Raindrop Interpretations

So I’m not sure how everyone else reacted to the raindrop pages in the “Is Everything Okay?” Section I was really invested in it. I thought it was simply amazing how well the narration blends with these word-raindrop amalgams. So I started reading each individual drop and on p63 in the top right, she’s counting every drop with a finger. Every drop. I can’t even begin to think about doing something like that. But what’s really got me amazed is the fact that just seven pages prior, we get an image of these 10 Ws compared to her ten fingers. So not only are these seemingly endless questions falling down the page a part of her, they’re overwhelming her, like a catsum. But I feel as if this is natural to Xanther because her dad is always asking her questions and certainly because they’re her fingers. So by p64-65 and much more so p68-69, surely we as readers aren’t sitting here reading every single question because it’s just simply overwhelming. Rather, we’re searching for what little white space there is on the page (“Rain is just water with holes in it. Adding up to one big hole. One all engulfing catsum. Brutal. Banishing.” p67).

Another mind blowing piece was on p69 “Xanther’s the zero”. Thinking back to the equation Anwar makes on p59, if we plug in Xanther for 0 then mom and dad for 1 and 2 respectively (just because), it leaves me with the impression that they could live better or at the very least drastically different lives with Xanther or children at all for that matter. However, 1=2 leaves their relationship unequal, so Xanther’s presence balances it, creating happiness. Zero is even directly compared to happiness on p84. Which leaves me wondering why Anwar had the notion of dividing both sides by zero in the first place.

I think all of this mirrors what we as readers feel when we look at the raindrop pages. Personally, I looked at it for the first time while flipping through the book and felt like it was gonna be a pain or at least overwhelming to read. And that’s exactly how Xanther feels. And then there’s the bit of really heavy emotion on pages 66 and 67 (which could just be a touch of epilepsy) and it sort of comes out of nowhere and that itself is overwhelming. I think these pages work to emphasize metafiction really well not only because of the unusual structure but also because of the emotions they evoke.

Thoughts?

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14 responses to “Raindrop Interpretations”

  1. amanduholsen says :

    In the story, pages like “the raindrop pages” are my favorite to come across. However, I find them difficult to read the first time through and skip them when I am reading the narrative and I go back to them and read them on their own. When doing this I spent about one hour on about the three rain drop pages because I was trying to figure out why the author would include these pages.

    I think the raindrop pages are a way to exhibit Xanther’s inner thoughts without including pages and pages of dialog and letting the reader into the world of Xanther’s anxiety.

    I also was touched by the part where Xanther was “the zero” and also went back to the mathematical equation. However, I think that the narrative lends to the idea that Anwar is an extremely concerned parent (i.e. with the the french toast trips, and choosing not to eat it in front of Xanther) and that Astair is overwhelmed by the fact that her daughter has a problem (her narrative is more vague and less personal when it comes to Xanther).

    I like to think of this work, as a whole, more of a performance piece than a novel, with our emotions as the actors performing and us as the audience. The authors work is a great stage on which to see our emotions perform.

    • kasey says :

      One of my favorite MZD quotes was when he was asked to describe his books (at the time just Hol and OR) and he said: “My books are instruments, not CDs.”

      I think you have to enter into a MZD novel with this mindset much the way you would look at a guitar or a clarinet at a music shop, versus say, an album cover. You have to understand the expectations of you in this upcoming transaction of time. That album, which of course may contain hours, perhaps a lifetime of pleasure, requires relatively little, and doesn’t possibly possess the needed material to inculcate creativity in the listener, where as that musical instrument will require, relatively speaking, an exponentially greater investment of time. and of course with these types of investments come the gamble of much larger payoffs. Kind of a “you get out of it what you put into it scenario”.

      Having said all of this, I think the raindrops pages are there for a reason beyond just the graphical uniqueness. I think they play a dual role as illustration via text (Word Art, if you dare) and serve to pull the reader out of one moment and place them into another. one second you are reading through some linear narrative that has you roped in, then boom, a two page spread asking the question how many raindrops over and over again.

