On page 42, Zampano is in the midst of a discussion on echoes and their importance in the Navidson Record. In footnote 49, he uses two Spanish passages to make his point – seemingly identical passages, the second of which he describes as an “exquisite variation” to the original. This frustrates Johnny Truant a lot, as he tries to figure out the difference. In his footnote, the following passage is found:
“I’m sure the late hour has helped, add to that the dim light in my room, or how poorly I’ve been sleeping, going to sleep but not really resting, if that’s possible, though let me tell you, sitting alone, awake to nothing else but this odd murmuring, like listening to the penitent pray – you know it’s a prayer but you miss the words – or better yet listening to a bitter curse, realizing a whole lot wrong’s being ushered into the world but still missing the words, me like that listening to the way by comparing in his way both Spanish fragments written out on brown leaves of paper, or no, that’s not right, not brown, more like, oh I don’t know, yes brown but in the failing light appearing almost colored or the memory of a color, somehow violently close to that, or not at all, as I just keep reading both pieces over and over again, trying to detect at least one differing accent letter, wanting to detect at least one differing accent or letter, getting almost desperate in that pursuit, only to repeatedly discover perfect similitude, though how can that be, right? If it were perfect it wouldn’t be similar it would be identical, and you know what? I’ve lost this sentence, I can’t even finish it, don’t know how – ”
We get the feeling that in this moment, Truant is trying to channel Zampano, and by “comparing in his way” he hopes to find the difference that he was referring to. A brief mention of the past when he describes the paper as “in the failing light appearing almost colored or the memory of a color” also works to highlight this relationship, of Truant and Zampano being somehow connected. It is almost as if Truant is becoming an echo of Zampano himself, or at least trying to. He cannot, however, truly tap into this connection, which is seen in the difficulty that he has with Zampano’s words and the effects that they begin to have on him.
Truant keeps rereading both fragments, trying to find a physical difference between the two. What Truant seems to miss is the importance of the emotion behind the words. In the Greek story of Echo, “Echo colours the words with faint traces of sorrow (The Narcissus myth) or accusation (The Pan myth) never present in the original” (41). This is what Truant should be looking for. Rather than looking for the “exquisite difference” between the physical words of the Spanish pieces, he should be examining the emotion underneath, for here lies the real difference. The question of course becomes how the second author put the “sorrow, accusation, and sarcasm” in, if there are no additional words. Zampano sees these emotions, and sees the second as an echo of the first. It seems as if Truant doesn’t notice this at all, until he makes an important comment – “perfect similitude, though how can that be, right? If it were perfect it wouldn’t be similar it would be identical…” So it does seem that Truant is picking up on a very subtle difference between the two fragments, one that cannot be found within the physical text of the authors. He can’t seem to wrap his mind on it though, as here he loses his train of thought and begins to really lose it.
Like the hallways in Navidson’s house, Zampano’s words are leaving Truant lost. The closer he becomes to figuring them out, the more he physically begins to feel their effects – by smelling the rotten smell, tasting the bitter taste, or having the impression that he’s gagging, vomiting, or soiling his pants. Perhaps his reaction to the Spanish fragments shows us the reason why this is happening. Perhaps he is missing something very important about Zampano’s writing, and it is therefore rejecting him, which is executed in a very strange psycho-physical way. He hasn’t been allowed to fully comprehend the words of the old man, and neither are we as readers. The difficulty of the passage that we encounter mirrors the difficulty that Truant is dealing with in Zampano’s words.