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The Novel as an Apparatus (By Danielle Levy)

Disclaimer: This is not my post. This post was created by Danielle Levy.


Hey guys! Thought id put this up..we are writing essays for class and i tried to map out the way in which the novel is constructed (how it remains convoluted yet maintains its organization..something along those lines 🙂 ) any comments would be great and criticisms about the writing or ideas! always trying to get better 🙂

Perhaps before we are able to realize it, the Astral Omega passage in the beginning of The Familiar summarizes the entire context of the novel. The passage seems to occur in the earliest period of time of the universe, the Planck Epoch, a time between 0 and 10^-43 seconds. While it appears that the narrator comes from this early time, he seems to come from the future, claiming that the past and the future have grown into one. He reveals that the ‘dissolution’ of the future is what has drawn the present into the future, a dissolution that has perhaps made it possible for him to futuristically report from the past. The narrator darkly mentions that despite prolonged ‘postponements,’ questions of war and death have turned out to be ‘broken promises.’ War and death are just as unanswered as they were in the past, and it seems that the ‘postponement’ of these problems did not lead to the solving of them. Danielewski, with this convergence in mind, thereby establishes the ‘familiar.’ The familiar is a marker of reoccurring significance that represents the convergence of the past and future as narrated in the novel. It appears throughout the novel as, literally, the highlighted word ‘familiar.’ Danielewski materializes the familiar, aside from just the word, in a more specific convergence between mysticism and the technological. The cat is predominantly the mystic familiar while the orb is the technological, and the owl is yet another convergence between the mystic and the technological that adopts characteristics of both worlds. These familiar’s have characters that operate them, and the characters through these mystic means come into contact with technological ends, or vice versa. The cat leads Xanther to the narcons through direct association, while the orb leads Cas and Bobby to the question of the mystic through its invention. The convoluted series of convergences between mystic and technological presuppose the ultimate convergence occurring between the past, present, and the future of everything in existence.

The transfer of the cat from Tian Li to Xanther through the rescue points towards Xanther’s ability to recognize the paranormal and operate in levels above that of her simple humanity. Through her ability, Danielewski converges the technological and the mystic by giving the mystic technological characteristics. The mystic is transformed into something technological when readers discover that the ultimate ‘higher beings’ seem to be narrative construct machines. In this way, God seems to be eliminated as the higher being and replaced by the ‘narcons’ that code the everyday lives of each character. Therefore, Xanther’s ability is indeed mystic, but is ultimately of a technological nature. Xanther’s epilepsy is also rendered simultaneously mystic and technological when it is both related to Tian li and attributed to overloads of information. In one sense, readers can tell that Xanther is some sort of paranormal, if not a witch, because Tian Li also has epileptic fits during spells. Yet, in the other sense, these fits are also said to be due to the aforementioned overloads of information. If one considers the definition of the familiar as a ‘spirit, often taking the form of an animal, which obeys and assists a witch or other person,’ its means is purely mystic. Yet, the ends of Xanther’s connection with the mystic cat lead her to the technological beings that are embodied within that cat. In the immediate sense, Xanther is a witch because she possesses paranormal capabilities of recognition. However, this recognition ultimately connects her to the world of the narcons, the technological beings that are the ends of her mystic abilities.

Cas and Bobby seem to represent the other side of the convergence in which the technological is rendered into the mystic. They have a seemingly governmental objective in which they may want to reveal very sensitive information that is shown on the orbs. These orbs capture ‘narcon’ narrations and show them, in various clips, to those watching. Readers could guess that because the narcons are omnipresent in nature, they show clips that reveal information that is too sensitive for the public, thus making the orbs objects of controversy. By starting with the technological, Cas and Bobby’s stories create different ends than that of Xanthers. The convergence in Xanther lies in the mystic means that lead to the technological ends. To put it simply, the mystic cat leads to the suspicion of the existence of the technological. Cas and Bobby’s orbs begin with technological means that capture mystic ends. The clips, which are the ends, are mystic because they rely on pure coincidence to show specific images or stories. Readers see an example of this reliance on coincidence when Bobby recalls that his friend, Sorcerer, saw Xanther in the orb, and knew her through Anwar. There is no mention of a pattern, nor of a deliberate search for Xanther, but instead a random clip that happened to connect Sorcerer with Xanther. Readers wonder where this coincidence came from, if it is coincidence, and if there is an even higher operational system above the narcons that is somehow controlling who sees what clip. The differentiation arises out of the ends that rely on coincidence, a mystic characterstic.

