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Understanding The Familiar Through House of Leaves

Hey folks!

I wanted to post a few resources I’ve found in relation to House of Leaves that I think have the ability to help us better understand some of the things that The Familiar is doing.

The first is an article titled “Text and Paratext in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves”

It’s really helpful for understanding how Danielewski likes to both play around with narrative and how he uses the totality of the text as part of a narrative. In particular, I think it is important to take into consideration the points made about the coloration of the word “house” throughout the novel: the fact that this even occurs with the name of the publisher (Random House) shows just how pervasive the narrative can be in Danielewski’s stories. It is not just the actual plot and characters that we need to be aware of and use to understand what is happening in the story, but the entire book, cover to cover. For instance: I am usually pretty against reading the flap or back of books. While on the one hand it can be a nice summary that let’s me know a bit about whether or not I’ll find the story engaging, on the other hand I usually find that such summaries have a tendency to give away a bit too much of the plot for my liking. While this is certainly true of The Familiar, I would advocate reading the back of the book in spite of the fact that it gives away some of the plot. Danielewski has near total control over the composition of this book, and therefore I think it is important to eave no stone unturned. It may very well be that he’d rather the audience already know that Xanther’s trip to the dog shelter will end in “failure”, as it were.

The second article is a bit less about the book itself and more about the full experience that comes with reading a Danielewski book, and is titled: House of Leaves: Reading the Networked Novel

(Note: I found this particular article through my university’s library database, so you might not be able to access it through that link.)

One of the main themes from the article that I think applies very well to The Familiar is actually a quote from another article and says: “[House of Leaves] is a print novel for the digital age, a book that privileges print while plugging into the digital network.”

Obviously, if only by the existence of this website, The Familiar does the same sort of thing. Beyond just the physical book, there is a greater “experience” that is involved with The Familiar. You’re meant to be constantly translating, googling, and generally researching all of the disparate information you encounter throughout the book. It is very much an interactive experience, and to fully enjoy the story I really believe that you have to get out there and do some leg work (like making posts on this site!).

Find anything else int he articles that you think applies well to The Familiar? Let me know! Perhaps one of the major differences I find is the lack of a real horror narrative in The Familiar that is so important to House of Leaves– though with the introduction of the obviously supernatural (and certainly dangerous) cat that may very well change as we move into future volumes.


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.

Do Androids Dream of Cylons?

So I’ve found it really interesting how in the Xanther and Anwar sections we repeatedly get references to BSG, Blade Runner, and PKD’s works. All (it is the new BSG as specified by the helpful annotators) of these deal with aspects of the human/robot relationship and use that as an extension to explore what it means to be human and how one knows one is human or machine and can a machine become human. This in connection to Xanther and her cognitive processes (be it a product of genius or autism) seems to me to present a degree of resonance between her and the android/cylon characters who find out they are not in fact human/wish to pass as such. She struggles with passing as human with her fellow classmates as seen in the Dr. Potts sections and her mentioning of the bullying she has suffered as well as the toll her epilepsy has on her way of thinking (she tries to escape the beast).

In Anwar’s sections the use of [], {}, and <> symbols as opposed to () as with Astair, associates him with his code writing and reflects a mind the thinks in a similar pattern while also associating him with androids with the robotic/computer connections that entails.

The annotators of the work (as of page 395) could be machines, robots, aliens, or simply those who Johnny Truant-like have found these records and thus are speaking to the reader.

Likewise the first of the vignettes in the prologue seemed to me to also be of a futuristic/machine/robot vein as least that’s what it evoked for me while reading the black pages which could easily represent a computer code screen (though the font is not the standard code font).