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!
After our class’s last discussion of the novel, a classmate and I had a discussion of our own about Danielewski’s intent for writing this amazingly confusing novel that’s seems purposely chocked-full of innuendo and infinite loops. Is Danielewski really that eccentric? Has he actually left a shattered vase for us to tediously reassemble piece-by-piece, that if we worked hard enough and had enough patience, could actually put back together? Are there actually patterns with deeper meanings throughout this novel and future series (at least, as many as we think there are)? Or, is Danielewski cruelly taking advantage of his most compulsive readers; leading them to a hay stack to search for a needle that isn’t there; and charging them for the thrill of an endless hunt? If you’ve ever seen the joy some people get from watching their dog hopelessly search for a ball that they never actually released at the end of their throw, this act of deception might seem more plausible. If you’re thirst for clarification and completion wasn’t quenched by the first volume in this series, would you buy the second? What about the twenty-seventh? Would you feel cheated if there were no solid conclusions that could be drawn from the series no matter how many volumes you read. Or, is that the point? The redacted text sure felt reminiscent of Mad-Libs to me; just waiting to be filled in. Maybe we are NarCons; everyone of us a different NarCon, putting the pieces together in our own way, but each still coming up with an equally valid theory. I know that sounds a lot like what an English class or book club is supposed to be, but usually you can locate clear supporting evidence for claims and be at least partially certain of some things in the story. In “The Familiar”, I’m not one-hundred percent certain of what dimension I’m in, much less who or what the narrators are, or if there are actually even any characters in the novel at all(our class made reference to The Matrix trilogy). This post isn’t meant to try and diminish Danielewski’s work, or to try and deprive his fans of the thrill of the search, but to question the novel’s meaning in a way that’s not just about the story inside, but about the medium itself. Is this just a sophisticated version of a Mad-Libs, a cruel prank, or will Danielewski eventually let us in the know?
I actually took a picture of the whiteboard after class. I found our discussion very interesting. We started off by discussing unmarked and marked text. Unmarked text is traditional. There is a uniform font and text size. Unmarked text is less likely to be taken out of context. Marked text, however, leaves room for much interpretation. When an author plays around with typographic styles, the reader is given an opportunity to think out of the box. Danielewski gives us, as readers, a role in the novel. However, what is our role?
In class, Professor Thomas drew a circle with all of the characters names inside. Since the Narcons seem to have control over the characters, we put them outside the circle. We put VEM outside both the Narcons and the characters because we agreed that VEM has control over the Narcons and the characters. We are left wondering where we fit in the circle. Do we have any power at all? Are we being controlled by the Narcons? by VEM? or by Danielewski? We are left with so many “what ifs.”
In the end of the book, Anwar is left with a question of how to make a program that predicts the movements of his game’s prey while the prey is making the decision. Basically how to predict the near future/present. He then mentions how Mefisto would know how to code for that in his sleep.
We also see in the Orb section the mention of a Sorcerer that knows Anwar and Xanther. In class some of us hypothesized that the reason the Sorcerer knew Anwar and Xanther was because he was Mefisto. I took that hypothesis one step further in my head.
I think that Mefisto knows so much about coding because he built the Orb and the Orb is some kind of device that can allow someone to see the past, present, and future. Anwar needs a code that can predict the present and/or the near future in his game for the predator to be able to catch his prey. Mefisto has the ability to do this because of the Orb.
The reason we have to met Mefisto is because he is on the run from VEM. Which in itself is a predator and prey sort of game. Just like the “answer” is escaping Anwar, Mefisto is escaping VEM. They cannot predict where he is going or when he will appear, much like Anwar’s gaming problem.
I think someone posted on here about how the entire novel is a cat and mouse game so to speak. That there is an overall theme of predator and prey. I started thinking more on this and began to realize that it was. That post helped me come up with the hypothesis on what the Orb is and the power it could hold. VEM does not want anyone to know everything but them, so that is why they are hunting the Orb holders. The Orb’s coding is the answer to Anwar’s dilemma, but as of now he does not know about the Orb or at least we do not know if he does. The Orb is the only power over VEM that the characters of this story have. VEM controls them but with the Orb they would have the same power that VEM does.
