Perhaps the most troublesome element of The Familiar is the presence of the Narcons. On one hand, we get a first person description of one of them, but while it describes itself, the other Narcons chime in as if they are commenting on what this particular one is saying, but the one that has a section devoted to it doesn’t seem to have any awareness of the other ones.
What does this mean? Why are there different Narcons? A few of us have suggested that they represent different elements of storytelling, one of the narcon states facts while another mentions more artistic things. So, if we’re meant to understand these as narrative construct, whose story are we actually reading?
The last question is most puzzling to me. We have different stories that distinctly echo different character’s voices. We had discussed in class that even details of font type and size correlate with how we construct these characters. (Luther for example is a large, imposing person whose chapters are filled thematically with power. As a result, his text is the most bold and the largest per character. In such a way, it mirrors how we characterize him.) Why is font necessary though? Why is how the character interacts with others a defining characteristic? Well, I would posit the potential that though these stories are being told in the first person, we might actually be viewing them from the perspectives of the Narcons.
Let me present why I might think this. When Xanther mispronounces a word, Narcons, in the absence of Anwar, chime in to correct her. If we conceive the Narcons as narrative constructs, ie. a piece of technology or a program, then it might seem that they trying to codify the information they are gathering by viewing these characters.
Reconsider how the text and font changes with each character. Now this is just a shot in the dark, but perhaps this Narcons make sense of characters through codifying them–assigning them a set font style so that they can differentiate the information. TF-Narcon 9 says that it knows a great deal about Xanther. How does it know these things about Xanther? I believe that there might be two possible answers.
For the first, it might be that the Narcons are programmed in such a way that they can offer an immensely detailed account of characters. Their depth of character knowledge is so deep that they assume what they can do in any given situation. As a result, they put together stories for these individuals. This would result in the Narcons actually telling us a story and the characters being figments of a machine’s imagination. I don’t believe this answer to be satisfying and it also problematic because of jing-jing’s chapters.
jing-jing’s chapters have several languages in them that make it difficult for the reader to follow. However, jing jing later starts speaking in languages that the other characters in his chapter didn’t realize he could. Once this shift in the narrative happens, we see a greater amount of commentary from the Narcons. They chime in and translate more and more for us. From this anecdote I will posit what I believe to be the true nature of Narcons, sentient and constantly compounding, non-halting computational devices.
Disclaimer, I am no expert in coding and only have very limited knowledge of this topic from studying formal logic. With that being said, codes function in algorithms that have a finite number of steps that produce a given answer. Once an answer is satisfied, the code halts, that is to say it reaches a logical conclusion. For this limitation, computers do not have the capacity to learn. All their pathways must be pre-ordained and written in the way of codes.
Now let’s consider these Narcons that have the ability to amass great amounts of knowledge. How did they learn these things? With the concept of a compounding computer in mind, perhaps, just maybe, these Narcons are computer entities that have somehow solved the halting problem. If this is the case, they would be able to codify information that would be otherwise unintelligible to them–in other words they could catalog and learn from information that they have not had previous exposure to. Maybe these Narcons are, in fact, thinking machines.
We discussed the idea anthrozoogenesis in relation to J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and I couldn’t help but think off how the dogs seemed to change Lurie in this text. After obsessing greatly over this motif, I believe I understand why, it wasn’t the first time I saw it this semester. Astair and Anwar are trying to purchase a seizure dog for Xanther (which of course fails), but I’m less interested in the goal of attaining the dog. Instead, What fascinates me is the behavior of Astair that is changed even when the dog is not in direct presence of their lives. We see Astair purchasing dog toys, an absurd sheepskin bed, and various other accouterments, and the question to deserves to be asked, what is the goal? For Astair, the dog represents a cure of Xanther’s ailiing and locus of nurturing energy that she cannot provide to her child. This isn’t to say that Astair is a bad mother by any stretch, but it would seem that there is a type of human-animal relationship that she is betting on to heal her daughter.
