the name zampano

(My “shift” key doesn’t influence my “z,” so the name “zampano” will be lower-case in every case. Sorry.)

zampano is a character in the 1954 Italian film “La Strada” (“The Road”).  The Wikipedia summary , and the IMDB entry tell that zampano is a circus-peforming strong man, whose signature trick is snapping a chain by flexing his chest.  The plot is simple enough: he buys a young lady to be his servent, treats her miserably, picks up a rival by the name of “The Fool.”  The Fool condemns the way  zampano treats the lady, but advises here to stay with him anyway, apparently claiming that  her purpose in life is to be his miserable subject.  zampano evenutally assaults The Fool, who works as a clown, accidentally beating him to death.  The stress of the murder causes zampano to leave his servant, a desertion that haunts him to the film’s closing moment, where he falls to his knees and weeps on the beach.

Clearly the use of this name for our character in (blue)House of Leaves stresses a number of pretty heavy-handed comparisons: first there is the longing for a woman both characters have lost.  The almost parodic metaphor of the breaking of chains in a physical, circus sense speaking to the breaking of rules and structural patterns makes sense as well.

Perhaps the most important suggestion of this reference is the difference between the two.  The 1954 zampano was a traveling circus man, a character in a movie called The Road, while the zampano of House of Leaves is a blind man trapped inside an small apartment, in a kind of paralysis…  a word I use in part because it is perhaps THE major theme in the novel to which most all ambitious form-challenging novels are immediately compared, Ulysses.  zampano, Truant, Navidson and most other characters in the novel are in one way or another at one time “paralyzed”–by fear, injury or anxiety.  The use of the the name zampano posits, as Ulysses did before it, that its particular brand of paralysis is new, a result of some modern economic development (industrialization, reproduction, the academy, media…..)

The choice of this name is one example among many where Danielewski does something many of the other authors we have looked at have not.  Rather than going after an entirely new brand of fiction, MzD is building on the established techniques, employing them often in a way that somehow feels both genuine and ironic.


~ by dukerogersnelson on March 14, 2010.

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