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Questions of Authorship | Brandon Pownall

Questions of Authorship

St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Wall of room in Ward Retreat 1. Reproductions made by a patient, a disturbed case of dementia precox [praecox?]; pin or fingernail used to scratch paint from wall, top coat of paint buff color, superimposed upon a brick red coat of paint. Pictures symbolize events in patient's past life and represent a mild state of mental regression. Undated, but likely early 20th century.

I won’t even attempt to offer a normal English class interpretations for the mass amount of information thrown at me by Mark Z. Danielewski. I just want to know one thing, which character “wrote” House of Leaves? Initially, the text lead me to believe the blind Zampanò authored The Navidson Record, Johnny Truant found it, wrote footnotes for it, added the appendixes, and added letters written by his mother Pelafina. However the footnotes by Johnny often mirror the text and certain clues (yes, the experience of reading this book is like solving a mystery) have caused me to doubt the supposed authorship of everything in House of Leaves.

The first thing that caused me to begin doubting the Zampanò/Truant authorship was a little comment in Pelafina’s letters. She signs off with, “Practicing my smile in a mirror the way I did when I was a child” (615). This is quite interesting because Karen Green was characterized by the exact same thing: “Karen spent every night of her fourteenth year composing that smile in front of a blue plastic handled mirror” (58). Is Johnny’s mom actually just represented by Karen in The Navidson Record?

I later found out that on the same page the second to last full paragraph contains a little secret message, much like the much larger one 5 pages later, it reads: “My Dear Zampanò what did you lose?” This really throws me off. How would Pelafina know Zampanò? Did Johnny, or whatever his real name is, write The Navidson Record to cope with his mother’s demise? Or is Pelafina crazy enough to create all of these characters herself? Or is Johnny a side of Zampanò’s personality? There are numerous interpretations. I found a little snippet from the Appendix that Zampanò supposedly wrote on September 21, 1970 quite interesting: “Perhaps in the margins of darkness, I could create a son who is not missing; who lives beyond even my own imagination and invention” (543). This could be an answer to the question Pelafina asks Zampanò, he lost his son. Did he create Johnny as a character in a book (“the margins”)? Is Pelafina actually Zampanò, as she lost her son when she was sent to Whalestoe? Does it even matter?

I am left with no answer to all of these bizarre questions and feel a little crazy that they even arose. I feel like this is Danielewskis intention. Like me reading this book, I imagine a patient like Pelafina has a hard time piecing together her own narrative. Zampanò’s story barely exists within the text, so who knows how broken his is or if he really exists, and Johnny comes off as fairly fragmented himself. He gives us one piece of wisdom that helps me process the novel. He quips, “We all create stories to protect ourselves” (20) which shows me that while the authorship question might never be answered, there is indeed a reason for the novel’s existence.

Image Source: https://flic.kr/p/32Ao61

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This is what the Internet does: it provides spoilers for things I was hoping to talk about tomorrow in class. But you’re absolutely right: this is Danielewski’s intention, to make us scratch our heads and chase our tails. But it’s not, I think, to make us mad or to show off so much as to force us to see from multiple angles at once and to revel in the possibilities.

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