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Familiar Language

Language seems to be a key theme in The Familiar. The characters come from vastly different cultures and backgrounds, and Danielewski forces readers to consider their differences by presenting their narratives through a number of visual and linguistic cues. Jingjing, for example, is narrated through a bizzare mixture of chinese characters and a frequently indecipherable singapore-english dialect. Similarly, Luther’s narrative weaves through Spanish and English phrases while Anwar’s drifts in an out of mental computer coding. Keeping with a common theme in the novel, language is the device which connects us all, but it also is the source of conflict and miscommunication. Danielewski seems to be attempting to join these disparate cultures and characters into a single unifying purpose. That purpose is as of yet unclear, but it seems to center somewhat around how the world communicates with each other in an age of endless, instant connection and access to information.

We see hints of this happening throughout the novel, such as when Hopi shows up on Xanther’s social media. Xanther’s social life is ruled by her connection to different “spheres” of social media, symbolizing the migration of language to a digital medium. The Orb also serves a perplexing purpose, because it allows the viewer to see the past, present, and future, its technology seems to counteract the basic function of language. Because all events that ever have or will occur can be displayed visually, events no longer need to be referred to and described with words. If language is dependent on time for context, then technology that defies the rules of time and space could have a drastic effect on communication with others.

binary translator

I don’t know much about computers, programming, or coding, but I had a little bit of fun with this binary to text translator:

In particular, I used it with the picture of the orb that’s completely made out of binary code on page 640. I know the broader idea that the orb is composed of binary is much more important than analyzing what the specific binary says, but I thought it would be interesting to plug in some of the streams of alternating zeros and ones to see if there’s any meaning to them. It looks like most of the lines are simply a long string of ‘U’s follow by a ‘P,’ so ultimately it’s the word ‘up’ repeating many times. I’m not sure if there’s any significance to that, though–I just found it interesting…

The Importance of Characterization

While reading The Familiar, several factors contributed to my general perception of the characters. With several voices that change frequently I was concerned that the characters would begin to blend and I wouldn’t be able to distinguish Ozgur from Shnork, for example. Fortunately, Danielewsky side-steps this problem by giving each character a unique set of traits along with visual cues (including formatting, font, and images).

Each narrative voice is unique, owing in part to the fact that several characters are non-White-Americans. With that comes distinctive grammar and speech patterns. Jingjing, who speaks Singlish, is a perfect example. I was deeply immersed in Jingjing’s world with the use of Asian-influenced speech patterns. This section would definitely have a different feel if it were written in standard American English.

In a class discussion, we questioned the reasoning behind Danielewsky’s decision to include non-American characters. To name a few, Anwar is Egyptian; Jingjing is Singaporean; and Schnork is Armenian. I am interested to hear what everyone else thinks about this. Also, I’m interested to see how the use of meticulous characterization through dialogue will lead to further character growth and development throughout the novel.

Character growth is essential to all stories. And Danielewsky is skillful at that. But right now, the story is slow moving. I hope to learn where he is going with this! I am excited to learn how the individual narratives connect or if they connect. Even though this is contemporary, experimental fiction, character development is still just as important in traditional novels. Now that he’s established most characters, I’m excited to see what will happen to them in the story as well as the upcoming volumes of The Familiar.

Language Barriers

Throughout our reading and discussion of The Familiar, one theme that has recurred is language that is simply lost in translation one way or another. Whether it be a switching of languages from Cantonese to English to Russian to Spanish and so forth. Perhaps the repeating series of dots, altered sizes and shapes of words, the blacking out of text, or even the differences in words in the page layout, they all represent a difference in the reading and perception of language. In a recent class discussion we talked about how the layers of knowledge or power of the characters from VEM to Narcons to the characters and how much of the novel is controlled by other layers but how do we know to what degree? This realistic loss of language and interpretation throughout the characters in the novel and the readers’ journey through the novel truly illustrate Danielewski’s display of our culture’s deficiency in understanding outside of our bubble. Also he gives the audience methods of reducing the language impediment by being able to go back and read each characters story in order of their own personal time length among other methods. The way I like to think of the Narcons chapter is almost like the abundance of footnotes from language lost in translation, this helps the reader to understand so many of the language mysteries throughout the book.

Response to “I always thought Braille was for blind people” by lheyman

I loved this post by lheyman! It really made me think about an idea I had in class the other day, and it ties in with the “theory” I have thought of! The Braille in The Familiar is very unique to Danielewski’s style of writing. (Braille has always intrigued me, so I immediately recognized it when I first saw it in the text.) Just seeing the dots themselves creates a whole new layer of meaning to the sections it exists in. The dots imply that there is something else going on in the text that we may not be able to understand at first glance. Just like there are sections of the novel in other languages (Russian, for example), Braille is another code that may be placed there by Danielewski for us to unlock.

