Both Danielewski’s The Familiar and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace deal with anthrozoogenesis as is more fully discussed by another post on this blog. That is not to say, however, that these two texts are identical in their treatment of animals. In Disgrace, the animals – snakes and dogs in particular – function as both symbols and tools. They have no identity or real purpose outside of those functions. The snakes are seen throughout the text (often in conjunction with a garden) and are meant to make the reader think of Satan as the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, representing temptation and “falls from grace.” The dogs can also been seen as symbols. For the non-white Africans, the dogs were symbols of white oppression of violence. That is part of the reason why Lucy’s attackers killed almost all of her dogs in the kennel. Now we have the dogs in relation to Lurie. They are used to change Lurie; they foster empathy. Outside of that, they have little to no purpose or identity. They function more as plot elements than characters.
Animals in The Familiar are treated a little differently. The main animals are Luther’s dogs and the mysterious white cat. The dogs, in my opinion, are similar to the dogs in Disgrace. They don’t have an identity outside of being Luther’s dogs. The cat, however, is a different story. The cat is a character in and of itself; it has its identity, its own story, and – as far as I can tell – does not represent anything symbolically. Let’s start with identity. The cat isn’t tied to one of the human characters as far as narrative goes. It starts with Tian Li and then switches over to Xanther, assuming that the cats are the same. The cat jumps between narratives. It couldn’t do this if its identity was tied to Tian Li. This jump also shows how the cat has its own story. We don’t know why it jumped or what it wants with Xanther. The cat’s actions and motives – and it does have motives – are unknown to us. We don’t even know what the cat really is. Is it magical? Is it evil? Is it even a cat? Its story is still a mystery waiting to unfold in the coming books – hopefully. And because the cat is so mysterious, it doesn’t really act as a symbol for anything.
I’m not really sure where this fits but has anyone else noticed the mentioning of religion in almost every section of the book? It is normally used in the sense of what one believes.
For example Danielewski specifically mentions that Anwar does not believe in a God, but that Dov did.
He describes things that are not church related as religion, too.
For example, on page 407 traffic is mentioned as a religion. He uses it as a adjective to describe how Shnorhk feels about traffic.
I might be making something out of nothing but I do not think that the use of religion both dealing with and without the church is purely accidental. If Danielewski is remediating television then this could be another theme of sorts to think about. Most television shows these days have the characters that have a strong belief in something. It gives their character another depth so that people can relate better.
I’ve taken fiction classes at school and one thing that my professors stress is developing the characters in a way that does not give everything away but still makes you relate to them.
I think that characters having strong beliefs in something or nothing is a way for us to relate back to the characters without necessarily giving too much away in what is to come.
There might even be a deeper meaning to the use of religion that I have yet to work out in my mind and I will not understand until I reach the end of the book but this is what I have for now.
In the text, we frequently see comments in the font designated for “The Narcons” (for more information on who uses which font, you can find this information in the back of your book approximately pg. 843). These comments are bracketed by the braille letters “N” and “Z”. It is my hypothesis that “The Narcons” are Mark Z. Danielewski playing the part of creator or God. These Narcons (TF-Narcon3, 9 & 27) are giving us clues in the text, translations, and then states that they aren’t our “Google bitch[es],” as the Mandarin and Cantonese characters start showing up frequently in the character jingjing’s chapters, I believe that these inserted comments are the author’s way of communicating signals and clues to his readers without leaving footnotes. As some mentioned in an earlier class this week, the braille letter may in fact be Danielewski’s way of signing his name.
The most important clue that “The Narcons” has left us (or me) so far is found on Page 110, where “The Narcons” point out that the spelling of “catstrophe” may not just be coincidental or the fault of mistranslation or an accent. He points this out with the use of an “!” which leads me to believe that cats will be significant later on in the story (this and the fact that others have many posts about cats).
What do you think? Could “The Narcons” be Mark Z. Danielewski? Or do you think that Mark Z. Danielewski is playing the role of creator by implementing the narcons into the story to create and manipulate the narrative for him? Would Danielewski engage with his audience in such a personal way as to write himself as one of the characters? Or are “The Narcons” something else entirely? If so, who do you think it is?
Something that interested me when starting to read The Familiar was its narrative style. Throughout Danielewski’s oeuvre, readers have seen him match styles of narrative voice with his characters. This has included choices of font as well as linguistic idiolect.
In The Familiar, chapters are aligned with different narratives and different characters and once again we can see Danielewski alternating font and style. To what extent can we interpret his stylistic choices as attempts to render the cognitive processes and styles of his characters?
As an example, through pages 1-199 there are 3 chapters that we might think of as relating to Xanther’s story and all are presented as third-person narration. However, the focalisation differs: ‘Is Everything Okay?’ is written from Xanther’s point of view, ‘Square One’ from Anwar’s, and ‘Big Surprise’ from Astair’s. As a result, there are some interesting differences in thought presentation. Parenthesis is used throughout Anwar’s and Astair’s narration, for instance, to represent digressions of thought, though the punctuation symbols differ between the two.
I therefore wanted to pose a question: To what extent can we consider style, punctuation, and visual-multimodal elements in Danielewski’s writing as being used to represent character cognition and mind style? Can an argument be made about contemporary fiction and innovations in stream of consciousness?