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Publication and Sequel

Now that we are several months out from when we first read The Familiar, more information is available about its sequel and the final design of the book. We spent a lot of time interpreting the black and white design elements of the pre-release copy, and it will soon be available in full color with even more interpretations. To the left is the book’s cover, and I think it does a fantastic job of introducing the reader to what they will experience while reading it. Not only does it include a pattern of the margin symbols (which, I believe, we now know are some sort of timeline), but the images within the 1 become less clear the more you look at them. I see what appears to be a dinner plate and centerpiece overlaid by two different kinds of orbs. The one on the left looks especially sic-fi, while the one on the bottom seems to show the functions of the Orb with its warped presentation of human silhouettes in front of the sun or some other source of light.

The Amazon page also provides more information about Volume IIInto the Forest, which is set for release on October 27, 2015.

The Familiar, Volume 1  Wherein the cat is found . . .
The Familiar, Volume 2  Wherein the cat is hungry . . .

From the universally acclaimed, genre-busting author of House of Leaves comes the second volume of The Familiar, a “novel [which] goes beyond the experimental into the visionary, creating a language and style that expands the horizon of meaning . . . hint[ing] at an evolved form of literature.”*

This seems like good news for cat lovers, as the cat is presented as the main focus of the series. It is also ominous about what it means that the cat is hungry. The way Xanther found the cat was odd enough, and now I am really curious about what exactly it is hungry for—perhaps the birds we saw in the preview for this book?

I’ll be preordering the sequel, and I think the pace at which the books are being released bodes well for those of us who don’t want to be in our 40s (or older) when the final volume is released.

Thoughts on the cover design and the hints about Volume Ii?


The Emotional Visuality of The Familiar and Maus

Both Spiegelman’s Maus and Danielewski’s The Familiar incorporate many more visual elements into the storytelling process than do most novels. Maus, as a graphic novel, naturally relies more on the image as a plot device, yet both novels make use of their visual aspects as a more visceral and ineluctable means of portraying the emotions and thought processes of central characters. In Maus, for instance, the manner in which dialogue is delivered is often revealed through the construction of the speech bubble; Spiegelman typically shows distress or fear through more jagged bubbles and enlarged or bold text, while narration from Vladek is printed outside of the frames to contextualize it for the reader. We also see Vladek’s body separated into several different panels in another scene in which he explains that almost his entire family was killed during the war, showing the physical embodiment of his shattered mental state (276). The most inflated examples of this sort of emotional expression through the image can be found in the “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” section, which takes on an almost surrealistic form; Spiegelman here embodies the turmoil and guilt he felt after his mother’s suicide in monstrous depictions of his father and his mother’s doctor (102-5). Moreover, his depression seems to affect even his more mundane perceptions as streets and figures are transformed into harsh and deformed geometrical contours, defamiliarizing them to make the world appear strange and frightening.

The functions of the visual aspects in The Familiar often work similarly in giving insights into characters’ psyches, yet on a more structural level. One of the most common examples in the novel is the abundant use of negative (white) space on the page to give a sense of the character’s excitement or fear; we see this, for example, when Anwar and Xanther return home with the cat (657). Not only does this technique mirror the rushed or confused thoughts of the character, but it also forces the reader to flip through the pages faster and faster, creating a real physical embodiment of the narratives racing speed. In the chapter’s following Cas and Bobby, the form of the orb dominates the page in much the way it dominates these characters’ thoughts, and as the reader learns more about the orb it shifts from a hollow outline to actually containing text itself, becoming more of an integrated part of the text than an obstruction. Even the fonts and syntax used in The Familiar seem to embody the personalities of the characters that they are associated with in many ways, like Özgur’s stocky bold or Astair’s heavy use of bracketing and parentheses.

Maus and The Familiar

I think that Maus and The Familiar impact their readers for similar reasons. They each have a very distinct and unique way of delivering their messages to their reader though their creative design. For Maus, we have a graphic novel that delivers horrific stories of life in a concentration camp, but does so in a softened way because of its mice graphics. This allows the reader to also examine the graphics without the text and think deeper about what the work is really saying.

