Danielewski, Borges, and Cervantes are authors linked by a common thread. Their ability to thrive on writing fiction within fiction and sometimes within another fiction may be hard to analyze and grasp, but that is what makes their literature interesting and continuously sucks us in. The connection that Danielewski makes to Borges in House of Leaves and to Don Quixote is significant and relates to the echo of the hallway. The echoes in the hallway are brought to light in other portions of Danielewski’s novel, which always help Johnny revert back to stories that introduce new hardships he’s faced to the reader and allow other characters to do so as well.
Danielweski’s trend throughout his book is to write the fictional story of the House of Leaves, and then give us the fictional story of Johnny and other characters. The multiple pages of insight on echo’s in Chapter 5 and how they have come to mean what they mean is not just a simple tangent, but in fact a reference to Johnny. Johnny can relate the story of the goddess Echo and the sounds in the hallway to his life, which is why I think he gets so wrapped up in the editing and rewriting parts of The Navidson Records.
To allow us to “recognize the significance of space” (41) as readers, we are introduced to the story of the goddess Echo and how he name came to be. Echo has two stories but “In both cases, unfulfilled love results in the total negation of Echo’s body and the near negation of her voice.” (41) Now with only the ability of speech and restriction to only say what is spoken to her, sorrow and accusation fill her voice. Danielewski uses this story of the Goddess Echo to explain what is happening in the hallway and to also incorporate Johnny’s fears.
Being authors of the same caliber with the same sort of love for fiction, Danielewski and Borges can be found, in some parts of their novels, to be similar. Here, Danielewski threads the story of the goddess and her only ability to repeat what others say with sorrow and accusation to Borges’ fictional character Pierre Menard who does the same. Pierre Menard, tries to make Don Quixote an original narrative, something of his own, filled with his own words “haunted [they are] by sorrow, accusation”. (42) The fact that Pierre Menard echoed the words of Cervantes verbatim, but added emotion to the words because of his experiences and what he’s gone through directly mimics that of the goddess Echo, which explains some reasoning for how the hallway works.
We may think, “these tangents seem so unnecessary, why would Danielewski insert them?” I believe it is to provide analysis for Danielewski’s main fictional protagonist, Johnny. We discussed in class the theme of repression for all of the characters in The House of Leaves. Johnny represses most of his childhood for multiple reasons brought out throughout the book found strictly in the footnotes. If it were not for these footnotes on the parallels of Borges’ Pierre Menard and Cervantes Don Quixote to the goddess Echo and the hallway, then we would never discover whom our protagonist and the man compiling all of Zampano’s work is. As Johnny explains his failure to detect the difference is the work of Pierre Menard versus Cervantes, he loses his words and actually can type no longer. This is the first time we see Johnny at a loss of words since many times before we see that he can actually go on tangents for multiple pages at a time and is rarely without something to say.
This challenge to discuss the echo and the comparison of Borges to Cervantes really makes Johnny anxious. We can interpret Johnny’s anxiety with this passage to the fact that he feels “alone in hostile territories” “with no sound way to determine where the hell” he’s going. (43) The echoes, whether written down or actual sounds or words of people, give a sense of direction. Just as when “a pebble falls down a well, it is gratifying to hear the eventual plunk. In the case of a verbal echo, the spoken word acts as the pebble and the subsequent repetition serves as “the plunk”.” (47) Johnny here realizes that his life has been the pebble without an eventual plunk and that he has been falling into darkness just as the echo in the hallway falls into darkness when it fades. This intellectual realization on parallels of the three authors and the echo in The Navidson Records causes him to bring back feelings he’s repressed for so long.
With the fact that the echo brings Johnny’s feelings of repression and despair out and there are parallels to echoes on page 42, we can read the passage on page 101 to 102 quite differently now and relate it to other characters. The knocks in the house after Holloway is lost echo each other with “three quick knocks followed by three slow knocks. Over and over again” (101) The sound of knocks echoing each other is all Navidson needs to enter the house and despite all of those restrictions holding him back, like Karen and his family, he follows the urge to save the men.
Navidson has blatant repressed feelings about Delial and how he never saved the child and only used her as a means for art, which makes him never stops feeling bad for his actions. Here, with the echoing throughout the house, Navidson has reason to enter the hallway and save people. He shows his repressed feelings when he tells Karen, “I waited too long with Delial, I’m not going to do it again.” (102) Those repressed feelings emerge and we can see how powerful the theme of echoes runs throughout Danielewski’s book and characters.
With the theme of echoes and their significance, Borges and Cervantes help to shed light on Johnny’s repression and Danielewski’s fictional style of writing. The relation of the goddess Echo and the echoes of the house, we can see the these continuous sounds seem to bring out the feelings in Danielewski’s characters and force them to do things they wouldn’t normally like Johnny stops writing and Navidson stops listening to Karen. The echo has much significance and power that it ties together the three author’s, Danielewski, Borges and Cervantes, and the characters of The House of Leaves.