“Polygon Creature Z hunts Polygon Creature S” (722). There’s a pursuit hanging out at the edges of what we know so far that might be linking many or all of the narratives. The hunter/prey aspect has been brought up and discussed in another post , but these letters in particular might mean something. At the end of Anwar’s description of the program, “S reaches Y. But where is Z?” (726-728). I think it will be important to decide precisely who S and Z are, and whether the pursuit is a unifying conspiracy-type narrative or rather a repeating motif across the stories.
The brutal, perhaps-message of Re(a)lic’s death (chopped into pieces in a supposed wreck) has been mentioned in Xanther’s and Ozgur’s story and is one of the casualties from the Orb team. Realic’s middle initial happens to be S., but that might be a coincidence. But either way, “Recluse” seems to be the hunter Z (or one of them), who knows everything S will do. Anwar’s description occurs with the homecoming of the kitten, as it’s gone missing, so it might be that Xanther’s another S and the kitten’s some kind of danger to her. OR, the kitten might be the S that has reached “Y,” and we don’t know what’s coming for it yet. Impossible to know as of yet. But one last point in this letter pair comes from Isandorno, who is afraid of the mysterious fourth crate. He identifies the first three as W, X, and Y, but is afraid to approach, touch, or listen to the fourth one, so we have one more dangerous Z there. Not sure yet what it’s hunting, but this may be the start of a link to Xanther, if this Z is something nefarious hunting down the benevolent kitten.
Last, identifying them as S and Z in a text that seems intent on exploding/exceeding systems and structures can’t be a coincidence, right? (Roland Barthes?) If so, I imagine the crate won’t be a very effective containment for the dangerous Z.
It seems like almost any world-building narrative has a sequence of setting up the rules, followed by the breaking of the rules. The Matrix–a perfect system, except for The One who will break the system. Inception–inception is impossible, so let’s go do it. Harry Potter–there’s a spell that kills you, except this one kid who survived it. Here’s the system; here’s the flaw in the system. This is arguably necessary to the genre, so that we have…you know…a story. This might be why spec fiction and meta/experimental fiction seem to go hand in hand, at least in terms of their rise in popularity. Metafiction does the same thing, but to the entire medium of fiction. Here are the rules we created over time, and here’s how I’m going to break them.
The intrusion of a supposedly extradiegetic narrative presence into the story is a pretty frequent metafictional device, (for ex. Alasdair Gray’s Lanark). It could often be criticized as a gimmick, but I think good authors work this from a “gimmick” to a valuable element of the story/theme, taking it beyond, “Hello, I’m the author, nice to meet ya” to something that challenges our ideas of storytelling or knowledge. Mainly, I think this complication is accomplished by a process parallel to the one I describe in the first paragraph. It’s not just that the narrator enters to give some deep answer to the text; rather, the narrator gives supposed answers that are then immediately troubled in their own way. When Narcon9 enters the story, we get a clear set of rigid parameters about Narcon behavior, which are unsettled a page later when we observe that 9 might be hearing 3 and 27, and that Xanther might see Narcons. This narrative intrusion, then, isn’t for its own sake, but rather parallels the question of knowing a creation. Can a Narcon “know” the personalities it portrays? Can it really be following a set of rules/parameters if the combinations it creates are infinite? Can we “program” an AI if true AI is that which makes its own choices? Can an author know his/her characters? On a human (and perhaps tritely expressed here) level, can we know ourselves, or do we all have an animalistic “familiar,” something part of us but ultimately unknowable?
Just like the Question Song, this moment that acts as if it gives us answers is more important for the new questions it creates.
While the relationship between the narrative arcs remains uncertain to this point (395) of the novel, a tension between containment and excess ties many (or all) of them together thematically already; perhaps more significantly, it offers as one primary link between the content level and the experimental design. Because this is occurring on multiple levels in big and small ways, I’m going to break it into a few different (arbitrary and permeable) sections for now.
On the content level, Xanther of course evokes this explicitly, from the start. Her concern with counting the raindrops isn’t just the difficulty of finding a way to track them all; rather it’s a concern for the impossibility, the ways that the number would exceed our sense of measurement. She wonders, “What kind of counting equals this sort of overwhelmingness? . . . It has to exist, but if no one will ever name it, is it ever real?” (61). This concern persists so that she later asks Talbot and team if it would be possible with their program (348). The question resonates with her seizures, as she notes that “sometimes people describe seizures as an overwhelming amount of information in the brain,” fearing that makes her an “A-hole” (350). Furthermore, she relates it to her parents and the deluge of calls and emails, which starts to open up the fact that even though Glasgow dismisses her rain question, the other characters often share the concern. The idea of programming an AI evokes this, as it’s an attempt to create “rules,” a form of containment, for something that will exceed those rules and be able to make its own decisions. Bobby describes how “the distribution went everywhere. Self-replicating” (144). The human/animal relationship similarly evokes this; Astair thinks of the seizures as a “wild beast,” “shapeless except for claws and teeth” (254), and Luther’s crew tries to control the dogs for pit-fighting. The animal is suggested as specifically at odds with containment, by Astair who questions, “Was repression at work in Xanther? or had the vital threat of such events drawn forth animal reactions” and by Isandorno, who calls the human chest a “fragile cage” and sees in the totems “everything he cannot tame” (319, 323).
The other two levels of this discussion are a little more general. The attempt and inability to contain is apparent on the level of language as well. Anwar’s and Astair’s narratives are notably filled with brackets that try to hold together their thoughts, which nevertheless scatter beyond control. We think of something like brackets as an aid in clarity, and the nesting should theoretically help that, making each part belong to a larger group; instead, the nesting shows more how their thoughts come to mirror Xanther’s Question Song, with digressions leading to further digressions. Exponentiation echoes this, with the repetition of 3/9/27. And the wordplay does so as well, as a resistance to language’s goal of precision and clarity. Lastly, the design aspects show the resistance of thought to the supposed containment of an artistic work. Books especially create a sense of containment in the bound pages and covers, but of course, historically that’s never been an effective constraint on where the audience’s imagination expands the pages. However, Danielewski has made exceeding the boundaries of the book a practice in the past, and immediately does so here. One of the first prefatory pages shows some of the acclaim stretching beyond the page limits, the “previews” allow content to exceed the title page, and the standard Danielewski-ism of experimental formatting breaks the conventional constraints of the page.
This post is getting rather long, but I think what this suggests, and what I imagine we’ll see developing more, is a thematic consistency centering on the idea that the “pre”-human animal and the post-human programming/AI are linked in their resistance to the human drive toward control (a drive suggested even in my making the animal “pre-human” just now), but also that human creations themselves (art, language) break free of their supposed boundaries.