TV Programs, Computer Programs, and Book Programs?

Danielewski incorporates many instances of technology and programming into The Familiar. Programming seems to be an reoccurring theme in this novel. The novel mimics television programs, alludes to computer programs, and serves as a program in itself.

What exactly is a program, and what does it do? In my opinion, to program a system is to input information that is executable. Computers have code inputted into their systems that allows them to perform tasks. In the chapter titled, “Square One”, we see instances of computer code inserted into pages. Page 89 shows Anwar’s thoughts appearing as computer code and comments.

The novel mirrors television programs, as well, in many ways. Danielewski incorporates visual aspects that engage the reader, and the introduction to the book was formatted similar to a television show intro. It features various advertisements and movie-like images in the pages prior to the story.

Danielewski places a large emphasis on programs in this book. This made me consider ways in which The Familiar serves as a program in itself. When reading books, we are programmed to read from the front cover to the back cover, from left to right on each page, turning the pages to the left as we go. Immediately, when we start reading The Familiar, we are forced to break this habit. We have to physically interact with the book by turning the book sideways to view the landscape-formatted images. The book deprograms its readers from what we have done all of our lives, and overtime we get used to this strange style. We come to expect the unknown and are not surprised when the author inserts a strangely formatted page of raindrops or an orb outline moving across the page. This acclimation is the process of re-programming us.

We, as readers, are challenged to step out of our familiar ways when reading this novel. Why, then, is the book titled The Familiar? In what other ways does this book serve as a program? Who is being programmed?



2 responses to “TV Programs, Computer Programs, and Book Programs?”

  1. kasey says :

    What exactly is a program? A system that is created to manipulate another. A television program, at the basest of levels, is simply a series of images and sounds that keeps eyeballs interested so that advertisers have their 30 second spots to sell to you, and that they will pay those higher rates. Remember: they don’t make money off of programs, they make money off of advertising. So in the Television definition, a program is there to keep you occupied, while the advertisers get access to you, to sell their products/services.

    Computer Programs are systems written to manipulate another system. How do we get this programming language to represent graphical elements, in concert with a given hardware system, that can be manipulated by the user to a goal, i.e. a game? Or how do we get one database to communicate with another in near zero time, i.e PayPal? Now in Anwar’s program, the goal is obvious: how many players can we get addicted to this game, and how much of their money can we get them to bring along for the ride. It is interesting to see that some of the more popular games of late (at least in casual gaming) are following the age old Television method and are trading a free gaming experience for time and access to advertisers (GoogleAds). Of course the big blockbuster games are still $60 independent purchases tied to a particular hardware platform, but even these are realizing the potential for added revenue with DLC and even targeted advertisers – in this aspect these types of games are more along the lines of movies versus television: they understand merchandising rights as well as product placement within the movies. Many of these games are featuring rotations of advertisers, on billboards within the games, I can’t imagine those are free. But we aren’t seeing 30 second advertising spots, yet.

    Books as programs. How does an author convey his ideas to a larger group of readers, independent of their biases or beliefs, and make them enjoy the process? In an interview years ago with Chris Cleave, author of “Little Bee” he explains the difficulty in broaching unsavory subjects in writing. He wanted the subject of child massacre, of England’s blind eye, of the atrocities taking place in Africa but because we share The Onion’s view of “15000 Brown People Dead, Somewhere” we need to sugar coat these things to get them down. Books have always had this amazing potential, to take a subject you didn’t even know you cared about, or even know existed, and force you to think about it for hours. Very viral.

    In this sense the author is the programmer, the publisher perhaps the corporation which allows the author the tools (access) to reach his/her readers. In TFv1, we are that “other database” we are those eyeballs that are so dearly sought. MZD has this idea, and he wants us to know it. Of course he’s never been anywhere near that type of straightforwardness (thankfully) but at the end of the day, that is all literature is: the attempt to convey one idea to another, and hopefully have it “stick”. The idea is the product/service the author is trying to “sell” you. The narrative conventions and plot points keep you interested (ideally).

    As to why the book is entitled The Familiar, there are too many paths to choose at this point. There is the spiritistic angle, the comforting angle, the fami/liar idea, etc… perhaps all are right, perhaps none.

    Finally: another way this book serves as a program is just as a guide, i.e. the program one receives before a performance. Perhaps TFv1 serves to outline/setup the players, to get us comfortable, familiar even, with events and people prior to the real performance?

  2. amanduholsen says :

    As to the Computer Programming aspect of the familiar, I noticed in Anwar’s dialog in the Xanther chapters, it comes out looking a lot like HTML and XML coding. If you read the dialog now looking at it like XML or HTML code, wherever Anwar speaks is a change to the original code because it is formatted in brackets etc. This could be because Xanther is the original code and Anwar and Astair, when they speak, are changes to the code. If we read the book in this way, the only way we get Anwar’s and Astair’s true thoughts is when we get a change is the coding or when we read inside the brackets or the parenthesis.

    In this way we are being programmed to read everything in the brackets, parenthesis and on the side, where if it was another book, we would tend to skip it. If we don’t read the information in the parenthesis and brackets we are missing key points in the novel, or changes to the code.

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