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.
Throughout our reading and discussion of The Familiar, one theme that has recurred is language that is simply lost in translation one way or another. Whether it be a switching of languages from Cantonese to English to Russian to Spanish and so forth. Perhaps the repeating series of dots, altered sizes and shapes of words, the blacking out of text, or even the differences in words in the page layout, they all represent a difference in the reading and perception of language. In a recent class discussion we talked about how the layers of knowledge or power of the characters from VEM to Narcons to the characters and how much of the novel is controlled by other layers but how do we know to what degree? This realistic loss of language and interpretation throughout the characters in the novel and the readers’ journey through the novel truly illustrate Danielewski’s display of our culture’s deficiency in understanding outside of our bubble. Also he gives the audience methods of reducing the language impediment by being able to go back and read each characters story in order of their own personal time length among other methods. The way I like to think of the Narcons chapter is almost like the abundance of footnotes from language lost in translation, this helps the reader to understand so many of the language mysteries throughout the book.
Since the beginning of our reading and posting and analyzing of The Familiar we have been calling the symbols that enclose and signify the Narcons coming in and explaining or editing “braille dots.” There are multiple posts about what the braille don’t mean. They could be a letter “N” so that when read aloud could sound like “The End.” They could mean “not.” At first people thought they could be a letter “Z” as well. We’ve been so caught up in the meaning of the dots before we knew the Narcons existed, and now that we do know their place in the scheme of the novel, we haven’t stopped trying to figure out why the Narcons tell us the things that they do in the way that do. But we’ve been leaving out one question that I think is pretty important: WHO IS READING THIS STORY THAT NEEDS BRAILLE?? Danielewski had clearly made use of traditionally disadvantaged characters as his protagonists but has yet to discuss a blind character, making his use of braille an interesting choice. Since Danielewski has everything planned out so specifically it would only make sense that if the braille dots are, in fact, braille dots then they are there to serve some purpose.
On Tuesday in class we discussed the possibility of there being another implied reader of the novel who might be allowed to see the pieces of text that are blacked out. From our discussion we came up with the idea that the VEM Corporation has censored out parts of the text because the character and we ourselves are not high enough on the totem pole to know about the happenings or key players in the development of some way of controlling the future. This got me thinking that maybe this other reader gets to know the full story. Because the text is blacked out, how are we to know that the words or numbers or codes that are blacked out aren’t in the Narcon braille dot language or just in straight up braille? At this point in volume one of The Familiar we simply don’t know.
Back to the idea of the braille being for a certain reader or readers in particular… Why would only the Narcon sections be marked by braille? Is this “other reader” privy to everything else that is going on (so he/she wouldn’t need to read the other parts simply printed in ink on the page) except for what is going on with the Narcons? Is the “other reader” some kind of editor of the world of the novel and is in control of what the Narcons say and, being blind, only knows how to write in braille? There are a whole slew of questions that could be asked about this “other reader” that I hope are answered in the coming volumes because the idea of there being an “other reader” at all is so fascinating to me.
Or the use of braille could represent the notion that there is so much going on in the world that is unseen. A little unsettling, but another valid possibility that falls in with the world or mystery that Danielewski has created.
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.”
The unique ability to get a transparent representation of a family dynamic is awarded by the multiple sections in the Familar by Xanther, Anwar, and Astair and the ways that they interact and see each other. It is arguable that this family is the most relevant and central to TF, but it is also the most reliable due to the accountability and multiple presentations of each character. Details, patterns, and the random nature of The Familiar are already almost impossible to decipher, and the incomplete and by consequence unreliable perspectives of the other characters make it even more difficult to construct an accurate view to attempt to understand what Danielewski is trying to say. Because this family is most evident throughout the novel and the story line the most fully explained, it is safe to conclude that it has the most to reveal about the plot. Anwar is seen in Xanther’s eyes as a superhero who codes and answers her questions, but to Astair she is critical of him and to himself, perhaps even more critical. Whether colored favorably or not, a first person depiction of one’s self is never reliable and the validation or invalidation given by the other characters gives different aspects of the story credibility. Astair is seen as a strong mother and intelligent character by both her husband and children, but only upon her own perspective it is revealed to the audience the true desperate nature of her thoughts. Upon the kitten’s arrival, some form of a mental breakdown occurs within her sections but without their inclusion would go completely unnoticed. Without this perspective, the worry over Xanther and her constant feeling like she’s placing buckets everywhere to catch the leaks would not show how hard she’s working to try to keep things together and be successful rather than her claim that she is just allergic to cats. Xanther’s epilepsy is consuming to all members of the family, but if only viewed from her parent’s perspectives you would miss the strength, curiosity, and compassionate nature of Xanther that comes from her own perspectives.
The narcons who produce the stories produce them one character at a time, so it is up to the reader and not the writer to figure out the family dynamic and to deduce the truth from the multiple perspectives. A character alone is biased and incomplete, but the whole family unit allows for a sense of completion, and with that sense of completion, the task of starting to understand can begin.
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?
Reading this book has really gotten odd, honestly. There are so many different elements that are weird in the book that what appears to be going on is something straight from a G.G. Márquez novel.
For example, with Isandorno, we have a character who is a “practitioner of superstition without being superstitious.” This paradoxical statement along with the telling of his story in Veinte Pesos is really reminiscent of a dream sequence in a magical realist genre-ed book. Why the random animals (donkey and goat)? Why climb a pyramid? What does he mean by “What hunts you now you already own”? One critic said of magical realism, “If you can explain it, it isn’t magical realism.” So, I’m not really positing that this is magical realism, but it very well could be. Magical realism, too, is a practice in much of Latin American literature. (It is derived from the folklore of the region from which it comes–almost like the epic tradition from Homer to Virgil to Milton and then Eliot).
Magical realism acknowledges animals with spiritual significance, contains lots of metafiction, real world setting with unworldly events treated normally, and a mysterious tone — all things possibly present here.
I’m just posing questions here, honestly. I’m curious as to what exactly is pulling these characters out into the rain–what the rain represents–why the creation of a metafictitious device like a Narcon, and ultimately why write a 37-volume series about a girl who finds a kitten? I’m not confident we’ll get any answers too quickly — Danielewski doesn’t seem to function like that.
Danielewski incorporates many instances of technology and programming into The Familiar. Programming seems to be an reoccurring theme in this novel. The novel mimics television programs, alludes to computer programs, and serves as a program in itself.
What exactly is a program, and what does it do? In my opinion, to program a system is to input information that is executable. Computers have code inputted into their systems that allows them to perform tasks. In the chapter titled, “Square One”, we see instances of computer code inserted into pages. Page 89 shows Anwar’s thoughts appearing as computer code and comments.
The novel mirrors television programs, as well, in many ways. Danielewski incorporates visual aspects that engage the reader, and the introduction to the book was formatted similar to a television show intro. It features various advertisements and movie-like images in the pages prior to the story.
Danielewski places a large emphasis on programs in this book. This made me consider ways in which The Familiar serves as a program in itself. When reading books, we are programmed to read from the front cover to the back cover, from left to right on each page, turning the pages to the left as we go. Immediately, when we start reading The Familiar, we are forced to break this habit. We have to physically interact with the book by turning the book sideways to view the landscape-formatted images. The book deprograms its readers from what we have done all of our lives, and overtime we get used to this strange style. We come to expect the unknown and are not surprised when the author inserts a strangely formatted page of raindrops or an orb outline moving across the page. This acclimation is the process of re-programming us.
We, as readers, are challenged to step out of our familiar ways when reading this novel. Why, then, is the book titled The Familiar? In what other ways does this book serve as a program? Who is being programmed?