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http://www.deviantart.com/art/Team-free-will-354911394

Team Free Will by Jasric.
Possibly my favorite piece of 
Supernatural fan art ever produced.

This blog post is written in direct response to the latest episode of the Fansplaining podcast, “One True Fandom” (episode eight), the transcript of which I read this afternoon. I had some thoughts about the conversation which I shared briefly on Twitter and wanted to expand them into a post.

Here’s what I wrote on Twitter:

Expanded thoughts…

  • I was introduced to fanfiction as a genre — a genre that resonated with my own “homegrown” approach to fictional narratives (more below) — rather than coming to it through a particular fannish community. My now-wife was the one who introduced me to the language and conventions of fic, specifically slash, because she thought I would be interested in slash fiction as a form or cultural critique and also countercultural / queer erotica. I mean, it was also a wildly successful form of nerd-flirting. But I think my introduction to the activity of fanfiction as an idea rather than as a form of participation in a specific fandom continues to shape my relationship to the practice — and to fandom culture more generally.
  • I love fanfiction as a genre in part because it’s a language to describe how I have approached fictional narratives throughout my life. Some of my earliest memories from childhood involve spinning out narrative “what if…” tales about my favorite fictional characters. Oftentimes with rampant self-insertion. As a teenager, one of my favorite category of narrative was retellings of folk- and fairytales, or mythologies from various cultures. I collected, and wrote, multiple versions of certain tales, reworking, updating, critiquing classic interpretations. Think Beauty and Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Wicked by Gregory Maguire. When I was fourteen I wrote a 200-page adaptation of the Cinderella tale on a DOS word processing program. So when I was in my late twenties and someone said “here is this thing called fanfiction and this is how it works…” I was like Oh, yes. That. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this earlier?!
  • I read fanfiction for canon narratives with which I have zero or passing familiarity. Gundam WingTeen Wolf. Daredevil. I’ve never seen them. Hawaii 5-0. One episode, only well after I read widely in the Steve/Danny pairing. To me, fanfiction is both critique of (or elaboration on) the specific source material and also a broader response to popular culture. It offers up new ways of seeing what are, often, very tired stories. And stories that I as a queer, feminist-minded woman struggle to relate to. Fanfiction is a restful genre for me in many ways. I know I can come to it for queer intervention. For feminist intervention. Increasingly for intersectionality in its exploration of issues like racial inequality and dis/ability. While there are published authors whose work share these features with fic, as a genre fic has delivered most reliably in these ways. So my ability to access, and take pleasure in reading, fic is only loosely related to specific canonical ‘verses.

  • I also write fanfiction for canon narratives with which I have (relatively) incomplete knowledge, lack of investment, or which irritate me. Downton AbbeyUpstairs, DownstairsEurekaHaven … I’ve written most voluminously for original works that I lost interest in, or for which I only had passing interest in the first place. I’m an opportunistic writer. I plunder mainstream narratives and construct my own countercultural critique. I stage fanfiction quite purposefully as an intervention, as commentary, as interruption. And I’m more likely to do that with source material I am ill-satisfied with than with a canon body of work that I find supremely satisfying (see below). My fic is a counter-narrative, often, rather than a continuation. Perhaps it’s a little strong to say, as I do in the title of this post, that I am a NON or anti-fan. I write Miss Fisher fanfic, for example, and enjoy the source show immensely. But the Miss Fisher series I wrote began as an intervention within the fandom when I grew irritated with the stories I skimmed through on AO3. The story I wanted to read wasn’t there, so I wrote my own. Frustration, rather than delight, is often what fuels my writing and reading within fandom.
  • The more I love a thing the less likely I am to read or create transformative works in relation to it. Which isn’t to say I lack head!canon for The Chronicles of Narnia, haven’t drafted private outtakes for Laurie R. King’s Monstrous Regiment of Women (ahem), or speculated about what happens next in Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series. But some stories are too engaging in the original voice of the author to be very satisfying to rework according to my own particular vision. Others are too close to my childhood heart to expose to the world of communal storytelling. I don’t want to read other peoples’ interpretation of the work — inevitably different from mine — nor do I want to expose my particular vision of the narrative to a larger world. Which leads me to …
  • The more I love a thing the more private I am likely to be about the pleasure I take in it. In the podcast transcript, Elizabeth and Flourish talk about the communal aspect of many iterations of fandom, and whether one can be a fan in isolation. Elizabeth describes these people as, “the books they loved as children, they never wanted to share them.” THIS WAS ME. I mean, I would recommend books I liked to friends and all that, but I was disinclined to talk about them much outside of an extremely small group of people basically constituted by my siblings and a couple of intimate, trusted friends. This is still my pattern today. The more deeply something touches me, the less likely (in general) I am to wish that pleasure could be a collective one. I honestly don’t expect most people to enjoy the same stories I enjoy, for the same reasons — it’s a nice perk when they do but I am also happy to putter on in the extreme minority liking what I like for weird reasons.
  • (Honestly, I’m still surprised that anyone apart from my wife enjoys my fic.) This isn’t humility or grade-grubbing. I love my porn. I write what I write because no one else has written the story I want to read … so I go and do it. I’m proud of the work and the labor that goes into it. But precisely because I write mostly for myself, it’s like this bonus perk that other people enjoy it too! (Thank you all, everyone who has kudos’ed and commented on my work!)
  • So overall, my feeling of solidarity with fellow transformative-works people has less to do with shared fandoms than it does with a shared approach to cultural artifacts. I am an intensely analytical person who enjoys looking at narratives, characters, situations, etc., from polyphonic angles. I love playing with transformation and variation on a theme. The fanfiction community and acafen whom I have found through fanfic writing generally share my approach in this way: they don’t see enjoyment or appreciation as exclusive of critique, and they delight in considering [stories, characters, settings, events] from multiple perspectives. Generally, they like digesting narratives and making those narratives somehow uniquely their own. And then they put those narratives in conversation with one another and with the original work. So for me, participating in fannish spaces is less about the pleasure of shared passion for a specific work or works than it is about … maybe an orientation toward engagement with material culture? I do enjoy talking about specific works or pairings or ‘verses with others who find pleasure in them. But I think I like the way we talk about them more. And having a community in which to speak this way is more crucial to my enjoyment of the genre as a whole than it is to enjoying original works, which I typically enjoy in a very interior or solitary way.
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