caitri: (chris vocabulary)
Last month I was invited to write a brief essay as part of an online discussion of fan texts by various scholars. There's going to be one such post a day for the next two weeks, so you guys should go check them out. :)

Crossposted at MediaCommons:

Fandom Beyond: Reconsidering Genre and Fan History

ccoker's picture

Engagement with a text has been always been a part of human behavior, from well before the ideas of fandom and fannishness and remix culture. It’s in our very natures to change a story to reflect ourselves in it. There’s an old German tale about a printer who is printing a Bible, and his wife comes into the shop and changes the lines of type in Genesis from “and he shall rule over thee” to “and he shall be thy Fool!” In the story (related in Moore, p 73) she is supernaturally struck down and dies, and the moral is that women shouldn’t work in the print shops, they shouldn’t change the text, but what we should take from this is a rather profound example of a woman literally changing the narrative of the dominant culture to empower herself. When we look at fan works, this is what we see over and over again: people changing the stories to see themselves, and so there are stories where all the men on the bridge of the Enterprise are women (and the official comics even played with this idea themselves in an issue!), and art where Harry Potter and Hermione Granger have brown skin. When mainstream culture acknowledges fan culture, it is recognizing that this need for representation is not only valid but absolutely necessary in our contemporary society, and that this is how positive change happens. In Star Trek: Beyond, a fifty-year-old franchise finally got a canonically gay character onscreen; in Ghostbusters we get women action heroes who aren’t in conspicuously sexy outfits.

When it comes to the use of fan culture in teaching, one thing I’ve always tried to do is point out how genre and fandom generally go back much farther than the Internet would have us believe. Consider the mother of modern science fiction, Mary Shelley, and Frankenstein being published in 1818, and then consider how Jane C. Loudon writes her 1827 novel The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in response: Shelley had described the Monster saying that “A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch,” and Loudon a wrote a new novel around this idea; she further confronted Shelley’s (shocking, for the time!) near-atheism with more Christianized concepts, and so two of the greatest stories of genre were meant to be in cultural dialogue with one another!

Another example is Edgar Allan Poe’s 1838 novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket,which was left unfinished until Jules Verne decided to finish the story in 1897 with Le Sphinx des glaces. There’s many more examples than these, but it’s important to note that all texts talk to one another, and it’s really only with Twentieth Century publishing practices that we see the introduction of power hierarchies which destabilize authorship such that one body of work is considered lesser than another, fan writing—and that it is absolutely no mistake that the disempowered persons writing in fandom are women and minorities. Moreover, mainstream response to texts that have openly fannish origins—like Fifty Shades and the numerous Twifics that make up full tables in bookstores today—is so violently antagonistic and derisive as to make the old German story above seem quaint, but it reinforces how the notion of women changing texts remains genuinely frightening to some.

As a final thought regarding fan history, what I would like to encourage is thinking of fan culture as going beyond media franchises and online interaction. There are vast bodies of print zines from the SFF, pulp and comics heydays of the 1930s-1990s that need to be included in our discussions, and looking even farther back we can see social reading and writing groups that are perhaps not who we would identify as fans but who nonetheless perform what we consider fan practices. Above all, take notice of what seems to be gaps. It could be that the people and texts you are looking for are right in front of you; they just haven’t been identified…yet.

Recommended Reading

Camille Bacon-Smith, Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth (1992).

Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, Eds., The Fan Fiction Studies Reader (2014).

Anne Jamison, Ed., Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World (2013).

Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture (1992).

Sam Moskowitz, The Immortal Storm, A History of Science Fiction Fandom (1954).

Sheenagh Pugh, The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context (2005).

Harry Warner, Jr. All Our Yesterdays (1969).

caitri: (Screw Subtext)
My essay was just posted at PopMatters as part of their Star Trek issue:

The Continuing Voyages

'Star Trek' Reboot Fandom and 'Prime Universe' Canon

BY CAIT COKER

28 September 2016

JUST AS THERE'S NO BEGINNING OR ENDING TO WORKS OF THE IMAGINATION, THE POSSIBILITIES OF STORY CANNOT BE EXHAUSTED.
FROM THE COVER OFSTAR TREK #43: FIVE-YEAR MISSION

The 2009 Star Trek film’s introduction of the Kelvin Timeline and its canonical “Alternate Universe” offered a plethora of possibility to fans old and new. While Trek fandom has never gone away, the new film invigorated it with its fresh take on beloved characters, and new fans came to the numerous digital platforms of fandom in droves. Almost immediately various resources were organized and created for the benefit of the new fans, not just to entice them to watch The Original Series (TOS) and its fellows, but so that they would have references useful for their fanfic and fan art.

