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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!

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 Narcons

In the text, we frequently see comments in the font designated for “The Narcons” (for more information on who uses which font, you can find this information in the back of your book approximately pg. 843). These comments are bracketed by the braille letters “N” and “Z”. It is my hypothesis that “The Narcons” are Mark Z. Danielewski playing the part of creator or God. These  Narcons (TF-Narcon3, 9 & 27) are giving us clues in the text, translations, and then states that they aren’t our “Google bitch[es],” as the Mandarin and Cantonese characters start showing up frequently in the character jingjing’s chapters,   I believe that these inserted comments are the author’s way of communicating signals and clues to his readers without leaving footnotes. As some mentioned in an earlier class this week, the braille letter may in fact be Danielewski’s way of signing his name.

The most important clue that “The Narcons” has left us (or me) so far is found on Page 110, where “The Narcons” point out that the spelling of “catstrophe” may not just be coincidental or the fault of mistranslation or an accent. He points this out with the use of an “!” which leads me to believe that cats will be significant later on in the story (this and the fact that others have many posts about cats).

What do you think? Could “The Narcons” be Mark Z. Danielewski? Or do you think that Mark Z. Danielewski is playing the role of creator by implementing the narcons into the story to create and manipulate the narrative for him?  Would Danielewski engage with his audience in such a personal way as to write himself as one of the characters? Or are “The Narcons” something else entirely? If so, who do you think it is?


Alveolar clicks, sibilants, or Braille?

When I read Danielewski, I approach it as a sort of video game with beaucoup Easter Eggs rather than as a canonical piece of literature with a codex, three act structure, and narrative arcs.

In that spirit, I began Googling things I found in the Zambia section at the beginning of the book.

I was unable to get anywhere with the supposed reference to a list of alveolar clicks, sibilants, bilabial fricatives and so forth (which, after all, were used in most human proto-languages, or so I am told). I figured that one was invented. The symbols at the beginning and the end of each piece of dialog, however, look more like Braille to me.

As far as I can find, there are three Braille symbols (

  • either a backwards Z in Grade 1 Braille or “the” in Grade 2 Braille;
  • the letter N;
  • the letter D.

There may be more that I missed, and we only started classes this week so I’m not as far into the text as some of you, so there may be more instances of Braille or Braille-like writing that I’ve missed.

(The ironist in me would like to see the Braille version of TF, but I digress.)

Has anyone else “decoded” these Braille or Braille-like symbols any further?