard enough. [Pause] What do you think it means?




Jennifer Antlpala. Architect & Structural Engineer. Setting: Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


Antipala: [Very high-strung; speaks very fastJ The things that came to me, now I guess this is just the way my mind works or something, but the whole house prompted these questions, which I guess, like you said, is, uh, what you’re after. Though they’re not exactly concerned with meaning, I think.




Karen: What were the questions?


Antipala: Oh god, a whole slew of them. Anything from what the soil bearing capacity of a place like that would have to be to, uh, say, well uh… Well first, I mean go back to just soil bearing capacity. That’s a very complicated question. I mean, look “massive rock” like trap rock for instance can stand up to 1000 metric tons per square meter while sedimentary rock, like hard shale or sandstone for instance, wili crumble with anything over 150 metric tons per square meter. And soft clay’s not even worth 10 metric tons. So that place, beyond dimension, impossibly high, deep, wide -what kind of foundation is it sitting on? And if it’s not, I mean if ft’s like a planet, surrounded by space, then its mass is still great enough it’s gonna have a lot of gravity, drMng it all inward, and what kind of material then at its core could support all that?




Douglas R. Hotstadter. Computer and cognitive science professor at Indiana University.

Setting: At a piano.


Hofstadter: Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, Alfred Bester, Robert Heinlein, they all love this stuff. Your piece is fun too. The way you handled the Holloway expedition, reminded me of Bach’s Little Harmonic Labyrinth. Some of the thematic modulations, I mean.


Karen; Do you think such a place is possible? I have a structural engineer friend who’s more than a little skeptical.


Hofstadter: Well, from a mathematical point of view… infinite space into no space … Achilles and the tortoise, Escher, Zeno’s arrow. Do you know about Zeno’s arrow?


Karen: No,


Hofstadter: [illustrating on a scrap of staff paper] Oh It’s very simple. If the arrow is here at A and the target is here at B, then in the course of getting to B the arrow must travel at least half that distance which I’ll call point C. Now in getting from C to B the arrow must travel half that distance, call that point D, and so on. Well the fun starts when you realize you cart keep dividing up space forever, paring it down into smaller and smaller fractions until . . well, the arrow never reaches B.




Byron Baleworth. British Playwright. Setting: La Fortuna on 71st Street.


Baleworth: “And St. Sebastian died of heartburn,” to reference another famous British playwright. The infinite here is not a matter for science. You’ve created a semiotic dilemma. Just as a nasty virus resists the body’s immune system so your symbol-the house-resists interpretation.


Karen: Does that mean it’s meaningless?


Baleworth: That’s a long conversation. I’m staying at the Plaza Athénée for the next few nights. Why don’t we have dinner? [Pause] That thing’s off, right?


Karen: Well give me a rough idea how you’d tackle the question?


Baleworth: [Suddenly uncomfortable] I’d probably turn to the filmmaking. Meaning would come if you tied the house to politics, science, or psychology. Whatever you like but something. And the monster. I’m sorry but the monster needs work. For Pete’s sake, is that thing on?!




Andrew Ross. Literature professor at Princeton University. Setting: Gym. Ross works out with a medicine ball.


Ross: Oh the monster’s the best part. Baleworth’s a playwright and as far as the English go probably a traditionalist when it comes to ghost stories. Quite a few Brits you know still prefer their ghosts decked in crepe and cobweb, candelabra in one hand. Your monster, however, is purely American, Edgeless for one thing, something a compendium of diverse cultures definitely requires. You can’t identify this creature with any one group. Its individuality is imperceptible, and hke the dark side of the moon, invisible but not without influence. You know when (first saw the monster, (thought it was a Keeper. (still think that. It’s a very mean House Keeper who vigilantly makes sure the house remains void of absolutely everything.

Not even a speck of dust. It’s a maid gone absolutely nutso.

Have you ever worn a maid’s outfit?




Jennifer Antipala.

