Xanther’s Question Song and Why She Uses It

Xanther’s “Question Song” is obviously quite a big part of the book, but there really isn’t much explanation as to why she uses it other than the fact that she is a curious person. As a reader, I had pretty much just accepted that until Xanther’s and Anwar’s finding of the cat. Both Anwar and Xanther have these big freak outs during this time, where Xanther hears the cry and wonders if it is a seizure coming on, and Anwar wonders if he is having a stroke.

During both of their chapters, they have these moments of pure panic. Their brains begin working very quickly, and their thoughts become negative, again thinking horrible things are happening to their bodies, multiplied for Anwar since his daughter is missing.  It was after reading this that it hit me – their long, drawn out thoughts during these scenarios are how they cope with Xanther’s epilepsy.

In class last week, we discussed how horrific life must be for Xanther, knowing she could have an episode and die at literally any moment of any day. How does one go on with this lingering knowledge? They would have to keep their minds occupied on something else at all times, just to live an ordinary life. That’s where the question song comes in. Xanther is curious out of habit, after all her curiosity seems to come from Anwar who she is not biologically related to.

In the ‘Save him!’ chapter, Anwar is trying desperately to find Xanther in the rain after she has bailed out of the car. The spacing on the pages starting at p. 541 gets larger and larger, indicating a sped up, panicked state within Anwar. Then, suddenly, his mind wanders off to something completely different. Even he has trained his mind to think about anything else other than something happening to his daughter. His thoughts wandering does not last long, however, as he keeps lunging back into panic. The end of the episode, where the line “she finds him” (561) repeats, indicating just how much she means to him. He tries so hard to keep her safe, whether it be with the dog or moving from state to state, but it is her who keeps him sane. That is why he cares so much about her, because she is all he has.

Basically, Xanther has taken this coping mechanism from Anwar. She has these racing thoughts to keep her mind off of everything terrible that could happen to her.

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3 responses to “Xanther’s Question Song and Why She Uses It”

  1. ctvolforlife says :

    I find your thoughts on this really interesting. I, too, wondered about Xanther’s question song throughout the book and decided that she was just a curious person. I also noticed that Xanther, Anwar, and even Astair were all very nervous people. Xanther always nervous about having a seizure that could kill her in addition to being nervous about the world around her, Anwar always nervous about his daughters’ well being (especially Xanther), and Astair always nervous about her children as well as her life and future in general. All three of them think very negatively once they start getting worked up about something and I think it sends them even further into a panic. I hadn’t realized, though, that their frenzied thoughts were a way to cope with Xanther’s epilepsy; it’s their way to get their minds off of the looming fact that she could die at any moment.

    I really like this because I feel like most of us can relate to this. We listen to music or hang out with our friends, for example, when we are feeling sad or anxious about something to take our minds off of whatever it is we are sad or anxious about. Danielewski lets us inside their heads to bring us closer to them as characters. I wonder why he only let us inside the minds of these three characters though…

  2. scmatth says :

    I would have to agree with both posts about Xanther’s question song! It is interesting to see all the different thoughts Xanther, Anwar and Astair have in order to keep from thinking about the possibility of injury or death from Xanther’s epilepsy. Though these three characters seem to constantly provoke questions and appear to live in their mind in a constant state of nervousness, the twins are never shown this way. I believe it is because they have each other that they do not have to preoccupy themselves with thoughts, but instead use each other for entertainment to keep the nervousness and possibility of losing Xanther out of their minds.

    It was also interesting to see that the question song continued until Xanther saved the kitten, and even comments on it, “the kitten is here at her side and even if nothing seems to have changed everything suddenly feels manageable. Or better: answerable” (Page 837-839). Though the kitten didn’t help Astair, but rather put her in a worse state of panic, it seemed to have soothed Anwar as well.

  3. mzieger2018 says :

    I too paid a lot of attention to Xanther’s question song and I agree that it definitely reflects her questioning attitude and coping mechanism for her epilepsy. The novel makes multiple references to past instances where Xanther experienced seizures when she was overwhelmed, and the question song as a way to reduce uncertainty and make things feel more “answerable” for her. What I wondered after the Narcon section however was that if the unique presentation of Xanther’s fragmented thoughts during ‘the litter’ and ‘save him’ sections wasn’t some kind of representation of the Narcon processor struggling to keep up with replicating a human stream of consciousness. With the inclusion of the strange raindrop pages on 494-5, and the strange appearance of the dots on 486 and 490 there are lots of distinctive markings that at first glance don’t seem to be representing much but could serve the purpose as spinning balls on computer screens that signal the processor is working to keep up with the human. The creation of the Narcon’s is a unique move by Danielewski to show how this fictitious world could potentially be created, but represents the limitations of technology by showing the problems that come about when trying to replicate a frantic, epileptic, questioning mind like Xanther’s.

    The interjections by the three narcons on page 489 are interesting because they all say “it?” suggesting that even the narcons don’t know that “it” is a kitten and this also shows that they are truly unknowing like they claim. The stories in TF are all simulations by this narcon system and while they seem to have almost a sense of humor and interactivity, their unawareness suggests that they aren’t all knowing forms in charge of the story, but that they are rather just going along as part of it. While at some points we see the redacted language and assume it’s the narcons, there’s a conflict presented when we see this objection because it confirms the narcons claim that they aren’t all knowing and that if they are merely technological algorithms, who is responsible for the censoring? VEM? Danielewski? Someone else?

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