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Raindrops

I really don’t quite understand the full significance of the raindrops but it is abundantly clear that they tie so many different aspects of this novel together. Raindrops are the strangest phenomena in this novel, Xanther seems to connect with this force of nature that certainly has a deeper meaning to its constant appearances. What do the raindrops have to do with the Xanther’s panic attacks and the narcons that each character is defined by? It’s possible that Xanther’s epilepsy ties into her ability to sift through other characters feelings and emotions in narcons and their computer code, but she is haunted by this influx of data causing her to have massive panic attacks. Her connection to the cat and her hunger for the number of raindrops displays her undeniable ability while that ability is still unable to be explained. Danielewski alludes to Xanther’s lonely battles with the rain on pg 66, “Like a ghost. A ghost in the raindrops.” Xanther has always been bullied and hasn’t been able to fit in due to her epileptic tendencies but the ability to read others thoughts and emotions could really have caused all these discrepancies with her peers. Borrowing from Kirschenbaum’s “Bookscapes,” the raindrops appear to be Xanther’s affordance between the narcons, other characters emotions and feelings, and her struggle to understand these frantic events while raining. Xanther unknowingly uses the rain to float between the layers of knowledge and power among the VEM, narcons, and other characters.

“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!

Three’s The Magic Number (pp. 200- 395)

Three is a magic number. We have the holy trinity, mind body and soul, and triangles (which were extremely revered in Ancient Greece and Egypt) and there are lots of three symbolism going on in the book: Xanther is one of three children. Was there a love triangle between Anwar, Astair and Dov? If a seizure goes over three minutes you need to call an ambulance. The number nine is quite prominent too and of course is three squared. The obvious one here is a cat has nine lives and there are nine characters. Then there’s the amount of volumes said to be written – 27, a factor of three. But why three? I would have understood more if it was two- binary seeing as that’s computer language and it appears to be a story about a computer programme.

The three dots that appear when someone hears the cry. They are appearing more often but are getting fainter. This reminds me of the pings from a black box transmitting so that someone can locate something that needs to be found. The fact that it is fading, in my mind means that it need to be located soon. The more we see them the harder it rain, an electrical storm must be fast approaching. An electrical storm in the weather and/or in Xanther’s head. Will we need to time her seizure? Will it last more than three minutes? Will her ‘beast’ kill her this time? Is this her predator, or is it someone closer to home? Someone like Anwar?

Predator/Prey

Xanther has just started playing Anwar’s game in which she is the prey. I think this simulation corresponds with what’s going on in reality. I think she is being manipulated by Anwar for some reason and quite possibly Anwar may have had something to do with Dov’s death somehow.

In the game, Xanther asks what sort of animal she is, but they don’t know yet, just like we don’t know yet what fragile and dangerous creature it is that Xanther ends up trying to save rather than getting a dog (blurb on the back cover).Is it a real animal, or is it the predator that is chasing her in the game, or the thing that is making the noise that everyone can hear as the storm is fast approaching? Who are the predators she has to look out for in real life? Anwar? Luther? Hopi?

For some reason I am not quite connecting yet with the other stories, but enjoy reading the Singapore narratives as it is so poetical and I feel should read out loud.

Form Mirrors Function in The Familiar

No two pages in this novel are set up exactly the same way. On some pages there are but a few words, on others, the words form a picture. Some pages have no words at all. It is often said that form mirrors function, and I think that The Familiar does an excellent job of showcasing this idea. But what does this all mean? What could Danielewski wish to accomplish by arranging the text in this manner?

It is difficult to supply a concrete answer to this question. One aspect I find particularly interesting but ever-changing is the length of the passages on each page. Sometimes, the longer pages take the form of busy or excited conversation. When Xanther is playing Anwar’s game for example, the dialogue between the group in the room with her fills up the page, but the pace of reading it is extremely quick.

The pages with few to know words appear to perform the opposite function. They take place in moments of contemplation. They stand out amongst the rest.  The time on page 252 for example is an important detail important for the doctors to save Xanther’s life. (It should be noted that this page is not numbered. The focus of this page is not to orient the reader to a specific point in the progression of the novel; it is to emphasize a powerful memory in the mind of a parent.) It causes the reader to focus on that detail for an entire page, even if it only takes them a moment to read it.

