Time and Reading

I, like so many, am fascinated by the time stamps in the novel and wonder about their purpose(s). Certainly, they allow us to understand the chronological relationship of the varying narratives that we are introduced to. However, I wonder to what degree these time stamps are part of Danielewski’s attempt to control/guide our reading experience in the way he does in say House of Leaves (the only other novel of his I’ve read). In that novel, we have to explore its various features in somewhat the same way the house is explored. In fact, the worst possible way to read that novel, it seems to me, would be just to open on page 1 and then keep turning pages. The letters at the the end of the novel, the various artifacts and evidence, etc. are really necessary to help understand the main narratives as you read. So in that novel, Danielweski basically tells us, “Snoop around in whatever manner you see fit just like my characters are doing.” The Familiar, in contrast, pushes us more linearly. We are always conscious of the clock, if you will, and it seems as if, instead of asking us to roam around, he is asking us to experience the novel in real time, in the way that his characters do. I would be curious to know what people think of the degree to which Danielewski is trying to get us to read/experience this novel a certain way temporally, and to what end (based on the limited information we have thus far)? To what degree does our knowing that we are only getting one day change/influence our reading experience, especially when we know that are so many more volumes coming and thus we won’t be getting resolutions? I can’t help but think back to that opening narrator who seems to announce the end of one time and the beginning of another coupled with the seeming countdown of one person’s life. So much time. What does it all mean?

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2 responses to “Time and Reading”

  1. kasey says :

    Surely there is a level control at play here. But I think the chronology stamps are more about keeping us rooted in the stream of time of TFv1. When you read a large novel you can forget that you might be reading about the events of one day. Especially when you have 9 narrators spread out across the globe (note the stamps account for time zones ala Singapore). If there is any sort of overt manipulation of us as readers, I feel it comes in wanting to keep us in that stream of time, to allways have in the back of our mind that ticking clock that this is all happening in real time. This works well as a remediation on television too, the keeping of events in a timeline, think 24.

    • dgatewoood says :

      Kasey: I think you are saying something similar to what I was saying (or perhaps thinking but failing to say well). For me, that idea of real time is definitely part of the time stamps’ purpose, but I think it’s beyond keeping us in the stream of time. I would argue that it’s also part of defining our experience of reading–in other words, there are sections in which our reading should take approximately the same amount of time as the passage itself. For me, this is part of MD’s attempt to have us experience events in the same way that the characters do (as I noted in my original posted regarding exploration in HoL). I don’t think it’s the concern that we might forget that we are reading about one day–the novel announces that, and other novels, short and long, that cover a single day don’t resort to constant overt reminders of the time (rather, they give us markers in other other ways). I think this ties into the fact that sometimes we go pages without any actual page numbers. So, we are no longer experiencing the novel as pages, per se, but as a temporal experience. I think there concept of time is a central feature to this novel in a way we don’t quite know yet (like everything else), but I was struct in a Xanther section in which we learn, through Astair’s inner monologue, that Xanther has suffered “absence seizures,” which I have found are are tiny seizures that cause the victim to lose time. So we have this tension developing in the novel between present time and absent time (after all, the time stamps aren’t on every page), we have the end of time and beginning of time as hinted at in the opening sequence. I think time is central to the bigger picture of the work and to the way we experience the work.

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