Antipala: And what about the walls? Load-bearing? Or non- loadbearing walls? That takes me from questions about foundation material to building material. What could that place possibly be made of? And I’m thinking right now of the shifting that goes on, so that means we’re not talking dead loads, which means a fixed mass, but live loads which must deal with wind, earthquakes and variance of motion within the structure. And that shifting is that the same say as wind-pressure distributions?, which is something like, something like, uh, oh yeah, P equals one half beta times V squared times C times G, uh, uh, uh, that’s it, that’s It, yeah that’s it, or something like that, where P is wind pressure on the structure’s surface … or do I have to go someplace else, look at wall bending or wall stresses, axial arid lateral forces, but if we’re not talking wind, what from then and how? how Implemented? how offset? and ftn talking now about weight disbursement, some serious loading’s going on there… I mean anything that big has got to weigh a lot. And I mean at the very least a lot-lot. So I keep asking myself: how an I going to carry that weight? And I really don’t have a clue. So I start looking for another angle.


[Moves closer to Karen]




Camille Pagila. Critic.

Setting: The Bowery Bar patio.


Paglia: Notice only men go into it. Why? Simple: women don’t have to. They know there’s nothing there and can live with that knowledge, but men must find out for sure. They’re haunted by that infinite hollow and its sense- making allure, and so they crave it, desire it, desire its end, its knowledge, its-to use here a Strangelove-ian phrase-its essence. They must penetrate, invade, conquer, destroy, inhabit, impregnate and if necessary even be consumed by It. It really comes down to what men lack. They lack the hollow, the uterine cavity, any creative life-yielding physiological incavation. The whole thing’s about womb envy or vagina envy, whatever you prefer. [329-Melissa Schemell in her book Absent Identification (London: Emunah Publishing Group, 1995), p. 52. discusses sexual modes of recognition:

The house as vagina: The adolescent boy’s primary identification lies with the mother. The subsequent realization that he is unlike her (he has a penis; she doesn’t; he is different) results in an intense feeling of displacement and loss. The boy must seek out a new identity (the father) … Navidson explores that loss, that which he first identified with: the vagina, the womb, the mother.

Eric Keplard’s Maternal Intrusions (Portland: Nescience Press, 1995),

p. 139, also speaks of that place as something motherly, only his reading is far more historical than Schemel’s: “Navidson’s house is an incarnation of his own mother. In other worth: absent. It represents the unresolved Oedipal drama which continually intrudes on his relationship with Karen.” That said it would be unfair not to mention Tad Exier’s book Our Father (Iowa City:

Pavemockumest Press, 1996) which rejects “the over-enthusiastic parallels with motherdom” in favor of “narcissism’s paternal darkness.”]


Karen: What about my character’s fear of darkness.


Paglia: Pure fabrication. The script was written by a man, right? What self-respecting woman is afraid of the dark? Women are everything that’s internal and hidden. Women are darkness. I cover some of this in my book

Sexual Personae due out from Vintage in a few months.

Are you busy this afternoon?




Anne Rice. Novelist.

Setting: The Museum of Natural History.


Rice: Oh I’m not so sure I care for that. So much sexual pairing, this masculine, this feminine … I think it’s too political and obviously a bit strained.

Darkness isn’t male or female. It’s the absence of light, which is important to us because we are all retinal creatures who need light to move around, sustain ourselves and protect ourselves. George Foreman uses his eyes much more than his fists.

Of course, light and dark mean a lot less to a bat. What matters more to a bat is whether or not FM frequencies are jamming its radar.




Harold Bloom. Critic.

Setting: His private library. Walls loaded with books. General disarray.


Bloom: My dear girl, Kierkegaard once wrote, “If the young man had believed in repetition, of what might he not been capable? What inwardness he might have attained.”

