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"No Mistakes": HoL as Unbound Book

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  • "No Mistakes": HoL as Unbound Book

    [Disclaimer I: my copy is packed away in a box somewhere, but I did run over to Barnes & Noble this morning to have a look at a couple of things. I say this by way of explaining why I can be precise in some cases but pretty vague most of the time. I could also just be flat wrong about some things I am attempting to recall from memory. In any case, I hope people will help me get the facts straight.]

    [Disclaimer II: I confess in advance to not having run French Forum stuff through Babelfish; so I'm very likely going to say things here that, while I'm pretty sure haven't been said before in this forum, probably have been said over there and I just don't know it. I hope Nash, Naught, et al. will feel free to chime in.]
    _______________

    The post of a thousand words begins with a single question.

    Another member, out of the blue, recently asked me for my thinking about why the last "" appears in black. To be honest, I'd never really worried about that too much, there being plenty of other stuff to worry about. This time, though, I gave it some thought and realized that not just that fact but the general appearance of the "Credits" pages themselves is a bit odd: the heavy bold of the title; the wide spaces between the words on the pages. In my reply, I said that there's something about those pages that seems stuck in, as opposed to integrated into the rest of the novel, as though the Credits pages that appear here were a kind of place-holding rough draft for a later, "finished" version. There's something of that same quality to the Appendices as well: I have in mind the several documents that TNR's footnotes tell us we'll find in the Appendices but which aren't there--or, for that matter, things that Johnny makes no mention of in the Introduction (like, that this is, we're told, the 2nd edition of HoL, made at least in part, we're told by The Editors, with Johnny's knowledge and help. The inclusion of The Whalestoe Letters, meanwhile, is something neither Johnny nor (I think) The Editors says anything at all about, yet there they are (and we'll just leave Walden Wyrtha out of the mix for a bit).

    What to make of all this? Is worrying about stuff like this an instance of overreading and not knowing it, as GemInEye asks in another thread?

    Eh. What the hey, right? But maybe I can avoid the acusation of overreading by saying that what follows is less an interpretation and more of a suggested frame for thinking about the novel. I don't pretend that it explains everything; indeed, as I've been thinking through it, I can see how what follows could be used as support for certain arguments that I say here that I don't agree with. But, again, frames aren't full-blown interpretations. They're just a staking out of a ground for beginning an interpretation.

    I'll just make a couple of declarative statements here, then flesh them out simultaneously as I go along:

    1) As you probably know, I'm a proponent of the 3-authors argument regarding the writing of this novel, acknowledging that there's a fair amount of blurring of the boundaries between those texts that each is ostensibly responsible for. . . but I'm going to try to make an argument for considering the possibility of a 4th author as well. By the way: I have a good idea as to who the 4th author is even beyond what I say below, but making the case will take having the novel here and, well, see Disclaimer I.

    2) MZD has famously said in an interview that there are "no mistakes" in HoL. I will take him at his word.

    3) A very long time ago, I used the image of an unbound book as a way of describing the experience of reading and thinking about of Leaves. I meant something a bit different by that term back then than the way I'll be using it here--but, in rereading those early posts, the way I arrived at that term seems just as relevant to me today as it did then.




    Of course there are "mistakes" in HoL, many of us have said; we've made them the subject of many (and many redundant) threads, but I'll just list a few: "pisces"; "kye"; the aforementioned "" in black; the anachronism of Myst appearing in TNR before it (the game) was actually published; "livre [sic]"; "not caught up with me." Some of those "errors" we use to buttress various single-author theories; some I've used to buttress my 3-author theory; many people claim that the "" in black has nothing to do with anything in the novel--this when "" appears in blue even on the publication page and in the reviews on the cover--but tends to be passed off as a printing error (though in the new "Remastered Edition" that "error" from the "analog" edition remains). So what gives?

    I have always thought and occasionally contended that many of us get into trouble with this novel by saying that it's such a different book from anything we've ever read before but then turning right around and behaving as though at some level it's still following the same old rules of all those novels we claim it's different from. I think that that's what drives many of the single-author proponents' arguments. We want to domesticate this text even as we applaud its textual ferality, and the single-author arguments seek to accomplish the former, but end up losing the latter. Single-author novels are par for the novelistic course, and whether we made a blind, reclusive old man or an old institutionalized woman the author of this one, HoL wouldn't exactly be breaking new ground there.

