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Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World…

Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Anne Jamison (Author), Lev Grossman (Foreword)

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Title:Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World
Authors:Anne Jamison (Author)
Other authors:Lev Grossman (Foreword)
Info:Smart Pop (2013), 304 pages

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Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison (2013)



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Valuable for the multiple essays from many authors, especially the ones who aren't involved in the Internet fanfiction scene. It's probably good that the focus of the book is on the fic itself as well as the writing of the fic rather than as a study of fans, because that's where a lot of books of its type break down. And dealing with the ephemeral Internet, where a lot of fans are untraceable once gafiated...that's even worse. For instance--Chris Rankin's essay about the early Harry Potter fandom was great, but he credits ownership of The Leaky Cauldron fanblog to B.K. DeLong. That's better than a lot of HP fandom studies do in crediting Leaky's origins, as most of them eliminate him completely, but he didn't start Leaky--Kevin C. Murphy did. [MetaFilter thread linking back to the blog, July 2000] But Murphy wasn't in the greater Potter fandom and gave over control of the blog early on, so that part of the history is forgotten unless you're tracing early weblogs instead of early Potter fandom. And that's not even "wanky" stuff--when you get into fan fights where the participants have left fandom, you're left with a skewed view because all you have to write about is the stuff that's left visible and the layers are where observers a decade later can't get to them.
  bunnygirl | Mar 5, 2014 |
Anne Jamison (with others), Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking over the World: There’s a lot of good stuff in here, as well as (and overlapping with) a fair amount what is probably comfort food for fans immersed in media fandom but might be hard to grok for nonfans, like reading literary criticism of a genre you don’t read in. And I’m okay with the latter as well as the former! Jamison puts gender front and center, but not exclusively.
[F]ic provides a venue for all kinds of writers who are shut out from official culture, whether by demographic or skill or taste. It makes sense, however, that those who are less shut out from established systems of economic and cultural credit and prestige turn less often to a cultural form that has been not only unpaid, but actively stigmatized. I know many men who write fic, but I know even more men who write fic-like stories, in fic-like ways. When they do it, though, they sell it, get written up in the Times, call it postmodernism or pastiche or simply fiction. My study of fic communities has underscored how gender imbalance in literary and mass cultural production doesn’t just affect venue, opportunity, and reception for active writers; it affects people even wanting to try. It affects people even claiming to be trying. Fanfiction has given many writers permission and encouragement to do something they’d never imagined they could do—in part because they can do it in private, without seeming to arrogantly lay claim to the culturally valued and vaunted status of “writer.”
I really liked her discussion of what’s conventionally considered the avant-garde v. fic: fanfiction is driven by experimentation and freedom, and yet it’s not experimental/avant-garde in the literary sense:
Literary avant-gardes tend to attract and be discovered by those who already evince a marked distaste for both the literary and commercial entertainment status quo. Fanwriting communities enjoy and consume commercial culture voraciously, celebrate it, even as they challenge and transform its products for their own sometimes radical purposes. Experimental writing in fanfiction is found and enjoyed by people who share at least one popular taste, a taste that has been catered to by mass culture. Many of these readers, however, also have tastes mass culture does not satisfy, tastes they may first discover by reading fic…. Yet fanfiction is largely driven by a love of the very elements—narrative and character—that much experimental writing of the past half-century has targeted for disruption and critique.
Jamison also contrasts fic, and its awkward relationship to commerciality, with other forms—like poetry, which she points out is these days usually produced on a non-remunerative basis, where reputation is mostly what a poet can hope to achieve and outsiders tend to make fun of them as unproductive.
There’s a lot of material on Twilight and perspectives on commercialization of the E.L. James sort (commercialization of the zines/fanart sort isn’t really discussed). Her discussion of “marketing” fic within Twilight communities—where the rewards were nonmonetary, at least for many/initially—was eye-opening. I had no idea that fans of particular authors developed relatively formal marketing hierarchies to promote the author to others. The neatest insight, though, is that the debate over commercialization/pull-to-publish has a fascinating relationship with the actual content of Fifty Shades: fannish norms may form an unwritten contract—but, like the contract between Christian and Anastasia, it’s unsigned, and that makes all the difference for its enforceability. At least for the fans.
Interviews with writers and short pieces from other people, varying in quality, round out the volume, adding among other things more explicit attention to issues of race and nationality. Kristina Busse summarizes the rise of a/b/o tropes; as I thought about it, I wondered whether one driver of the trend is the like what drives demand for historical romances: in contemporary settings, it’s harder and harder to think of dramatic reasons that people can’t be together. Regency social mores, or a/b/o societies, can provide the necessary answer to “if they love each other, why don’t they just get together?” Clearly there are other drivers, many also related to social changes/the desire to explore a differently configured set of stereotypes than current gender and race stereotypes. I loved the point one interviewee made that she had more freedom in writing romance in fic than she did in the commercial romance genre: though her fic readers expected the pair they loved to get together, she had more choices along the way without genre expectations—in commercial romance, she “might have to limit secondary characters … or stick to monogamous relationships even if they’re not committed.”