We’ll touch on your, uh, unfinished piece shortly, but please permit me first to read you a page from my book The Anxiety Of Influence. This is from the chapter on Kenosis:


The unheimlich, or “unhomely” as the “uncanny,” is perceived wherever we are reminded of our inner tendency to yield to obsessive patterns of

action. Overruling the pleasure principle, the dasmonic in oneself yields to a “repetition

compulsion.” A man and a woman meet, scarcely talk, enter into a covenant of mutual rendings; rehearse again what they find they have known together before, and yet there was no before, Freud, unheimlich here, in his insight, maintains that “every emotional affect, whatever its quality, is transformed by repression into morbid anxiety.” Among cases of anxiety, Freud finds the class of the uncanny, * [330-While unheimlich has already recurred within this text, there has up to now been no treatment of the English word uncanny. While lacking the Germanic sense of “home,” uncanny builds its meaning on the Old English root cunnan from the Old Norse Kunna which has risen from the Gothic Kuniwn (preteritepresent verbs) meaning know from the Indo-European (see OED). The “y” imparts a sense of “full of” while the “un” negates that which follows. In other words, un-cann-y literally breaks down or disassembles into that which is li of ing or conversely fljj of j ing; and so without understanding exactly what repetitive denial still successfully keeps repressed and thus estranged, though indulging in repetition nonetheless, that which is uncanny may be defined as empty of knowledge and knowing or at the same time surfeit with the absence of knowledge and knowing. In the words of Perry Ivan Nathan Shaftesbury, author of Murder’s Gate: A Treatise On Love and Rage (London: Verso, 1996), p. 183: “It is therefore sacred, inviolate, forever preserved. The ultimate virgin. The husbandless madonna. Mother of God. Mother of Mother. Inhuman.” See also Anthony Vidler’s The Architectural

Uncanny: Essays In The Modern Unhomely (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1992).] “in which the anxiety can be shown to come from something repressed which recurs.” But this “unhomely” might as well be called “the homely,” he observes, “for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old-established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression.”


You see emptiness here is the purported familiar and your house is endlessly familiar, endlessly repetitive. Hallways, corridors, rooms, over and over again. A bit like Dante’s house after a good spring cleaning. It’s a lifeless objectless place. Cicero said “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” So add souls to the list. A lifeless, objectless, soulless place. Godless too. Milton’s abyss pre-god or in a Nietzschean universe post-god.

It is so pointedly against symbol, the house requires a symbol destroyer. But that lightless fire leaving the walls permanently ashen and, to my eye, obsidian smooth is still nothing more than the artist’s Procrustean way of combating influence: to create a featureless golem, a universal eclipse, Jacob’s angel, Maiy’s Frankenstein, the great eradicator of all that is and ever was and thus through this trope succeed in securing poetic independence no matter how lonely, empty, and agonizing the final result may be.

My dear girl, is it that you are so lonely that you had to create this?




A Poe t. 21 years old. No tattoos. No piercings. Setting: In front of a giant transformer.


Poe t: No capitals. [She takes out a paper napkin and reads from it] i was on line. i had no recollection of how i got there. of how I got sucked in there. it was pitch black. i suspected the power had failed. i started moving. I had no idea which direction i was headed. i kept moving. i had the feeling i was being watched. i asked “who’s there?” the echoes created a passage and disappeared. i followed them




Douglas R. Hofstadter.

Hofstadter: Similar to Zeno’s arrow, consider the following equation:

1/a =0 EMBED “Equation” \* mergeformat 000 where 1/co = 0.

If we apply this to your friend Bloom’s poetics we get an interesting perspective on the monster.

Let 1 mean the artist, then let “a” equal 1 which stands for one influence and we get 1 for an answer, =1, or a level of one influence which I take to mean 11 influence.

If however we divide by 2 then the influence level drops to 1/2 and so on. Take the number of influences to infinity, where a = 00, and voilà you have an influence level of zero, A=O.

Now let’s take this formula into account as we consider your monster. It has cleared the walls and corridors of everything. In other words, it has been influenced by infinity and therefore not influenced at all. But then look at the result: it’s lightless, featureless, and empty.

I don’t know maybe a little influence is a good thing.




Byron Baleworth.

Baleworth: You need to refine how the house itself serves as a symbol




Stephen King. Novelist.

Setting: P.S. 6 playground.


King: Symbols shmimbols. Sure they’re important but… Well look at Ahab’s whale. Now there’s a great symbol. Some say it stands for god, meaning, and purpose. Others say it stands for purposelessness and the void. But what we sometimes forget is that Ahab’s whale was also just a whale.