    Another way we try to domesticate this novel is by treating it as though it were a finished text in the same sense that a conventional novel is. That is, more or less everything is present that we need; little if anything is present that we don't need. HoL, though, is not finished, by its own appearance and admission. It's not merely an open-ended, unresolved narrative. Specific things are physically missing from it, things we're told we will find in it.

    For whatever reason, many of us can't or won't suspend disbelief for this novel as we are so willing to do for other novels and films. I'm not sure why that is, but the upshot is that we can't keep trying to make this unconventional novel behave conventionally; trying to do so, in my view, just distorts what we have. Like Zampanò has Harvey Weinstein say of The Navidson Record, "It is what it is."

    So: there are "mistakes" aplenty in HoL, but they aren't MZD's mistakes. They are Johnny's or the Editors'. Some of these "errors" are intentional (Johnny's addition of "water" in front of "heater"); some are oversights on the part of someone (not "" in black per se but the entirety of the "Credits" pages; some just can't be helped (the instances of promised but missing material). In short: while the reader holds a book called of Leaves, HoL-as-text is a work in progress, an assemblage of materials, some of which is in finished or almost-finished form, some less so. It is an unbound book.

    How did it get in this form, and why is it still in this form?

    The first question seems easy enough to answer: Johnny takes possession of Zampanò's trunk and begins to read its contents, which then take (imaginative) possession of him. Even as he places order on them, they dis-order him. As that occurs, he becomes more and more detached from the world he used to move about in and hallucinates about the world when he does move about in it, all the while subconsciously(?) incorporating details from his life and echoes of language from his mother's letters into Zampanò's text. Certain passages in Johnny's Courier font--the journal entries dated 1999 (compare to the date of the Introduction, and look at his not knowing what to make of the 1999 entries)--are largely, perhaps entirely, invented, including, most crucially, his meeting the band Liberty Bell. Some of it is Johnny's invention (he tells us when it is, more often than not); some of it is the work of whoever it is that has chosen to call himself/herself The Editors.

    As for why it's still in this form, I'd like to suggest here that The Editors (we'll use the plural for convenience's sake, but we could as easily be talking about one person as about more than one) are not really that. I'd like to suggest here that they are a de facto 4th author not yet intending to publish it (it's still a work-in-progress, after all), shaping and adding to and inserting themselves into the text in the same way that Johnny had done with Zampanò's manuscript--and maybe even with the same effects that Johnny suffered. The first time I read the novel, I assumed that Johnny had died out there on that park bench or sometime shortly afterward, and in thinking about and writing this post, that sense has become stronger. For one thing, the inclusion of Pelafina's letters, to my mind, seems too exploitative an act for Johnny--that's not something he would have approved of, but someone else rummaging around his personal effects would not have the same scruples. In any event, it's clearly the case that a) Johnny has no knowledge of The Editors' possession of the manuscript, or he would have in some way acknowledged that; and b) as noted in the Foreword, they, not Johnny, take on the job of fielding questions about errors and omissions.

    I don't regard anything here as proven or even argued, really, so I acknowledge its shortcomings in advance. But I will say here at the close, as I did waaaay the heck up there somewhere, that to frame one's reading of the novel as thinking of its contents as a text that is in some sense still being written, a text whose final contents and shape haven't yet been determined by The Editors, is truer to the spirit of what we have, and thus a better starting point for thinking about it.
    Last edited by John B.; 08-18-2006, 05:14 AM.

  • #2
    well said. i'm glad you mentioned the point from which you're approaching the text in the beginning, because before that i didn't realize where i differed from you (and probably many others) in that respect. i think HoL introduces some very interesting ideas and some unique "packaging," but i don't think that HoL is a fundamentally new take on the novel as a literary form. the and its horror are new to me, but the idea of multiple narrative voices piling onto one text is not, in itself, new--and i don't think mzd has introduced any really new takes on that idea. of course that's just my opinion. i have a much easier time buying a single demented author because, as you said, that's the kind of thing i've come to expect from gothic novels like this one. to me, things like the wise blind man and the longing for lost children argue for a more traditional approach--though they're treated differently in the novel than they might have been in greek tragedy, i think what we have here is a variation on an old theme and not a fundamentally new paradigm deserving a new interpretation.

    ugh. not how i meant to say it but i hope you can figure out what i meant.

    i don't have my copy with me either right now, but i do think the editors mention at one point having phone contact with a young man (not sure if it's johnny, don't remember). johnny also mentions stopping at kinko's and fedex towards the end--since he doesn't seem to have a lot of other possessions to his name at that time, what could he be doing if not sending the manuscript somewhere?

    my two cents for now (and thanks for starting this thread)

    Comment


    • #3
      Grand post John. I like the idea of it as unfinished manuscript. Also your idea about the Editors being a forth author. As far as we know it starts with Zampano (perhaps before him, pure speculation, nothing founded), then he dies and it passes to Johnny, Johnny adds contributes organizes, untill he goes on his way, then the Editors get a hold of it, and they do their own additions and polishing, and perhaps they send it to get published, or maybe it falls into someone elses hands, and so on and so forth, ever spiraling and growing.

