Saturday, April 16, 2011

Borges, Cervantes & Danielewski

In House of Leaves, Danielewski begins chapter five talking about how one should “appreciate the importance of space in The Navidson Record” (Danielewski 41). He guides us to an understanding through his analysis of echoes and gives a history of the ancient Greeks’ explanation of the phenomenon. It seems only logical that he would then present us with a footnote about echoes. Although this type of echo Danielewski refers to isn’t the kind you may hear in a cave or a big empty room (such as the house itself), it is a physical echo of written words. The original work of which this footnote stems is from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In this passage from Don Quixote we see Cervantes spend a decent amount of time talking about how all stories should be based on truth, and that no story is worth telling without that essential element: “this is something badly done and poorly thought out, since historians must and ought to be exact, truthful, and absolutely free of passions, for neither interest, fear, rancor, nor affection should make them deviate from the path of the truth, whose mother is history…” (Cervantes handout). Taking into account that Borges’ work is all fiction and the words spoken by Johnny in House of Leaves are mostly lies (as he points out to us on many occasions) I found it ironic that Danielewski chose to pick a passage that was focused on truth and proceed to collaborate it with works that are almost always based on falsehoods and imagination.

The story of Echo according to the ancient Greeks and the specificities that Danielewski has Zampano use definitely can be connected to why Borges’ use of Cervantes is brought up in the footnote. As Zampano is finishing up telling us about Echo’s story he says, “But Echo is an insurgent. Despite the divine constraints imposed upon her, she still manages to subvert the gods’ ruling. After all, her repetitions are far from digital, much closer to analog. Echo colours the words with faint traces of sorrow (The Narcissus myth) or accusation (The Pan myth) never present in the original” (Danielewski 41). Zampano is aware that even though the words heard from Echo may be the same, one can interpret those words differently according to what background story you base them off. This correlates directly to the way Borges describes Menard’s work on Don Quixote. Borges writes, “Historical truth, for Menard, is not “what happened”; it is what we believe happened” (Borges 94). In both cases the authors are telling the readers to interpret what you hear in your own way, and not just to look at the text as someone else tells you to. The authors want to encourage their readers to think for themselves just as they had done, although this message is quite subtle within the given works.

It is in that respect that Johnny falls behind. He writes, “Exactly! How the fuck do you write about “exquisite variation” when both passages are exactly the same?” (Danielewski 42). He fails to do exactly what these writers are aiming for: personal interpretations of what seems to be replicas of one another. Although at first glance, I agree with Johnny in that the way Borges talks about Menard’s variation on Don Quixote is a little farfetched, I can, after some time spent with the texts, begin to understand how a variation of sorts could be seen between the texts of Cervantes and Menard and it all stems from the story of Echo told by Zampano. Just as Echo had managed to evade her fate, however discreetly, Menard was able to obtain a similar feat with his own take on Don Quixote.

Also in the footnote is mentions “Menard’s nuances are so fine they are nearly undetectable, though talk with the Framer and you will immediately see how haunted they are by sorrow, accusation, and sarcasm” (Danielewski 42). This is also a great account that eludes to the use of the story of Echo in which Zampano tells us “Echo colours the words with faint traces of sorrow (The Narcissus myth) or accusation (The Pan myth) never present in the original” (Danielewski 41). This is proof to the reader that no matter how similar a spoken word (in Echo’s case) or a grouping of words in a text are, the interpretation, or lack thereof, entirely dependent on the personal view the reader holds.

1 comment:

  1. Obviously one danger in giving a highly specific assignment is that I'll a lot of similar answers. I'm reading yours, by chance, close to the end of the class, so yours seems in many ways to be similar to what other people are doing. What I want to point out, then, is your most interesting deviations from what your classmates are doing.

    First, you handle quotations better than many, keeping the whole thing both brief and clear.

    Second, you have what to me is a stunningly good insight - it shouldn't be hard, and yet nobody realizes it and then puts it clearly: "He fails to do exactly what these writers are aiming for: personal interpretations of what seems to be replicas of one another."

    Thus, Johnny's frustration isn't just funny; it has a specific and important meaning. He, and maybe we, are failing as readers - presumably this is urging us, then, *not* to fail as Johnny fails.

    What you should have done, then, is apply this insight to another moment in the text (as the prompt called for you to do), very likely another moment where Johnny seems to fail, and then explain what we might do (that is, understand) where he fails.

    This is a good beginning but stops a little early.