Parable No. 9 and Hope
While digging around on the MZD forums, I came across an audio recording of a lecture entitled “Parable No. 9” given by Danielewski at the Wallraf Richartz Museum in Germany that I’ll link in this post. The talk- more of an anecdote rife with philosophical tangents and cryptic contradictions- seems to deal with many of the same over-arching ideas and motifs that fill The Familiar, particularly cats and their relationship to humans. To give a brief overview, the parable is the story of R. Max (an anagram for Marx?), a hunter who is abruptly and reluctantly saddled with the responsibility of taking care of two cats. However, when one of the cats, Sybil, becomes deathly ill, R. Max begins to legitimately care for the creature. Ultimately, the feeble Sybil leaps into R. Max’s lap where she dies and he breaks down. The most interesting part of this story for me, though, was Danielewski’s exploration of the concept of hope. He defines it as “longing without suffering” and the “opium of the consciousness,” a (presumably) unique human ability to find comfort in suffering. He seems to believe that it breeds complacency, an impediment to the simple act of existence. R. Max, when he gives up hope, transforms into “not a self contingent on becoming, but just being.” Yet he cannot truly escape hope as he is human. Moreover, Danielewski emphasizes that R. Max’s desires for a family as discussed with his therapist lead to “revelation but no transformation,” no “quantum leap.” Danielewski seems to imply that hope prevents man from realizing the true nature of reality due to impeding constructs of desire; if Sybil had never fallen ill, then she and R. Max never would have grown closer and achieved the beauty of their relationship and her spontaneous act of affection. Yet the dichotomous nature of desire (good necessitates evil, pleasure pain) prevents R. Max from appreciating this moment as he is overcome with grief when his hopes for Sybil’s survival are crushed. His hope prevents him from experiencing what is directly before him.
One of the more interesting associations I considered between this lecture and The Familiar can be seen in the title of Astair’s thesis: “Hope’s Nest: On the Necessity of God.” This may imply that in a world in which humans cannot escape from hope, God is the necessary epitome of the concept; all that is good and true and imaginable may be summed up in God. Of the characters in the novel, Astair seems particularly obsessed with hope; by refusing to open her graded thesis, she chooses to cling to it rather than confronting the reality which already faces her and which she has no power to change. Xanther, on the other hand, seems much more in touch with her own reality; she is fascinated by all and the fact that an epileptic seizure could kill her at any moment forces her, in a way, to live only in her present moment. She seems to have found a way to see beyond the structures of desire to achieve a keen perception of the world she inhabits.
Parable No. 9: