Saturday, April 16, 2011

Don Quixote & Perception inside of House of Leaves.

In House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski a brief reference to the story of Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes can be found on pg 42 of the novel. Ironically, this same section is referenced in the story of Pierre Menard found in Collected Fictions ­by George Borges. Many would wonder why the Don Quixote reference was included in House of Leaves in the first place. On the surface, many would probably describe the novel as primarily a work of fiction about a Californian party boy who slowly slips into insanity after finding the manuscript of a fake novel about a House that shifts and moves on its own. However the inclusion of Don Quixote is significant as it links the two authors. For Borges and Danielewski, ambiguity and double meanings are a mainstay in their stories and novels. Borges was known for writing fictional stories about other fictional stories. Danielewski uses this technique is his novel as well when writing and referencing the Navidson Records. The association between Borges and Danielewski and their use of false stories is an obvious one. But how does the actual story of Miguel de Cervantes in the Borges’ story Pierre Menard take part in the development of House of Leaves? The answer is perception. In Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote, the section in question is compared to the “similar” one also found in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is quite obvious that they are identical.

I believe that how one perceives these novel fragments depends on the biases that they have or may pick up while reading the text. These biases may be on race, culture, or any other issue relevant to their time period. In both Borges’ story and the actual text from Don Quixote, there is an underlying theme of race. In Don Quixote, the narrator doubts the translations of an Arabic Author due to his heritage and the opinion that “the people of that nation are very prone to telling falsehoods” (Cervantes). In Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote, Menard is both exalted and chided for his interpretation of the classic work. His interpretation of Don Quixote is praised when compared to that of the “ingenious layman” Miguel de Cervantes”. (Borges, 95). It is interesting that Cervantes is described as a “layman” in this story. As noted, Cervantes is the original author of Don Quixote, and it is a bit strange that that he is described as someone with no knowledge on a subject he first wrote about. This leads me to believe that his ancestry and the history between the French and Spaniards may have been a cause for doubt. This is similar to the doubt found in Cervantes story involving Arabic people and Spaniards. This may have been due to the conflict that occurred between the two groups during the Reconquista of Spain and Portugal.

To answer the question posed above about how all of this information ties into House of Leaves, we can once again look at the time period that the Johnny is living in, and also try to identify how he could possibly relate to the fragments in a way that would allow him to perceive any subtle differences in the two “similar” texts. The time period or region that Johnny is living in is not at all similar to that of Borges or Cervantes. From the perspective of a 20-something year old, the supposed subtle nuances between the passages are nonexistent. In the footnotes of the Navidson Records, Johnny has even told readers to not to read into things too hard, and instead encouraging readers to interpret ideas and situations as they see fit. Also, Johnny does not have the same ulterior motives and prejudices that Cervantes and the Narrator in Borges’ story hold. Without these biases, Johnny is unable to recognize or understand the “exquisite variation” between these two passages (Danielewski, 42).

This view on perception can be applied to the situation inside the Navidson Record when Will, Reston, and Tom head into the hallway and eventually down the staircase in an attempt to find Holloway and his fellow explorers. The staircase that Holloway and his band of explorers encountered is totally different than the one that Will and Reston encountered on their descent. This may have been due to the perception that each group had about the abyss. Will believed that there was a definite end to the staircase, and was able to complete the descent in less than 30 minutes. Holloway on the other hand, went the hallway with the notion that the hallway and the staircase were never-ending. What he perceived is what he got. The house serves as an interpretation of what the inhabitant thinks, fears, or perceives it to be. Just like in the works of Borges and Cervantes, perception is everything in House of Leaves.


  1. I think you had a good idea with connecting the writings to perception, I would agree with you there. However you havent answered the how. you answered the why, why the labyrinth changes is due to perception and yes, it is much like Borges Cevrantes but how are we supposed to read into this perception of the labyrinth in conjunction with these authors?.. I hope I am being clear, but the prompt was to also explain how to read a section with the new thoughts/insight derived from the Brorges passage. So in the end it could state something along the lines of "One of the major elements in which the hallway changes in perception depending on who is perceiving is based off of the differences between Menards and Cervantes' works." or maybe something else. maybe that we had previously been introduced to this concept of perception as a reader, it is easier to take in later..but even thats more of a why.
    a how would be, because of cervantes and borges we as readers are supposed to connect to this idea of perception and realize that it is all based on the writing yet, maybe everyone did see the same thing, but told about it differently.. or maybe danielewskis (zampanos) perception of these characters is still biased in comparison f the truth..
    otherwise I love your organization/flow, its a little short but much to the point.

  2. I'm going to focus on both the danger you skirt (at least) here, and on your greatest strength.

    The best moment in the essay is when you make the odd (at least to me) but perceptive (maybe because I'd never thought it through carefully) observation of what the term "layman" means - it would seem to be denigrating, and yet it is paired with "ingenious." It's very odd, and you are headed in interesting directions with it.

    The flip side is that your discussion of bias, while by no means wrong, seems a little vague to me. I would have loved it, for instance, if you were more specific about some of the biases in Borges or Danielewski (either of character or of author) - thus, your specific discussion of the passage is great, but the essay as a whole tends toward vagueness.