The structure of the text blocks on these pages is also particularly fascinating. The blocks of text that make of Shnorhk’s chapters also showcase the idea of how the shape of the text accomplishes a specific task. Shnorhk feels isolated and misunderstood. The majority of the pages of his section in the narrative take the form of two distinct blocks of text. He is trying to piece together a moment in his life that has prompted great reflection. He is also attempting to understand the world in which he now lives. His altercation with the cop/legal system have left him disillusioned and confused.  He has, as of page 395 in the novel, yet to come to a solid resolution. Perhaps the shape of his narrative will change along with his state of mind?

The organization of the text on these pages does indeed reflect something about a character’s state of mind at a given moment. Xanther’s anxiety can be seen in the pages where the words take the form of a torrential downpour. It is a strain for readers to understand these words, to sort through their meanings. Sometimes, it is easiest to just turn the page, to tune it all out and wait for the next page, where the words are situated in a way that is more familiar to us, to come along. But these pages are important. They are visual representations of feelings. Something intangible is presented right before our very eyes.  A powerful moment in my mind is when Xanther is at the party in Anwar’s office and she begins to feel overwhelmed again. This sensation is conveyed to us in a page where certain parts of unrelated conversations stand out to her among a sea of unintelligible conversations. The parts she hears look like clouds in the rainstorm.We cannot see Xanther’s face as she undergoes her episodes of increased anxiety due to her existence as a character in the pages of a novel.  Still, we are not cut off from her completely. The way that the text forms these kinds of visuals allows us to “see” her face and enter her mind to feel something similar to what she feels. The visuals engulf us as readers, and we are just as overwhelmed as she is. We feel just as confused and misunderstood as Shnorhk does. We relieve the panic that Astair felt when she thought she might lose one of her daughters. Danielewski is remediating not only the way read, but the way we feel.

The Number Nine

I think this novel has me over-analyzing minor details, but has anyone else noticed the frequent use of the number nine? The number nine appears on page 239 when the twins are playing The Animal Game. Freya tells Shasti, “You can only change your mind nine times.”

On page 272, jingjing counts nine people on the top floor of a building that he refers to as a palace. Even though he counted four on each side (which would equal 8,) it’s “always nine.”

Isandorno can’t say the number nine unless he taps out nine by fingers to thumb. He does this on page 307.

I think the number nine stood out to me because its relevance to cats. Cats are said to have nine lives and there have been many mentions of cats so far in the novel.

Frustration

Xanther, Anwar, and Astair’s storyline is the one I am most interested in as well. I wonder if the same would be true if the novel opened with one of the other story lines though. There are several storylines going on, so I think the opening storyline is the one that we are most interested in. Also, it might not be a coincidence that Xanther’s chapters are written in a style that resembles computer coding. Is Danielewski using a coding format to program us, as readers, to pay attention to certain things more than others?
I feel like I’m trying to solve a puzzle. My mind wanders from section to section, but I think that is Danielewski’s intention. To keep track of the storylines, I made a chart for myself that lists the characters in each chapter. It helps me visualize which characters belong to the separate storyline. I am waiting to see if there will be any overlapping.

Discussion board for Mark Z. Danielewski's THE FAMILIAR, Volume 1

Is anyone else feeling slightly frustrated with Danielewski at this point? I have finished 400 pages of a book, and half the time, I haven’t a clue where it is going.  I find myself clinging to the Xanther stories (and Anwar and Astair’s by association) as a sort of scaffolding to support my interest.   I find my interesting peaking when one of those sections comes up.

The scope is throwing me off.  I am growing to understand Luther’s storyline, but only because it has been given several significant sections.  I am very confused as to the relevance of several others (“Yeah man. Something died.” “palace above the day” “Veinte pesos” to name a few).  So far, the only thing I know they have in common is their timestamp putting them into the timeline.