      Think about the long list of architects in HoL, and recall why they were included, what his editor said of them, and why MZD eventually added MORE names. What was the informational value of that list? What was the benefit to the narrative? What was the benefit inside the mind of the reader, i.e. how did this long list help the reader to understand some of the bigger picture aspects of the book? I think the raindrops serve that purpose.

      But part of the fun is in discovering that purpose for yourself.

  2. trinalazzara says :

    I definitely agree that the raindrop pages are an excellent meta technique to involve the reader in Xanther’s thought processes. We get a sense of urgency, of needing to read every line to try to gain some understanding but not knowing where to start. The notion of excess is interesting considering that she sees herself as the zero as you said (69); the information is scattered in her, repeating and building on itself with more questions than answers, a contradictory equation that never balances out but wants to collapse on itself, “like everything around her [is] teetering on this edge” (332).

    I have only read through to 395 so I can’t speak for Xanther’s parts after that, but I’m fascinated by her struggle with this overwhelming sense of the infinite. There’s her spit, “collecting in her mouth like a gooey ocean (183); her dreams, which she forgets (332) like she forgets “most things” (345); and conversations that for her are “cramfest[s]” and “rain[s] of voices,” blending until all she hears is death by epilepsy (Jaime-Leigh Lynch, John Charles Francis, Christina Fiorre Ilia, and Jett Travolta all died of epilepsy, and according to Xanther their names were never mentioned by Anwar or his colleagues (331)).

    One of the most relevant examples of infinity for me is the Internet, from Anwar’s code in Paradise Open (“scrolling down the screen like it was endless” (344)) to the Noosphere/Horrorsphere on the MutualH8 app, completely “Open” and therefore unsafe (335). Xanther’s anxiety seems to stem from this feeling of being herself a sort of open paradise, trapped in her body but vulnerable to sickness and death (86, 380), but the emotional ramifications for her are far more sinister than the confusion that the reader experiences with the raindrop pages. With the bullying making her parents move the family around on top of her epilepsy and her endless questions, she feels like a burden, not just a zero but an all-consuming “drain” on herself and her parents with no right to a Big Surprise (69, 328). The problem is not with the world but with her interpretation of it and with her body constantly rebelling against her, trying to push her out of it (332).

    From what I’ve read it seems that Danielewski is making Xanther’s solution out to be love. In one of the more harrowing moments of her narration, describing her seizure at the funeral, she says that she “kinda wishes one of those holstered guns would have made her stop. For good. Her parents though didn’t stand by helpless. They knew what to do” (195). The question that remains, I suppose, as cliche as it sounds, is this: is their love enough to save her from herself?

    It’d be interesting to think about how her little world of infinities plays out across the rest of the novel, and about how other narrative devices make us question the massive unknown (between this and House of Leaves, too much unknown for my brain!), but this comment is already too long so I’ll cut it off here.

  3. kasey says :

    The idea of Xanther being the zero reminds me of ternary codes, and how they relate to electrical engineering or transistor-transistor logic (TTL). A ternary code, which consists of 1,2, and 0 is perfectly suited to electrical engineering where any given switch has three positions/values: low, high and open. Curiously zero corresponds to the “open” position – one could infer that means that at this point, Xander is open to her choices/paths in life. Her quality of being a zero thus transcends the pedestrian view of zero being worthless to that of having possibility, of having the gift/power of choice and free will. Obviously her parents show the other two values, low and high – one forever the optimist, the other forever the pessimist.

    I imagine we will see, over the coming months (years?) that Xander will be pushed/drawn/pulled to a change in value, i.e. a choice she will have to make, the question will be, is that choice a high value or a low value – or can one continue to exist in the face of mounting choices and still possess the value of zero? Can one truly sit on the fence?

  4. dylandavis2015 says :

    I will also have to agree with the above comments. I find it comical that when I had come across those pages for the first time, I had thought that I discovered something “magical” about the book that others had not yet. As it turns out, nope, I am in good company.

