Western Thoughts in Through the Arc of the Rainforest and The Familiar

In comparison with Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, by Karen Tei Yamashita, both The Familiar and Through the Arc pose challenges to common place, Western thoughts. Xanther suffers from epilepsy, a debillitating condition that has nearly killed her on one occassion. However, as we see with Tian Li who seemingly also suffers from epilepsy, there is a sort of power that comes with this ailment.

When Xanther has an episode in the car with Anwar, she hears something calling out amidst a booming storm. Out of nowhere she is able to hear a kitten drowning in a storm grate. I think it is key to note that the kitten Xanther saves is white, just like the one that Tian Li always has around her. This brings up the theme of familiars, an animal counterpart that a gifted individual can connect with psychically. Since we are only given two examples of individuals with familiars in this text, and both these characters seem to suffer from epilepsy, it can be inferred that there is a certain amount of magical ability that is being endowed on these characters as a product of their ailment. Thematically, the realtionship between epilepsy and extrasensory ability challenges western notions of mental disabilities and illness. Abnormalities are generally viewed as being negative, not granting any gifts, but this thought seems to be directly opposed in the text.

Similar in critical nature, Through the Arc critiques western ideology’s undervaluing of mysticism. The most salient example of this is Tweep’s manipulation of Mane Pena and Kazumasa. Both of these individuals represent an other-ness to western thought. Pena plays a holistic medicine guru and Kazumasa stands in as mystic gifted with extrasensory capabilities. Unlike The Familiar where Xanther uses her gift for good, Kazumasa is manipulated for economic gain by Tweed while Pena loses everything that he loves in quest of empire. The primacy given to economic prowess at all cost is starkly constrasted with the mysticism embodied by Kazumasa and Pena.In such a way, both these novels challenge Western Notions of extrasensory abilities and the values that are endowed upon them.


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