Prompt #1—Difficult Passage
In Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, there are often passages that leave the reader perplexed. In these passages it becomes quite unclear what Danielewski is trying to portray, leaving the meaning up to the reader’s imagination and speculations. One such paragraph is within the Endnotes of Chapter VI, on pages 77-78. In this passage, Johnny Truant is “talking (scribbling?)” (Danielewski, 77) on and on about what appears to be completely nonsensical subjects, after stating that he is both drunk and high, and also waiting for a call from “Thumper” at 3:22 AM. With all of that said, one could argue there is no real meaning behind this nonsense, based on his state of mind, altered by sleep, drugs, and emotions. However, these only bring such talk out of him in a code, which leaves the reader to try to decipher it.
Although this whole babbling is composed in one full paragraph, it appears to be about mainly two ideas, cats and Zampanò, although these certainly are linked. Johnny Truant starts his babbling about Zampanò with
“Who Have I Met?—the frolic and the drift, as I go thinking now, tripping really, over the notion of eighty or more of Zampanò’s dusty cats (for no particular/relevant reason) which must implicitly mean that no, it cannot be raining cats and dogs, due to the dust, so much of it, on the ground, about the weeds, in the air, so therefore/ ergo/ thus (.•.): no dogs, no Pekinese, just the courtyard, Zampanò’s courtyard…” (Danielewski, 77-78).
It’s particularly interesting that Truant says that he is thinking about Zampanò’s cats “for no particular/relevant reason” after he has just gone on and on about cats immediately prior to this. It is in fact entirely relevant to what he was just talking about. His fascination with dust in this section is also interesting, seeming to match with those initial words “the frolic and the drift” as this is exactly what lingering dust does. Truant also rationalizes the lack of dogs due to the dust, which does not appear to make much sense whatsoever. All that I can figure out that has to do with dust and Pekinese is that a Pekinese is rather small, fluffy dog and that such a dog may act as a Swiffer to the dust (not a very poetic understanding).
“…on a mad lost-noon day, wild with years and pounce and sun, even if another day would find Zampanò elsewhere, far from the sun, this sun, flung face down on his ill-swept floor, without so much as a clue, “No trauma, just old age” the paramedics would say, though they could never explain—no one could—what they found near where he lay, four of them, six or seven inches long and half an inch deep…”(Danielewski, 78).
This section seems to restate how Zampanò was found, however Truant uses some interesting terms here, talking about the sun multiple times before seeming to refer to Zampanò himself as a sun “flung face down”. Truant starts off this section describing the courtyard as “wild with years and pounce and sun”. Now although this seems to refer to the courtyard, it could very well also be referring to Zampanò himself, the primary resident of the courtyard. The use of “this sun, flung face down on his ill-swept floor” creates not only the image of the deceased Zampanò, but also of a setting sun across a horizon. A setting sun implies the coming of darkness which I’m certain can be read in a variety of ways. Perhaps it represent the Truant’s inheritance of the dark trunk, with its dark (in another sense of the word) contents.
After this, Truant writes
“…splintering the wood, left by some terrible awe-full thing, signature in script of steel or claws, though not Santa, Zampanò died after Christmas after all, but no myth either, for I saw the impossible marks near the trunk, touched them, even caught some splinters in my fingertips, some of their unexpected sadness and mourning, which though dug out later with a safety pin, I swear still fester beneath my skin, reminding me in a peculiar way of him, just like other splinters I still carry, though these much deeper, having never been worked out by the body but quite the contrary worked into the body, by now long since buried, calcified and fused to my very bones…” (Danielewski, 78).
This is where there is a brief transition from nonsense into what is more clearly understood, although it is certainly deep in meaning, not quite nonsense. Truant has a play with words, referring to claws of “some terrible awe-full thing” and then instantly referring to Santa, as in Santa Claus. As a side note, it is interesting that he uses awful in the form of “awe-full”, perhaps to emphasize how terrible this thing really is. It would appear the purpose of the Santa reference is simply to link claws to Claus, to myth, to reality, emphasizing that these marks are caused by real claws, not Santa Claus. His babbling about the splinters leads to discussion about how the splinters have, after time, become a part of him. I infer this as Truant finding yet another way to connect himself to Zampanò, one which is far more physically personal than the coincidences he discovers throughout the book.
From here on, Truant seems to regain a grip on reality with his writing, although there are certainly a few parts still, that aren’t quite clear. He once again refers to the word “frolic,” this time stating that these splinters remove him from this frolic, and instead remind him of “much colder days, Where I Left Death, or thought I had…overcast in tones December gray” (Danielewski, 78). That line, “Where I Left Death” is very striking. He immediately follows this by referring to what appears to be his father (although he states he was this man’s boy, but he was not his father) and uses descriptions of his father that create an appearance of an animal-like beast, such as “…a beard rougher than horse hide and hands harder than horns” (Danielewski, 78). After speaking of these “colder days” he states that he wishes to avoid talking about them, and does exactly that by mentioning one of Zampanò’s readers, describing her horrifying event with a monstrous shadow. This particular passage, although confusing, is rather revealing to me as well. Ever since reading the inside of the book, where it states that in this, the Full Color edition, the word “minotaur” is in red, I have been convinced that the growling and the beast that stalks the characters is a minotaur. After reading this paragraph, it would appear that Johnny’s minotaur is in fact his monster of a father. The descriptions of his beard as horse hide and hands as horns only help to confirm my suspicions, although with such a book one can never be certain.
As for the difficulty of this passage on pages 77-78, I believe it is present to accomplish a variety of things, on various levels. For one, with regard to Truant as an author, this passage delves into his slowly deteriorating mind, taking advantage of the state he is in, what with the toil the reading has taken on him, the drugs affecting him, and being hung-up on Thumper, waiting for her to call him in the dead of night. This passage is confusing partially due to all of these things, since it would be difficult to expect Johnny to write both clearly and conservatively in such a state. When I say conservatively, I mean in such a way that Johnny would hide things about himself, not leaving this coded passage at all. The purpose of this is to show the reader just how much Johnny’s mental condition is spiraling downward, even if it is not as present in his more sober remarks. Now as far as this passage goes with regard to Danielewski as an author, I can only understand this as a means to create similar feelings in the reader as those felt by Johnny, Zampanò, and the Navidsons. Danielewski forces to reader to be confused and lost, trying to puzzle the pieces together to find some sort of understanding. There is much effort to be expensed in trying to figure out these confusing passages, but I also believe there is high reward in understanding of the novel as a whole, such as my interpretation of Johnny’s father as the beast.