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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


Regarding the official cover art

I’m curious to know what people make of the relevance that pink has to THE FAMILIAR? Our copies are pink, which is apparently intentional because if you look up the official cover online you will notice that the title is the same shade of pink there as well. In HOUSE OF LEAVES the word House was always blue on account of the backdrop-like canvas it represented (a blue screen of sorts) so I’m figuring that there must be a deeper meaning behind the color pink as it is used here. Anyone care to hypothesize?

All the Colors

I first started paying attention to Danielewski’s descriptions of color in the first preview with Girl and Boy. In the scene, the Boy paints the Girls face. The colors are listed individually at first: “ochres…pink, black, and brown” (38) and the word color is used repeatedly. Then the Boy uses “All colors” (39). For a book obsessed with the world of images, Danielewski actually uses limited color descriptions. Pink is mentioned (and may be more prominent in the published version) and a whole section takes its name from “just one blue pencil” (222). These colors pop out (as I imagine the word ‘familiar’ will when printed in final, color version). I am therefore very interested in these moments of hyper-saturation. It happens again while Lupita is preparing jicama and considering her nails. The description of her movements are vivid and close—she uses “big dashes of chili pepper” and “wipes her hands on her shirt” (78). It continues, Lupita “likes all kinds of color. And she likes her nails long” (78).

I have two thoughts on “all colors” and saturation. The first is that it relates to book’s conflicted relationship with the black on white of the tradition book. On the one hand, Danielewski’s experimentation with design and images shows the infinite possibility of the book. But on the other, it continuously acknowledges the form’s limitations (just black and white is not enough). But what does this bloom of color do? I think it has something to do with the way the rainbow functions in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Fish.” The poem concludes with the magical line “until everything/ was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” It is an ecstatic moment in which the neat, precise poem bursts open and expresses a joy and fear and knowledge that is beyond description. In the Familiar, I see all color as ecstatic—if not triumphant or conclusive. We are, after all, living in a hyper-colored world of neon and screens. Which makes me wonder if the “horrific real” (to reference Lacan) of the white page is in fact of more interest…

The Word “Familiar” Doesn’t Act Quite So

Sometimes a title can simply serve as a heading for a novel. Other times it serves as some sort of foreshadowing, or a revelation that can only be understood after the whole of the novel has been read and digested. In the case of Danielewski’s The Familiar, I can’t say that I have any idea as to where he plans to go with the significance of this title in reference to his work. Something that stuck out to me in the first 200 pages was the hint that some animals may be play a part as partners to humans, a similar role to the typical familiars seen in popular myths of witches where they act as their loyal helpers and protectors.

After a class discussion it was made clear to me that Danielewski is one to decorate his books in a fanciful way, weaving a number of significant and colorful design choices into his novels that help to both illuminate and enhance his reader’s experience. While the novel as we are reading it is still in its developmental stages and the design changes that Danielewski is bound to employ in his finished version of the novel are still unknown, it is important to note the subtle nods to these design elements that can be seen in this incomplete version. The one that stands out most prominently to me at this time involves the presence and peculiarity surrounding the word “familiar”.

On separate occasions in the text, this word is used in a variety of different stories and contexts. Despite the variability of its use, the slightly faded coloring of it from the makeshift cover of the novel to its place in the text seems to consistently remain the same. This occurrence of the word is sporadic, most notably in a considerably close cluster on pages 124, 135, and 175, though as far as I know every use of said word has been presented in a slightly faded hue. Another interesting feature includes word not only being faded, but the only part that retains such discoloration is the strict root of just “familiar” (i.e. in the word familiars, the s is not included in this color deviation).

I first interpreted this trend as a nod to the kind of shadowy presence that an animal familiar typically is thought to have considering it is a creature that protects and aids its master/partner silently from the sidelines. Despite this being a possible basis for the word’s faded nature I think that the traditional animal definition for the word “familiar” will probably play out in a bigger way in the text considering the evolving use of animals in these early stories. As to what kind of connection this might actually have to the word or title, though, I am still quite unsure and very curious to find out.

Apart from my assumptions, I think that more questions can be asked concerning this trend. What significance might this discoloration lend to within the scope of the novel? Does it serve as a nod to the title, or will it hold some deeper meaning that can only be discovered upon further reading and analysis of the novel? I’m very interested to see how the word and the stories continue to evolve throughout the rest of the novel.

Purple, Green & Bloom’s Taxonomy

Throughout the first 199 pages, there have been many references to color. “Bloom’s Taxonomy – Learning in Action” is mentioned on page 57, which Xanther and Anwar frequently look up on Wikipedia. This is a tool that helps Xanther answer as many questions as possible.

According to Wikipedia:

Bloom’s taxonomy is a way of distinguishing the fundamental questions within the education system. Bloom’s taxonomy refers to a classification of the different objectives that educators set for students 350px-Blooms_rose.svg(learning objectives). It divides educational objectives into three “domains”: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor (sometimes loosely described as “knowing/head”, “feeling/heart” and “doing/hands” respectively). Within the domains, learning at the higher levels is dependent on having attained prerequisite knowledge and skills at lower levels.[2] A goal of Bloom’s taxonomy is to motivate educators to focus on all three domains, creating a more holistic form of education.[1] 

The two colors that make up the chart are violet and green. On page 57, it says:

“…violet and green circles, green always feeling like a smile, violet like something else, the two in collision .::collusion::. with a Star of David at the center.”

That statement leads me to believe that colors and feelings are associated in this novel. Green is associated with positive feelings, while violet could be associated with negative ones. Purple is mentioned in “Is Everything Okay?,” Lupita’s and The Orb. In Lupita’s, In “Is Eveything Okay?,” Xanther is talking about an area that a gang lives and mentions that she had seen some dangerous women with “bright violet eyelids,” which implies that they were beaten. In Lupita, Lupita has dark violet eyeliner on her eyes that was tattooed on.  In The Orb, Bobby tell’s Cas that her long nails would look make her look evil if they were painted violet and black. Purple is negatively portrayed in those three cases.