Mark Z. Danielewski’s pentalogy The Familiar, published between 2015 and 2017, is likely the most audacious project in American fiction in the twenty-first century so far. Announced as a set that would eventually encompass 27 novels, the five novels published as the first “season” of the series as a whole have done what readers have come to expect of Danielewski’s work: they once more pushed the limits of what a novel is and can be. The Familiar intensifies the multimodality of his earlier novels House of Leaves and Only Revolutions and yet takes it into very different directions, and its textual, visual, material, and medial qualities intersect in ways of meaning-making that are genuinely new in American fiction and at the same time certainly part of a long tradition. While the pentalogy was published to considerable critical attention and acclaim, its scholarly appraisal has so far been sparse and limited to individual contributions rather than a collective effort (with the notable exception of a cross-institutional online reading/teaching group in 2015). With the first season published in full and the series paused as a whole, Orbit wants to provide the setting for a more cohesive and wide-ranging approach to The Familiar, and to collect different perspectives on the novels and their contexts in order to create a prominent and solid foundation for future research with a special issue of our open-access journal.
We invite scholars of all fields to submit abstracts of no more than 300 words by e-mail to the editor, Sascha Pöhlmann (firstname.lastname@example.org), by November 30, 2020. Any approach is welcome, ranging from the very general to the very particular and the very short to the very broad. How can we describe the novels’ multimodal aesthetics, and how does this complex way of meaning-making relate to a longer American and transnational tradition of such practices, in literature and other media up until today? In particular, how does the novel relate to video games, coding, TV, comics, photography, film, and any other of the many media practices it includes and simulates? How does it relate to earlier serial publications in literature and elsewhere, and how does this seriality determine the novel’s aesthetics? What is the function of the novels’ intertextuality, and especially with regard to how Danielewski’s works are potentially located in the same “VEM universe,” most notably with regard to his short fiction and his children’s book that all relate directly to The Familiar? What does such expansiveness do to the form of the novel, and what are its precedents? How does the novel use genre and form, for example detective fiction, the short story, or poetry? What are the politics of its aesthetics, how does it address issues of identity, power, and ideology in its interwoven global stories that include the Armenian genocide as much as one teenage girl’s epilepsy? What are the economics of publishing and of publicity relevant to the existence and continuation of the series? What is the status of authorship with regard to a novel that is openly collaborative and works with user-generated online resources but still tied to a central author figure? What is the status of readership and fandom with regard to such a project that is not only popular but has developed a cult following? And what does VEM stand for, anyway, and is that really Byron the Bulb on page 257 in volume 1?