[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.