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.
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)?