Final Revision 1
Lit and Contemporary
Freedom of the Reader; Johnny is the Framer
The passage on page 42 Danielewski quotes Miguel de Cervantes from his work in Don Quixote. He provides us with two passages that seemingly look to be identical. Dealing to interpretation has been a common theme we, as the readers, have dealt with when reading House of Leaves. Danielewski has allowed for us to realize we cannot always live off the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” On page 42 we see this style again with Danielewski. He does as Borges using two exactly the same passages calling a different meaning.
When I was reading the passage on page 42 I found myself rereading and rereading trying to find a distinction I could put my finger on of the two passages. After the two passages Johnny’s reaction seemed similar to mine. He chose to attack the phrase “exquisite variation,” wondering how two quotes that can be exactly the same and yet be described as a variation. I believe the variation Danielewski is finding is in the interpretation. Finding a variation in what the passages will mean to someone can vary.
In a footnote on page 42 you read, “Suffice it to say Menard’s nuances are so fine they are nearly undetectable, though talk with the Framer and you will immediately see how haunted they are by sorrow, accusation and sarcasm.” Then on page 94 Borges says, after writing the same passages as Danielewski, “Historical truth, for Menard, is not “what happened;” it is what we believe happened.” Are Menard nuances are fine in a way he is simple minded? I found it interesting when Danielewski capitalized the word Framer, as if that is a name. A comparison of Menard and the Framer, from a believable person in Menard, yet a Framer who is described on a level on different ends of the spectrum. Described as being filled with sorrow, accusation and sarcasm. I found a framer in three words is describing mostly all people. Sorrow and sarcasm are interesting to describe an individual, sadness and grief but also irony and mocking. My interpretation of the two identical passages in House of Leaves is similar to the description of the Framer. When searching for a meaning of the two passages, I believe it’s the delivery in which the passage is given.
The framer to me seems to have a similar description to Johnny. Johnny shows numerous times throughout the novel of being filled with sorrow, accusation, and sarcasm? As Danielewski describes the framer I believe he is describing what Johnny means to the reader.
Sorrow is a feeling that to me seems to be mildly common among most people. In your life sorrow or sadness is a feeling that most will experience. This feeling though can be experienced to certain degrees or levels. I believe there are situations that call for more sorrow than others. For example a death may cause someone more sadness than the library having the book you want checked out. Johnny expresses his sadness a lot throughout this novel, on page xi in the introduction when we first meet Johnny,
“For a while there I tried every pill imaginable. Anything to curb the fear. Excedrin PMs, Melatonin, L-tryptophan, Valium, Vicodin, quite a few members of the barbital family. A pretty extensive list, frequently mixed, often matched, with shots of bourbon, a few lung rasping bong hits, sometimes even helped. I think it’s pretty safe to assume there’s no chemicals I need. A Nobel Prize to the one who invents that puppy.”
This quote explains the emotional roller coaster Johnny takes us on throughout this novel. In his explanation of the drugs or chemicals he is using I believe he is trying to mask the sadness emotions he feels from his life. Johnny seems to be always expressing desperation, the first line of this quote, “…I tried every pill imaginable,” the sign of a desperate person for some sort of answer. He seems to be a painter mixing colors on his pallet to hopefully find a tint to perfectly fit into his masterpiece. Danielewski is a creative writer that uses Johnny’s exploration through his drug use to show his constant need for emotional cover-up. In the paragraph on page xi Johnny also uses his always-witty sarcasm, when he offers a Nobel Prize to a person who can invent a chemical to fix all of his problems.
Following the two passages Johnny gives an interesting reaction that I felt I could relate too. His first attack on “exquisite variation,” he seems angry. The feeling of frustration with finding a distinction between the two seems to come over him. After a quick fight for a meaning, he seems to search for his discrepancy. “I just kept reading both pieces over and over again, trying to detect at least one differing accent or letter, wanting to detect at least one differing accent or letter, getting desperate in that pursuit, only to repeatedly discover perfect similitude, though how can that be, right?” says Johnny in describing his frustrations of differing the two exact passages. Through this entire paragraph like we have seen before in Johnny, the same sentence separated only by commas, is the one sentence. In this quote in particular Johnny seems to have a similar feeling of the description of the Framer. You seem at the beginning anger and frustration than into this quote I felt a sense of sorrow from Johnny. He seems disappointed and grieving that his search for a meaning is merely impossible. Yet he, in the same sentence, changes his train of thought and goes into the other end of the spectrum into sarcasm.
In Johnny’s testimony to the passages from both Miguel de Cervantes and Pierre Menard that both are identical but search for distinction he is frustrated and bothered. In the style of Danielewski he shows Johnny’s feelings in the illustration of run-on sentences. The entire paragraph is one sentence. In this style you find it similar to the time Johnny is on ecstasy. From his reaction the drugs and his loss of control of the situation Danielewski shows his emotions through the use of this style. The entire two pages once he is on the drugs is one sentence. I believe Danielewski is trying to rely the emotions Johnny is feeling through his style and run-on sentences as Johnny’s mind is running away with him.
In, The A-Mazing House: The Labyrinth as Theme and Form in Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, by Natalie Hamilton she takes an approach of comparing Danielewski to the labyrinth as a symbol for the novels style. The labyrinth is a perfect comparison when thinking about Johnny as a person, his emotional maze he tries to take the reader through. Hamilton says, “Johnny Truant enters his own labyrinth through Zampanò’s text, but readers are also allowed access to additional material about Truant in the Appendices by way of his mother’s letters and his poems.” Hamilton interested me in the comparison of Johnny and his emotional craziness to that of a labyrinth. Yet later she goes on to add a comment by a reviewer of Danielewski Allen Ruch, “when Truant begins probing deeper into his own fears and anxieties, not to mention hallucinations, his words start acquiring a believable urgency, conjuring a chilling image of a young man descending into his own dark labyrinth.” Ruch’s comment begs the question of Hamilton, from Johnny’s constant hallucinations if the Navidson Records are a creation of Zampanò and if Zampanò is not a creation of Johnny to help him deal with his emotions. Johnny becomes an unreliable source in this novel when his creditability of the Navidson Records, is questioned.
Danielewski uses two identical passages to create a different meaning. To the eye is the passages the same? The answer is obviously yes; I believe the passages are symbolisms for Johnny. The passages are the same yet given in different contexts. Johnny physically is the same person yet beneath the surface he hinds many emotions masked by the situations he puts himself into. When a reader first reads the passages like Johnny we look for a difference. If we look at Johnny in one situation versus another he physically looks the same. Johnny doing drugs and Johnny sober looks to the eye as an identical person, consequently under his physical appearance it’s vastly different.
In conclusion finding a meaning of two exactly identical passages being different is like finding the state in which Johnny has put himself. As a reader interpretation is up to you, this is the freedom of being a reader. Through the symbolism of Hamilton, the labyrinth offers an imagery of the structure of this novel and Johnny himself. The use of labyrinth as a theme parallels the literary works of Borges, in which the second passage of the two Danielewski uses. Although sometimes confusing and difficult, it is up to the reader to find what it means to them. I’ll go back to my original opinion of these two identical passages not to “judge a book by its cover.”