Remediating TV

Danielewski has said that his works “remediate” other media: House of Leaves remediates film, for instance, Only Revolutions remediates music, and The Familiar remediates television.

We might think about The Familiar remediating television in two ways: as genre and as medium. We can certainly think about The Familiar building on literary genres like detective fiction and science fiction. But are there ways we could say that TF incorporates elements of television genres? (Perhaps reality tv? The nightly news?) We might also look for subtler ways that the novel nods to the conventions of TV programs. There’s an early reference to Stephen Colbert, for instance, and you’ll find references to very current events, which you might not expect to see in a novel.

In terms of medium, are there ways that the novel’s use of the “signiconic” remediates TV as a technology? The book is rectangular, a shape that could mimic either the physical hardware of a television set or the space of the TV screen. Are either of these reflected in the book’s design? And how is reading The Familiar like watching a TV program?

How do you see TF incorporating and playing with the conventions of television?


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10 responses to “Remediating TV”

  1. Elizabeth Lombard says :

    I agree that The Familiar seems to remediate television in a multitude of ways. Reading TF seems, at least initially, discomforting to readers as it draws them out of their novel reading comfort zone. Danielewski begins this process of “remediation” in the first 45 pages. This “prelude” to the novel seems to serve as a sort of preview or sneak peak into what is to follow–something most television shows would also create for viewers. Interestingly, this “sneak peak ” left me craving for as many answers and dumbfounded with as many questions as most effective television sneak peaks do. Daneilewski’s writing additionally remediates television in its episodic nature. Each chapter is like a TV episode. Having read only the first 200 pages, it appears like each chapter has its own plot sequence–with exposition, climax, and conclusion. Yet, each chapter gains significance and depth in the recognition of its, sometimes murky, connection to the other chapters and the cohesion of all the individual plots into one larger idea or plot. In the same way that episodes gain value in their cohesion into the season or series, so too do Danielewskis chapters gain value within the context of the volume as a whole. This claim must be made while recognizing that the chapters and the episodes have their own value and entertainnent as a stand alone entity. I feel that reading TF almost feels like a multimedia experience–as Daniekewski transcends from television set, or Netflix, to the page.

    • Maddie Daly says :

      I agree that the book mimics television, specifically with the visuals. The use of graphics within the text asks the reader to “watch” the story take place. Also, the casual, conversational language used (at least in the first 200 pages) is similar to that in a TV show – readers can hear the characters speaking with their individualities and dialects.

  2. Sarah Voigt says :

    Having read only the first 200 pages, I agree with the two above comments regarding the physicality of the book–The Familiar seems to pretty unmistakably connected to a style and format that appears in your typical television series. The episodic nature of the segments/chapters flashes from character to character, helping develop a number of plots and pique interest in the reader. The particular subtleties in the text are another thing that caught my eye. Just as often tv series will have certain hidden elements within scenes. The subtle physical details of the text remind me of this. The postmarks that appear in the top corner every few pages, the odd markings near the spine of the book on pretty much all the pages I have encountered, these little things, just like in the cleverest of television series (BBC’s Sherlock comes to mind, as that show to me is about subtlety in connections, not big obvious clues, which is a part of Sherlock’s character as well as the overarching plot in general.) I do have a feeling though, that these elements will not be understood by the reader in the first volume of this series.

  3. Anne Haas says :

    I agree that the book mimics television, but I would say that there’s an important difference between the way that the book uses visuals and the way that a television show uses visuals. In a television show, the visual aspects are meant to convey how a character interacts with or appears to the external world. The camera angles, costumes, make-up and actor choice are all meant to convey how attractive or powerful a character appears to other characters and how a character displays emotional reactions to a situation. Television uses visuals to display the externality of a character. As another thread has already pointed out, the Familiar uses visuality and graphics to display the cognitive and personality differences between the characters. These are very internal processes. The distinction between the externality of television and the internality of narrative is a common one to make, but I think that it is also relevant in terms of the unique visual aspects of this novel.

  4. mvanmet says :

    Each chapter of The Familiar gives a snapshot of each storyline and then continues on to the next storyline, similar to a television show. Each storyline has it’s own unique visual and narrative style. For example, the chapter starting on page 133, The Orb, features an orb-like shape slowly moving across the pages as they turn. This illustrates the progression of time and differentiates it from the other storylines.

    The time and location stamp in the corner of the pages provide the reader with a setting and makes it easy to jump from story to story without confusing the location. By producing many volumes of this novel, each published a month after the other, Danielewski is mimicking the routine nature of television episodes.

    Another way this novel remediates television is by mentioning very recent celebrities and events. Newly released television shows are usually up-to-date in terms of the latest happenings. For example, we don’t typically see new TV shows that depict the characters checking their MySpace accounts or calling up a friend on their rotary phone. Instead, these shows may show the latest in technology, such as the iPhone. The Familiar does a similar thing. On page 167, “Instagramming” is used as a verb to describe the act of taking a picture and publishing it to a public space. Page 120 mentions Astair checking Twitter and Facebook only to find posts from classmates bragging about their grades. On page 100, Lady Gaga is referenced for her song lyric, “I want your horror. I want your design.” Each of these occurrences serve to make this novel seem current and even more relatable for younger generations, just like television shows. This makes me wonder, what audience is Danielewski targeting with this series? It seems to be a younger audience.

