The Novel as an Apparatus (By Danielle Levy)
Disclaimer: This is not my post. This post was created by Danielle Levy.
Hey guys! Thought id put this up..we are writing essays for class and i tried to map out the way in which the novel is constructed (how it remains convoluted yet maintains its organization..something along those lines 🙂 ) any comments would be great and criticisms about the writing or ideas! always trying to get better 🙂
Perhaps before we are able to realize it, the Astral Omega passage in the beginning of The Familiar summarizes the entire context of the novel. The passage seems to occur in the earliest period of time of the universe, the Planck Epoch, a time between 0 and 10^-43 seconds. While it appears that the narrator comes from this early time, he seems to come from the future, claiming that the past and the future have grown into one. He reveals that the ‘dissolution’ of the future is what has drawn the present into the future, a dissolution that has perhaps made it possible for him to futuristically report from the past. The narrator darkly mentions that despite prolonged ‘postponements,’ questions of war and death have turned out to be ‘broken promises.’ War and death are just as unanswered as they were in the past, and it seems that the ‘postponement’ of these problems did not lead to the solving of them. Danielewski, with this convergence in mind, thereby establishes the ‘familiar.’ The familiar is a marker of reoccurring significance that represents the convergence of the past and future as narrated in the novel. It appears throughout the novel as, literally, the highlighted word ‘familiar.’ Danielewski materializes the familiar, aside from just the word, in a more specific convergence between mysticism and the technological. The cat is predominantly the mystic familiar while the orb is the technological, and the owl is yet another convergence between the mystic and the technological that adopts characteristics of both worlds. These familiar’s have characters that operate them, and the characters through these mystic means come into contact with technological ends, or vice versa. The cat leads Xanther to the narcons through direct association, while the orb leads Cas and Bobby to the question of the mystic through its invention. The convoluted series of convergences between mystic and technological presuppose the ultimate convergence occurring between the past, present, and the future of everything in existence.
The transfer of the cat from Tian Li to Xanther through the rescue points towards Xanther’s ability to recognize the paranormal and operate in levels above that of her simple humanity. Through her ability, Danielewski converges the technological and the mystic by giving the mystic technological characteristics. The mystic is transformed into something technological when readers discover that the ultimate ‘higher beings’ seem to be narrative construct machines. In this way, God seems to be eliminated as the higher being and replaced by the ‘narcons’ that code the everyday lives of each character. Therefore, Xanther’s ability is indeed mystic, but is ultimately of a technological nature. Xanther’s epilepsy is also rendered simultaneously mystic and technological when it is both related to Tian li and attributed to overloads of information. In one sense, readers can tell that Xanther is some sort of paranormal, if not a witch, because Tian Li also has epileptic fits during spells. Yet, in the other sense, these fits are also said to be due to the aforementioned overloads of information. If one considers the definition of the familiar as a ‘spirit, often taking the form of an animal, which obeys and assists a witch or other person,’ its means is purely mystic. Yet, the ends of Xanther’s connection with the mystic cat lead her to the technological beings that are embodied within that cat. In the immediate sense, Xanther is a witch because she possesses paranormal capabilities of recognition. However, this recognition ultimately connects her to the world of the narcons, the technological beings that are the ends of her mystic abilities.
Cas and Bobby seem to represent the other side of the convergence in which the technological is rendered into the mystic. They have a seemingly governmental objective in which they may want to reveal very sensitive information that is shown on the orbs. These orbs capture ‘narcon’ narrations and show them, in various clips, to those watching. Readers could guess that because the narcons are omnipresent in nature, they show clips that reveal information that is too sensitive for the public, thus making the orbs objects of controversy. By starting with the technological, Cas and Bobby’s stories create different ends than that of Xanthers. The convergence in Xanther lies in the mystic means that lead to the technological ends. To put it simply, the mystic cat leads to the suspicion of the existence of the technological. Cas and Bobby’s orbs begin with technological means that capture mystic ends. The clips, which are the ends, are mystic because they rely on pure coincidence to show specific images or stories. Readers see an example of this reliance on coincidence when Bobby recalls that his friend, Sorcerer, saw Xanther in the orb, and knew her through Anwar. There is no mention of a pattern, nor of a deliberate search for Xanther, but instead a random clip that happened to connect Sorcerer with Xanther. Readers wonder where this coincidence came from, if it is coincidence, and if there is an even higher operational system above the narcons that is somehow controlling who sees what clip. The differentiation arises out of the ends that rely on coincidence, a mystic characterstic.
The owl is representative of yet another inter-convergence between the mystic and the technological that does not have a clear end or means. There are multiple examples of the owl as a predominantly mystic figure that thereby ends with the technological, while there are counter examples that end in the mystic. The Blade Runner allusion in the epigraph of ‘The Orb’ demonstrates the owl as a mechanical ‘replicant’ from the movie; replicants being engineered robots that are almost ‘more than human.’ One could say that the physically mechanical nature of the owl begs the question of its mystic properties, in which the boundaries of technology are challenged by a presence of artificial intelligence or emotion. In other examples, however, the owl is purely mystic when it inspires Tian Li’s epileptic fit from her experience in the owl room or when it appears as Pontianak. It becomes difficult to consider the owl either predominantly mechanical or mystic when it appears as ambiguously both. Furthermore, in the Familiar 2 passage on Oria, readers wonder if Oria is a part of Anwar’s game Paradise Open. If she is the enemy that was described as chasing the prey, she is mechanical in her physical sense, yet mystic in her potential self-awareness. This self-awareness can be seen when she decides to kill the baby jaguar. The lines are blurred, however, when it can be said that she exists in the same mode as every other character in the novel. Technically, every character is coded by a narcon, just as Oria is coded by Anwar. The owl is ambiguously difficult to pinpoint, and marks a perfect example of the convergence between technology and mysticism that does not begin with a specific means.
The convergences between mysticism and technology ultimately presuppose the convergence of the past, present, and the future. The opposite ways in which the mystic or the technological approach the other creates a sense of convolutedness that simultaneously has order. The use of the owl, cat, and orb as objects of interest could appear random superficially, but the way in which they are developed as objects of interest make them significantly more coherent. I specifically focused on the means in which these convergences are carried out, and in a sense tried to determine the means in which these convoluted convergences are formed. The construct that starts with the mystical and ends with the technological can be justified by searching for a technological representation of the cat. There doesn’t seem to be any instance in which the cat presents itself from a predominantly technological existence, and it instead remains in the mainly mystical. On the other hand, the orb better embodies the technological due to its physical existence as a machine. Therefore, its unexplained reliance on random, if not coincidental clips points towards a mystic ends that is not yet attributed to any one character. The owl, as the in between of the schema, is representative of the ever-converging nature of the convergences themselves. It is the explicit way in which these cacophonies and convergences form that creates the extremely convoluted yet meaningful feel in the novel, something that constantly renders us in search yet perpetually premature of the answer.