      Now I wasn't around when it was being passed via the internet, would have loved to have been, but I wonder if the same thing happened. Someone recieved a copy, read it, added thier notes, and then passsed it on to someone else, who added, and passed it on, so on and so forth.

      Still even after the form it is in now that you can pick up in most bookstores, it grows with our ideas.

      Could the book be the grand staircase, starting small, and then with more ideas and information added it grows, like a snail shell...

      I dunno, after I've typed it the idea seems weak and unworthy...anyways

      Great post John.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by ujsrac
        i think HoL introduces some very interesting ideas and some unique "packaging," but i don't think that HoL is a fundamentally new take on the novel as a literary form. the and its horror are new to me, but the idea of multiple narrative voices piling onto one text is not, in itself, new--and i don't think mzd has introduced any really new takes on that idea.
        I agree with most of this, I think. The vast majority of novels with multiple narrators keep those narrative strands discrete. They may intersect in terms of the stories being told or a character in one appearing in another, but they don't do anything that calls into question the existence of narrators separately responsible for those narratives.

        Where HoL differs, though, is that while it presents us with three narrative layers that could not be more different in terms of the material each presents, we have things like Johnny's insertions of his own words into Zampanò's text and both Pelafina and Karen practicing their smiles in front of the mirror. Such things throw us off because we just don't (often) run into such things in, even, technically complex novels, and so to make sense of that when we see it, we presume that one person really wrote all of what we have. Well. We don't have to speculate at all to explain those echoes, it seems to me: Johnny, we're told, has Zampanò's trunk, and it's safe to assume that he's read Pelafina's letters. Given his, um, complex relationship with his mother and his gradual consumption by the contents of that trunk, it isn't hard to imagine that all those texts are bouncing about in his echo-chamber of a brain and that something of a textual mash-up will eventually manifest itself. His font isn't Courier for nothing.

        I can be swayed by evidence for a one-author thesis. But thus far, at least, I haven't read an argument that moves beyond the same old examples to show me something that the 3-author theory (or 4-author, for that matter) can't account for.

        In footnote #5, The Editors say they have never actually met Johnny but have corresponded with him via letters and, occasionally, over the phone. I may have a lot to say about that sometime soon, but for now I'll just say that I don't know how true that is.

        Comment


        • #5
          so the three-author theory says johnny is sort of a final filter for everything, and that explains things like the spanish doll reference and the acrosticism and all of that? i can buy that. what about the collages? who put them together? and where does all the fake scholarship come from? and the yggdrasil poem?

          if i follow your framework, then the HoL we have is sort of imperfectum, right? and the "editors" haven't really finished editing or assembling it? that's satisfying to me in a lot of ways. but a problem i still have with that is that the book doesn't appear to have been edited, even in a cursory sense, in any meaningful way. there's the index, for one thing, but that might be a message of some sort. more problematically, there's the "would of" issue--i can't imagine any editor who wouldn't pick up on that right away and i can't imagine any reason (anything it might be signifying) to leave it in. what does the three-author theory say about that?

          while we're on the subject (cuz this is the first thing i thought about when reading HoL) what's up with *as i lay dying*? were they all darl? is darl even the right name (i haven't read the book since high school)? i remember one thing that rang false to me with the voices in aild was that one of them, one of the non-educated ones, used the word "stertorous." i feel like the "would of" 'mistake' is a similar thing--an apparent mistake made by a master that may really serve as an invitation to consider things more closely.

          Comment


          • #6
            I think I may have a lot to add about John's comments, but I prefer to wait until he gets his book back and tell us about this fourth author.

            In the meantime, I'd like to adress some of ujsrac questions.

            "So the three-author..."
            I think John is saying Johnny is a filter, but not the last one. Someone choose courier font for him, for example, and it seems this person or persons are none other tna The Editors, that John proposes as a fourth author.

            "I can't imagine any editor..."
            In fact, I know a few who might. Anyway, this might prove that The Editors are not really editors. For another take on the matter, we could think they define themselves as 'movie editors' and not 'book editors'. The first job seems a lot more in concordance with their intervention in of Leaves.