In class on Tuesday, we discussed the idea of circles of power within the novel. Is VEM in control of the narcons? Are the narcons in control of the main characters of the chapters? Where do we fall into this power relationship? On page 629, I think we might have a clue to answer that question. The orb is shown on the page, but is completely made up of question marks. In other places in the novel, the orb shoes scenes (or scripts) of events we think to have taken place in the past. What if this specific orb is supposed to display future events? What if all of the blacked-out text in the novel reveals events of the future that we are not ready to read/understand yet? If this is the case, then it becomes clear that we are under the power control of the narcons if they are responsible for blacking out the text. After thinking about this for a while, I made a conclusion of what I think Danielewski’s plan is! Maybe the question marks, foreign languages (including Braille), question marks, and blacked out text reveal the future of the next 26 volumes in this story. This could be an intricate plan he has devised to keep his readers interested and locked-in to the text for the future–what a great plan!

(What… TF… is.. this.) Signiconic {?}

This is a leviathan discourse of the signiconic. I don’t know if any of this supports all of your readings, but I would suggest that if I’m close to some element of truth, that your comments can help us create our “global village.”

Danielewski defines signiconic as follows:

“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 the post All the Colors, I briefly comment on the relationship between the sign and the icon. My claim is that Narcon^9 is the frame through which the reader understands the identity of each of the characters in the novel, and it follows that because Narcon^9 is the frame, the reader does not necessarily understand or know each character’s immediate sensory experiences, since the Narcon describes characters and their experiences in the way that Narcon understands both of which . As a result, the reader notices that there are breaks in the text that do not actual break the text into parts, but they actually blur the separation between the sign and the icon. One may argue that there are many occurrences of this phenomena throughout the text, but, for now, I will use pg. 639 as the stepping-stone.

This section embodies my argument because of its allusion.  There is a question of “how many days and hours… it [had] taken just to hear “message” instead of ” The heart quickens at such a massage”?” This is a reference to Marshall McLuhan’s, The Medium is the Massage, which causes the reader to reconstruct/deconstruct/re-fragmentate The Familiar as a testimonial to McLuhan’s work, and furthermore a metafictional exploration of the ramifications that both their modes of writing call into [re]action.

McLuhan’s “massage” mentions the idea of “Acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, by terror.” (pg.48)  This “acoustic space” is a prominent concept that figures into the [in/re/con]ception of Danielewski’s work HOL , in which the term is described in relation to the ineluctable and inexorable infinity (mobius strip?) that the house represents . I mention this concept here because there is a way that TF’s references to Danielewski’s other works serves to traverse time,form, and linearity to serve other more inclusive purposes. McLuhan also states that our sense of hearing is more in tune with the “environment” than vision, beacusing hearing allows us to experience life enveloped in “acoustic space;” this relationship is established because sound is heard at the locus of the ear, but is received from every direction at once.

McLuhan states that in our media’s current state, “electric circuitry is recreating in us the multi-dimensional space orientation of the “primitive”, “ (pg. 56) and that “electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global image.” (pg. 67)

So, how does this relate to the signiconic?

At first, the definition of the signiconic seemed exceedingly profound to me. I could not grasp the concept because I did not understand what the end of remediation is, nor did I comprehend what it means to “remediate a world in which the mind plays no part.” After reading McLuhan’s work, I realize that the use of multiple different types of languages, narrative and page formats/structures are the signiconic’s means of constructing a world that inherently calls into question mere representation in itself, which causes the reader  to remediate their own sensory experience of the text.  For example, if the reader uses the internet to translate the singlish found in jingjing’s sections for all of jingjing’s sections, the reader is exposed to a font-type and a voice that resounds aurally, visually, empathetically, and in their mind’s eye, as naturally as if the tale was in english; this feeling is experienced if and only if the reader uses some mode of media (or an “apparatus,” like a person who speaks the language) to understand this foreign idea. Jingjing is obviously not the only character that requires additional information and self-projection, and because all of these characters require a certain level of both, it follows that we find a sense of ourselves in each one of the stories by end of this volume. I’d like to note this is a specific scenario, but the extent of this dialogue can be carried to enhance the analysis of narrative arcs that include individual characters being connected by some object or some higher calling, or even the images that begin each chapter; the ends all means all is that they are connected through difference and similarity, because they are signs and icons of one another (or not). If not, then the reader chooses to trust the Narcon and understand that “Most of the iconic goes unsigned,” which may adhere to the set-up for Narcon^9, but may not necessarily be the case in future volumes with other Narcons (or even Xanther, if she, as the character who seems like McLuhan’s poster child, develops a sense of going beyond her self to be immersed in the environment as a completely understanding being———— this applies only if one thinks she is alive; my own reading of the end of the novel made me feel — because of the way the words are structured in the page in a signiconically significant way– as if the was an incubus trying to take the last bit of her breath it couldn’t pull from her earlier ((((((((( I guess that’s why the mind is involved in the signiconic

Acoustic      Space       =        boundless       infinite?     understanding {?} )))))))))

I always thought Braille was for blind people

Since the beginning of our reading and posting and analyzing of The Familiar we have been calling the symbols that enclose and signify the Narcons coming in and explaining or editing “braille dots.” There are multiple posts about what the braille don’t mean. They could be a letter “N” so that when read aloud could sound like “The End.” They could mean “not.” At first people thought they could be a letter “Z” as well. We’ve been so caught up in the meaning of the dots before we knew the Narcons existed, and now that we do know their place in the scheme of the novel, we haven’t stopped trying to figure out why the Narcons tell us the things that they do in the way that do. But we’ve been leaving out one question that I think is pretty important: WHO IS READING THIS STORY THAT NEEDS BRAILLE?? Danielewski had clearly made use of traditionally disadvantaged characters as his protagonists but has yet to discuss a blind character, making his use of braille an interesting choice. Since Danielewski has everything planned out so specifically it would only make sense that if the braille dots are, in fact, braille dots then they are there to serve some purpose.


