Saturday, April 16, 2011

HL: Borges

Danielewski follows previous author, Jorge Luis Borges’ style of creating false texts and then citing them throughout his novel House of Leaves. In one particular instance Danielewski even quotes Borges from his Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote piece. Ever fitting for the place in the novel, this quote allows readers to further process later events that take place in the labyrinth of a house.

Don Quixote’s lax language and ranting appearance project an image of unscholarly text, written by a man whom is merely venting throughout. The one sentence that seems out of place in this banter is the same that Borges then exploits in his Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. This line (“…truth whose mother is history, the rival of time, prepository of great deeds, witness to the past, example and adviser to the present, and a forewarning to the future”) gives strong emotional aggravation amongst untruths (Cervantes). In context Cervantes speaks of translators who, in their translation, have biases which in turn transfer to the text being translated; he calls this bias untruthful and therefore he is adding the “truth” back in. It is out of place since the language is rich in comparison to his rants where “the fault lies with the dog who was its author” (Cervantes). Borges uses this line not only because of its discord with the rest of the text, but because it directly illustrates his own point of stories receiving biases in the process of translation or reconstructing.

In many of Borges’ works he conjures false texts and then makes commentary about them, or false events and people, such as the story of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. No Menard exists, thus no Quixote by him either. However, in using this line of text, with minute changes through different translations, he tells the reader that the line of Cervantes was also conjured, three centuries later, by Menard (“…truth, whose mother is history, rival of time depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s consoler” (Borges 94)). His point is that a man, through impossibility, may create the same words as another.

In House of Leaves, Cervantes and Borges appear in chapter five, the chapter of echoes. Echoes an important part in the house, but used to also contemplate the literal fact of retelling the last few words said. In this, Danielewski footnotes to Cervantes sentence (this time in Spanish) and its echo by Menard in Borges. Through the same sentence that Borges had used, Danielewski traces back even to Cervantes’ meaning. House of Leaves is a novel wrapped in untruths and biases of the footnoting author, which Danielewski wants readers to not only be aware of, but take with a grain of salt—words and reproductions in this novel are just as made up as those that Borges always writes about. However, Danielewski did not comment just any Borges text; he commented that in which comments on another, and text about the impossibility of two men creating the exact same words in the exact same order on two separate occasions. By connecting all the way back to Cervantes work, House of Leaves implies that readers should be wary of the untruths and biases in the text itself and its mentioned texts, and that readers should be acutely aware of the impossibility of the House in House of Leaves.

Even briefly or superficially understanding Danielewski’s trace of Cervantes through Borges illuminates a new mental set when reading House of Leaves. In chapter twenty, when Navidson goes back into the labyrinth of the house, he packs enough food and water for a two week stay, in addition to his photographer gear and other necessities. One thing he packs that seems a bit weird is a book. If Tom had packed it when he was keeping post at the top of the staircase, this makes sense because he is merely waiting. Navidson, however, is exploring. Whenever he isn’t on the move he would sleep. In theory there would be no time to read unless he takes a break, which he doesn’t have time for, nor the expense of batteries to fuel light over the pages. On 465 we realize the book he has taken with him, is also called House of Leaves. There is no footnote, no author, nothing mentioning this book he reads except the title and then progression of him lighting it afire in order to completely read the pages in the absence of a flashlight. This lack of any outside mention is a red flag.

In regards to Cervantes and Borges, knowing that most of what is in the novel House of Leaves is fiction, it is still odd to quote the novel inside of itself. Borges could not have made a commentary of himself writing the same words he had written before because they are his words and it is way more probable that if he had written them once, he could write them again. As is the same for Cervantes in relation to his biases, he cannot call himself out for having biases and then go and unbias his text, it wouldn’t be real any longer. And yet Danielewski’s character reads the book (or rather a book with the same title as the book) he is a major part in. His idea is very similar to both Cervantes and Borges, but having already quoted them, he quotes himself.

This book that Navidson reads, also titled House of Leaves illustrates a key element in the novel, that some things just do not have answers. Danielewski refuses to comment about this book, and Navidson burns it anyway. There are no traces, just like there are no traces of this house or the Navidson Record or any of it. There are no answers simply because there are none. In such a simple problem, readers may search for a complicated answer, and this is the most difficult part. Had there been some comment, some footnote, readers would get wrapped up in the details of it. So simply, there is none. Even though Cervantes and Borges appeared fifteen chapters prior, the mental set still stands to delve into every detail and question every mentioned text. Readers question this House of Leaves novel, and to their dismay are severely disappointed.

If it were not for Cervantes and Borges aforementioned in a previous chapter, there still would be some question as to why Navidson is reading a book with this title. However, because these authors were mentioned, readers should have been fishing deeper for meanings and connections within the novel (ie. noting when Hall is capitalized Beowulf pokes out between the lines of pages 21 and 150). Little things previously noted but now questioned and beyond the realm of reality.


  1. I have two primary comments.

    First, your discussion of what we can/should get out of D's reading of B's reading of C is certainly competent, but it's a little on the generic side - if you were going to stick relatively close to what we discussed in class (and there's nothing wrong with that, incidentally), you could have kept it a little shorter. Why?

    Because your actual discussion of a later part of the text is extremely interesting and promising - that was a great choice, because some kind of self-referentiality is involved both in DQ and HOL (and also, in different ways, in Borges). So you've picked the perfect moment in the text to analyze, but you only actually do so in an incomplete way - you're urging at the end that readers dig deeper for meanings, without seeming to really do so yourself.

    That's not the end of the world, but trimming down the first part would have let you get farther in the second part.

  2. I really like the paragraph that where you discuss Danielewski's true meaning behind referencing the Borges'& Cervantes' texts and how he uses these texts to warn readers of falsehoods & things that are not exactly how they appear.

    Good essay overall, but I definitely think that you should expand on the part about Navidson reading House of Leaves. I found this to be extremely interesting. Why did it set off a red flag? You may even be able to work in a part about how this section is Borges influenced and the idea of an infinite loop is played with.