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March 2017

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writing dust rengeek shakespeare

hark! is that the sound of a lasagna noodle being laid on a bed of ricotta cheese?

cupidsbow has an interesting essay here regarding fanfiction, poverty, and Joanna Russ' classic How to Suppress Women's Writing. (via whileaway)

I'm interested in fanfiction on a lot of levels. One is that, as an artform that is frequently primitive (I mean that in the technical sense: naive, uncalculated, very honest and without artifice) it's a fascinating glimpse into how people process narrative. As opposed to how critics process narrative: when one becomes a critic, one loses the ability to interact with a narrative the way most people do, as a framework upon which one hangs one's own emotional response.

Another is that frankly, most of what anyone writes is on some level fanfic. You are responding. A Slight Trick Of The Mind, The Seven Percent Solution, "The Final Solution"--all Sherlock Holmes fanfic. I've written a little Irene Adler fanfic of my own, come to think of it.

Okay, yeah, a lot of fanfic is bad. Popular art forms are the cutting edge of literature: they're where the seethe is, and where the seethe is is where the art is. And it's also what's despised.

Twenty years on, they become quantified and rigidized, and it's not where the spark is anymore.

Right now, that's TV, fanfiction, genre literature (although SFF, much as I love it, it no longer at what cupidsbow refers to as the coal face of literature--we're singing to our own choir these days, and I think that needs to stop)--the ongoing thing is that High Art is forgotten, down the years, as is much of the real crap... but the work that manages to successfully combine story with art and hit the reader in the kinks--those naive assumptions about story/art that the artist can use to his advantage to make the artee* feel/think/react/act--that stuff sticks around forever.

Not because it's preseved in libraries.

But because Gramma and Granpa read it to you, and you read it to your kids, because you love it. Dracula and Hamlet and Pride & Prejudice and "The Speckled Band" and Lysistrata are with us still because they speak to something to something in people, not because they are Worthy.

No matter how intellectually fair you try to be, the art you protect is the art you love, not the art you think you should love. and that is only right. Because despite our tendency to overcomplicate, that's successful art.****

Unfortunately, this may mean future generations are going to judge us by Garfield. And The Da Vinci Code.

Well, except--I got Pogo from my parents. And if I had kids, I suspect I would be giving them Calvin & Hobbes.

I'd feel worse about that if we didn't have Doonesbury, too. On the other hand, that stuff is going to be like Ben Jonson plays--nearly incomprehensible in its topical humor and satire.

And also, I've read Varney the Vampire.

Some things endure in deserved obscurity.

The moral of the story?

Chop wood, carry water.

The goal of art is not winning awards. The goal of art is reaching people, and helping them make sense.***

Even if what they are making sense of is the fact that most things make no sense.

And on that note, I'm going to take a shower and make coffee and either read Black Powder War or try to figure out what the ghost says to Jackie now.


*reader/viewer/watcher/less-active participant in the artistic experience**

**less-active does not mean dominated. Hang out on a Tw/oP forum if you want an idea of how much an artee brings to the art.

***My cat would also like to put in that the other goal of art is not starving.

****Fanfiction is also interesting because it is in its purest form self-indulgent art. It is all about the writer's narrative kinks*****, and the narrative kinks of an audience that's presumed to share them. There are ratings systems in place to assist the reader in finding the stuff that hits her kinks.

This is not all that different from SFF, frankly, or mystery, or romance, except we're often more calculated about writing to the kinks of our audience rather than servicing our own. Although I'll be honest: I totally service my own narrative kinks, and I can line them up and explain them for you anytime you want.

*****narrative kinks are not the same thing as sexual kinks.

Comments

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I gave my kids Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side, essential nutrients for the development of healthy young geeks. They went on to Bloom County on their own, although the Edwin Meese jokes went right over their heads. However, "pear dimples for hairy fishnuts" has become a catchphrase in our house.
It's "ACK! THPT! PENGUIN LUST!" around here. *g*
As opposed to how critics process narrative: when one becomes a critic, one loses the ability to interact with a narrative the way most people do, as a framework upon which one hangs one's own emotional response.