            "I feel the would of 'mistake'..."
            I feel we can take this for granted. It is an invitation to consider thing more closely. But an invitation by whom?

            Comment


            • #7
              Just a further word about the term "unbound book": The truly ideal medium for HoL as I've been talking about it here would be an archive box with the 700-odd pages contained inside, in the order we have them, but not bound. No cover art, much less blurbs and reviews. Now THAT would be cool. And more important, at least for the strength of this frame, what I've been saying about the text as being a work in progress would be more immediately apparent.

              What's throwing us a bit--perhaps by design--is the fact that, while for the 3 authors and The Editors HoL is a work in progress, we have received it as a bound text, which traditionally signifies that it is a finished, a complete text. It just now occurs to me, though, that perhaps we could understand ""'s appearing in blue on the cover as a sort of signal (assuming that the blue functions here like a blue screen) that even the cover is not a finished text but is also a sort of backdrop against which we can project, um, stuff.

              Originally posted by elmago
              "So the three-author..."
              I think John is saying Johnny is a filter, but not the last one. Someone choose courier font for him, for example, and it seems this person or persons are none other tna The Editors, that John proposes as a fourth author.
              Yes. Again, footnote #5 indicates that it's The Editors who select the fonts. But (as Johnny himself demonstrates with his insertion of the word "water" in front of "heater") anyone can write a text in Times Roman. The discrete fonts create the illusion of discrete narratives, which is why it's so disruptive to encounter those echoes.

              Ujsrac asks about the origin of the collages, the fake scholarship and the Yggdrasil poem. I think that if we look carefully at the items that appear there, we can make a guess--if we keep in mind that, logically, the person who did them would not necessarily be the person who owned the objects we see. That sounds like I know who took the pictures, but I don't. If HoL is a kind of gradually-coalescing collection of texts amended and emended by successive entities, the collages are a model of that. As for the fake scholarship, there's no reason to doubt that Zampanò produced at least some of it; Johnny seems to know his way around a library, too; maybe even The Editors contributed some of it. I wouldn't put something like that past these guys.

              Speaking of which . . .

              Originally posted by elmago
              "I can't imagine any editor..."
              In fact, I know a few who might. Anyway, this might prove that The Editors are not really editors. For another take on the matter, we could think they define themselves as 'movie editors' and not 'book editors'. The first job seems a lot more in concordance with their intervention in of Leaves.
              The key word here is "intervention." It's often been noted in the forum that The Editors are an odd bunch. The most conservative thing we can say here about them is that, while editors traditionally stay in the background, confining their remarks to prefaces and occasional footnotes and making "silent corrections," these Editors are, by comparison, bonfire-building, flare-shooting, textually-extroverted types. But as I suggest and as elmago recognizes here, it confuses things considerably to think of these Editors as being genuine editors. They so intervene (that may be too polite a term for what they do, in fact) that I've identified them as 4th authors, playing Charles Kinbote to a text written by John Shade.

              Originally posted by elmago
              "I feel the would of 'mistake'..."
              I feel we can take this for granted. It is an invitation to consider thing more closely. But an invitation by whom?
              Great question. This may seem paradoxical, but I personally claim that the frame I'm proposing, while it seeks to provide some much-needed clarification regarding the narrative strata of this, erm, book, actually should make it deeper, more mysterious regarding its contents. In my own mind, at least, it both raises different ways of thinking about the problems this novel presents us with that we're all familiar with and presents me with a new set of questions about it.
              Last edited by John B.; 08-18-2006, 05:34 AM.

              Comment


              • #8
                Boys will always stray off into the depths whilst I shall stay in the shallows under this tree of leaves.

                Observations of a darker realm may arise more questions, but take a look at the way the pond shivers at my touch? See the ripples; how they spread out towards you?

                A leaf upon a pond may do the same.

                I agree with you in some ways, m'lord John B... And I am in a way (am I supposed to be?) honored that you somewhat quoted me on your first text. I am sorry that I take this book and look upon the surface, or if anything, just below the surface, the shallows of this pond of words whilst you seek deeper more prophetic meanings. Thus, I feel small, although, I too am seeking truth in the book as well.

                I like your ideas, that we are only adding to the idea of the book as a whole. This unbound book by your terms. Sort of connects to what I said about the whole movie idea in another thread, that it is our thoughts and feelings about the book that make it what it is today... our horror. Are we, in some way, adding to the story even as we type now? Are we Johnny's footnotes? Are we adding to the horrors that Navidson encounters and the trials that Pelafina endures? The horrors that, for that matter, the monster and the New Director must contend with every day...?

