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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?


Jakob von Uexküll epigraph

Jakob von Uexküll’s epigraph at the beginning of Xanther’s second chapter “Dr. Potts” (pg 178) is: “We must first blow, in fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of these bubbles…” This quote is from Von Uexkull’s article “A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men”. The excerpt is relating to his theory of Umwelt, which is the idea that every human and animal exists in its own environment and even though those environments are often shared each creature experiences its own individualistically; the term translates to something like “self-centered world”. The rest of the quote (which is not included in the epigraph in the book) continues “…the familiar meadow is transformed. Many of its colorful features disappear, others no longer belong together but appear in new relationships. A new world comes into being. Through the bubble we see the world of the burrowing worm, of the butterfly, or of the field mouse; the world as it appears to the animals themselves, not as it appears to us. This we may call the phenomenal world or the self-world of the animal.” First off, Danielewski cuts the quote off right before the words “The Familiar” which is just his own playfulness. More than that though, the concept that von Uexkull is talking about applies in a really interesting way to this chapter and to Xanther as a whole. This is the chapter that Xanther is talking to her psychologist and we get to see the larger impact that her disability has on her life. We get to see how Xanther experiences the world. In other words, we experience Xanther’s Umwelt. We step into her bubble (orb?) and see the world through it (like the worm/butterfly/mouse in von Uexkull’s quote). This is our foundation for empathy for her and her family’s life, which is the reason the Xanther/Anwar/Astair chapters were so captivating; this is the story we’re invested in. Again, Danielewski is challenging how we read novels. Despite the very little plot or action, we become totally engaged in Xanther’s life because he allowed us into her bubble (orb) and we can see the struggle for this precious little 12 year old girl who gets trapped in her own mind. The book doesn’t allow you just to read it as an observer – it forces you to become a participant, and that’s the literary genius of it.

Chart for 609-end

Chapter 24


The Fourth Crate Isandòrno Shipping port, El Tajín, MX

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Victim #9, possibly from the horror-survival video game “I AM Alive” (see victims)


Venice, Italy

May 11, 2014


Chapter 25


Tiny Storms The Wizard Paisano Hotel etc., Marfa, TX

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Pink Floyd (from song “Shine on you crazy diamond”)
Chapter 26


“Mom, it’s a –” Astair Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: G.W.F. Hegel (from “Preface to the Philosophy of Right”)

(referencing Minerva’s owl)

Chapter 27


auntie! jingjing Singapore

May 11, 2014


Epigraph: Arthur Yap (from his poem “Man Snake Apple”)
Chapter 28


, dead Anwar Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Chapter 29


St. Hopi Luther Los Angeles, CA


Epigraph: Juan Felipe Herrera (from “Crescent Moon on a Cat’s Collar
Chapter 30


If Anything… Xanther Los Angeles, CA


Epigraph: Anne Carson (from her book Nox)

JingJing’s Epigraph

While reading pages 396-608, I started to pay more attention to the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Each of them appear to connect with the thoughts or plot that occurs in each chapter except for one- JingJing (page 518). Like others, I already have difficulty trying to figure out what he is saying, but the beginning of his chapter is a line from a Deadmau5 song, “Look what they made, they made it for me…”

I was wondering if anyone had any ideas as to what Danielewski meant by using this quote. JingJing does mention this musical group along with several others during the chapter, but I do not find any specific connection between the plot and those lyrics.

Chart for 396-608

from the MZD Forums, supplemented. Epigraphs have links to sources when I could find them.



Is little irrelevant Shnorhk Mnatsagan’s office and home

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Armenian proverb
Chapter 18


View of the Sea Özgür Crime scene, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014

14:38:17/14:52:24 Los Angeles, CA

Epigraph: Chinatown
Solosphere / Parcelthoughts messages  rawrgrl [no date or place stamp]


Chapter 19


Cinnamon Astair Ibrihim home, Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Louise Glück


“Phenomenal Survivals of Death in Nantucket”)

Chapter 20


Litter Xanther Streets of Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Bob Dylan

(lyric from

“A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall”)

Chapter 21


raeden jingjing Singapore

May 11, 2014


Epigraph: Deadmau5 (from the song “The Veldt“)
Chapter 22


‘Save him!’ Anwa


Streets of Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Lone Wolf and Cub, vol. 1
| Narcons |  
Chapter 23


Walk Luther Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Jim Kalin

[? ]

chart for 200-395

Started on MZD Forums, supplemented. Epigraphs have links to sources when I could find them.

Chapter 9


Blue Pencil Luther Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigram: Cyprus Hill
Chapter 10


“Yeah man. Something Died.” Shnorhk Traffic court, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigram: Tony Nersessian


Chapter 11


Bones Nest Astair Urban Pet store, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigram: Pierre Alferi
Chapter 12


palace above the day jingjing Home of zhong sim lin, Singapore

May 11, 2014


Epigram: Tu Fu (quote is from his poem “Dawn Over the Mountains”)
Chapter 13


Veinte Pesos Isandòrno El Tajín, Mexico

May 10, 2014


Epigram: Victim #7 possibly from the horror-survival video game “I AM Alive” (see victims)
Chapter 14


The Horrorsphere Xanther Anwar’s office party, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigram: Emily Dickinson (from A Dying Tiger Moaned for Drink)
Chapter 15


Dawgz Luther Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigram: 2Pac (from song “When We Ride Our Enemies”)
Chapter 16


Prey Anwar Anwar’s office party, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigram: xkcd comic

chart for 1-199

from the MZD Forums, supplemented. Epigraphs have links to sources when I could find them.

Chapter 1


“Is Everything Okay?” Xanther Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


(her big surprise is at 3 pm in Venice; her bad seizure at Dov’s funeral 4 months earlier)

Epigraph: Thoreau
Chapter 2


Lupita’s Luther Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Luis J. Rodriguez
Chapter 3


Square One Xanther,


Square One Dining, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014

08:43:59/09:19:20 Los Angeles, CA

Epigraph: Norm Schryer and quote from Square One Dining website
Chapter 4


zhong jingjing Apartment house, Singapore

May 11, 2014


Epigraph: Lady Gaga
Chapter 5


Big Surprise Astair Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Moonrise Kingdom
Chapter 6


The Orb Dr. Cas (Catherine Aa’ala Stern) Marfa, Texas

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Blade Runner
Chapter 7


Power Draws a Crowd Özgür Van Ness, Southwest Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Bill Evans
Chapter 8


Dr. Potts Xanther Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014


Epigraph: Jakob von Uexküll

beginnings and endings of chapters

Something that I found to be interesting in the novel are the beginnings and endings of chapters. As The Familiar is a novel that combines so many highly individualized stories and characters, the beginnings and endings of chapters (as the place where the disparate stories “meet,” or come into direct contact) are particularly emphasized. The fact that Danielewski does not often provide much context at the beginnings of the chapters, instead starting in media res reinforces the notion that the stories bleed into one another because they are stacked right next to one another without any fluff in between. In this sense the beginnings and ending of each chapter are like cinctures.

Many chapters thus far (up until page 398 at least) begin with a line of dialogue, and most begin with a saying or quote attributed to someone well-known. What significance do these “voices” that are featured at the beginning of chapters (whether in dialogue or simply in the invoked “voices” of those to whom the quotes are attributed) have? How does the primarily auditory nature of these “voices” influence the narrative style as a whole?