I disagree. As a critic (I prefer reviewer) I interact with the narrative of every book I review and my emotional response is part of what I use to gauge a book's quality. There are other factors, of course, but how can a review completely suspend their own emotional response without losing the essence of what literature (everything from fanfic to the classics)is all about--people and emotions?

You're talking about something different than I am. There's this thing that consumers of category literature do: they hang their own internal narrative on the structure that the reader provides.

This is why would-be writers of category genre fiction are told things like, don't describe your protagonist too much, because it interferes with the process of reader identification.

It's a naive and visceral response, and it's very hard for somebody who is no longer responding in that way to literature (because they are considering their own reactions) to get back to that, because the analysis is more or less the exact opposite of naive response.

Also, reviewers =/= critics. When I say critic, I am speaking in a specific academic sense.
"*****narrative kinks are not the same thing as sexual kinks."

Surely that should read "*****narrative kins are not necessarily the same thing as sexual kinks."


I agree with you on Doonesbury; somewhere, I have the first few large-format collections (as published in the UK, where we probably didn't get all the references even at the time), and while I'm sure I can still rememebr some of the things that sparked particular sequences, others will just be shorn of context. Bloom County the same. Even Dilbert may look very odd in parts to a future generation. At least Calvin and Hobbes is pretty much timeless...
Hmm, I stand by it.

One can get one's sexual kinks serviced in narrative, but that's not what I'm talking about here. (Or, homoeroticism can be a narrative kink as much as a sexual kink. It depends on how one interacts with the text, really.)
the art you protect is the art you love, not the art you think you should love.

And the evidence of this is the diversity of the art we as a human society have preserved, from the the Pieta to Andy Warhol's work; you're absolutely right. Art is a matter of taste and always has been. I hated Billy Budd, which I was force-fed in school, but I'll read Jane Eyre over and over again until I die.

Unfortunately, this may mean future generations are going to judge us by Garfield. And The Da Vinci Code.

I agree and so, apparently, did the writers of Star Trek: The Voyage Home when they had Kirk and Spock cite Jacqueline Susann, for example, as one of "the greats." Myself, I agree with you that Calvin and Hobbes should be passed on to future generations.
(1) What a great post about fanfiction and Joanna Russ's book. I commented over there.

(2) The word "artee" is a coinage of vast swoop and power, and I intend to steal and use it immediately.

(3) About SF and the coalface: what you said, every word.
1) Isn't that an awesome post? The whileaway folks kick up some great stuff.

2) And thank you. It's a word I have needed for years, and now I have found it.

3) If we're going to be despised anyway, we may as well be radical.
we're singing to our own choir these days, and I think that needs to stop

Indeedy.

While I often find the results of fannish play eye-rolly and irritating, I can't help but love that people play, and play with intensity, seriousness, and deep emotional connection, with story. Even if internet-fannishness were to vanish from the earth tomorrow, my sister and I would still occasionally stand around the Thanksgiving kitchen quoting to each other, "It's a woman! It's a baby woman!!" (from those 70s Doonesbury collections) and give the line new life by the new context of our saying it.

Also, I have an Amazing Wonder Niece (and eventually her brother) to indoctrinate into the jokes of the old Asterix books.
Well, the lovely thing about fannish play is that people *commit.* They're writing it because they love it, and even if the squids and conventions occasionally make me want to pluck my eyes out the passion shines through.

And they're not worried about what people think.

And I think more pro authors would be well-advised to stop giving so much of a crap what people might think and get in there and get down in the mud and roll around in it a little.
My cat would also like to put in that the other goal of art is not starving.

Your cat is wise.
She has her priorities in order.
>I'd feel worse about that if we didn't have >Doonesbury, too. On the other hand, that stuff >is going to be like Ben Jonson plays--nearly >incomprehensible in its topical humor and
>satire.

Some of it will, but I still credit Doonesbury with most of my understanding of 60's to early 80's history without even realizing that Trudeau was putting it there. The topical aspects are woven so well into the narrative (who'd have thought that a Vietnamese war orphan character in 1974 would grow up to be an uber-hacker and wife of one of the original characters?) that I suspect Doonesbury may endure as one of the better, more accessible cultural touchstones of the period.

