Johnny and his Fear

“No doubt about that. My fear’s gotten worse. Hearing Hailey describing my screams on the radio like that has really upset me. I no longer wake up tired. I wake up tired and afraid. I wonder if the morning rasp in my voice is just from sleep or rather some inarticulate attempt to name my horror. I’m suspicious of the dreams I cannot remember, the words only others can hear…”

In House of Leaves, Johnny’s footnotes serve on the surface as a translation of certain parts of the Navidson Record into layman’s terms, but more importantly they give another dimension to his mentions of being disturbed by the Navidson Record, offering a first person point of view to his anxieties.

As the book progresses Johnny’s footnotes stays at relatively the same consistency, never going away for too long, but the length and content of these footnotes indicates a paradigm. Certain footnotes take up at least a page and continue from an ominously toned sentence in the Navidson Record. They tend to deal little with the content of the Navidson Record and more with the feelings of paranoia and delusion Johnny feels from the book as he reads and annotates.

On Page 179, at the 211th footnotes Johnny again goes on his long tangents before the rescue of Jed and Wax, at a time when Zampano is exploring the subjectivity of space. During this small arc Zampano gives a few academic sources discussing to the idea of spaces or rooms feeling smaller or bigger than previously thought to be. In context of the novel, Reston is feeling nauseated after being in the constantly changing black space of the house for too long, with Zampano commenting that the “disturbing disorientation experienced within that place…can have physiological consequences.” This is where Johnny’s footnotes take the wheel.

“No doubt about that,” Truant’s footnote starts, referring to the “physiological consequences” of the house. In this case he is talking about how his fear, particularly how it is affecting him. The Navidson Record as a whole, and the task of reading and annotating has taken a toll on Johnny.
All the delusions, smells, and sleepless nights lead Johnny to see a doctor that prescribes him a low end sedative. Later in the footnote as Johnny is waiting in another doctor’s office, contemplating the claustrophobic and unknown space that surrounds him, he says “I know what it means to go mad.”

At this point in the book it is clear that the Navidson Record is negatively affecting him, but not in a tangible way. The book is not directly making him feel anxious or experience delusions, but rather bringing up some dormant, underlying problem possibly being suppressed by Johnny. The phrase he writes, “I know what it means to go mad” addresses this by giving a familiarity to the feelings and mentality Johnny is going through.

Though the Navidson Record on its own is dense and slightly confusing, referred to earlier in the footnote when he speaks of the frustrating complexities of the chapter 9 footnotes, the book itself does not seem enough to give reason to Johnny’s fear and paranoia. Instead, through Johnny’s footnotes, we come to understand that whatever mystic force gives power to the house’s apparent sentience is what is uncovering or causing his fear. He feels a familiar sense of madness, going so far as to throw away all drugs in an attempt to alleviate any distortions. At this point Johnny is desperate for a way to end the approaching seemingly malevolent force that he senses in his delusions.

The footnotes help to explore these distorted feelings as they don’t happen too frequently. They come almost like a checkpoint in each chapter. As the house becomes stronger and more omnipotent, the effects are felt all throughout, especially to Johnny.

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