Steve Wozniak. Inventor & Philanthropist. Setting: The Golden Gate Bridge.


Woz: Sure I agree with King. An icon for a bridge game, it’s a symbol for the program, the data, and more. But in some respects, it can also be looked at as that bridge game. The same is true with this house you created. It could represent plenty of things but ft also is nothing more than itself, a house-albeit a pretty weird house.




Jennifer Antipala.

Antipala: I look at Hadrian’s Pantheon, Justinian’s Hagia Sophia,

Suger’s St. Denis, the roof of Westminster Hall, thanks to Herland, or Wren’s dome for St. Paul’s, and anything else that is seemingly above and beyond this world, and by the way, in my mind, those places I just mentioned really are above and beyond this world, and first it sparks awe, maybe disbelief, and then, after doing the math, tracing the lines, studying the construction, though it’s still awesome, it also makes sense. Consequently it’s unforgettable. Weil that house of yours in your movie definitely sparks awe and all the disbelief, but in my mind it never makes sense. I trace the lines, do the math, study the construction, and all I come up with is well the whole thing’s just a hopeless, structural impossibility. And therefore substanceless and forgettable. Despite its weight, its magnitude, its mass. . in the end it adds up to nothing.


[Moving away]




Jacques Derrida. French philosopher. Setting: Artaud exhibit.


Derrida: Well that which is inside, which is to say, if I may say, that which infinitely patterns itself without the outside, without the other, though where then is the other?

Finished? Good.




Hold my hand. We stroll.




Andrew Ross.

Karen: Anything else?

Ross: The house was windowless. I loved that.




Byron Baleworth.

Baleworth: [Defensive] It’s very sloppy. Why that type of house? Why in Virginia? These questions should have answers. There would be more cohesion. Mind you there is promise. [Pause] I hope you don’t think I just made a pass at you.




Camille Paglia.

Paglia: [Laughing] Baleworth said that? You should have asked him why Dante’s entrance to hell was in Tuscany? Why Young Goodman Brown’s path was in New England? Baleworth’s just jealous and besides he can’t write a screenplay to save his pecker. [Pause] And incidentally I’m not afraid to tell you that I did make a pass at you.

So are you free this afternoon?




Walter Mosley. Novelist.

Setting: Fresh Kills Park


Mosley: Strange place. The wails changing all the time. Everything’s similar, familiar, and yet without signposts or friends. Plenty of clues but no solutions. Just mystery. Strange, very strange. [He looks up, genuinely baffled] I don’t know. I sure would hate to be stuck there.




Leslie Stern, M.D.

Karen: What else do you think about the film?


Stern: I’m no Siskel and Ebert-though I’ve been called Ebert before. There’s a lot about emptiness, darkness, and distance. But since you created that world I don’t think it’s unfair to ask why you were so drawn to those themes?




Stephen King.

King: You didn’t make this up, did you? [Studying Karen] I’d like to see this house.




Kiki Smith. Figurative Artist.

Setting: The New York Hospital – Cornell Medical Center E.R.


Kiki: Well gosh, without color and hardly even any grey, the focus moves to the other stuff-the surfaces, the shapes, dimensions, even all that movement. I’d have to say it comes down to that. Down to the construction, the interior experience, the body-sense there, which-well gosh-what makes the whole thing so visceral, so authentic.




Hunter S. Thompson Journalist. Setting: Giants Stadium.


Thompson: It’s been a bad morning.


Karen: What did you think of the footage?


Thompson: I’ve been staying with friends, but they kicked me out this morning.


Karen: I’m sorry.


Thompson: Your film didn’t help. It’s, well… one thing in two words: fucked up…very fucked up. Okay three words, four words, who the hell cares… very very fucked up. What I’d call a bad trip. I never thought I’d hear myself say this but lady you need to lay off the acid, the mescaline, or whatever else you’re snorting, inhaling, ingesting check yourself into rehab, something, anything because you’re gonna be in a bad way if you don’t do something fast. I’ve never seen anything so goddamn tucked up, so tucking tucked up. I broke things because of it, plates, a small jade figurine of a penguin. A glass bullfrog. I was so upset I even threw my friend’s fishtank at their china cabinet. Ugly, very ugly. Salt water, dead fish everywhere, me screaming “so very very fucked up.” Five words. They threw me out. Do you think I could spend the night at your place?