Well, maybe not the George Hamilton jokes...

My history classes never seemed to get much past World War II, whether from intent or running out of time I can't say. And so I got most of my history of the 70s and 80s and 90s from Doonesbury collections in my school library, curled up with a book of comics trying to figure out what it was that people were smoking in those football huddles, and why the football players kept huddling together anyway.

I'm reasonably sure that the artist's intention in drawing those comics was not to instruct a fourth-grader on the weirdness of the Vietnam War, but that's still what I think of first when I try to remember what was going on during that part of history.
What was I supposed to bring up, again?

(Mind like a steel wossname, you know, thing with holes in it, no good for carrying water?)
Sherlock Holmes. *g*
most of what anyone writes is on some level fanfic

I agree. I have often thought of my current novel as both historical and Shakespeare fanfic. For that matter, it's real (if long dead) person smut, too.
REALLY. :D
"The goal of art is reaching people, and helping them make sense."

Sometimes it's about helping *me* make sense.

Fanfiction allows me to dissect what works in a story for me, to dissect characters and world building so I can understand why they speak to me. It's working the muscle. I'm not a marathon runner yet. I'm still in training. Fanfic is my version of a windsprint, my endurance training, my team run.
Great, great posting. However, I think you touched on something in passing -- it becomes Myth only if it speaks to the generations after it was created. Otherwise, it winds up either forgotten or being reworked again and again until it clicks.

*Varney the Vampire* is read today *only* because Bram Stoker turned up the dials in *Dracula* and then the moviemakers fed in more magic. By contrast, *Lady Audley's Secret* is dead, even though it had a run of sixty years. There was a novel, there were plays, there were silent movies -- then it stopped. You couldn't rework it any more, because the hot buttons simply stopped being hot. Sex and death is a keeper; so is the Intelligent Man Who Figures Things Out. Sherlock Holmes spawned a genre (together with Poe and the Frenchman I forget) because there's so much juice in him.

Look at all the bestsellers of the 1920s who are forgotten today, because they pushed important buttons then but faded with their generation. "The dainty heroine" vanished as society stopped valuing being childlike. I'm guessing *The DaVinci Code* will wind up just as irrelevant as *The Robe*.

For me, it always comes back to Michelangelo's comment, "Where I steal, there I leave my knife." In other words, when you rework, rework it so well that past and future versions can't compare. Pour in more juice, and don't flinch when other people do the same.

Note mixed metaphor, and I can't be arsed to go back and change it.
Arsène Lupin, I think you're thinking of.

Or possibly Vidocq.

(Yes, hi, I'm Sarah, and I'm a TOTAL GEEK.)
the work that manages to successfully combine story with art and hit the reader in the kinks--those naive assumptions about story/art that the artist can use to his advantage to make the artee* feel/think/react/act--that stuff sticks around forever.

Exactly. An excellent post. (And terrific stuff in the comments re: Sherlock Holmes, too!)
Thanks!
I'm sure that if I got started on the topic, I'd not shut up, but I'm very glad to see professional writers discussing fanfiction beyond the simple dictum of "Don't do it."

Years ago I wrote an article that was part justification and part ego-stroking on fanfiction. It's wordy and pretentious and smug (just a little), but I've gotten some readers who said they appreciated the positive sentiments. Don't know if anyone else wants to read it, so I won't bother with the link unless I get the green-light.
Link away.

And hell, I've recently started writing fanfiction.

It's fun. *g*
I got Doonesbury from my parents, and was intrigued enough (and laughing hard enough) to try to look up some of the references. Since most of my history classes petered out around the end of WWII, I learned most of what I knew about Watergate and Vietnam and how it affected Americans by reading Doonesbury. Sure, some of it may go over their heads, but I think some will seriously stand the test of time, like his recent work on B.D.'s war wounding.

While I agree that narrative kink is not the same as sexual kink at all, sometimes narrative kink can be titillating, because brains and skill are sexy.
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