I have been thinking a lot about the Big Data and Surveillance units we’ve been discussing and so I think I want to somehow bridge the gap here between our scholarly discussions and the literature we’ve read. I really loved The Familiar and the whole concept of narcons (it even inspired what has become a short film I wrote and am co-directing this summer), so I’m going to be writing on the correlation of the NSA Files Decoded Guardian article and The Familiar.
I want to compare the presentation of the Guardian article—the whole pathos surrounding the way they have chosen to incite fear or at least concern in those who may not care or don’t necessarily know a lot about what the NSA is/has been monitoring. In the same way, the narcons function for us in a universe where they don’t exactly know what they cannot do, only that they are unable to do it (because of some upper-level VEM say-so). I want to analyze the correlation between what we as readers feel when we read something as inciting as the Guardian article and when we read the narcons’ situation. In theory, these are all-knowing (or at least all-self-knowing, self meaning the character for which they are created) programs that continually predict or write the future of these characters. We talked about the way narcons, and therefore to an extent how VEM, allows Danielewski some distance from his work (the same way Chaucer defended himself by saying the characters said the things in his story, not him). Similarly, it is much easier to dismiss something like the NSA monitoring when you imagine the NSA as just an inevitable part of existence—a far off entity/addendum to the government. But what the Guardian article does is put graphics, interviews, and emotions with this knowledge. It presents what normally may seem boring or distanced as a closer, more informal narrative (or at least a narrative more driven by an emotional call-to-arms, so to speak).
I’m beginning to ramble so, I’ll continue. I want to use different scholarly articles like the Hayles piece about how code has a layered existence (and can even be emotional) — we as readers not only are attracted to the narcon idea, we are also empathetic with the fact that the narcons seem to be a bit afraid of this VEM entity (for which I plan to find much textual evidence). I also want to explore using a Foucault piece from Discipline and Punish to talk about the ramifications, or at least the affects, of knowing when you’re being surveilled (what that does to the psyche and to the behavior). This impact can be seen in both the Guardian in us as readers when we find out the NSA is inevitably watching us always and forever amen and in The Familiar when we find out the meta-hierarchy of Danielewski’s book (character>narcon>vem>danielewski>reader).
I have been toying around with the idea of a WordPress blog for this, but I know this might be considered to be an extremely ambitious feat. I really enjoyed how the blog enabled each post to further pick apart pieces of The Familiar and in the same way, I’d like to go further into the decrypting the analysis and relationship between this novel and the Guardian piece and the affect they have on us as readers.
Which brings me to my argument: I think what I see myself focusing on is the relationship between the discovery of the meta-hierarchy of The Familiar using the narcon presentation/mechanism and the putting-to-faces of the NSA surveillance truths in the Guardian (as well as its presentation/affect). So, then my argument will be along the lines of how the affect of relating media and emotion, (1) like in the Guardian’s use of presenting potentially distanced facts in a way that bridges a gap between those who don’t know and those who care immensely while also creating a contrasted distance from knowing there is nothing we as individuals can do about it and (2) like the presentation of the narcons in The Familiar creates a closer feeling to the universe Danielewski has created and the story which exists in it but which also creates a distance by understanding the meta-hierarchy of the novel (and the reader’s place in it all—we are always hyper aware that we are reading a book from this point forward), can inform a wider idea of how we as readers experience print and digital media.