I actually took a picture of the whiteboard after class. I found our discussion very interesting. We started off by discussing unmarked and marked text. Unmarked text is traditional. There is a uniform font and text size. Unmarked text is less likely to be taken out of context. Marked text, however, leaves room for much interpretation. When an author plays around with typographic styles, the reader is given an opportunity to think out of the box. Danielewski gives us, as readers, a role in the novel. However, what is our role?
In class, Professor Thomas drew a circle with all of the characters names inside. Since the Narcons seem to have control over the characters, we put them outside the circle. We put VEM outside both the Narcons and the characters because we agreed that VEM has control over the Narcons and the characters. We are left wondering where we fit in the circle. Do we have any power at all? Are we being controlled by the Narcons? by VEM? or by Danielewski? We are left with so many “what ifs.”
Disclaimer: As of this afternoon, I am only on page 358 of the novel. I also recognize that the version I have received to read is not a final version of the book, and that the published version will be in color and on higher quality paper. That being said, I want to discuss some thoughts I’ve been having about the book’s design.
As a graphic designer, I’ve grown accustomed to a linear process when I’m working on a new project. I receive the information and I translate that information into something that an audience will (hopefully) look at. Not only does the information need to be presented clearly, but it has to be done in an engaging and organized way to entice people to view it.
That being said, The Familiar does not obey the same graphic design philosophies that I do. There are wild variations of kerning, leading, and tracking (the “rainstorm” section from pages 62-69 is a good example of this). The font changes as the narrative changes. There are graphics and text mingled on numerous pages. There is a liberal use of justified alignment (Isandorno’s sections, for example).
As I read at sections that contain copious amounts of text, graphics, and text-as-graphics, I find myself stifling the tiny designer in my brain that’s shouting, “Wait, what?”
I think that The Familiar is a novel that’s meant to be viewed as much as it’s meant to be read. Early in the novel, the reader is exposed, in full force, to the ever changing format. For example, “Tom’s Crossing” is set in a serif font with thin boxes surrounding the text. There are graphics of a heart monitor included as well. The layout is angular and throws traditional composition sensibilities out the window. In contrast, however, “Tom’s Crossing” also utilizes one of the most traditional type tropes: the drop cap. I don’t think that was a coincidence.
Since it seems like everything in the book is necessary and oh-so-deliberately placed, I feel that Danielewski is not only attempting to remediate television but that he is also trying to remediate advertising. Perhaps by not including visual tropes of the day (I’m thinking of the “Keep Calm and ______ On” movement, mustaches, chevron print and others) he is remediating the visual world too.
But if that’s the case, why not make one of the character fonts Comic Sans or Papyrus? Would it be too heavy handed? Would people just drop the book and run if they saw that any of it was done in Comic Sans? Believe me, I would probably drop it and run. Comic Sans would be a bad move.
Has anyone else thought about this? Advertising seems so integral to viewership; I don’t think that this would be something that Danielewski would leave out of the conversation.
One of the most interesting things for me about The Familiar is the fact that Mark Z. Danielewski takes the time to pick out how the different chapters for each character will be formatted. I’m not sure if this topic has been covered before (it is my understanding that my class is a little bit behind some of the others) but regardless it is one that has caught my interest and I was hoping to get some ideas and feedback on the matter from others in this forum.
When it comes to the formatting of the different points of view, I’m not talking so much about the font size or the line spacing but more about the punctuation. Each character has a distinct format that makes it a little difficult on the first run through to distinguish who is who and how they think, and what new sort of weird format am I going to have to deal with this time but it gets easier as the book continues.
Though each chapter follows a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ with each character, which is definitely not unheard of, I don’t think I’ve seen it vary quite this much from character to character before reading The Familiar. Seeing as Danielewski doesn’t seem to do anything without reason, I would mark these differences as important. In fact, I would argue that the distinct formatting of each character’s chapter reveals a little bit more about them without having to come right out and say it to the readers. It’s actually a really clever way of getting to know them.
For example, Xanther takes us into her mind and it is with her that we get to experience her Question Song firsthand before we see it through her parent’s point of view. Readers get to experience Xanther jumping around from thought to thought and some of the ongoing anxiety that comes with this type of thinking. Almost immediately readers deduce that something is not quite right with her due to how her chapters are set up. Her thoughts about ‘how many raindrops’ make this most explicit when she runs herself into a state that she can’t control, “Exhausting herself. Like running-of-of-breath exhausting herself” (64). Long before it’s revealed explicitly that Xanther has epilepsy, it’s made clear by her thoughts that not all is mentally sound within her.
Anwar’s narration, on the other hand, is set up to resemble programming. Rather than using normal punctuation, his sections of The Familiar use brackets (both curly and standard) as well was slashes to organize his thoughts. It’s very reminiscent of HTML or something similar. Through this narration choice, readers can conclude that Anwar is a problem solver, the biggest puzzle in his life being his daughter. Again, as with Xanther, it can be speculated that he is some sort of programmer before it’s stated plainly.
Astair’s thoughts read much like she is still writing and rewriting her thesis,‘Hope’s Nest: On the Necessity of God’ (121), with large (almost unnecessarily so) words scattered throughout and parentheses inside parentheses which are inside even more parentheses. She is constantly in the process of analyzing and editing, even within her own mind. Though it is stated rather early in her narration that she is a student, her thought process proves to reaffirm this showing how she approaches education (as well as being a mother) with diligence and maybe just a little bit of over thinking.
Since these are the three characters I feel like I’ve learned the most about, I haven’t gotten a good grasp on what the different formats would mean for the rest of the cast and was hoping to get some feedback about that. Any ideas?
Someone mentioned an existing post or thread on the font choices, but I haven’t been able to track it down. In the interim, I’ll sketch out some preliminary notes to start and we can build together as the reading progresses.
(This would be more fun with CSS. We’re unfortunately stuck with the template style sheet though.)
Luther: Imperial BT
– “cower power”
Anwar: Adobe Garamond
– old-style serif dating to 15C, i.e. beginnings of print
– see: character biography, Egypt as origin of writing
jingjing: rotis semi sans
– font used for highway and street signs in Singapore
– Hounds thereof
– A transitional font between modern and old style; printing history of John Baskerville may pertain
– Armenian genocide, traumatic memory and memorialization
– OED: “A person who is specially favoured or loved; a popular hero, a favourite of the public”; “The supposed companion or favourite of something personified”; “Originally: a (usually male) favourite of a sovereign, prince, or other powerful person; a person who is dependent on a patron’s favour”
I’ll leave it to commenters to work on the rest…