The Familiar does the same for its reader in that it offers random (or not so random) images and intricate designs throughout the novel. Although I am not sure it delivers its message CLEARLY- it does make an impact on its readers. It caused me to delve deeper into the meanings behind the symbols and designs and it raised a lot of questions. What I think it accomplished was pulling the reader past just the surface of its pages and caused us to really think and examine what was going on.

Both novels succeed in being thought provoking and artistic in a way that makes readers feel like they are gathering so much more from their reading than they would reading a typical novel.

The Subversion of the Human-Animal Hierarchy in The Familiar and Disgrace

In Danielewski’s The Familiar and Coetze’s Disgrace, we see the subversion of the animal-human relationship play out through the experiences of central characters. Both David Lurie and Astair, whether they openly admit it or not, can be seen as perpetuating this sort of rigid order through their assumptions of what an animal is and is not. Lurie, soon after he arrives at Lucy’s farm, tells his daughter that “as for animals, by all means let us be kind to them. But let us not lose perspective. We are of a different order of creation from the animals” (74). While he claims that this order of humans is not necessarily higher, “just different,” it feels rather clear from the pandering condescension of his tone in this passage that he truly feels otherwise. He continues, saying that “if we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we feel guilty or fear retribution,” more or less refuting his own statement on the relative equality of the two orders; would we not feel guilty for rearing humans in the deplorable conditions of modern corporate farms? By rejecting the notion of human guilt in regards to the way we treat animals, he is either taking an extremely callous position towards suffering or acknowledging that animals are not, in fact, on the same level as humans in his eyes. Yet, his position seems to change as the novel continues, perhaps first evidenced in the scene in which Lurie moves the goats waiting to be slaughtered to a grassier patch of land so that they can eat, and again later when he builds a relationship with the injured dog at the animal clinic. While the extent of his transformation is somewhat ambiguous by the novel’s conclusion, the fact that “he no longer has difficulty in calling [what he gives the dogs] by its proper name: love,” suggests a new sympathy for animals in Lurie and an acknowledgement of their ability to experience complex ‘human’ emotions (219).

While Astair’s transformation may be less apparent, her views towards animals are illuminated by her desire for a dog and the juxtaposition of this desire with Xanther’s pure love for the kitten. Astair “just envied (envies?) how easy dogs made saying hello to a stranger (seem(!)). A dog would get her out of the house… [and] out of her head” (442). Here we see that Astair’s desire for a dog is not motivated by altruism or a legitimate want of companionship. Rather, she seems to view the dog simply as another accessory with which she could make her own life easier, seeing the animal as a being itself only to the extent to which it could improve her own life with no regard for how she could improve its life. Interestingly, both Astair and Lurie are academics and seem to view animals only in terms of abstractions rather than as real creatures; for both of them, any given animal seems to function more as an archetype of its species than an individual, perhaps reflecting the rather humanistic persuasion of academia which values intelligence most of all and thus relegates creatures seen as unintelligent to the sidelines of society. At first, Lurie even distances himself from the bleakness of his euthanasia work at the clinic through the German abstraction of “Lösung,” allowing him to shield himself from the reality of the situation to some extent behind a cold and emotionless concept (142). Only through hands-on experiences with the animals is he able to overcome the distance engendered by his abstractions as he learns that animals are not representative of the entirety of their species, but rather are individuals themselves in many ways. To some extent, then, both authors seem to be commenting on how abstractions can function as a sort of self-deception or cognitive dissonance which allows for the perpetuation of cruel practices towards animals; when animals are conceptualized as non-individualistic and unemotional, it is much easier to justify their suffering than if we legitimately choose to view them as distinct individuals with desires and even with the ability to love.

Does Danielewski draw, write, or both at the same time to bend our minds?

“Signiconic = sign + icon. Rather than engage those textual faculties of the mind remediating the pictorial or those visual faculties remediating language, the signiconic simultaneously engages both in order to lessen the significance of both, and therefore achieve a third perception no longer dependent on sign and image for remediating a world in which the mind plays no part.”

In my reading of this definition, the instance in which “rain” is spattered five thousand times across the page, is Mark Z. Danielewski inserting the Sigiconic into his narrative style.