The owl is representative of yet another inter-convergence between the mystic and the technological that does not have a clear end or means. There are multiple examples of the owl as a predominantly mystic figure that thereby ends with the technological, while there are counter examples that end in the mystic. The Blade Runner allusion in the epigraph of ‘The Orb’ demonstrates the owl as a mechanical ‘replicant’ from the movie; replicants being engineered robots that are almost ‘more than human.’ One could say that the physically mechanical nature of the owl begs the question of its mystic properties, in which the boundaries of technology are challenged by a presence of artificial intelligence or emotion. In other examples, however, the owl is purely mystic when it inspires Tian Li’s epileptic fit from her experience in the owl room or when it appears as Pontianak. It becomes difficult to consider the owl either predominantly mechanical or mystic when it appears as ambiguously both. Furthermore, in the Familiar 2 passage on Oria, readers wonder if Oria is a part of Anwar’s game Paradise Open. If she is the enemy that was described as chasing the prey, she is mechanical in her physical sense, yet mystic in her potential self-awareness. This self-awareness can be seen when she decides to kill the baby jaguar. The lines are blurred, however, when it can be said that she exists in the same mode as every other character in the novel. Technically, every character is coded by a narcon, just as Oria is coded by Anwar. The owl is ambiguously difficult to pinpoint, and marks a perfect example of the convergence between technology and mysticism that does not begin with a specific means.

The convergences between mysticism and technology ultimately presuppose the convergence of the past, present, and the future. The opposite ways in which the mystic or the technological approach the other creates a sense of convolutedness that simultaneously has order. The use of the owl, cat, and orb as objects of interest could appear random superficially, but the way in which they are developed as objects of interest make them significantly more coherent. I specifically focused on the means in which these convergences are carried out, and in a sense tried to determine the means in which these convoluted convergences are formed. The construct that starts with the mystical and ends with the technological can be justified by searching for a technological representation of the cat. There doesn’t seem to be any instance in which the cat presents itself from a predominantly technological existence, and it instead remains in the mainly mystical. On the other hand, the orb better embodies the technological due to its physical existence as a machine. Therefore, its unexplained reliance on random, if not coincidental clips points towards a mystic ends that is not yet attributed to any one character. The owl, as the in between of the schema, is representative of the ever-converging nature of the convergences themselves. It is the explicit way in which these cacophonies and convergences form that creates the extremely convoluted yet meaningful feel in the novel, something that constantly renders us in search yet perpetually premature of the answer.

“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!

The Thread Between the Stories

I know that the Orb has been addressed a number of times already, and I went back and examined some of the threads that were already made not only concerning the patterns of orbs throughout the text but what the meaning of the central Orbs in this story might be. Coming to the close of the book I felt like a separate post concerning the ending section of the book would be beneficial, and I felt that some of the information was just significant and different enough that it warranted a separate post rather than just a comment.

Looking back for a moment, the most striking thing to me about the sections concerning the Orbs was the fact that whatever is happening with the Orbs in Texas is happening at the same time as the rest of the narrative. Some of the introductory descriptions we get during the first Orb section include: “Eons slip by. The canyon rises. Her mesa falls then rises then falls again until eventually it flattens into a storm-polished plain. The temple, though, remains unchanged” (pg. 137). This kind of description originally led me to believe that I was reading about a civilization far in the past or the future, considering I wasn’t initially used to the formatting of the novel or paying attention to the dog eared pages.

