Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don Quixote & Perception inside of House of Leaves (Revision)

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.

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). Race however is an important but subtle part of House of Leaves. The most apparent reference to race involves the interaction between Tatiana and Johnny. As it was discussed in class, the term “homie” on page 337of House of Leaves could be taken as a racially derisive term.

In contrast, Author Guillermo Lain Corona believes that Borges employs the use of multiple authors to “hide the truth” and also “increase the element of ambiguity” (Corona, 423). Ambiguity and hidden truths are a big part of what House of Leaves. One cause of ambiguity in this novel was the “beast”. There are many references to the unknown creature, both within The Navidson Record as well as in Johnny’s transcripts. However the only proof of its existence were the howls heard inside the house, and also the strange drag marks that were found inside Zampano’s apartment. Several characters inside the novel, including Johnny, are convinced that the beast is real, though no one has ever seen it or provided a visual description. This leads to many unanswered questions within the novel. Who is responsible for the strange markings that Lude and Johnny saw? Was the beast that Holloway pursued in The Navidson Record the same entity that plagued Johnny? Is the “beast” responsible for Zampano’s death? The answers to these questions may have lie within the novel. Or they may not exist at all. The conclusion that a reader may reach heavily relies on how they interpret and perceive certain events inside the book. It all depends on how one perceives things.

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 into 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.

The exploration is aptly described by Natalie Hamilton as an examination of the “metaphor[s] for the mind, and more specifically, self-exploration” of the explorers’ inner thoughts (Hamilton, 3). Hamilton also proposes that the journey through the house’s labyrinth serves as an opportunity for each explorer to “navigate the maze of the self” (Hamilton, 3). This can be seen in the self-reflecting dialogue that many of the explorers record within hand written diaries or through the use of some electronic device using some sort of electronic device. The most obvious and telling example of these self-dialogues in this novel can be seen in the journal entries that Tom recorded during the rescue mission his brother & Reston embarked on. The transformation that Tom experiences during his isolation in the abyss serves as a turning point for his morale. Tom did not descend down the stair with Navidson and Reston due to his fear of descending down the stairway. In the several days that he is camped out, Tom confronts and acknowledges his fears, but really doesn’t overcome them. Instead he works through his problems just like he would a maze, finding alternate routes and paths to get to an end point. Not all of these “solutions” are positive. When the rescue mission resulted in Navidson being trapped in the ever changing abyss, Tom was left with feelings of regret, worry, and guilt. He chose to confront the feelings by going back regressing back in his own “internal maze” and breaking his sobriety. While the house may serve as a physical maze, a majority of the conflicts in this novel deal with things on a mental level. Once again, perception plays a part.


Corona, Guillermo Lain. "Borges and Cervantes: Truth and Falsehood in the Narration." Neophiloogus. 93. (2009): 421-437. Print.

Hamilton, Natalie. "The A-Mazing House: The Labyrith as Theme and Form in Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves." Critique. 50.1 (2008): 3-15. Print.

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