It all comes back to the Orb. It is the key to power, and my theory is that Xanther has some special connection to it all because she is special and as the series unfolds we will figure out just how special she really is.
In today’s class, we discussed the ideas of “marked writing” and “unmarked writing” from Johanna Drucker’s book The Visible Word. The passage we read highlights the value of typography and image-like features within literature and refers to them as marked writing. Unmarked writing refers to a work of literature that does not contain a unique or creative style of design on its pages. Naturally, Danielewski’s work falls into the category of marked writing.
Drucker’s work details the reasons why unmarked writing demands a type of authority from its readers. In light of discussing power structures and how literature may or may not demand it from the reader, I think it is important to take Danielewski’s creativity into consideration. While we discussed that power is linked to transparency within literature (and Danielewski’s novel disrupts this transparency), I would argue that his work is very powerful. It does not demand the reader’s attention through clarity and monotony, but through its stark uniqueness.
While reading this work, I have felt trapped and engulfed in the multiple story lines. I think these feelings have stemmed from confusion and anticipation. If Danielewski’s novel was unmarked, it would not be as powerful in the sense that it could not completely captivate the readers like it currently does. In the section of the novel called “Bones Nest,” the power of Danielewski’s work can be clearly seen. As Xanther has a seizure, the plot is heightened by the designs on pages 242-251. The numbers in circular formats create a tension that builds up as her seizure continues. It seems as though they are supposed to represent a countdown, but do not necessarily follow any pattern. The simultaneous reading and interpretation of this design demanded from the reader during this section of the novel is moving. Even if you are (as the reader) not consciously looking at the details of the designs on these pages while reading, I believe Danielewski placed these images to create a subconscious countdown in our minds. The power in his creativity cannot be ignored and plays a large role in the novel as a whole.
As I was reading through “The Horrosphere” section, a piece of Danielewski’s writing caught my attention. On page 327, Xanther is narrating/speaking about her life. Danielewski writes, “…because resisting takes up so much more energy. That’s one of the things about the questions, maybe the biggest thing?, they take up a lot of energy. Like they exhaust her.” As I thought about this idea of energy and what it means to “take up energy,” I decided to look up the definition of the word. Through my Google search, I found this definition: “the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.” Even though this novel is so large, I don’t think it would be crazy to focus in on every word Danielewski has written. His work is clearly meant to be analyzed with extreme detail. As Xanther states that questions exhaust her, I cannot help but remember several sections in the novel where she asks many questions to those around her. On page 95, Xanther asks and answers a plethora of questions, but does not seem to grow tired. This conversation centers around Dov, though.
Dov’s death affects the character of Xanther significantly and is directly tied to the idea of energy within Danielewski’s work. This section of questions seems to give Xanther energy because it is centered around Dov. In other sections of the novel, though, the thought of Dov or his death overwhelms Xanther to the point of experiencing a seizure. It seems as though Dov is a point of energy for Xanther–one that can have positive or negative outcomes. The title of the novel The Familiar highlights the idea of something being well-known or recognizable. Maybe the idea of Dov’s life gives Xanther the positive energy she needs to survive, and the all too well-known idea of Dov’s death is what breaks her down. This familiarity of Dov sparks something deep inside of Xanther.
Danielewski’s novel The Familiar One Rainy Day in May uses rain to create and depict ideas crucial to its plot line and character development. While rain may be taking place in the physical world around these characters, it is abstractly represented in other ways as well. Xanther’s epilepsy can be seen rather clearly in some ways, and vaguely in others. My first reaction to seeing Danielewski’s choice of design of these “raindrop words” was one of awe. I have never been able to imagine what the mind of someone with epilepsy could be like until I saw this image. In the “Is Everything Okay?” section, the raindrop images begin to develop from one “drop” of words to hundreds over the span of pages 68 and 69. I would interpret these raindrop-heavy pages to be a clear image of Xanther as she is overwhelmed, on the verge of seizing, or experiencing a seizure.