Upon re-reading such a section, I realized that the Orb was giving the viewer, assumedly Cas, the ability to see into both the past and the future. I also noticed the time stamp on the dog ear indicating that this narrative was going on at the same time as everything else. This observation really put the events that were occurring in those sections a bit more in perspective, as well as increased my speculation that the technology that the Orb has is both very advanced and very experimental.

The section involving the revelation of the Narcon (pg. 563-578), short for “narrative construct” (pg. 565), put even more in perspective for me in terms of the main point of view from which all these stories are branching and how all of these stories might actually start to thread together and form a coherent and complex picture. One of the threads already mentioned running through all the stories is the presence of the striking wail which shows up at least once in all of the running narratives in this novel. Another thread involves the direct awareness of the other narratives by each other by the end of the novel.

This recognition occurs on the last page of the final Orb section, when on page 655 The Sorcerer states that he was a good friend of Xanther’s father, and knows both of him and his daughter, whose name he blatantly states. This is, as far as I can recall, the first instance of someone in a separate place and story within the narrative stating that they are aware of another story that’s occurring simultaneously along these many jumbled narratives. Unfortunately not much more of this direct connection is made since it isn’t brought up again in any following sections for the rest of the novel.

A number of questions arise in the face of this revelation. Are the Orbs connected to the Narcons in some way? Why were they developed and why are Bobby, Cas, and the others in their narrative the only ones aware of them or able to use them? Will this lead to a greater convergence of the narratives in the later volumes, a very distinctive thread that connects the narratives from a direct point rather than just someone in each of the narratives hearing a random noise? This evidence really only makes it clear that there is a definitive tie between the Ibrahim’s narrative and Bobby and Cas narrative—I can honestly say I am very much looking forward to see where the connection is taken and possibly expanded in later novels.

Side Note: One other possible instance of the narratives merging occurs on pages 434-435 when it appears Hopi’s name occurs in one of Xanther’s social networking chats, although I don’t consider this direct evidence considering I’ve read some other threads that discuss the possibility that this isn’t Xanther and Hopi’s narratives actually merging.

*Edit* — In class today it was brought to my attention that the one who says he knows Xanther and Anwar is actually The Sorcerer, and not Bobby. We theorized that perhaps Mefisto is actually the unnamed Sorcerer, and that this could be a very interesting and solid link between these two stories. If the Sorcerer really is Mefisto, how does that impact the plot of these two separate story lines? Why do you think Danielewski chose to merge them specifically? The more I think about it the more complex and intriguing it gets.

We, the lower life forms from which they evolved.

The Familiar opens with a few pages filled by the thoughts of a people that live at the end times in the expanding universe. Their description of the fading stars takes the theory discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1929 to a possible conclusion in which mater has spread wide and stars can no longer be sustained. However, this entity turns its attention away from the impending demise, and instead focuses on identifying with mankind in this time frame by speaking to “you”.

The being cryptically states, “You are all we once were but vastness of our strangeness exceeds all light-years between our times.” (15). This and the surrounding text implies that the people of the VEM5 Alpha System are the final evolution of man. They are what we are to become right before the universe can no longer sustain us. Our present, their past. The message they chose to hand down is that two things will remain our commonality across the time that divides us. Death and War will be present from here until the end times.

These four pages are at great odds with many of the pages that follow, yet this is how the book opens. There seems to be no mention of them for at least 200 pages. The people of the VEM5 Alpha System say nothing after declaring a dreary future, or do they? Are they always watching as the text rolls on through the pages? Do they make corrections, comments, or even sensor information from the reader? ⠮Does he know?⠝ ⠮No, this is speculation. He has not read far enough yet.⠝ The text appears to promise the reader that there will be more encounters with the future dwellers since this introduction is Encryption 1/5.

If these beings are connected with the other stories from the book then that fact would only begin to raise more questions. However, questions seem to be The Familiar’s biggest export thus far.