Both language and image are being sublimated—an aesthetic effect is achieved by giving prominence to neither word nor picture, but equal disregard to both. The result is a zen-like suspension between grasping and grasping at straws.

As a comic book reader, this technique does not seem new, and it makes me wonder how far ergodic technique can go before its treading graphic novel waters.

The Familiar and Maus

Though The Familiar is not considered a graphic novel, like Maus, it contains many graphic features that make it the book that it is. Maus is written and illustrated throughout in a pretty consistently straight and aligned way; rows and panels tell the story in a left to right fashion. In comparison, The Familiar utilizes many different graphic elements, some of which are read from left to right, and some that are read in the form of raindrops or spirals.

Both novels are uniquely their own, but they have some similarities as well. For example, both The Familiar and Maus would not elicit the same reactions from readers if it weren’t for the graphical elements. Danielewski illustrates his text in a swift rainy fashion while Xanther runs through the rain in a panic, causing the reader to feel some panic as well. In addition, Spiegelman’s story would not have gotten the same point across to readers had it not been for his graphically illustrated scenes of aspects of the Holocaust such as the gas chambers, hiding places, and inhumane treatment of the Jews.


As I read this book, I am noticing the time stamps on some of the pages. They are not in sequential order, nor are the dates the same. The time stamp shows military time, date, and the location (5/10/14 and 5/11/14). Seems that the location does coincide with the location of that particular story, rather, at this time, it is hard to tell what exactly it means. We can assume that the author is trying to tell us the location immediately but I feel we are to view each story and blend them together with time and space.

Has anyone any ideas to this assumption?

Purpose – Part Two

In my first post I discussed the how purpose plays various roles within the book/story of The Familiar, especially in regard to the Narcons and the world they have created. Now I want to focus on purpose from outside the book, and to do that I have taken a giant step back from it.

So, my question is: what is the purpose of this piece of work? The most immediate and obvious answer is that it remediates television the same way House of Leaves remediated film. However, I am still unsatisfied with that answer. To get a better answer, I feel I must ask another question: what is the purpose of this remediation?

I recently ran across a quote by Audre Lorde. She said, “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” The Familiar definitely does present the story (and itself) in a new way to most readers. However, there is nothing “new” about the story itself. I am not going to take the time to indentify all the mythemes in the book or compare the narratives to other works, but I do want to discuss how MZD made his story feel and the purpose behind his choices (I am also not going to rehash all the clever ways this book does make us feel or see things differently).

So, is the purpose of this work to make us see and feel the novel in a different light? If so, it seems to me that the newness, cleverness, and oddity of The Familiar will lose its charm well before the twenty-some-odd volumes are finished. Or, is the purpose of this work to add feeling to the narratives within the story? Very early in the story, I was drawn in by the visual aspect of the scene in which Xanther stresses about the idea of counting all the raindrops in the storm. However, more often I was taken OUT of the story when trying to make connections, interpret the visual aspects of the text, or having to look up things to make the text “make sense.” If the purpose is to add something to the story, I think MZD took everything a bit too far. I enjoy losing myself in a well written story, but in The Familiar I was often just plain lost, sidetracked, or frustrated. Perhaps I am just too lazy to fully enjoy ergodic literature.

(Shawn Atkinson)

700701 magic tricks; where’s your cat?

Les Chats

Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.

Amis de la science et de la volupté
Ils cherchent le silence et l’horreur des ténèbres;
L’Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S’ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s’endormir dans un rêve sans fin;

Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d’étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d’or, ainsi qu’un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.

— Charles Baudelaire

The Familiar “kindle edition”?

When I was looking online to see the cover image that is being advertised with the book now, I discovered that the book is going to be available for purchase in Kindle edition here:

This naturally had me wondering what effect the digitalization of the book will have. I think that having the book be an ebook would beparticularly interesting with respect to the narcons since they (like e-readers) are a fusion of technology and storytelling. I wonder, though, if the unique visual aspects of the book (like the symbols in the spine of the book or the dog eared pages) will be lost in a kindle version of the book…