All the Colors

I first started paying attention to Danielewski’s descriptions of color in the first preview with Girl and Boy. In the scene, the Boy paints the Girls face. The colors are listed individually at first: “ochres…pink, black, and brown” (38) and the word color is used repeatedly. Then the Boy uses “All colors” (39). For a book obsessed with the world of images, Danielewski actually uses limited color descriptions. Pink is mentioned (and may be more prominent in the published version) and a whole section takes its name from “just one blue pencil” (222). These colors pop out (as I imagine the word ‘familiar’ will when printed in final, color version). I am therefore very interested in these moments of hyper-saturation. It happens again while Lupita is preparing jicama and considering her nails. The description of her movements are vivid and close—she uses “big dashes of chili pepper” and “wipes her hands on her shirt” (78). It continues, Lupita “likes all kinds of color. And she likes her nails long” (78).

I have two thoughts on “all colors” and saturation. The first is that it relates to book’s conflicted relationship with the black on white of the tradition book. On the one hand, Danielewski’s experimentation with design and images shows the infinite possibility of the book. But on the other, it continuously acknowledges the form’s limitations (just black and white is not enough). But what does this bloom of color do? I think it has something to do with the way the rainbow functions in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Fish.” The poem concludes with the magical line “until everything/ was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” It is an ecstatic moment in which the neat, precise poem bursts open and expresses a joy and fear and knowledge that is beyond description. In the Familiar, I see all color as ecstatic—if not triumphant or conclusive. We are, after all, living in a hyper-colored world of neon and screens. Which makes me wonder if the “horrific real” (to reference Lacan) of the white page is in fact of more interest…

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7 responses to “All the Colors”

  1. awehrwein says :

    Addition: “pink pearl, copper azure, and cocoa cherry…ebony with teal, ginger with quartz, meringue with rust” (524-5). A complex rainbow.

  2. atodd102015 says :

    Rainbows are interesting. When Narcon9 introduces itself, it talks about glitches that make it “squirm” or “smudge,” and the one that’s “always out there” is the “spinning rainbow wheel of ____.” I think this is just a cute reference to the error symbol on Macs, but it ties the collective color spectrum to something bad (or something that exceeds N9’s capabilities).

  3. Orion O'Neill says :

    When I first started reading the novel, I noted all of the colors mentioned for the first 100+ pages. Like awehrwein, I felt that there was something purposefully off-setting about the colors mentioned. I haven’t read, “A Fifty year sword,” all the way through, and have yet to start, “Only Revolutions,” but it is my understanding that both of these earlier Danielewski works are heavily influenced by color and its effect on narration. In “House of Leaves,” the colors blue, red, and purple are ominous and reflect the deeper pools of the psyche held onto by the house and its inhabitants, as well as by Johnny. I’d venture to say that we are missing a bigger picture of the novel (and the scheme of the 26 to come) because we do not have color to apply our reading of certain words and images (like those seen at the beginning of each chapter) to larger themes, such as the link between this work and Danielewski’s previous works. It goes without say (though I’ll say it anyway), that the use of pink in relationship to black and white throughout the book is a form of developing some meta fictional commentary on the book itself. The “infinite possibility” and “limitation” dichotomy awehrwein comments on in his/her post does well to address Danielewski’s attempt at revolutionizing the state of the novel (and thus the state of narrative).

    I’d also like to Suggest (I want to give suggest a capital S, because I am speculating as of now) that Narcon 9’s statements that its “limits are numerous… [and that it] may never exceed Xanther’s imagination whether actual, probable, or possible,” and also that ” ” Most of the iconic goes unsigned,” imply that the narrative we have been told is focused on identity, and what composes identity. I draw this conclusion by referring to the link below (pg. 572)

    http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~port/teach/103/sign.symbol.html

    If an icon is some X that looks like some Y that X represents, and a sign is some x that represents some y (and we understand that Narcon 9 is telling the story, and is using descriptive language based on its understanding of each character’s identity, and not necessarily their real thoughts or sensory experiences) then it follows that, “Most of the iconic goes unsigned,” because there is not much that is iconic for each character’s narrative if the Narcon is the one that is noting what is iconic. The argument can also runs as follows: Since the Narcon is creating a story based on what it thinks it knows about each character, then their experiences are not iconic to their selves, but are only iconic to the Narcon, in the case that the Narcon chooses what such characters see or experience to be Iconic.

    I don’t necessarily know that I understand what I just said myself, and there isn’t a world to be discussed with such topic, so please pick it apart if you’d like. The only reason I mention the argument here is because the colors must be signs to the Narcon that represent parts of each character’s identity, rather than an sensory- experiences that they’ve run into through their action.

  4. awehrwein says :

    I don’t want to belabor this topic but we see lots of color in the last section of the book. We get “candy pink” and many other colors in the Orb (653) and a full on “rainbow” (655). Perhaps most notably, Astair’s absolute panic about the cat is described in terms of “color (techni-?!)” that is “beyond imagining”(659). As the facing page of overlapping text illustrates quite vividly, Astair is short circuiting. Before I linked “all colors” to the ecstatic but I think it is rather a moment of information overload, much like the Mac’s spinning wheel of___ [death] @atodd102015 pointed out. Xanther is almost always in a state of information overload and her seizures are described in those terms as well.

    • atodd102015 says :

      I don’t think it’s belabored at all! The “or” in the final passage on 655 is confusing, because I’m not sure what it’s giving an alternative to, but the linking to Xanther by a rainbow is significant (in my opinion, huge). I agree about it seeming to link moments of overload, and because of that, it seems like rainbows are signs of badness. Given that the volume is “One Rainy Day in May,” and ends with the passing of the storm, we might be on the precipice of danger right now. (Of course, on the other hand, the storm and raindrops are what first prompt the discussion of overload, so it’s still unclear.)

      In relation to this, whiteness becomes more interesting. Just a couple scattered thoughts here. The whiteness of the fur and Xanther’s skin might be meant to echo this rainbow-overload, since a rainbow would be white if not for being refracted. That doesn’t fit perfectly though, since that’s light, not reflected surfaces like skin. There’s another narcon line about “refracting the self into another self” (794), though, so I’m wondering if the rainbow idea can be paralleled to the narrative. We have this narcon that supposedly binds all of the narratives together, but on their own they seem to be distinct. Like a rainbow splits one color into a spectrum. So, it seems like we’re being presented with one metaphor as “good” and the other as “bad” or “evil,” and the details we have point to rainbows being the bad one. But is that the “novel” giving us that as a message or theme, or is that the narcon presenting the idea of individuality as a threat to itself.

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