    This lends itself well to my new theory about “The Familiar,” which is that MZD is going to have different scales of deliberateness to techniques. To me, the “how many raindrops,” pages are so club-you-over-the-head with signiconicism (let’s hope that will be a word one day) that it’s impossible not to pick up on it. I think that MZD is starting everyone off right by slowly introducing the techniques written about in the above comments (meta fiction, Xanther’s inner thoughts, etc.) He seems to want us to get an obvious taste first so that we are primed to look harder at subtext meanings later in “The Familiar.” This is not an uncommon practice in novels dating back decades and even centuries. Sometimes the author will introduce the most digestible subtext first to prime his/her readers and hopefully leave the most powerful subtext toward the end of the novel because the reader has learned how to “read” the novel.

    What makes MZD and “The Familiar,” different, I think, is the way he is engaging more than one sense to achieve this goal. It is not always a beautifully crafted sentence or paragraph, it’s horizontal text designed to be frustrating like Xanther’s thoughts. What I am looking out for, now, is his signiconic version of the most powerful and most subtle sub-text toward the end of “The Familiar.” Maybe it is there, maybe it isn’t. I have yet to finish it 🙂

  5. mzieger2018 says :

    I was personally very drawn to the quote mentioned on page 67 and the observation that rain is just water with holes in it and how it related to Xanther and her interpretation of the world. Constantly playing the “Question Game”, we understand that Xanther is a curious and inquisitive girl, but I think Danielewski’s use of raindrops is much more symbolic than at first glance. The weird presentation of words about raindrops on the pages prior to the quote to me seemed like a representation of the frustration Xanther feels as she struggles to understand the world around her and how, “lots and lots of holes” add up to one big hole and eventually “engulfs” her in the harsh realization that it is impossible to know and understand everything. Even if you’re like me and took the time to try to read through the four pages of scattered and incomplete thoughts to search for a pattern or understanding, the unfinished nature of some of the lines means that it is complete impossible to get a full picture of what is trying to be said. I think the statement that, “rain is just water with holes in it” could represent all of what I understand of The Familiar thus far and especially of Xanther’s character, because it just expresses the enormity of the unknown things in life and the disconnect and frustration that we as humans feel as we endeavor to understand the world around us.

  6. ajelias says :

    How does the rain link these disparate communities and very different people, then? (The book is subtitled “One Rainy Day in May,” after all.)
    How does this contrast, for example, to the rain in Luther’s section, p. 216? Piña “her own fuckin rainstorm. Bottomless in her own rage.” The Rain both unifying and marking differences (it’s even raining in Singapore), like the difference between Xanther’s not being able to look anyone in the eye and Luther, who “will look anything in the eye” (218).
    Or Xanther’s seeing code as rain in her father’s office party (344)?

  7. juliapanko says :

    I’m happy to see this aspect of The Familiar generating so much interest here. While we’ve had many images and much play with typographical layout up to the point the rain starts falling, the “How Many Raindrops” pages are perhaps the first instance where we have text that functions equally as readable language (sign) and as image (icon) (“signiconic”). As several of you note, there’s a fundamental tension with the raindrop pages: aesthetically, they have an immediacy. They are beautiful, resonant images. Yet actually reading the text is difficult, and slow, due to the layout. Like Xanther, we’re caught between experiencing the rainstorm as a whole and trying to make sense of each individual element.

    The rain, then, is visual, textual, symbolic, conceptual, aesthetic, and signiconic. And, as ajelias points out, the rain itself is a unifying structure. Some of the other post/threads have discussed whether and how much the different narratives connect, but rain is certainly one unifying element (“as if it were raining all over the world,” says Cas [137]).

    One other connection we might think about: how do the “How Many Raindrops” pages build on Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1918 poem “Il Pleut” (“It Rains”) (which you can view, with translation, here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/article/177216)? There are textual allusions throughout TF, but are there other visual (or even signiconic) allusions that are significant to this story?

  8. kieragardiner says :

    The “How many raindrops?” sequences are ultimately what sold me as a reader to Mark Z. Danielewski as an author as well as to The Familiar as a whole. Seeing as this is the first novel of his I’ve read, I didn’t know quite what to expect and so far it’s been quite a ride. One of the first pages that I flipped to while looking over the novel was in fact a “How many raindrops?” page and since it was farther along “how many raindrops?” was written backwards and thus it forced me to participate as a reader and take part in figuring out what was happening. Of course, the beginning on the novel (as I later realized) spelled it out for me, and yet that discovery still happened. It got me thinking about those pages long before I saw them in context. I believe I have much the same thoughts as others that have commented, that the raindrops signify (in both a textual as well as a visual format) Xanther’s thinking.

