Saturday, April 16, 2011

Credibility and Layered Analysis

In House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski writes a novel that centers on its multilayered analytical approach. The base of the story is the fictional film known as the Navidson Accord. Zampano’s review of this film serves as the first level of analysis. Above Zampano’s review is the rambling, strange, and sometimes inappropriate editing remarks from Johnny Truant. Finally, on top of Truant’s analysis is the last comb-over from the “editors”, who point out some of the fictional “sources’ identified by Truant, make notation of some of his footnotes that fail to make any sense. It is in this model that Danielewski uses when he includes commentary about Borges’ writings on Pierre Menard who writes about Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. By referencing Borges’ work on Menard, Danielewski parallels one of the central themes in House of Leaves, that being interconnectivity between people across different times and stations of life. In addition to connectivity, each of the mentioned pieces relating to Don Quixote presents itself as a commentary on the original work, in the same way Zampano, Truant, and the editors do in House of Leaves.
Both strings of commentary follow a similar pattern, as the early levels of commentary are a bit eccentric. Zampano clearly fits this description for a number of reasons. The first among these reasons is that he is writing an enormous, scholarly analysis on The Navidson Accord, a movie whose existence cannot be substantiated, even after extensive research from Johnny and the editors. Second, he also refers to articles, books and people that do not exist. Zampano’s writing of a film review is also curious in and of itself, as he is blind, which interestingly forms an additional relationship with Jorge Luis Borges. Still, the blindness has a major impact on Zampano’s credibility as a film critic; since the visual aspect of film accounts at least fifty percent of its impact. When this is combined with the idea of writing a study on a nonexistent movie, there seems to be reasonable evidence that Zampano is less than completely reliable in his role as narrator and critic. Johnny takes this unreliability to a new level, as a drug addict and degenerate. In addition to his strange off topic pontifications in the footnotes, Johnny admittedly makes up pieces of information, such as when he mentions Navidson having a broken water heater (Danieleski 16). At the end of that passage, Johnny adds that Navidson actually only had a bad heater, and that he inserted the word “water” because he himself was having trouble with his water heater. Although Johnny admits to tampering with the text in this instance, we have no way of knowing if he meddled at another point and failed to report it. Along with Johnny’s strange revision, he is also saddled with numerous medical problems that he is unable to treat because of his inability to pay of the prescription medication. He loses touch with reality, making his commentary unreliable.
In the same way that Zampano and Johnny offer unreliable narration, so does Pierre Menard. While Zampano and Johnny are unreliable due to some physical and mental handicaps, Menard’s commentary is hindered by his racism. In his review, Menard says that the revision of Quixote is unreliable because “its author was Arabic…the people of that nation are very prone to telling falsehoods”. By showing his racism in such a blatant and unvarnished manner, Menard essentially discredits his critique of the author’s interpretation, as most non-racists close their minds when they hear someone spewing hateful rhetoric.
Another passage that relates to the idea of a layered analysis comes on pages 180 and 181. While Johnny is the only one offering anything that could be labeled as a critique, his mind almost operates like it is in multiple places with strange prioritization. He fights against the forces that compel him to drugs and alcohol, as he pours all of his alcohol down the sink and throws his remaining acid and ecstasy in the trash. In addition, Johnny finally takes the necessary sedatives for his mental disorders. Later in the passage though Johnny reverts to his strange paranoia, saying “perhaps in finding my clearing, I’ll only make myself an easier prey for the real terror that tracks me, waiting beyond the perimeter, past the tall grass” (Danielewski 180). In this passage, Johnny goes from acting responsibly in the form of taking his medicine and disposing of the materials needed to continue his destructive habits, to ranting in his paranoid schizophrenic way about “what’s out there”. Also, on page 181, Johnny only realizes that it is his birthday because of the Fourth of July celebratory fireworks, showing again how his mind is incoherent and scattered, much in the way the commentary in the three pieces is.

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