What was the name of McCoy’s ex-wife? Why was Tarsus IV seminal to Kirk’s development as a leader? Where are all the characters that aren’t white guys or Uhura? Reboot fandom drew strongly on these resources, adding canonical characters that were functionally deleted from the first film (like Kirk’s older brother) or exploring the new ones that were introduced (Gaila, who may well be the first Orion woman in Starfleet). With the newest film just out, a new series in the wings, and the franchise’s golden anniversary at hand, how do we make sense of 50 years of adventures?

Fans of TOS in the ‘70s kept fandom alive through numerous fanzines that collected fan fiction, critical and speculative commentary, the occasional poem, checklists of episodes with summaries and character information—resources that were incredibly useful when the shows was in syndication but there were no VHS recordings, let alone the possibility of binge-watching. (Fun fact: TOS’s popularity in syndication trumped the usual model for re-airings; even today, a television show usually needs 100 episodes to be re-aired. The Original Series consisted of only 79 episodes, plus the unaired pilot “The Cage”.)

In 1975, Bantam Books published Star Trek Lives!, a collection of nonfiction fan writing that included a primer on fan fiction. It was followed in 1976 by Star Trek: The New Voyages, the first of two volumes that collected fan fiction pieces in whole rather than just excerpts. Shortly afterwards, Pocket Books licensed media tie-in novels for the series, which in the early days included work by numerous fan authors who turned pro (like A.C. Crispin) or up-and-coming pro writers (like Joe Haldeman). None of these works were considered canon per se, but they explored the possibilities of life in and outside of the Federation. After the conclusion of the last television series, Enterprise, in 2005, and a change in editorial apparatus, the novels created a more coherent and canonical “world-picture” of the stories of various characters.

Unfortunately, this has led to something of a tamping-down in certain lines, such as the brief Reboot-era Starfleet Academy series that included only four volumes published between 2010 and 2012. The reason put forth for the suspension of this particular line was that certain plot elements in the books hinted too much towards the story of what would become Star Trek Into Darkness, which in retrospect was either wishful thinking or a red herring altogether.

The lead-up to the 2009 Star Trek film (alternatively referred to as XI, NuTrek, AOS for Abrams’ Original Series, or simply as the Reboot) included a four-issue comic entitledCountdown that took place entirely in the “present” of the Prime Universe. Here, Ambassador Spock is still working to reconcile Vulcan with Romulus (as seen in the two-part episode “Unification” in Star Trek: The Next Generation all the way back in 1991) and prevent its star from going nova with red matter; appearances are made by Data, who is now Captain of the Enterprise-E; Picard, now the Federation Ambassador to Vulcan; Geordi LaForge, who designs and builds Spock’s ship, the Jellyfish, that is seen in the film.

Nero is introduced as a Romulan who wants to assist Spock’s efforts to save his planet, but the loss of his homeworld, wife, and unborn child drive him to madness, and to attacking the Federation vessels that arrive to assist refugees. General Worf of the Klingon Empire arrives to render assistance, and in the events that ensue, both Nero and Ambassador Spock inadvertently time-travel—and from there, the new reality is born from the ashes of the Kelvin Disaster, in which George Kirk sacrifices himself to save his family and crew from Nero.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Reboot fandom is how it’s not a “true” reboot—the Prime Universe still exists. All of the events of TOS, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine,Voyager, Enterprise, and all of the films—they still happened. The Kelvin Timeline is distinct, with connections and callbacks to the other universe, and as such, presumably all of the characters we have seen will be seen again in other iterations. As a simple example, most recently in Star Trek Beyond there was a very brief scene with Sulu’s partner and daughter; Demora Sulu was introduced in the 1994 film Star Trek: Generations.

It’s seemingly small “seeds” like this that provide not just fan service to viewers, but more food for thought for the serious fans (and fan writers). The ongoing Star Trek comics, recently retitled as Star Trek: The 5-Year Mission, published by IDW flirt with canon in both universes, introducing alternative takes on classic episodes that are accordingly different from the original. For instance, in the retelling of “Operation—Annihilate!” Kirk’s brother Sam and his family are rescued from Deneva, with a familial reconciliation being reached. In the original episode, a reconciliation between the brothers is not needed, but the colonists all perish except for Sam’s son. Other stories in the series push forwards arcs like the Vulcans’ recovery from the destruction of their homeworld, while special issues take on favorite fan tropes, like a story told in the Mirror!universe, or a peek into yet another universe where the characters are gender-swapped.

