In The Familiar, I found that one of the most prominent themes is religion. Several characters share their personal beliefs regarding the idea of faith, god, and religion. Xanther mentioned several times that the Ibrahims don’t believe in heaven or God. Astair, who has a background in the Catholic Church, wrote her thesis on the necessity of God but was given a poor grade. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
Another example is Luther. In class we discussed the significance of this name—it is possibly derived from Martin Luther, an important figure in the Protestant Reformation. Additionally, there was a scene where Luther walked on water which (I believe) drew comparisons between Luther and a Christ-like figure.
Along the same lines, I find it interesting that Anwar designs videogames. Game designers and programmers have the ability to fully render an alternate reality. They can create an entire world and people to inhabit them. And they can make them look, act, or be anything they want. To me, this is something only a figure with supreme authority can accomplish.
With that said, I’d like to offer my take on why Danielewsky features this motif so heavily. I believe Danielewsky is presenting his perspective on the digital age. He is criticizing the fact that with today’s advanced technology, faith is not as important as it used to be. And in the future, the institution of religion or faith-based groups will be an artifact of today’s society.
Now, my main question is what his reason for doing this? Are politics a central conflict in The Familiar? I’d like to hear others’ opinions.
I know there’s already been a lot of discussion of Narcons on here, but I’m going to add on to that in relation to some of the later events of the book, particularly in the last few sections of the book, so if you haven’t read that far yet, fair warning…
The chapter about narcons completely caught me by surprise–I had been so engrossed in the Xanther/Astair/Anwar narrative and the insertion of this sterile,cold, theoretical concept was chilling to me. It invoked in me an existential sense of awe at the mechanics of the world (or rather Danielewski’s world), almost like seeing the proverbial man behind the curtain. The fact that Astair’s thesis is wrapped up in the idea of God and proving the necessity of God, as well as Anwar’s role as a game-maker, both seemed to connect particularly well to the concept of narcons that is presented in this chapter. The narcons seem to be associated with a god-like omniscience; they “know” everything the characters know. At the same time, though, narcons have very specific limits, one of which is that narcons can’t communicate with other narcons or even any non-narcons (which obviously is confusing in that the narcon seems to be communicating with us, the non-narcon readers). These limits suggest that the narcon is not all-knowing or omnipotent. So if the narcons are not traditional gods, what are they then, simply other characters?
However, the narcons do seem to have some sense of ownership or greater responsibility than the other characters–they are constantly interrupting sections to include cryptic little phrases that begin with braille symbols. One such phrase, that appears on page 712 struck me as particularly god-like: The sentence begins: “Anwar sounding sterner than ever before (as if those words were never his own,” but is interrupted with the braille symbols signalling that the next words (“only at the end of forever owned”) are those of the narcon. This phrase seems to imply that the narcon lives on past forever in a way that Anwar or any other character can’t.
What the debate about the narcons as either characters or gods or something else entirely seem to hinge upon is how we interpret meaning in the text. Are we to understand that everything is connected in a teological way, or is the opposite true: are the various stories that seem to be connected in some unique ways only superficially related? In other words, is The Familiar a nihilistic novel or is it teleological?
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.