The Parameters

The Narcon section of the book (pages 563-579) has already been discussed by a few other posters, but I wanted to address it in a somewhat basic and systematic way by looking at the parameters that define it. The way that I understand the Narcon is that it is the book’s narrator, or one of them. In the Narcon section, the book itself begins to explain how it’s been written and what its limits are, breaking the “fourth wall” between the narrator and the reader. Given this understanding, some of the parameters presented by the Narcon raised specific questions for me.


Parameter 1: MetaNarcons do not exist

If MetaNarcons don’t exist, what is the role of the author? Can the author be considered a MetaNarcon? According to the Narcon, a MetaNarcon would be some kind of narrative explanation of a Narcon. Since the Narcon is explained within the book, wouldn’t that mean that there is a MetaNarcon? Does that mean that the Narcon is its own MetaNarcon?


Parameter 2: Narcons cannot interact with other Narcons

If Narcons can’t interact with other Narcons, does that mean that there is only one Narcon for the entire book? The only issue with that is that on page 576, TF-Narcon9 says that it doesn’t know what happened to Xanther’s former therapist, Mrs. Goolsend, but the next page immediately explains what happens to her in another, bolded font. Is that another Narcon interjecting? Wouldn’t that indicate that they can interact?


Parameter 3: Narcons cannot interact with non-Narcons and vice-versa

The Narcon says that it can’t hear how the reader will respond or register “how or if my friendliness was received.” (564) However, I think that the reader (a non-Narcon) arguably can interact with the Narcon. Actually, I think that might be the point. Since there will be subsequent books that take reader input into account, the Narcon will, in a sense, be interacting with the reader. So does the relationship between the reader and the Narcon make Parameter 3 invalid? Does it mean that this Narcon has transcended the bounds of what it means to be a traditional narrator or a normal Narcon?


Parameter 4: All Narcons are bracketed

The braille brackets seem to have been established as an indication of the Narcon speaking. But if that’s the case, who is telling the rest of the story? TF-Narcon9 knows almost everything about what Xanther says and where she goes, and it seems to indicate that it is the one telling the stories about Xanther, Anwar, jingjing, Luther, etc. If it is telling the entire story, then it seems like the braille brackets are just its direct thoughts. If that’s not the case, does that mean that there is a “MetaNarcon” that is telling the entire story? Could the cover of the book be considered a “bracket” that contains the MetaNarcon?


Parameter 5: Form is not a Narcon limit

This might be the most confusing parameter. My understanding of the Narcon is that it is a type of narrator that is telling the stories of the characters. Does this parameter mean that the other volumes of The Familiar will come in different forms (it mentions musical, performative, etc.)? Or, does it mean that the Narcon will take other forms within the novel itself? This might be a stretch, but the Narcon mentions that it could take the form of an animal. Could the cat that Xanther rescues be an appearance of the Narcon?


2 responses to “The Parameters”

  1. sydneywilberton says :

    Regarding the question about Parameter 2, that NarCon9 says narcons cannot interact with each other yet it is obvious that NarCon 27 is aware of NarCon9 by how it explains what happened to the therapist; it would seem that there is some kind of hierarchy among the narcons that NarCon9 does not know about, or rather, is not programmed to know about because the information is not relevant to the tasks that NarCon9 is designed to perform.

    Either there are different kinds of narcons that operate by different sets of rules, with some being completely omniscient, or the all knowing NarCon 27 is not actually a narcon and maybe the creator of all the narcons?

    Regardless, it seems as though the NarCons are a major plot device in the series but the details of what they are and how they actually work are not explored in the first volume because Danielewski wants to create suspense and spur curiosity among readers to motivate them to continue reading the series.

  2. beaum2015 says :

    I think the concept of different layers of control can explain how one NarCon can be aware of another NarCon without violating Parameter 2. Those belonging to a particular layer of control are aware of, and can interact with, those belonging to inner layers with less control (this concept is visualized in a [Response to “Unmarked and Marked Literature–A Clemson Class Discussion” by tlbenne] by icarlyrose). If you assume that VEM belongs to an outer layer relative to the NarCons, then VEM could inform one NarCon about another without the two NarCons ever interacting with each other; at least not directly. This idea coincides with the computer programming theme present in the novel in that you can think of the NarCons as different functions or methods; the idea of abstraction as it relates to computer science.

    When you write a function, you usually do it in a way so that it can be used by other programs in the future. A function is its own entity; a particular task that is often a single piece in a larger puzzle, or the entire puzzle itself. In CompSci we use the term “black-box”. As long as the function guarantees particular output given particular input, that’s all you have to worry about. No knowledge of, or interaction with, other functions is needed; unless they are themselves called inside the function, of course. Basically, you could have two different functions, that work completely independent of each other, which are both called from inside a third, “outer” function. To complete the analogy, this third “outer” function can pass the results of one the inner functions to the other.

    //Represents NarCon9 in my analogy
    int sum(int a, int b) {
    return a + b;

    //Represents Narcon27 in my analogy
    int square(int a) {
    return a * a;

    //Represents VEM in my analogy
    int sumSquared(int num1, int num2) {
    return square(sum(num1, num2)); // <—NarCon27 learns of NarCon9 via VEM

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