Familiar Language

Language seems to be a key theme in The Familiar. The characters come from vastly different cultures and backgrounds, and Danielewski forces readers to consider their differences by presenting their narratives through a number of visual and linguistic cues. Jingjing, for example, is narrated through a bizzare mixture of chinese characters and a frequently indecipherable singapore-english dialect. Similarly, Luther’s narrative weaves through Spanish and English phrases while Anwar’s drifts in an out of mental computer coding. Keeping with a common theme in the novel, language is the device which connects us all, but it also is the source of conflict and miscommunication. Danielewski seems to be attempting to join these disparate cultures and characters into a single unifying purpose. That purpose is as of yet unclear, but it seems to center somewhat around how the world communicates with each other in an age of endless, instant connection and access to information.

We see hints of this happening throughout the novel, such as when Hopi shows up on Xanther’s social media. Xanther’s social life is ruled by her connection to different “spheres” of social media, symbolizing the migration of language to a digital medium. The Orb also serves a perplexing purpose, because it allows the viewer to see the past, present, and future, its technology seems to counteract the basic function of language. Because all events that ever have or will occur can be displayed visually, events no longer need to be referred to and described with words. If language is dependent on time for context, then technology that defies the rules of time and space could have a drastic effect on communication with others.

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