the halting and rudimentary art of reading: this new technique is that of the
deliberate anachronism and the erroneous attribution. This technique, whose
applications are infinite, prompts us to go through the Odyssey as if it were
posterior to the Aeneid and the book Le jardin du Centaure of
Madame Henri Bachelier as if it were by Madame Henri Bachelier. This technique
fills the most placid works with adventure. To attribute the Imitatio
Christi to Louis Ferdinand Céline or to James Joyce, is this not a
sufficient renovation of its tenuous spiritual indications?"
"History, the mother of truth: the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an inquiry into reality but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what has happened; it is what we judge to have happened. The final phrases—exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor —are brazenly pragmatic. The contrast in style is also vivid. The archaic style of Menard—quite foreign, after all—suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his forerunner, who handles with ease the current Spanish of his time. There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless. A philosophical doctrine begins as a plausible description of the universe; with the passage of the years it becomes a mere chapter—if not a paragraph or a name—in the history of philosophy. In literature, this eventual caducity is even more notorious. The Quixote —Menard told me—was, above all, an entertaining book; now it is the occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical insolence and obscene de luxe editions. Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst."
Quixote —all of it—as if Menard had conceived it? Some nights past, while
leafing through chapter XXVI—never essayed by him—I recognized our friend’s
style and something of his voice in this exceptional phrase: 'the river nymphs
and the dolorous and humid Echo.' This happy conjunction of a spiritual and a physical adjective brought to my mind a verse by Shakespeare which we discussed one afternoon:
'Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk . . .'"
It's hard for us to see what the short quote about the Turk, from Othello, has to do at all with the quote from the Quixote. It seems as if this nonsense connection is another of Borges' pranks: the second quote doesn't have anything to do with the first, it simply represents the fictional critic obfuscating what really reminded him of Menard, which was the figure of Echo, because the whole essay is built on expounding the virtues of Menard's project, and identifying it as a mere "echo" of the Quixote would be a disservice. So in this reference Danielewski calls our attention to an obscure literary reference to the concept of Echo, the subject of this chapter, as well as the concept of authors as echoes, and finally to the existence of an unreliable narrator. Of course the author-as-echo in House of Leaves has several layers: We have Zampano who, as the editors and one of his transcribers point out, devotes an unprofessional amount of space in his text to simply "echoing" the content of the Navidson Record, and we have Johnny Truant, who in a kind of "echo" is posthumously publishing Zampano's work with his name attached (and, even though Truant's commentary is so central to House of Leaves, we find here a strong connection between the two fictional authors which may help us work out their true identities within the larger world of the novel).
The concept of the unreliable narrator or disingenuous author is central to both House of Leaves and "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." In Borges' story, it's well-known that Menard often composes texts which mean exactly the opposite of his true thoughts. Among his published works is "an invective against Paul Valéry, in the Papers for the Suppression of Reality of Jacques Reboul. (This invective, we might say parenthetically, is the exact opposite of his true opinion of Valéry. The latter understood it as such and their old friendship was not endangered.)" Later the author describes Menard's "resigned or ironical habit of propagating ideas which were the strict reverse of those he preferred." In House of Leaves, the character most often associated with outright lying and falsifying accounts is Johnny Truant: over and over again Truant describes his habit of attempting to pick up women in bars by concocting fables of adventure and romance, admits that he presented similar tall tales to his high school Disaffected Youth Counselor, and, as his mental state begins to worsen due to his obsession with Zampano's manuscript, has trouble relating actual events to the reader as his panicked fantasies seem to break through into his narratives. In this sense we are subtly encouraged to take even less stock in what Truant tells us in his commentary than he himself seems to suggest. And yet this effect doesn't stop with Truant: since Zampano, and even Danielewski himself, are so strongly tied with the character of Menard in Borges' story, they too are guilty by association of Menard's authorial dishonesty, and the entire book is cast in a strange light of uncertainty.
So Danielewski here uses a very small reference to cast even further intense doubt on the reliability of the text with which we are presented. This is in addition to the two other functions that the quote serves: to place House of Leaves in literary history and to comment upon the theme of echoes which is central to the chapter in which it occurs. What seems at first a minor literary reference in fact explodes into a vast network of meanings, subtexts, and associations.
Borges, Jorge Luis. "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." http://www.coldbacon.com/writing/borges-quixote.html
(I can't get the paragraph breaks in this thing to format correctly, sorry if it's difficult to read.)