I am curious and excited to see how (if?) all of these will tie together, or if…

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Frustration

Is anyone else feeling slightly frustrated with Danielewski at this point? I have finished 400 pages of a book, and half the time, I haven’t a clue where it is going.  I find myself clinging to the Xanther stories (and Anwar and Astair’s by association) as a sort of scaffolding to support my interest.   I find my interesting peaking when one of those sections comes up.

The scope is throwing me off.  I am growing to understand Luther’s storyline, but only because it has been given several significant sections.  I am very confused as to the relevance of several others (“Yeah man. Something died.” “palace above the day” “Veinte pesos” to name a few).  So far, the only thing I know they have in common is their timestamp putting them into the timeline.

I am curious and excited to see how (if?) all of these will tie together, or if we really are just seeing snapshots of One Rainy Day in May.  Despite this, I would appreciate a sense of where this is going.  As each chapter shifts, I sometimes have a hard time regaining focus or finding relevance.  Am I the only one experiencing this? How have other readers been keeping track of the storylines?

(Containment) and Its Failure

While the relationship between the narrative arcs remains uncertain to this point (395) of the novel, a tension between containment and excess ties many (or all) of them together thematically already; perhaps more significantly, it offers as one primary link between the content level and the experimental design. Because this is occurring on multiple levels in big and small ways, I’m going to break it into a few different (arbitrary and permeable) sections for now.

On the content level, Xanther of course evokes this explicitly, from the start. Her concern with counting the raindrops isn’t just the difficulty of finding a way to track them all; rather it’s a concern for the impossibility, the ways that the number would exceed our sense of measurement. She wonders, “What kind of counting equals this sort of overwhelmingness? . . .  It has to exist, but if no one will ever name it, is it ever real?” (61). This concern persists so that she later asks Talbot and team if it would be possible with their program (348). The question resonates with her seizures, as she notes that “sometimes people describe seizures as an overwhelming amount of information in the brain,” fearing that makes her an “A-hole” (350). Furthermore, she relates it to her parents and the deluge of calls and emails, which starts to open up the fact that even though Glasgow dismisses her rain question, the other characters often share the concern. The idea of programming an AI evokes this, as it’s an attempt to create “rules,” a form of containment, for something that will exceed those rules and be able to make its own decisions. Bobby describes how “the distribution went everywhere. Self-replicating” (144). The human/animal relationship similarly evokes this; Astair thinks of the seizures as a “wild beast,” “shapeless except for claws and teeth” (254), and Luther’s crew tries to control the dogs for pit-fighting. The animal is suggested as specifically at odds with containment, by Astair who questions, “Was repression at work in Xanther? or had the vital threat of such events drawn forth animal reactions” and by Isandorno, who calls the human chest a “fragile cage” and sees in the totems “everything he cannot tame” (319, 323).

The other two levels of this discussion are a little more general. The attempt and inability to contain is apparent on the level of language as well. Anwar’s and Astair’s narratives are notably filled with brackets that try to hold together their thoughts, which nevertheless scatter beyond control. We think of something like brackets as an aid in clarity, and the nesting should theoretically help that, making each part belong to a larger group; instead, the nesting shows more how their thoughts come to mirror Xanther’s Question Song, with digressions leading to further digressions. Exponentiation echoes this, with the repetition of 3/9/27. And the wordplay does so as well, as a resistance to language’s goal of precision and clarity. Lastly, the design aspects show the resistance of thought to the supposed containment of an artistic work. Books especially create a sense of containment in the bound pages and covers, but of course, historically that’s never been an effective constraint on where the audience’s imagination expands the pages. However, Danielewski has made exceeding the boundaries of the book a practice in the past, and immediately does so here. One of the first prefatory pages shows some of the acclaim stretching beyond the page limits, the “previews” allow content to exceed the title page, and the standard Danielewski-ism of experimental formatting breaks the conventional constraints of the page.