Stanley Kubrick. Filmmaker.

Setting: (on-line)


Kubrick: “What is it?” you ask. And I answer, “It’s a film. And it’s a film because it uses film (and videotape).” What matters is how that film affects us or in this case how it affects me. The quality of image is often terrible except when Will Navidson handles the camera which does not happen often enough. The sound is poor. The elision of many details contributes to insufficiently developed characters. And finally the overall structure creaks and teeters, threatening at any minute to collapse. That said (or in this case typed) I remain soberly impressed and disturbed. I even had a dream about your house. If I didn’t know better I’d say you weren’t a filmmaker at all. I’d say the whole thing really happened.




David Copperfield. Magician.

Setting: The Statue of Liberty


Copperfield: It looks like a trick but it’s a trick that constantly convinces you it’s not a trick. A levitation without wires. A hail of mirrors without mirrors. Dazzling really.


Karen: So how would you describe the house?


Copperfield: A riddle.


[Behind him the Statue of Liberty disappears.]




Camille Paglia.

Paglia: How would I describe it? The feminine void.




Douglas R. Hofstadter.

Hofstadter: A horizontal eight.




Stephen King.

King: Pretty darn scary.




Kiki Smith.

Kiki: Texture,




Harold Bloom.

Bloom: Unheimlich-of course.




Byron Baleworth.

Baleworth: Don’t care to.




Andrew Ross.

Ross: A great circuit in which individuals play the part of electrons, creating with their paths bits of information we are ultimately unable to read. Just a guess.




Anne Rice. Rice: Dark.




Jacques Derrida.

Derrida: The other. [Pause] Or what other, which is to say then, the same thing. The other, no other. You see?




Steve Wozniak.

Woz: I like Ross’ idea. A giant chip. Or a series of them even. All interconnected. If only I could see the floor plan then I could tell you if it’s for something sexy or just a piece of hardware- like a cosmic toaster or blender.




Stanley Kubrick.

Kubrick: I’m sorry. I’ve said enough.




Leslie Stern, M.D.

Stern: More importantly Karen, what does it mean to you?


[End Of Transcript]


[331-So many voices. Not that I’m unfamiliar with voices. A rattle of opinion, need and compulsion but masking what? //


Thumper just called (hence the interruption; the “//”).

A welcome voice.

Strange how that works. I’m no longer around and suddenly out of the blue she calls, for the very first time too, returning my old pages I guess, wanting to know where I’ve been, why I haven’t stopped by the Shop at all, filling my ear with all kinds of stuff. Apparently even my boss has been asking about me, acting all hurt that I haven’t dropped by to hang out or at least say hello.

“Hey Johnny,” Thumper finally purred over the phone. “Why don’t you come over to my place. I’ll even cook you dinner. I’ve got some great pumpkin pie left over from Thanksgiving.”

But I heard myself say “No, uh that’s okay. No thanks but thank you anyway,” thinking at the same time that this might very well be the closest I’ll ever come to an E ticket invite to The Happiest Place On Earth.

It’s too late. Or maybe that’s wrong. Maybe not too late, maybe it’s just not right. Beautiful as her voice is, it’s just not strong enough to draw me from this course. Where eight months ago I’d have already been out the door. Today, for whatever sad reason, Thumper no longer has any influence over me.

For a moment, I flashed on her body, imagining those beautiful round breasts with creamy brown aureolas, making saints out of nipples, her soft, full lips barely hiding her teeth, while in the deep of her eyes her Irish and Spanish heritage keep closing like oxygen and hydrogen, and will probably keep on closing until the very day she dies. And yet in spite of her shocking appeal, any longing I should have felt vanished when I saw, and accepted, how little I knew about her. The picture in my head, no matter how erotic, hardly sufficing. An unfinished portrait. A portrait never really begun. Even taking into account her daisy sunglasses, her tattoos, the dollars and fives she culls while draped around some silver pole hidden in some dark room in the shadow of the airport. A place I had still not dared to visit. had never even asked her the name of her three year old. I had never even asked her for her real name-not Thumper, not Thumper at all, but something entirely else-which I suddenly resolved to find out, to ask both questions right then and there, to start finding out who she really was, see if it was possible to mean something to her, see if it was possible she could mean something to me, a whole slew of question marks I was prepared to follow through on, which was exactly when the phone went dead.

