Wednesday, November 13, 2013

House of Leaves Prompt 3

Prompt 3
            After reading “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote,” I was surprised to learn that Danielewski was not the first to write a story about nonexistent authors and works of art. “Pierre Menard” was written in 1939 and was a product of the Experimental Writing movement. It seems throughout most of the novel that this is the period where Danielewski draws much of his inspiration from. This piece could serve several purposes, however two themes I believe both House of Leaves and “Pierre Menard” touch open are what is real and not real, and perspective in reading.
            The first thing you will notice when comparing “Pierre Menard” and House of Leaves is the subject matter. Both are set up in the way of scholarly critiques about works of art which do not exist. What could these authors be trying to say by going into such depth about works that aren't real? I feel that these works, especially House of Leaves are asking us “At what point does something become real?” Although the Navidson Record or Menard’s revision of Don Quixote were never actually made, how can we truly say they are not real? The depiction of these stories are so vivid that we know the story of the Navidson Record and we can read the writing made by Menard. One could easily argue that Menard is not real but is he any less real than an author who writes under a pseudonym? Both are only an extension of the real person who is actually writing the material. Although Menard may not be a person we can physically touch, he is real. Just as we cannot physically touch love, hope, or sorrow, but only a minority of people would argue that these things are not real. Both authors also try to blur the lines of realism by merging these false stories and authors with many allusions to real things and people. They are trying to argue what is real and what is not is merely a matter of perspective.
            The theme of perspective is prevalent throughout “Menard” and House of Leaves. One of the things I find most interesting about House of Leaves is that it forces us to take many perspectives on the text. When we are copiously deciphering the differences between Menard’s Don Quixote and Cervantes original version, we become Johnny. In the story, Johnny is studying the two identical lines and trying to find out what they mean and how they are different. Is that any different than what the reader is doing at this stage in the story? However, the fact that the reader is analyzing a fictional critique about a fictional film allows us to make the argument that we are also Zampano. These different perspectives give us different ideas on what is real and what is not.
            These stories also make us question how the reader’s perspective forces us to question the text.  In “Menard” we do this by looking at the identical lines of chapter 9. Borges argues that because Menard has written his version of “Don Quixote” many years after Cervantes, his version is masterful and subtle. He argues that because of the development of language and the tools authors have at their disposal as time goes on, Menard’s version is brilliant. Borges tells us that Cervantes wrote in a way that was customary of the times, which doesn't allow it to have the depth of Menard’s piece. In House of Leaves the presentation of the two exerts comes right on the heels of a section where Zampano discusses echoes in The Navidson Record. He goes on to explain that an echo, even a perfect one, can have a different meaning when repeated back. I believe what both authors are trying to tell us is that when we read a story, and the words of the author “echo” back to us, they may have a completely different meaning in the context we are reading them in than the author intended them to have.

            House of Leaves is a seemingly endless search for what is real and true. Through these passage we can see that what is real and what is true all depends on the reader’s perspective. What is real to one reader may be different from another, and what seems to be true may not be true anymore or a lie from the beginning. These authors are telling us that no narrator is reliable and it is up to the individual to decide what is real and true.

2 comments:

Adam said...

Nitpick: After years of reading Borges, including biographies, etc., I've never heard of a clearly defined "Experimental" movement. The 2nd paragraph is your real introduction, and is much more effective. "I feel that these works, especially House of Leaves are asking us “At what point does something become real?”" -- this is an interesting, even compelling, wording of one of the central problems in the novel, and I like your focus (maybe not 100% articulated yet) on the distinction between realism vs. the real.

While I think this introduction is excellent, and I also think that your observations - all at a high level - are perfectly reasonable, I also think that without really getting involved in the details of Danielewski's text at all. The conclusion basically repeats the 2nd paragraph in important ways - this is an argument which, although good in its inception, does not advance through a detailed reading of Danielewksi's text.

Jason Wald said...

I really like the line “One could easily argue that Menard is not real but is he any less real than an author who writes under a pseudonym?” Also, there is good material in your paragraph dealing with echoes – using quotes from the books would make the argument that much stronger here.

I would agree with Adam – there is definitely high-level thinking going on, it just needs to focus more on the actual texts of the two pieces (I also have this problem).

I had some trouble following the lines “When we are copiously deciphering the differences between Menard’s Don Quixote and Cervantes original version, we become Johnny. In the story, Johnny is studying the two identical lines and trying to find out what they mean and how they are different. Is that any different than what the reader is doing at this stage in the story?” I would try to make your point a little clearer there.