Tag Archive | metafiction

Metafiction in Maus and The Familiar

Both Maus and The Familiar are examples of metafiction. However, the way in which these books use metafiction is entirely different. Maus, as an auto-biographical, or at least semi-autobiographical, graphic novel allows for Spiegelman to edit his prose through the eyes of a self-conscious narrator. The narcons, in The Familiar, could also be seen as editors using their own knowledge in order to edit the story, but not in the same way as Spiegelman. Spiegelman’s metafiction, on both the textual and visual level of narrative, shows how an author can become part of his/her own story.

Spiegelman, as both author and character, is capable of shifting from narrating the story to lamenting on the difficulty of actually producing the story itself. Spiegelman’s style of metafiction shows how an author can become a part of the story itself, whereas Danielewski uses characters within the story, but outside of the specific narrative, to influence the entire work.

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The Familiar and Maus: Metaficton

While most of the novels we’ve been reading in class this semester have dealt with a human/animal relationship, Maus by Art Spiegelman is the first novel after The Familiar to have strong ties in metafiction. The Familiar is overtly metafictional and it’s plain to see within seconds of opening the book. However, Maus is metafictional is a similar yet different way. The biggest example in Maus is that Art Spiegelman is writing the novel, that he is also a part of, about Artie Spiegelman who seems to still be working out some emotional conflicts. Spiegelman breaks the fourth wall in some sections and the novel refers to itself in some areas. For example, the characters in the novel can be seen discussing the success of the very book of which they are a part.

Spiegelman makes us aware that we are reading a graphic novel several times throughout the novel. For example, in one section, he is trying to decide how to illustrate a tin workshop and talks of how he doesn’t like to draw machinery. In fact, there is actually a comic within the graphic novel that Spiegelman illustrated and produced before Maus was published. And in that comic, is a picture of his mother— one of the three individuals in this novel that are presented in actual photographs instead of depicted as animals.

Similarly, the Narcons in The Familiar are a part of the story but also exist outside of the story space. The Narcons appear to be in complete control of the narrative, deleting information and commenting on things whenever necessary. Of course, TF-Narcon stands for The Familiar Narrative Construct. So similar to Maus, we get 3 characters that are telling the story that are also a part of the story (or I guess it’s more like they make themselves a part of the story).

The Design, Limitations, and Purpose of Narcons

“Hi.” This congenial, seemingly innocent greeting is what opens Pandora’s Box (and indeed opens paradise) in Volume 1 of Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar. Like some metafictional game of peek-a-boo, the novel’s Narrative Construct pauses the story completely and introduces itself to the reader. TF-Narcon9, as is its designation, exists someplace above and beyond the […]

The Familiar – post 1

This text is the first metafiction novel that I have ever read. Now that I’m almost done reading it, I can say that it is one of the most interesting and confusing books I’ve read. Honestly I really like how it was set up. I loved the different fonts and the time stamps. I thought that those two things both helped me to keep the story straight. As confusing as it was at first, the horizontal, slanted, weird words ended up being really extraordinary. I think I liked the challenge of reading this book and understanding it. I love mystery novels and investigation already, so getting to delve into this book and figure it out was pretty fun. I think the most challenging part was having to decipher and translate the different languages that came up. I know a lot of Spanish, but none of the other languages. Even though it was the most confusing part, I did learn more about those other languages. I just did not like having to stop to look up words and then go back to reading. However, I would not change anything about the book. It is unique the way it is written now. Mark Danielewski is an amazing writer, and I really hope to read more of his novels. As I was reading The Familiar, I wondered how on Earth one individual could come up with all those different stories and intertwine those different symbols into one novel at once. I would like to think of myself as a little creative, but I could not imagine writing something like this novel (although I wish I could – I would not know where to begin). In addition, the other fact that there are 27 volumes in this series just blows my mind. I wonder how similar or different they will be after reviewing The Familiar. There is so much creativity in The Familiar already. This is definitely one book that I could read over and over, and probably still learn something new each time.

Metafiction and ‘The Familiar’

Knowing full well that Danielewski is a novelist writing in the age of ‘post-postmodernism’ (cf. metamodernism) and realizing immediately that elements of metafiction would bleed heavily throughout the novel, I set out reading The Familiar actively searching for such elements.

I think we all discovered upon reading the first chapter that Danielewski’s playful style meant the freedom on his part to interject various comments into the narrative; actually, these ‘comments’ are if anything clarifications: dates, facts, allusions, corrections, etc., offset by a strange form of dotted punctuation. We learn much later in the novel that these intertextual remarks come from a more sophisticated metafictional device, none other than TF-Narcon⁹ and its infinite offspring. The novel literally “pauses” after page 562—the page numbers vanish, the ‘Narrative Construct’ introduces itself, and then a dozen or so pages are spent outlining its nature and parameters. For the reader, this is both a bizarre and rather enlightening moment. We learn the identity of this narrative ‘intruder’ and make the proper links to Xanther’s Question Song, Anwar’s Paradise Open, Cas’ Orb, and a number of other previously unrelated inclusions.

Meta-commentary also comes, albeit somewhat cryptically, in the form of font names at the very back of the text. TF-Narcon⁹, for instance, is typed in “MetaPlus-,” yet another meta-wink from Mr. Danielewski. (More discussion on fonts can be found here.)

The final metafictional element I wish to discuss is the title of the novel and its presence within the text. I’ve counted nineteen instances of the word “familiar” in The Familiar, and with each use the word is highlighted in pink. I have yet to explore precisely how and at what moments Danielewski chooses to use the title word, but my literary instincts tell me that route might be a dead end. The only exception that jumped out at me was when the word is used three times in the same sentence on page 705, when Anwar is remarking how oddly easy it is to slip into a rapport with his two biological daughters (this, perhaps, in stark contrast to his relationship with Xanther, whom he loves but finds quite challenging).

Nonetheless, I invite everyone to contribute any findings! At every moment, it seems, Danielewski is hitting the reader over the head with the fact that the physical object in hand is artifice, a constructed text that is very aware of its own construction. I’ve only scratched the surface, though, especially with Narcons—there’s a lot more there.