I would definitely agree with delklor’s post as he/she describes the overwhelming nature of this choice in design. Reading the sections with this raindrop design is frustrating, straining, and time consuming. This assessment of emotions can also be reflected onto Xanther’s character. On pages 66 and 67, there are several sections of writing that almost interrupt the pattern of the raindrops. It seems as she has a flood of rain-like thoughts consuming her mind, she is able to respond to them. She is still in some control of her mind as the other writing says “Stop!” several times. Danielewski’s design choice offers a unique way to see in the overwhelming and intricate mind of Xanther.
I think that Luther plays the role of Jesus in this novel. I am not an expert on the Bible by any means, but I took note of some similarities. I think the chapter title mirrors the section in the Bible where Jesus walks on water. Before Luther hits Hopi, Hopi holds up his hands as if he is praying,
“Please Lutéro, please,” Hopi whispers. “Spare me. You can,” Scrambles forward, scrambles closer. Now holding up his hands. Like praying. Praying to Luther.” (page 605)
On the last page of the chapter (608) Luther walks on water.
“Luther pulls off his shirt. Let him see all this ink too, forget his face, his knuckles, his neck, look at this chest, this fuckin back, and those scars, count each round, nine bullet holes there, through this rib, under this nipple, one even through this palm. Luther even holds out his arms, holds them out wide, show off a whole different kind of cross, then steps forward and walks on water.”
I find myself wondering if Luther’s scars are actually from gun wounds. According to the Bible, Jesus was nailed to the cross. Since Luther has a scar on the palm of his hand, I think the scars could be from being crucified. Also, Teyo had once told Luther, “Remember, the higher you rise, the better they better remember you. (page 604)” Jesus is said to have risen from the dead.
Did anyone else get the same feeling?
In class, we talked about how the Narcons are almost human like because they have emotions and can lie. We also talked about how Narcons seem to be like the subconscious. The characters in the book are not aware that they are there. Well almost no one is aware they are there, Xanther seems pretty aware that something is there.
My thought process going through the Narcon section in the middle of the book was that there are these seemingly computer programs that have human intelligence somehow controlling the actions of the characters in the book, or at least have a say in the actions of the characters in the book. We have not really talked about the ethical dilemma this brings up. How do people feel about having this computer program (technology) basically controlling the world we are getting to know within this book? What does this say about how society is progressing?
Another earlier post that I read talked about when we find out that the Narcons are really the best part of the characters we are learning to love that it was disappointing but at the same time was not. It seems like society is moving towards it being more believable and okay for something like this to happen. Are we moving towards that? Is society moving towards basically a person’s “being” living on a computer for all eternity?
As a Genetics major, I am required to take a Science and Values Philosophy class at Clemson to discuss the morality of science and technology in advancing society. I remember during this class that the topic of the conscious being uploaded to a computer to essentially make someone live on infinitely. In a room full of science majors the idea seemed cool but at the same time terrifying. It was terrifying because the thought of computers ruling the world came to mind but it was cool because the thought that it was even possible seemed intriguing.
I have spent a lot of time confused reading this book, but it was not necessarily about what was going on within the storylines of the book that confused me it was more of what is Danielewski trying to say behind the story. From his other books, we can tell that he is gifted and he thinks differently than most, but there is always reason to his madness. Now with this book I begin to wonder what types of questions lie beneath the already confusing universe he has created.
Can we perhaps even start talking about how the idea of Narcons is so familiar yet foreign? Is it even ethically okay for Narcons to exist? If Narcons are animals, could they be the kitten, and if kittens/cats are associated with evil things then is Danielewski saying that this type of technology could potentially be dangerous?
All of these questions and more keep popping up as I read the book and as I get closer and closer to the end the idea of all seeing technology doesn’t seem as farfetched to me because it seems that we as society is already making it that way with how much we post about ourselves and our lives on the internet.