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)?
Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar: Volume I utilizes multiple languages other than the original English in which it is set to be published in May 2015. These languages include Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Hebrew, and Russian. While lengths can be made by others to try and translate some of the other languages, I will focus on the instances of Russian which we see in the first 400 pages of The Familiar: Volume I in this post.
Below I have reproduced the Russian excerpts of interest, the page in my version of Volume I on which they are found, and then the same excerpt in English as I have been able to translate it. Please keep in mind that I used the iPad App “BingTranslator” for this exercise, so these are of course up for debate by others. If there are readers out there who have also strove to begin translating the Russian excerpts from this volume, I welcome their additional input.
- “как будто у него не хватило бы духу” (pg. 104) – “as if he did not have the spirit”
- “зеленый” (pg. 105) – “green”
- “Не по русски” (pg. 108) – “Not in Russian”
- “Старик явно спятил, иначе бы не привел сюда этого ублюдка. Следи, чтобы они не обокрали его.” (pg. 273) – “The old man is confused, otherwise it would not have brought this here bastard. Make sure not to lose it.”
- “Он может себе позволить быть слепым.” (pg. 274) – “He can afford to be blind.”
- “Он уже давно ничево не видит.” (pg. 274) – “He has seen nothing for a while.”
- “Тихо. Не при чужих.” (pg. 274) – “Quiet. Not when there are strangers.”
- “Можно подумать, этот недоумок говорит по-русски. Он и английского-то, похоже, не знает.” (pg. 274) – “You would think that this idiot would speak Russian. And English, I bet he does not even know.”
If you are looking at the pages from which these excerpts have been pulled, you may realize that the English sentences immediately following Russian Excerpts 4 – 8 (pgs. 273 – 274) are very similar to my English translations of those excerpts. In addition, we readers may infer from the “not in english” end to the sentence in which Russian Excerpt 3 occurs that “не по русски” might have something to do with “not in Russian” (pg. 108). Furthermore, we may also deduce that from the discussion of the word “green” and the insufficiency of expressing ideas through language in the sentences surrounding Russian Excerpt 2 that “зеленый” may mean “green” or at least have something to do with that color being discussed. It seems, at least to me, that the only Russian Excerpt that has no surrounding contextual evidence from which we can infer its English meaning is Russian Excerpt 1, “как будто у него не хватило бы духу” (pg. 103).
And so, I ask you, my fellow readers of this volume: why does Danielewski choose to aid readers in understanding the latter Russian Excerpts but not the first one? Did he “not have the spirit” to add contextually to Anna Loginova’s Russian translation? Does it inform readers something about Tian Li’s character in that moment, if we assume it is from her perspective in the other instances that help us translate these languages into English?
And then, especially for readers who had no idea what these excerpts meant in English before reading this post: how does translation, or the need for translation to accompany a literary work, change the ways in which that work is read? How does knowing an (albeit perhaps rough) English translation of these excerpts change the interpretation of the action/sentences/words surrounding those excerpts? Does knowing maybe what one alternative (aka: non-English) language extrapolate our ability to infer the meanings of other unknown phrases nearby? For instance, if we know that “не по русски” is “not in Russian” and the end of that sentence is “not in english”, how confident as readers/translators/language detectives can we be that the surrounding Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese phrases also have similar readings (pg. 108)?