Darren Wershler says neat stuff about conceptual writing in contrast to fic. He calls conceptual writing fannish in that it was inspired by events in the art world more than by literary writers. Conceptual art features “a deemphasizing of the importance of the artist’s technical skill and the cohesiveness of the final product; an increasing emphasis on the importance of text over images; a shift away from the aesthetically pleasing toward the conveyance of that odd modern invention we call information; and a questioning of how art is ‘supposed’ to be framed, and the notion that there is a ‘correct’ context (like a gallery) in which people are supposed to encounter it.” Conceptual writing looks at the “dark matter” of literature—weather reports, legal transcripts, social media feeds, stock quotes, etc.: “they make up the bulk of everything that’s written, but we habitually pretend that they don’t matter in any capacity other than the moment.” It reframes these texts to defamiliarize them and draw attention to their odd features. I
Conceptual writing has now gained art world legitimacy, and Wershler says that what interests him “is what happens next: how a community based around a formerly marginal writing practice deals with its own relative success,” as with fanfiction after Fifty Shades. The similarities between the two genres, he suggests, are obscured by cultural policing. Both grow out of particular kinds of interpretive communities where people mostly felt comfortable with the other people in their community/subcommunity. But: “Conceptual writing is located within literature and is ambivalent about wanting out. Fanfiction is located without literature and is ambivalent about wanting in.” And while both forms involve repetition with a difference, fanfiction, he argues, is about moving characters to different settings, while conceptual writing is about moving text to different contexts—“for example, by shifting the context of a text’s publication from official courtroom transcripts to a hardbound edition published by a literary small press.” (“Characters read” versions of Harry Potter in which a fan author interlineates characters’ reactions with extensive quotes from Rowling’s books might challenge this divide, but it’s no surprise that they’re controversial.) Creativity comes from copying, which means that, while both genres “might appear to challenge or threaten originality, they also rely on it and reproduce it at other moments”—you can’t have creativity without appropriation, and vice versa.
I adore (though don’t fully agree with) Wershler’s conclusion that conceptual writing might be able to do what poetry hasn’t: [R]ecognizing the things that look just like it and transpire all around it that are not published as poetry, don’t circulate through literary communities, aren’t received by people as literary texts, but nevertheless could be formally indistinguishable from conceptual writing … and not colonizing them for poetry in the process. There’s a price to pay for that, though: actually giving up the last vestiges of the Romantic notion of author-as-lone-genius, the ones that even a century of modernity refused to erase. In its place, we might install some sort of invisible but open conspiracy that’s capable of appreciating the tactical efficiencies of the things we want to dismiss as cheesy imitations and knockoffs. If makers of conceptual writing and fanfiction really desire to operate differently from culture at large (and I’m no longer sure that this was ever the case), they’d need to produce writers who are not interested in becoming celebrity authors but are willing to dissolve away into the shadows before the laurels can be handed out. Not Warhold’s Factory, but Batman Incorporated.
(Where I disagree is the idea that celebrity and anonymity are the two possible poles, though they may certainly be the most likely ones.)
Jonathan Lethem ends the volume on a high note. Building on his great Harper’s piece The Ecstasy of Influence, he argues for disaggregating concepts of transformation, transparency about appropriation, and morality. He provocatively argues that literary culture reacts differently to appropriation than visual etc. arts because literary criticism is too dependent on newspaper journalism. “[W]hereas other fields of art reception are successfully partitioned from ethos of journalists, book reviewers are usually newspapermen who fancy themselves book reviewers. The field of book reviewing so totally overwhelms academic literary criticism in terms of influence, and journalists are of course obsessed with journalistic notions of plagiarism, sources, and inaccuracy. These standards migrate far too much in the realm of literary writing.” Discussing the inevitable dependence of characters on bits borrowed from real people and other characters, he chides: “The dream that this complexity could be neatly sorted out is a very typical American, pragmatist, anti-intellectual fantasy, based on suspicion of the artist or intellectual.” And his description of overreaching intellectual property rights is fantastic. He makes his living in part from copyright, but “It’s like there’s ten miles of frosting on a cake. I like the cake, I might cling to the cake, but it definitely doesn’t need all that frosting.” ( )
1 vote rivkat | Jan 6, 2014 |
Fascinating look at fanfiction. Covers the development of fanfiction and looks at some seminal fandoms that had a transformative effect: Sherlock Holmes (in all its variations), Star Trek, X-Files, Buffy, Harry Potter and Twilight. Includes a number of interviews/essays with or by fan writers. Also discusses some of the controversies and darker sides of fandom. Jamison's writing is very accessible and readable even though her academic roots are evident. Recommended for anyone who is interested in fandom and fanfiction. (from my review on Amazon) ( )
  dottyreader | Dec 1, 2013 |
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Art isn't your pet—it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you. —Joss Whedon
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In 1966, three things happened that changed the way we think about fiction. (Foreword by Lev Grossman)
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Explores the history and culture of fanwriting and how it has transformed popular culture as well as reading, writing, and authorship, and includes discussions from both professional and fan writers.

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