Thoughts on the Narcons

I’m aware that the Narcons have possibly been discussed to death here, and for good reason too, they’re really fascinating as a far as the entirety of The Familiar goes. They seem to exist outside of the story itself but still nestled into the material, if only in a very literal way by means of physically residing within the book. Long after I read the TF-Narcon 9 section, it still resonates with me for reasons I can’t really explain. Perhaps I find enjoyment in Meta commentary.

The biggest questions I have about the Narcons is whether they just exist outside the narrative or do they reside outside of the novel altogether, because these are two different things even if they are related. By existing outside of the narrative, they still reside within the novel itself, there to comment and translate and shed light on certain parts of the narrative but never changing the story itself. Though I guess that can be argued that they do this simply by inserting themselves in the middle of the emotional climax of the story. Or do they exist outside of the novel altogether and have the knowledge that they exist in a book. They are programs and seem to be aware that they are programs but how far does their self-awareness extend?

Another thing that caught my attention about the Narcons is that they have their own myth system. They have an idea of ‘older’ Narcons as well as a pre existing rumor that they can communicate with each other even though that shouldn’t be possible, “(Though rumor has it we can sometimes hear each other.) (I can’t.)” (571). A  sort of preprogrammed superstition that doesn’t seem like it should exist because how can there be a rumor that involves only one entity? It seems to suggest a sort of culture that the Narcons live within (or perhaps only Narcon 9 does, since the other two Narcons lack the large narrative inclusion that Narcon 9 does). This leads me to believe they exist in a narrative of their own, just one that runs parallel to The Familiar. I’m not sure about this, however, so any additional thoughts on the matter of Narcons having their own myths and legends would be appreciated.

My last thought has something to do with Xanther’s kitten, and one of the first questions I wanted to ask is: is the cat a Narcon? In a very literal sense, it obviously is a narrative construction that Danielewski has come up with, so in that sense it absolutely is a Narcon. But I’m talking more about Narcons as Danielewski has defined them, as meta-like beings the reside over The Familiar. What leads me to believe that the kitten might be some sort of Narcon is that at some point in the novel TF-Narcon 9 mentions that,

“Narcons may even appear as animals. Say a killer whale, boar, hyena, even a markhor, or an owl. This is often the case when personality factors determined to be significant are compressed in order to preserve future rendering of character.” (576)

The cat also nearly sucks the life out of Xanther (though whether this can be taken literally is up for debate) and seems much more powerful in that sense than something that small has any right to be. Xanther is also the only character in the novel that both heard and responded to its call when it was so far away (not to mention a call that echoes through the entire story) and we already know that she is close to actually hearing the Narcons themselves, “Um, like there are these voices that know everything *so close* Like voices that don’t really live and can’t die and have been around forever…” (193). So my thinking is that the cat is definitely a Narcon, I’d like to hear the rest of your thoughts on the matter.

So those are my questions: Do the Narcons exist inside or outside of the material itself? What do we make of the Narcons having their own myth system? And is the cat possibly a Narcon? I apologize if this came out as a rambling mess, I’m still trying to gather my thoughts on the matter. It’s really interesting, though, and I’d like to see what you guys think.

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3 responses to “Thoughts on the Narcons”

  1. jcornejo33 says :

    I wondered too about the cat. Whether it’s Xanther’s own Narcon or just a Narcon that can be heard from or travel through different chapters since other characters can hear a meow or noise. I also wondered if maybe since other characters can hear it, if maybe the kitten was calling out to get (not sure how to phrase this) the “attention of their person?” Not really sure that made sense but I thought since Xanther is “special” and can hear “things” that maybe the kitten was meant to find her. I think the cat has a bigger role that may be expanded and explored through the next volumes; whether just for Xanther or other characters.

  2. scmatth says :

    These are all great thoughts! During our class discussion on Tuesday, we decided that the perspective in which who knows/controls what in the story might look similar to the rings on a tree-

    (Danielewski (VEM ( Narcons (Characters))))

    with characters having the least amount of knowledge in what is going on in their surroundings, Danielewski, being the creator of all of it, having the most, and us, the reader, possibly being on every level, and maybe even beyond it.

    So to answer your first question, I believe the narcons only know what exists outside of the material to a certain extent. As you’ve pointed out yourself, Narcon 9 has a lot of curiosity and questions about how some things occur outside of the text, like possible communication with old Narcons (maybe has to do with VEM?), yet understands how the “coding” for the specific characters work in order for them to act inside the book.

    I would also have to say that the evidence provided gives a strong argument that the cat could be a Narcon. With the tree ring diagram showing that Narcons control more than the characters do, it would explain how/why Tian Li’s cat disappears when Xanther finds hers. The Narcon was removed from being a part of Tian Li’s coding, and placed in Xanthers to compress her personality factor of epilepsy in order to preserve her future development of her full character.

    These were very thought-provoking questions, but ultimately we won’t really know the answers until the rest of the series is published and read.

  3. tcprince says :

    Here are my thoughts on your questions: Due to the beginning segment in the cave (35-43) I also came to the conclusion that the narcons must, to some extent, be separate from the narrative itself. The question of self-awareness and narcon culture is one that I find particularly fascinating. Within the narrative Anwar makes reference to true artificial intelligence being beyond technological possibility, but at the same time the narcons seem to disprove this (assuming they are not solely external to the narrative and can be considered “real” to the characters). At first glance, they seem to be very much artificial in that they are bound by these parameters, but looking more closely, it’s interesting to note that they seem to speculate about things outside of their own knowledge base (as with the rumors or mythology that you mentioned). This implies that they have some ability to form abstract thoughts, which is one of the things that we see as being an exclusively human trait. Something that I wondered about regarding their culture was if the TF-Narcon^9s (e.g. TF-Narcon^9 Istn, TF-Narcon^9 Oz, etc.) perceive themselves to be different beings or entities (like separate people, almost). Due to the language of (primary) TF-Narcon^9 referring to itself as “this TF-Narcon^9” (668) I speculate that they do, and therefore the rumors of Meta-Narcons (and other beings that the TF-Narcon^9s cannot interact with) are very much like mythology or theology to the TF-Narcon^9s, possibly operating in yet another sphere of existence (as we, externally, know that there are other narcons). I hope that we get more about the narcon-world in later volumes of the series, because I’m really interested to see the perspectives of the narcons. It never occurred to me that the kitten might be a narcon. I might have to reread some of the chapters again from another angle after reading this post!

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