She hadn’t hung up nor had I. The phone company had just caught up with their oversight and finally disconnected my line.

No more Thumper. No more dial tone. Not even a domed ceiling to carry a word.

Just silence and all its consequences.]


* * * *


Funny how out of this impressive array of modem day theorists, scientists, writers, and others, it is Karen’s therapist who asks, or rather forces, the most significant question. Thanks to her, Karen goes on to fashion another short piece in which she, surprisingly enough, never mentions the house, let alone any of the comments made by the gliterati.

It is an extraordinary twist. Not once are those multiplying hallways ever addressed. Not once does Karen dwell on their darkness and cold. She produces six minutes of film that has absolutely nothing to do with that place. Instead her eye (and heart) turn to what matters most to her about Ash Tree Lane; what in her own words (wearing the same russet sweater; sitting on the same Central Park bench; coughing less) “that wicked place stole from me.”

So in the first black frame, what greets us is not sinister but blue: the strains of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker coaxing out of the darkness the precocious face of a seventeen year old Will Navidson.

Piece after piece of old Kodak film, jerky, over exposed, under exposed, usually grainy, yellow or overly red, coalesce to form a rare glimpse of Navidson’s childhood-nicht alizu glatt und gekunstelt. [332-“Not overly polished or artificial.” – Ed.] His father-drinking ice tea. His mother-a black and white headshot on the mantle. Tom-watering the lawn. Their golden itriever, the archetype for all home movie dogs, frolicking in the sprinklers, pouncing on the pale green hose as if it were a python, barking at Tom, then at their father, even though as its jaws snap open and shut it is impossible to hear a bark-only Charlie Parker playing to the limits of his art, lost in rare delight.

As professor Erik Von Jamlow poignantly remarked:


I don’t think I’m alone in feeling the immutable sadness contained in these fragments. Perhaps that is the price of remembering, the price of perceiving accurately. At least with such sorrow must come knowledge.

[333-See Erik Von Jarniow’s Summer’s Salt (New York: Simon and

Schuster, 1996), p. 593.]

Karen progresses steadily from Navidson’s sundrenched backyard to a high school prom, his grandmother’s funeral, Tom covering his eyes in front of a barbecue, Navidson diving headfirst into a swimming hole. Then college graduation, Will hugging Tom good-bye as he prepares to leave for Viemam,[334-According to Melanie Proft Knightley in War’s Children (New York; Zone Books, 1994), p. 110, a weak heart prevented Tom from getting drafted. Navidson had gone ahead and enlisted.] a black and white shot catching the wing of his plane in flight.

And then the whole private history explodes.

Suddenly a much larger world intrudes on the boyish Navidson. Family portraits are replaced by pictures of tank drivers in Cambodia, peasants hauling empty canisters of nerve gas to the side of the road, children selling soda near body bags smeared with red oil-soaked clay, crowds in Thailand, a murdered man in Israel, the dead in Angola; fractions plucked from the stream, informing the recent decades, sometimes even daring to suggest a whole.

And yet out of the thousands of pictures Navidson took, there does not exist a single frame without a person in it. Navidson never snapped scenery. People mattered most to him, whether soldiers, lepers, medics, or newlyweds eating dinner at a trattoria in Rome, or even a family of tailors swimming alone at some sandy cove north of Rio. Navidson religiously studied others. The world around only mattered because people lived there and sometimes, in spite of the pain, tragedy, and degradation, even managed to triumph there.