    A final example of how Danielewski mirrors television in this book is evident in the character dialogue. Xanther, a 12 year old girl, speaks in a way that one would expect a 12 year old to talk. She says on page 184, ” But is the sky up if we’re on a planet, and like you know it’s round, so it could be down, right?, I’m just asking, I mean.” Her sentences are regularly broken up with filler words such as “like” and “you know”. This style of speaking makes it easy for the reader to see Xanther actually saying these words.

  5. hscrugg says :

    I do believe that the novel mimics television in many ways. Granted I have only read about 300 pages of the book, but there are many similarities between it and television. The one that particularly intrigues me is Xanther’s. Danielewski writes her like a 12 year old girl, but he also seems to interject her thoughts with perfectly timed speech. The timing is reminiscent of television shows that use the inner thoughts of the characters to narrate what is going on in the scenes on the screen. What really surprises me though is the way that Danielewski does not give away Xanther’s entire story. I am still wondering what she different social anxieties she has and why she is obsessed with counting. In most TV shows, the viewer can somewhat guess how what the person is like by how they act on the screen, but on rare occasions you can find those really good tv shows that leave you guessing until the very end. I think that Danielewski is one of those rare people that can do that. He keeps me wanting to read more and more to find out the story behind the characters and what is going to happen next to them, which is one of the great things about good TV; it keeps you coming back for more.

  6. AKP says :

    For more information on how film and visual thinking influences Danielewski, this is a good interview. Filmic “language” assuredly informs his writing, not only in formatting of the physical text, but in the writing itself. Much of the prose is highly visual.

  7. rfsnyde says :

    The erratic, detailed style of this book is totally different than many a classic novel that we’ve all read numerous times in other English classes. The disorganized, multitasking nature of covering so many different points of view on a particular time resembles the modern version of a novel.
    The novel, for much of history has been pretty much the only source of personal entertainment regarding individuals wanting to learn something new or adventure to a new place. In the last century, movies and television have come into the picture. The majority of generations that will read book will have had a TV in their house their entire life. The ability to jump from station to station, chapter to chapter, country to country was never really explored by a book the way TV has. This novel encapsulates this culture’s, attention span, constantly thirsting for new stories, and the many other qualities that a TV has entertained people but this time in book form.
    This is part of the major appeal and brilliance of this novel, its ability to remediate television through a novel in so many different capacities down to commercials, translation issues, and numerous story-lines simultaneously ongoing. The subject matter and characters also allows the audience to relate to so many different types of characters, from epileptic Xanther to gang members, to a Sri Lankan family, The Familiar covers all territories like a slew of reality television shows bound together.

  8. Trevor Byington says :

    I’ve been searching for ways to describe what is taken from television for the book, and without looking at other people’s posts I have a hard time making a list. Sure, there are the idea’s of framing (the shot and the page) or cinematography relating to fonts, but these seems a little stretchy.
    For one thing, some fellow students and I couldn’t agree on the scope of the book. There were suggestions of it being a channel, a season, or an episode. If it is a season, that would hint that each chapter would be an episode, but that would mean each episode would focus only on one character, which happens sometimes in tv, but for the entire stretch of the season. It would also result in episodes of widely varying length.
    Probably the thing that annoys me the most about the novel that also annoys me about television is the cliffhanger that so many chapters leave you on, and the way the camera (and the narration) avoids showing you what is the focus of the character’s awe, horror, excitement when all it would take was a pan slightly to the side. How many chapters ended on some mysterious cry?
    But finding similarities does not mean that one originated what the other uses. Story telling has been using these things for a long time. The serial was a book format long before television’s serialized shows. Television is also mostly external interaction, but I think in the book we get much, much more internal than anyone would ever tolerate in television.
    One thing I wish could be paralleled to television would be closed captioning for the dyslexics that like to read. Maybe they will print an edition like that, or maybe the color text will help.
    But as a whole, I don’t think The Familiar differed so much from traditional novels other than putting up barriers with presentation.

  9. sydneywilberton says :

    The book definitely resembles a TV show much more than the traditional novel, and seems almost like a hybrid between the two mediums. Generally, books are limited to just words and language to describe and convey ideas to the the reader, and TV shows are limited to just what they can visually show and imply physically to the viewer; this book uses both of those strategies, with the different fonts that are used for each character, the pictures that appear at the beginning of each chapter and scattered throughout the book, the way that the words are placed differently on the page for each character, and especially the “previews” at the beginning of the book. The resemblance to a tv show can also be seen through use of the narcons, which sometimes translate when a character speaks in a different language.

    In addition, as many people who have commented already have pointed out, each chapter functions like an episode of a TV show would. As the book progresses, each chapter end with more suspense, with a bigger cliffhanger than the last. Suspense is also created by the fact that the reader has to wait and switch focus to different characters before finding out what will happen to one character in particular, because of how much Danielewski skips around. This is a tactic used in many TV shows (The Walking Dead is the first one that comes to my mind but there is definitely others) to keep viewers interested and on the edge of their seats.

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