    I believe one of the most important point about these particular pages in the novel is that it forces its readers to be completely inside of Xanther’s mind and to take part in what her parents call her Question Song. Like you said, it’s a very Meta way to get the readers to partake in her thought process rather than just watch, and to explain through words set as a visual. Overall it is a solid representation of what goes on in Xanther’s head when she has one of these episodes. It starts out simple with just one question “How many raindrops?” before it explodes suddenly and it’s all too much to take in for both herself and anyone trying to answer these questions. Even the narration itself is begging her, “Stop! Stop! Please stop!” (65). As a person who has fairly severe anxiety, it was much like seeing my own mentality spread out on a page.

    There’s a certain intimacy that comes with trying to make sense of Xanther’s thoughts while she’s doing the same.

    • smartysloan says :

      I agree. The incessant rain is representative of the pervasive perpetual questions that haunt Xanther. I have had a hard time emotionally connecting to the characters and thus caring for their stories. Perhaps, I am a rigid lazy reader; regardless, sharing the experience of the rain externally and internally (Xanther’s head) was enduring and made me care (feel familiar). I think the head and heart are often in disagreement and rarely work together. Because this novel is so cerebral it makes you not only work to read and understand it but challenges how we do emotional work when reading.

  9. kasey says :

    Keep in mind we are talking about some torrential rain here, some abnormal palm-trees-sideways type of weather. And in the case of each narrator that is dealing with the weather, it is an impedance to their greater goals for the day. Perhaps the pages, being signiconic as they are, represent this external thing that needs(?) to be addressed before we can move on to our own goals – we are rapt in the narrative and then thirty minutes with magnifying glass in hand poring over a page full of repeating sentences – in this manner we experience the distraction of a torrential rainstorm to our intended purpose. We have stalled in our attempt to continue the narrative. this device is antithetical to the use of several page footnotes in HoL – those were meant to prevent you from stopping at “natural stops like page or chapter breaks – whereas here the raindrop sequences are meant to slow you down.

    A lot of what MZD does is also tied to controlling our reading pace, like when you have to rapidly flip through pages containing only a sentence, or a word on them. Your reading, though probably still the same wpm, has jumped up in pagecount. Conversely, when you hit a particularly dense page of signiconic text, you stall and hunch over, narrow your eyes and focus, subliminally reciting his chosen string of dialog over and over.

  10. ajelias says :

    I like Julia’s direction toward other art linkages (e.g. Apollinaire’s poetry) in relation to the raindrops. The novel–with its epigrams, allusions, and visuals–demands such associative work. So I’m wondering about links to more recent but rather well known contemporary art that has also explored rain in relation to body and text–eg,

    Urs Fischer’s “Horses Dream of Horses,” which was recently displayed at the Los Angeles MOCA: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/urs-fischer-moca-los-angeles

    or

    Rain Room (http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1380)
    or
    Text Rain (http://camilleutterback.com/projects/text-rain/)

    or less well known ones, such as Zimoun’s ( http://thoughtcatalog.com/brandon-gorrell/2011/04/art-installation-makes-2000-cardboard-boxes-sound-like-rain/ ) or Eric Tillinghast’s Rain Machine (http://www.uccs.edu/goca/ART/PAST/2012/RAIN-MACHINE-Eric-Tillinghast.html )

    Or how might the visuality of the Raindrops page speak back to such works as Bernard Childs’ “Rain” http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/158444/Rain

    ?

    • rraley says :

      Thanks for these references; I hadn’t known some of the projects (I’d like to put Tillinghast’s on auto replay). I’m starting to see the influence of *The Golden Bough* everywhere and think Frazer’s catalog of rain-making ceremonies, doctors, and charms (even a cat) would have to factor into all of this as well.

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