Saturday, April 16, 2011

Daneilewski, Borges, Cervantes

Throughout the book House of Leaves there are some very confusing passages in which Mark Z. Danielewski attempts to draw connections between different authors to his own text. In chapter five of House of Leaves Danielewski presents us with two passages. The first passage is from Cervantes novel Don Quixote and the second is from Pierre Menard’s re-writing called Quixote. When these passages are presented side by side they appear to be identical. In Danielewski’s novel, even Johnny doesn’t understand the differences between these two texts. He sits there for hours looking at the two texts trying “to detect at least one differing accent or letter.” (43)

From Cervantes work we get this passage.

“…la verdad, cuya madre es la historia, emula del tiempo, deposito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo presente advertencia de lo por venir.”

And from Pierre Menard’s work Quixote we get this passage.

“…la verdad, cuya madre es la historia, emula del tiempo, deposito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo presente advertencia de lo por venir.”

Both passages appear to be identicle on the surface but there must be some underlying meaning behind the fact that Menard insistes that he has changed his and given it an exquisite variation. When I look at these two “different” passages I cannot find a variation that is present. Maybe in context they are different. We never get to see where each of these quotes is coming from. There must be a difference because each of these authors believe that it is different. Or maybe they are the same and the authors are drawing a conclusion that is not actually there. They are simply making it up. Either way there is a reason that Danielewski decides to include this passage in his work House of Leaves.

Is is possible that Danielewki includes these passages to show us that interpretation is based on the mindset of the reader and not simply based on the words that are actually written. Within Borges, Menard says that histoical truth is not “what happened but what we believe happened” (Borges 94). This can be another interpretation of these two passages. Although they are the same, they were written by different people and are thus different. Is it possible that Danielewski is rying to draw us into Johnny’s mind with these two passages. It seems that following these two passages we get a better understanding of Johnny as a person. He cannot wrap his mind around the fact that there can be a difference between these two seemingly identicle passages. He seems to not understand that it is not simply the words that must be different, rather it is the mindset of the reader that makes the two passages different. Johnny has a difficult time trying to find a difference because he is only looking at the words and not undeerstanding that the difference lies within him.

In order to expand on this idea of interpretation I believe that I have found a seccond passage or idea in order to futher explain this connection. On page 420 Danielewski presents the Delial photograph which was taken by Will Navidson. Navidson describes the photgraph vividly but the photograph is never presented to us directly. On the following page there is a blank space with words above it reading “see diagram.” (421) I believe that this is the perfect time to show that differences are presented not openly but rather in the mindset of the reader. If I were to draw a picture of what I believe the photograph looks like, it would be different than other people doing the same thing. Each drawing might be similar because they are of the same idea but there would be differences in each. The vulture would look different or Delial would be skinnier in some drawings and taller in others. There are a wealth of differences that could be made by different people. No two drawings would be exactly the same.

This is the same idea that is present within the two passages from Cervantes and Menard. No matter how many times you read the words on the page, they will be identical. The difference that is present lies within the mindset of the reader not in the written words. This is why I believe that Danielewski decided to include these quotes within his novel.

1 comment:

  1. Why nothing from the context within Cervantes? As we discussed at length in class, the passage is basically comic - it's just that you don't realize it by pulling it out of context (as Borges and Danielewski do).

    But set that aside. The idea that the "two" passages are about interpretation, and about how we can read things different ways on different occasions, is obviously a reasonable starting point, and I could buy into it to a great extent *if* you demonstrated, say, the different ways that you came at the passage the first vs. second or third time you were reading it. The idea that people read in dramatically different ways on different occasions is easy and generic - what can make it interesting and, and what can make it demand attention, is analyzing specific ways that these different readings play out.