On Tuesday in class we discussed the possibility of there being another implied reader of the novel who might be allowed to see the pieces of text that are blacked out. From our discussion we came up with the idea that the VEM Corporation has censored out parts of the text because the character and we ourselves are not high enough on the totem pole to know about the happenings or key players in the development of some way of controlling the future. This got me thinking that maybe this other reader gets to know the full story. Because the text is blacked out, how are we to know that the words or numbers or codes that are blacked out aren’t in the Narcon braille dot language or just in straight up braille? At this point in volume one of The Familiar we simply don’t know.


Back to the idea of the braille being for a certain reader or readers in particular… Why would only the Narcon sections be marked by braille? Is this “other reader” privy to everything else that is going on (so he/she wouldn’t need to read the other parts simply printed in ink on the page) except for what is going on with the Narcons? Is the “other reader” some kind of editor of the world of the novel and is in control of what the Narcons say and, being blind, only knows how to write in braille? There are a whole slew of questions that could be asked about this “other reader” that I hope are answered in the coming volumes because the idea of there being an “other reader” at all is so fascinating to me.


Or the use of braille could represent the notion that there is so much going on in the world that is unseen. A little unsettling, but another valid possibility that falls in with the world or mystery that Danielewski has created.

“The Familiar” Podcast!

This post more resembles a discussion “audio blog,” than a podcast. It was recorded by four students from Weber State University. Dylan Davis, Ben Bigelow, Chelsea Maki, and Trevor Byington each bring a topic to discuss with the group. The discussion covers the re-mediation of television, hetero-normatives in “The Familiar,” the “Signiconic,” and the “aesthetic conundrum” the novel has created.

It was recorded on 1/24/2015.

Keep in mind, this was not done in a studio so the audio can be a little spotty. Regardless, we hope you enjoy it!

Dangerouz Z

“Polygon Creature Z hunts Polygon Creature S” (722). There’s a pursuit hanging out at the edges of what we know so far that might be linking many or all of the narratives. The hunter/prey aspect has been brought up and discussed in another post , but these letters in particular might mean something. At the end of Anwar’s description of the program, “S reaches Y. But where is Z?” (726-728).  I think it will be important to decide precisely who S and Z are, and whether the pursuit is a unifying conspiracy-type narrative or rather a repeating motif across the stories.

The brutal, perhaps-message of Re(a)lic’s death (chopped into pieces in a supposed wreck) has been mentioned in Xanther’s and Ozgur’s story and is one of the casualties from the Orb team. Realic’s middle initial happens to be S., but that might be a coincidence. But either way, “Recluse” seems to be the hunter Z (or one of them), who knows everything S will do. Anwar’s description occurs with the homecoming of the kitten, as it’s gone missing, so it might be that Xanther’s another S and the kitten’s some kind of danger to her. OR, the kitten might be the S that has reached “Y,” and we don’t know what’s coming for it yet. Impossible to know as of yet. But one last point in this letter pair comes from Isandorno, who is afraid of the mysterious fourth crate. He identifies the first three as W, X, and Y, but is afraid to approach, touch, or listen to the fourth one, so we have one more dangerous Z there. Not sure yet what it’s hunting, but this may be the start of a link to Xanther, if this Z is something nefarious hunting down the benevolent kitten.

Last, identifying them as S and Z in a text that seems intent on exploding/exceeding systems and structures can’t be a coincidence, right? (Roland Barthes?) If so, I imagine the crate won’t be a very effective containment for the dangerous Z.

Effective Narration?

I’m not sure if someone has already posted something similar, but forgive me if someone has…

We’ve all noticed how Danielewski changes his writing styles with every narration and chapter. Even characters who are in the same part of the books seem different. For example, he somehow dips into the minds of Xanther, Astair, and Anwar and gives them distinctive thought processes. Xanther’s thoughts are all frazzled while her mother’s are much more put together. Then he switches writing styles completely by using broken English to narrate Jingjing. Then he changes again to use a different tone when discussing the serious Ozgur, making it sound like a detective story. And so on…

It makes it seem like every section could have been written by a completely different author and then somehow pieced together. Every part of the book could be altered to create a completely different story. He has a very impressive writing style. But, do you guys find this effective? Or does it cause a distraction for you? Does it make it difficult to go from chapter to chapter? For me, it does. I found myself getting really into a character, and then their segment would end and I would have to start a new one and try and switch my mind set and the way I was reading the story in order to understand it. It is kind of exhausting, but I am still enjoying the read.