Today in class, we discussed different levels of power and authority associated with different pieces of literature. We referenced Johanna Drucker in https://bb.clemson.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-2323335-dt-content-rid-21663912_2/courses/lct-engl-3490/Course%20Readings/Drucker%20-%20Experimental%20Typography%20as%20Modern%20Art%20Practice.pdf” target=”_blank”>The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art where she discusses the difference between marked and unmarked texts. In unmarked texts, the format is simple, and the words mean exactly what they say, leaving no room for interpretation. An unmarked text is transparent. Danielewski interrupts this transparency with The Familiar—a marked text. Danielewski makes the pages visually stimulating by skewing the format and providing pictures. He draws the reader in and holds the reader accountable for interpretation of the novel as a whole.
The difference in these two pieces is the presence of power. When reading an unmarked text, the reader does not feel a sense of authority. A marked text, however, is written by the author to provoke thought, create conversations, and formulate answers to the unknown. To put this in simpler terms, let’s compare these types of text to types of sentences. When thinking about unmarked vs. marked texts, I imagine an unmarked text as an imperative sentence—a sentence that tells us exactly what to do and does not leave any room for questions. On the other hand, I imagine a marked text as an interrogative sentence—a sentence ending in a question mark that elicits a response from the reader.
Danielewski gives his readers a great deal of power in this book, leaving questions unanswered and room for interpretation. He also includes a hierarchy of power within the story. We can view these layers of authority like Xanther’s digital social media spheres on page 335—The Solosphere, The Amicasphere, the Noosphere, and the Horrosphere.
First, we can use the Solosphere (“contained, known, safe”) to represent the first level of power in the story—the characters. The characters’ stories are created by a higher power, and it is questionable whether the characters are aware of any other level of power. Secondly, the Amicasphere represents the Narcons. These computer-like programs help tell the stories, and on page 571 of the Narcon section, the Narcon says, “I know every reality Xanther has encountered whether pebble, pot holder, or tangerine seed…I know that which is beyond Xanther too.” The next layer is the Noosphere (“Definitely the least safe.”). This represents VEM. This is an acronym that is mentioned numerous times throughout the novel (see pages 569, 571, 639, 642, 647). Although we are unsure what it stands for, we get the sense that it is a higher power of creation in the novel. Finally, the last layer is the Horrosphere. The author, Danielewski, would be categorized into this most-outward layer. He is the creator of the story and has the greatest amount of power. He created this work of fiction, and he controls VEM, the Narcons, and the characters.
Where within these layers do the readers fall? I think we may even fall outside the limits of these spheres. We are free to create out own interpretations. What do you think?
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.
After Ozgur’s section (page 434), the reader gets a spread of what Parcel Thoughts would look like on a phone. Danielewski does not give us who’s account it is, but does give the username “rawrgrl.” Knowing that Xanther has an account, the reader might assume that it is hers; that somehow she is connected to Hopi since we see his name is written several times in the different Parcel Thought bubbles, but I believe that it would make more sense if “rawrgrl” was not Xanther, but instead a minor character in Luther’s, such as the girl who hugs Hopi at Nacho Mirande’s place. Another thought could be that “rawrgirl” is in fact Xanther, and since the girl in Luther’s chapter is described as being around thirteen, they could be connected somehow (school maybe?), and she (Xanther) could be viewing the girl and Hopi’s interaction online? I’d love the hear what other’s thoughts were on this.
Xanther’s narrative seems to be mainly concerned with interiority: the suppression of impulses, storming thoughts, epilepsy, etc. As to be expected by such a level of suppression, her narrative, thus far, seems to be the most uneventful: a simple daughter-and-father walk on a rainy day. Even the subtitle of the volume, A Rainy Day in May, suggests tranquil, almost pastoral themes. This is highly contrasted the narratives of Jingjing, Luther, Ozgur, etc., which are splattered with violence, particularly Luther and its crude aggression and lewdness, and Jinjing’s, which while not violent in the conventional sense of the word, presents violence in its written form, by use of a plethora of dialects, slangs and different languages which make the narrative confusing and at times even borderline unintelligible.
Going back to Xanther, her discussion of the Horrorsphere seems to mirror the state of being of the other characters’ worlds: first and foremost, it’s free of taboo, an “anything goes” ordeal (as seen in social media sites like the infamous 4chan or certain corners of reddit, Tumblr, etc.), and given its name, it is a place of horror (the online OED returns an interesting definition of horror in its first result: that of “roughness” or “ruggedness,” both words that could easily go along with the view of life “out on the streets,” as the general public would call it). So what is the significance of suppression vs. release in the context of the world as a whole?
I’ll shift my focus now into a short account to further drive my point home (hopefully). There existed a Japanese horror flash animation in the 90s called “The Red Room,” known for breaking the fourth wall in a chilling fashion. In a brief summary, the story of the animation concerns a high school student who finds a pop up on his computer that reads “Do you like the red room?” As he closes it, he feels a presence behind him, and the next day news arrives that the same student has committed suicide and painted the walls of his room with his blood. The animation then breaks the fourth wall upon ending, actually sending the same pop-up of the story into the viewer’s computer. This animation gained notoriety when a young elementary school girl in Japan, who was a proclaimed fan of the story, committed a homicide in what became known as the Sasebo slashing. The relevance of this lies in where the horror is truly situated. The flash animation only truly becomes terrifying when it infiltrates the real world – when the pop up appears on your own (real) computer screen. Concern is not in regards to what the young elementary school student watched, but in what she did after watching it.
I feel Danielewski might be making the point that virtual or imaginary spaces subdue our definition of horror and violence. Xanther’s brief encounter with the Horrorsphere affects her because she cannot recognize the difference between this and reality because her entire narrative focuses on the interior – which is where the biggest horrors lie. Likewise, in our own real world, reading of Luther is not the same as witnessing it. The horrorsphere exists as a deposit for all horror – and only when it leaks out into real life does it truly damage us. But having a character like Xanther really lets the reader see how equally violent both realms of horror can be. Although it is but a Rainy Day in May, Xanther’s narrative can be disturbing and unsettling, because the imaginative is depicted with vast realism. In this sense, is the horrorsphere really contained, or can it affect us now, beyond the computer screen (think of Jingjing, whose narrative is violent in language)?