Though Karen gives her piece the somewhat faltering title A Brief History Of Who I Love, the use of Navidson’s photos, many of them prizewinning, frequently permits the larger effects of the late 20th century to intrude. Gordon Burke points out the emotional significance of this alignment between personal and cultural pasts:


Not only do we appreciate Navidson more, are inadvertently touched by the world at large, where other individuals, who have faced such terrible horrors, still manage to walk barefoot and burning from the grave. [335- See the introduction by Gordon Burke in Will Navidson’s Pieces (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994), p. xvii.]


Each of Navidson’s photographs consistently reveals how vehemently he despised life’s destruction and how desperately he sought to preserve its fleeting beauties, no matter the circumstances.

Karen, however, does not need to point any of this out. Wisely she lets Navidson’s work speak for itself. Interestingly enough though, her labor of love does not close with one of his photographs but rather with a couple of shots of Navidson himself. The first image-purportedly taken by a famous though now deceased photojournalist-shows him when he was a young soldier in South East Asia, dressed in battle fatigues, sitting on an ammunition crate with howitzer shell casings stacked on a nearby trunk marked “VALUABLES.” An open window to the right is obviously not enough to clear the air. Navidson is alone, head down, fingertips a blur as he sobs into his hands over an experience we will undoubtedly never share but perhaps can still imagine. From this heart-wrenching portrait, Karen ever so gently dissolves to the last shot of her piece, actually a clip of Super 8 which she herself took not long before they moved to Virginia. Navidson is goofing around in the snow with Chad and Daisy. They are throwing snowballs, making snow angels, and enjoying the clarity of the day. Chad is laughing on his father’s shoulders as Navidson scoops up Daisy and holds her up to the blinding sun. The film, however, cannot follow them. It is badly overexposed. All three of them vanish in a burst of light.


* * * *


The diligence, discipline, and time-consuming research required to fashion this short-there are easily over a hundred edits-allowed Karen for the first time to see Navidson as something other than her own personal fears and projections. She witnessed for herself how much he cherished the human will to persevere. She again and again saw in his pictures and his expressions the longing and tenderness he felt toward her and their children. And then quite unexpectedly, she came across the meaning of his privately guarded obsession.

While Navidson’s work has many remarkable images of individuals challenging fate, over a third captures the meaning of defeat-those seconds after an execution, the charred fingers found in the rubble of a bombed township, or the dull-blue look of eyes which in the final seconds of life could still not muster enough strength to close. In her filmic sonnet, Karen includes a shot of Navidson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. As she explains in a voice-over: “The print comes from Navy’s personal collection.” The same one hanging in their home and one of the first things Navidson placed in their car the night they fled.

As the world remembers, the renowned image shows a Sudanese child dying of starvation, too weak to move even though a vulture stalks her from behind. [336-This is clearly based on Kevin Carter’s 1994 Pulitzer Prizewinning photograph of a vulture preying on a tiny Sudanese girl who collapsed on her way to a feeding center. Carter enjoyed many accolades for the shot but was also accused of gross Insensitivity. The Florida St. Petersburg Times wrote: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.” Regrettably constant exposure to violence and deprivation, coupled with an increased dependency on drugs exacted a high price. On July 27, 1994 Carter killed himself. – Ed.] Not only does Karen spend twenty seconds on this picture, she then cuts to a ten second shot of the back of the print. Without saying a word, she zooms in tighter and tighter on the lower right hand corner, until her subject finally becomes clear:

there, almost lost amidst so much white, lie six faintly penciled in block letters cradled in quotes-




* * *


There are only 8,160 frames in Karen’s film and yet they serve as the perfect counterpoint to that infinite stretch of hallways, rooms and stairs. The house is empty, her piece is full. The house is dark, her film glows. A growl haunts that place, her place is blessed by Charlie Parker. On Ash Tree Lane stands a house of darkness, cold, and emptiness. In 16mm stands a house of light, love, and colour.



By following her heart, Karen made sense of what that place was not. She also discovered what she needed more than anything else. She stopped seeing Fowler, cut off questionable liaisons with other suitors, and while her mother talked of breaking up, selling the house, and settlements, Karen began to prepare herself for reconciliation.

Of course she had no idea what that would entail.

Or how far she would have to go.

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