In Chapter V of House of Leaves, strong emphasis is placed on echoes and the inherent meaning of recurrence, which is a fitting location to juxtapose the style of the novel against the relations found within Jorge Borges' short story "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote". Danielewski is interested in the reappearance of echoes, particularly when the arrival is an imperfect or shifted version of the original. The inclusion of the Greek Echo myth reveals that echoes can evolve to tell different or more meaningful versions of the same story, and in this sense Zampano’s The Navidson Record can be viewed as a type of echo or reverberation of Jorge Luis Borges work.
The construction of the two texts are very similar in their delivery, containing the fictional characters of Menard and Zampano, who are both involved in creating their own form of literary critic/documentary review. Literary parallelisms can be made between each of these works, as well as characters within the stories being driven by Danielewski and Borges. The manner in which Borges’ work analyzes and treats Menard as a “real” author, is similar to the way Danielewski has created the image of Zampano. Interestingly enough, another small connection lies in Zampano’s blindness, which was progressively developed by Jorge Luis Borges later in his adult life.
The Greek story pertaining to the mountain nymph Echo is brought up early in chapter V to invoke the mythological ties that the meaning of the word Echo can carry in a literary context. Zampano exposes two versions of Echo’s tale, the first ending in her body disappearing until only her voice remained, and the latter ending in her destruction by a jealous lover except for the essence of her voice. Either way, despite divine intervention her spirit can overcome the pressures of sorrow and accusation to carry out a more meaningful version of a known story (41-42). This functionality which is played out by the character of an echo is perceived differently than the definition or notation previously associated with the term echo; a reflection that exists only as a fading repetition of sound. This elucidation of background regarding an echoes functionality helps segue the reader’s mindset to better understand Zampano’s fascination with Menard’s replication of Quixote.
Zampano analyzes the two versions of Don Quixote by Pierre Menard and Miguel de Cevantes together, and views Menard’s version as an echo, with what he describes as an “exquisite variation”. Johnny’s exclamation in footnote 50 on the impossibility of Menard’s “exquisite variation” fails to take into account the temporal and societal differences between Pierre Menard and Cervantes. Danielewski wants to stress or at least bring light to, using Zampano, that we are not to views Menard’s work as merely identical words to Don Quixote, even though Menard’s excerpt of Quixote is exactly that. Rather, the take away here is to evaluate and accept that they produce different meaning under differing circumstances. Danielewski brings further light to Zampano’s quote regaling Mernard’s use of Don Quixote as an exquisite variation in this scenario by exposing the power that this variation has lies within the difference that authorship plays in the delivery and meaning of the work. In comparison, somehow more meaning is pulled out of Menards’ work which is supposedly viewed as a critic of Don Quixote, but with the knowledgeable foresight of history after Cervantes time of the 1600’s.
Borges discusses the true goal of Menard by stating, “Those who have insinuated the Menard devoted his life to writing a contemporary Quixote besmirch his illustrious memory. Pierre Menard did not want to compose another Quixote, which is surely easy enough- he wanted to compose the Quixote….His goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original” (Borges 92). Borges creates a character which does not only set out to write Don Quixote, but also embody the essence of Quixote in order to become the actual character.
The placement of the story and echo created by Pierre Menard is used as a tool by Danielewski to aid the ever-changing environment that novel is immersed within. He wishes to challenge the reader’s understanding of the novel and meaning which various characters bring to the table. What would be lost without Johnny Truant’s re-addition of Zampano’s removed content? In the same way it can feel insurmountable to extract meaning Mernard’s rendition of Quixote, one may experience the same feeling of helplessness from trying to interpret House of Leaves through any singular means of analysis.