In Disgrace, miserable, ex-prof David Lurie loses everything and ends up working in a euthanasia clinic after he has lost his job, is set on fire, and his daughter is raped (spoiler!). How on earth does this compare to The Familiar? Well, I’m glad you asked. About the only redeeming character trait for David is that he becomes empathetic of animals. His first encounters with the are the goat with the infested nether regions and the sheep bought for slaughter. In these first cases, though, Lurie is not changing his nature, per-say. Instead, these animals are acting as lenses through which to view his complete disgrace, a form of anthropomorphising the animals. When David encounters the euthanasia clinic and has to take the dogs to the incinerator, we see a change in David brought from the agencies of the dogs, completely separate of his own volition. It could be argued that David, a man who usurps whatever he likes, learns what love is from his interaction with these injured and an unwanted dogs, a fascinating insight in how animals can alter a human life.
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.
One of the first things I noticed when I started reading The Familiar was the unique pattern that seem to persist in the crease of the book’s binding. As I read on, I believe it was about 200 pages in, I began to notice that not only had this (what I had assumed was merely cosmetic) design persisted but it changed through the text. So, what’s the significance of this seemingly random pattern that shifts, grows, and moves throughout the text? I literally woke up a few times thinking about this question. After 800 or so pages, and hours of theorizing the importance of seemingly miniscule detail, I believe that this design is one instance of the the motif of fractal imagery.
I would like to place a disclaimer that the computer sciences are far from my area of expertise, but I do have basic knowledge of how fractals function. In nature, fractals can be observed in crystals, in the repetition of the crystalline structure that creates the sharp edges and smooth planes of the minerals. In regard to coding, which I believe everyone would agree is a common theme with characters such as Anwar, fractal coding is utilized to render images. The process through which images are created (if my limited understanding is correct) is tangentially similar to how crystals are formed. Given an algorithm, a set of rules that are finitely specifiable and operable, a computer can repeatedly perform a given piece of code to render an image made of hundreds-of-thousands if not millions of digital polygons on a computer screen. To my understanding, this is how fractal coding functions—by aiding in the production of images.
The motif of fractals first became a topic of interest through the design in the middle of the book that looks like a crystalline structure being formed. However, on page 327, Xanther begins to recount the sensation that goes through her miraculous mind, a process which draws many parallels to fractals and crystalline structures:
“[B]ehind her eyes like this gray ice, only sprouting all these crystal formations….the spiky icy stuff…this prickly stuff everywhere, freezing up into her, like that flaky ice that forms on meat after it’s been in the freezer for a long time, dead meat, right?…Anywho, that’s how Xanther’s head feels most of the time, like frost on dead muscle after it’s been left in the freezer too long.”
Drawing a similarity to Xanther, TF Narcon^9 characterizes itself as being “fractally locatable” a code in which “there is no last integer” (565). Though I’m not entirely certain how these characterizations relate to the characters themselves, this understanding of fractal coding and fractal imagery as a motif definitely seems to suggest some importance, and though I am unaware of how these motifs affect character relations, it could provide insight into some common occurrences in the text, namely the repetition of other images.
As I discussed earlier, fractal coding and naturally-occurring crystalline fractals function through repetition. Throughout the novel there is a repetition of the color pink in seemingly all storylines, animal imagery is related strongly with Luther, as well as animals playing a key role in the jingjing and Xanther storylines, but there are also even more peculiar similarities that seem to occur simultaneously to characters regardless of their spatial setting. The phenomenons which I’m speaking of are the strange sound that Xanther, Astair, Anwar, and Ozgur all seem to hear. Luther also seems to hear some sound when they go to visit his dogs the first time, but the mysterious source of this sound is never discovered. Though these characters are separated by space, they all experience the same auditory phenomenon. Combined with the continued motif of the color pink and animals, it would seem that this repetition is not something to be overlooked. The repetition of these “auditory images,” as well as the color pink and animals, might be a revealing similarity to the repetition that is present in fractal coding.