Archive by Author | rraley

The key to all mythologies; or, a look at two epigraphs

Building on the latest post about Jakob von Uexküll, I wonder if anyone wants to venture a reading of the epigraphs on page 374 and page 518. Someone has already posted the (as yet unanswered) question about the Deadmau5 quote, and I’d like to situate it alongside the xkcd comic and invite discussion of the two as possible framing statements for The Familiar. The full xkcd comic is here. What conceptual work are the two epigraphs doing? In what sense do they offer a lens through which to re-consider the issue of the Narcons and the programming of Paradise Open?


How to read this book (re-posting)

Update: since the last three comments have expressed frustration, I thought I would re-post this brief guide to reading. The novel is certainly not on the path of lyrical realism but it is by no means without any qualities of social realism (see, e.g., Luther’s narrative), so there is much that should be, well, familiar. But one question one might ask: is the frustration as it is described here materially different from that experienced when encountering any “difficult” text? If so, how? And, better, what reading strategies might we adopt to make the navigation of the text more pleasurable?

// If the source of frustration is the polyphonic, multilingual aspects of the novel, then the primary strategy should be dictionary work, as one has to do with jingjing’s sections.
// If the front matter presents an insurmountable barrier, gloss over it and return once you make it through the preview for the second volume.
// If you find yourself caught up in the look of the book, so to speak, such that the words seem only to be objects, without semantic meaning, try to the extent possible to regard the writing on the page as a transparent window onto the narrative. This, by the way, would be to utterly violate the terms of the novel, but if you can’t see for seeing, you might want to try this exercise of (temporarily) turning a blind eye to fonts and page layouts.
// etc.

For what it’s worth, our class at UC Santa Barbara today collectively decided that the pieces all fall into place in the Narcon section. But it’s satisfying in part because of where it is placed and the labor that one has done to get there.

So far we have all been reading systematically and using page numbers to organize our discussions. As many of you have seen, however, it takes some time to get one’s bearings, especially since readerly expectations are immediately confounded by the front matter and visual design of the opening Xanther chapter. Everyone should of course heed the instructions given for your respective courses, but I want to suggest an alternate way of reading, a parallax view, for those who are approaching the halfway point and still feeling a bit lost. This extra-curricular exercise might help with orientation and put you on firm footing as you approach the Narcons chapter.

// Using the font list at the back of the book, identify the sections for these characters: jingjing, The Wizard, Özgür, Shnorhk, and Isandòrno. jingjing has four chapters; the others have two each.

// Read and think about each of these character’s narratives apart from the rest. Notice the epigraphs and the page layout for each character. What do you notice about the voice and style of each?

// There is no way around it: for jingjing’s chapters, most readers will have to sit with a dictionary (or two) of Singlish. The “Coxford Singlish Dictionary” has most of the vernacular expressions; another great resource is A Dictionary of Singlish, which contains usage history. For place names you’ll have to rely on basic search. It would be useful if we could compile a guide for future readers here, but it is both more fun and instructive to do this work on your own. You’ll start to see the many puns and pick up on the linguistic rhythms.

// Nothing will be lost or prematurely revealed if you read in this manner. Once you’re done you can return to the point at which you interrupted your linear reading and carry through to the end of the novel. I wouldn’t advise isolating the Luther, Anwar, Astair, and Xanther sections, however, because they work particularly well as a series of interlocking chapters. They all do of course but again, just to get your bearings as part of an initial pass through the novel, it wouldn’t hurt to read jingjing’s and some of the other character’s stories as self-contained units. Then you can start thinking about how all the parts fit together, how the end of jingjing’s story connects to Xanther, how the end of the Wizard’s (Cas) story connects to Xanther, etc.


Someone mentioned an existing post or thread on the font choices, but I haven’t been able to track it down. In the interim, I’ll sketch out some preliminary notes to start and we can build together as the reading progresses.

(This would be more fun with CSS. We’re unfortunately stuck with the template style sheet though.)

Luther: Imperial BT
– “cower power”

Anwar: Adobe Garamond
– old-style serif dating to 15C, i.e. beginnings of print
– see: character biography, Egypt as origin of writing

jingjing: rotis semi sans
– font used for highway and street signs in Singapore

Özgür: Baskerville
– Hounds thereof
– A transitional font between modern and old style; printing history of John Baskerville may pertain

Shnorkh: Promemoria
– Armenian genocide, traumatic memory and memorialization

Xanther: Minion
– OED: “A person who is specially favoured or loved; a popular hero, a favourite of the public”; “The supposed companion or favourite of something personified”; “Originally: a (usually male) favourite of a sovereign, prince, or other powerful person; a person who is dependent on a patron’s favour”

I’ll leave it to commenters to work on the rest…


Welcome to the discussion board for the cross-institutional reading of the first volume of Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel, The Familiar. The novel is slated for publication in May 2015; those posting here are reading the novel in galley (black & white) format. The discussion will start the week of January 5 and pick up the week of January 12 when all of the participating courses are in session.