This post is getting rather long, but I think what this suggests, and what I imagine we’ll see developing more, is a thematic consistency centering on the idea that the “pre”-human animal and the post-human programming/AI are linked in their resistance to the human drive toward control (a drive suggested even in my making the animal “pre-human” just now), but also that human creations themselves (art, language) break free of their supposed boundaries.

chart for 200-395

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

Chapter 9

(200)

Blue Pencil Luther Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014

10:59:23/11:11:11

Epigram: Cyprus Hill
Chapter 10

(225)

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

May 10, 2014

11:11:12/12:07:23

Epigram: Tony Nersessian

(Armenian?)

Chapter 11

(237)

Bones Nest Astair Urban Pet store, Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014

12:07:29/12:33:33

Epigram: Pierre Alferi
Chapter 12

(268)

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

May 11, 2014

03:33:34/03:47:18

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

(290)

Veinte Pesos Isandòrno El Tajín, Mexico

May 10, 2014

14:47:19/15:14:31

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

(326)

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

May 10, 2014

13:14:32/13:31:13

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

(353)

Dawgz Luther Los Angeles, CA

May 10, 2014

13:31:14/13:47:06

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

(374)

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

May 10, 2014

13:47:07/14:22:44

Epigram: xkcd comic

Danielewski’s World

Danielewski seems to do an excellent job constructing his own self-contained world in The Familiar, a world outside of our own, a world which belongs only to The Familiar. Admittedly, the characters we, as readers, encounter are made “familiar” and relatable through both their experiences (money issues, health concerns, death and fear of death) and our admittance into their crowded, often confusing, inner thoughts or streams of consciousness. However, despite the relatability of these characters–it seems that Danielewski has crafted his very own world disconnected from the one in which his readers live.

One way in which Danielewski is capable of creating this world is through the lines of connectivity which flow through the storylines–through the chapters. One obvious way this is done is through the ever present–ever down pouring–rain. I am still perplexed why Danielewski would choose rain as his most obvious and omnipresent connecting factor throughout the Volume. Also I would love to discuss why this rain has to be so violent ? What is the relevance of a down pour versus a light shower? I would love to know what the rest of you think about this choice.

Another “line of connectivity” drawn by Danielewski, which I have just started to pick up on (400 pages in), is the sound which significantly troubles, almost haunts, Anwar, Luther, and Isandoro. The sound cannot be located by any of them. All three of them hear this sound, despite the assumed substantial distance which separates them from one another. The mysteriousness of the sound proves, almost disproportionately, frustrating and irksome. This seemingly impossible omnipresent sound seems to paint a picture of self-contained world in a similar way that the rain does.

A third “line of connectivity” is the literal line of geometric shapes which runs through the inside of the book, extremely close to the binding. I don’t have too much to say about this line other than it is a form of connectivity through page set up and outside of the plot or dialogue itself and in that way I find it intriguing.

I am sure that others have found their own lines of connectivity in the text and I would love to discuss them !

In addition to his lines of connectivity, Danielewski also makes us aware that we have entered into another world when–ironically enough–he seems to “break the fourth wall”. What better way to make readers aware of that walls exist–that this world is self-contained–than by breaking down those very walls? There are moments when Danielewski undoubtedly elbows the reader, gives them a nudge, and holds a mirror up to this world.

One such moment is when Xanther asks Dr. Potts the following question:

“Do you ever think, like, there’s a conversation going on, you know, like somewhere out there, somehow parallel to the one you’re having with yourself, like in your head, or even with someone else” (193).

We laugh at this moment. We are definitely aware that these conversations do exist–we have already read 193 pages of them. However, with this laughter and with this breaking of the fourth wall, we are made ultra-aware we are laughing at a different self-sustaining world–that if a wall has broken, it was indeed there to begin with.

The most INTERESTING example of the fourth wall breaking comes when Xanther and Anwar are discussing the etymology of Paradise and the meaning behind Paradise Open. Paradise is conceptualized in the discussion as a “surrounding wall”, “enclosed garden”, or “protected place”. Yet the title of Anwar’s project hints that he opens up the enclosed area or removes some of the protection to allow others inside — hence Paradise OPEN.

We laugh at this moment as we realize Anwar and Danielewski seem to be doing the same thing. Anwar’s title could work perfectly for Danielewskis work. Danielewski has created a self-contained, outside world–yet he opens the doors and lets us see what is inside.