                Hmm...

                ~shrugs her shoulders, continues to read The Whalestoe Letters~

                Comment


                • #9
                  GemInEye,

                  Let's just say that I think your arrival has been one of the fresher breaths of air around here of late. And I'll also say that little things often lead to big things--as I said in the first post of this thread, it was thinking seriously about something I had known about but never--and I mean "never"--thought about before that led to this thread. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is for others to decide.

                  Some of us in the past have talked about this forum as being in some sense an extension of HoL. Hmm: even I have said such things before. That no longer seems quite right to me. I'd modify that idea to say we are speculating about this novel but ultimately remain outside it. We--that is, our speculations--don't get absorbed by the text except in the way that any criticism of a text does: by the reader's carrying it along with him/her as part of the reading experience. The novel is (so far) finished for us, in that, if its writer is to be believed, we won't be getting any additional HoLy texts in the foreseeable future. For the characters responsible for the narratives in the world of the novel, though, HoL is very much an "unbound" unfinished text.

                  I may have just gone on about something you already knew, but I've just been reading some not-so-old posts by others that make me think it's helpful to make clear that a boundary exists between "our" world and that of the novel.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    (btw, why is my "Go to Advanced Mode" button in French?)

                    Anyway, thank you for the compliment.

                    ~sweeps away the blush~

                    Ahem.. well. ^_^

                    I've always seen this site as an extension to the book, in a sense, a fraction of the creation of the book. After all, wasn't the book originally set online? I had been on this site for a while, a good month or so, before actually signing up. I must admit, I was shy about posting my ideas, but I just decided to give it a shot here and there, but I was still fearful of people such as thyself, syzgy (sic?; avatar is Hugh Jackman), fatwoul, elmago and a few others; "the veterans" of the .

                    Isn't the site sponsored by MZD? Didn't he write a post on here as himself asking for submissions for /THAT? After all, even the copywrite is shown as being property of Danielewski (Copyright 2000 - 2006, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd. 2000 - 2006 Mark Z. Danielewski )...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by GemInEye
                      Isn't the site sponsored by MZD? Didn't he write a post on here as himself asking for submissions for /THAT? After all, even the copywrite is shown as being property of Danielewski (Copyright 2000 - 2006, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd. 2000 - 2006 Mark Z. Danielewski )...
                      Yes to all. And there for a while, some of us (not me, this time) imagined that in future works we'd see ideas of ours incorporated in them. Well, that will be the case, we're told, with but, so far as we know, the new novel is not HoL Redux.

                      But who knows? I suspect MZD is full of surprises.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        just thinking about the "no mistakes" quote . . .

                        in order to have any mistakes you have to be after a particular objective. that is, a mistake or error can only exist when situation x was supposed to obtain but some non-x situation obtained instead.

                        does anybody else see that a different way? to me, just as a courrier implies a sender and/or receiver, a mistake implies an intention.

                        first i thought that this idea, if true, argued against the unbounded book theory because it would require an intention on the part of HoL's creator(s). that is, i thought "no mistakes" meant the creator(s) had set out to create something and had succeeded perfectly.

                        but then i was thinking that another way not to have any mistakes is not to have an intention in the first place. taken this way, "no mistakes" strenghtens the unbounded book theory.

                        but *then* i was struck by another thought. john, you mentioned that HoL should have been a collection of loose pages, notecards, et cetera. well, why wasn't it? i mean why do we get it as a book? mzd was presumably aware that you could mass-produce and market texts in all kinds of ways, and he was presumably a stickler about typefaces and layouts and everything else. so why did he let HoL turn into a book if it should have been something else?

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by ujsrac
                          so why did he let HoL turn into a book if it should have been something else?

                          cost?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            it's really expensive to print or minotaur specially, and to include those full-color collages and things. and it would be pretty cheap to sell copies of loose pages in black and white and some pre-distressed 3 x 5 cards and things, and package them in a clear plastic envelope. so i don't think it was cost.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ujsrac
                              it's really expensive to print or Minotaur specially, and to include those full-color collages and things. and it would be pretty cheap to sell copies of loose pages in black and white and some pre-distressed 3 x 5 cards and things, and package them in a clear plastic envelope. so i don't think it was cost.

                              Perhaps, I'm not a publisher, wouldn't know what it would cost to mass produce an irregular format.

                              Comment

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