The most recent—and concluding—arc of the series this summer was entitled “Connection” and drew together both the TOS and Reboot crews in a lovely rumination. Rather than being a straightforward crossover, the characters only meet mentally, with an interesting use of visual art to render the effect as puzzle-pieces that fit into a whole rather than only a divergence. A final connection brings us full circle, as the Enterprise’s databases now contain information from both universes.

It is this element of connection—pulling together information and stories across generations, that ultimately speaks to how fan writers and readers work: putting pieces together to create new wholes. We see this most clearly in fanon, or fannish canon, which pulls from all of the stories told officially, and unofficially. Fanon runs the gamut from character names or alien biology to the interpretation of events in characters’ lives. Indeed, Uhura’s first name, Nyota, which was first used on screen in the 2009 film, originated from William Rotsler’s 1982 tie-in book Star Trek II Biographies; it was also used in a number of other works, licensed and fannish. Similarly, Sulu’s first name, Hikaru, was first used by Vonda N. McIntyre for her 1981 tie-in novel The Entropy Effect; it was not adopted on screen until the film Star Trek VI.

For another example, in the TOS episode “The Conscience of the King” we find that Kirk is the survivor of a eugenics-related genocide. The colony governor, Kodos, who perpetrated the murder of over four thousand civilians escaped justice and has always been a ghost of Kirk’s past that he must reckon with when it seems that Kodos has resurfaced. The “Tarsus IV Disaster” is meant to recall elements of the Holocaust; it also implies strong psychological links between Kirk’s belief in no-win scenarios and this formative childhood experience. Interestingly, while only a few (comparatively) fan stories examined the event in the period of zines, in the time of digital circulation it’s a well-known trope, with tags and even a community dedicated to sharing stories that expand on this element of fictional history.

What we might take from these volumes and volumes of licensed (there are quite literally hundreds of novels and comics) and fannish works (hundreds of thousands of fanfics online and in print) is fandom’s deep interest in exploring the possibilities of the worlds ofStar Trek in all its iterations. Just as there’s no beginning or ending to works of the imagination, the possibilities of story cannot be exhausted. Whether it’s fannish writing on page or screen, or officially licensed material, there’s always room for expansion and possibility.

Fifty years on we can still see this the most clearly through a vision of diversity: not until this year and the new Sulu has Star Trek had an onscreen gay character (though there have been gay characters in the novels, and they are abundant in fan fiction). There’s been a recent pushback on the “faux progressivism” of slash writing in fandom (which boils down to queer romances, most famously in K/S or Kirk/Spock stories), but I would nonetheless argue that decades of slash writing effectively normalized the ideas of gay relationships for a number of readers whom I have met—and many of whom also recognized and learned to celebrate their own queerness because of it. Roddenberry’s famous Vulcan principle of IDIC, or Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, remains something to aspire to, both onscreen and in the real world. As in fandom, it’s a place we can get to by joining together in celebration of one.

Cait Coker is a genre historian specializing in science fiction fandom and women’s writing. Her essays have appeared in The Journal of Fandom Studies and The Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures, among others.

caitri: (chris vocabulary)
There's an increasing pushback against slash in acafandom that I have mixed and, increasingly, uncomfortable feelings about. On the one hand, I totally get the comments about how slash valorizes white male cis-bodies at the expense of, uh, pretty much everything else, and how it acts as a misognizing and internalized misogyny factor. But there's also a wave of calling it faux progressive and falsely subversive that bugs me, because 1) it contributes to an erasure of fan history and 2) presents an ahistorical view of queer relationships as being always accepted, especially in fandom, which, no. I wish, but no.

For instance, I've been rereading Melissa Good's Dar and Kerry stories. I've been purchasing them in hard copy too, because it occurred to me (duh) they might not always be online, and I really loved them back when I was a 90s brat. But once upon a time, when Xena: War Princess was my Friday night staple and also not dunked in Judao-Christian whateverthefuck, it was one of my favorite fandoms because femmeslash was more or less the norm--and even the canon. Good/Merwolf's fics were epic, and her Dar & Kerry stories had an uber-setting--contemporary AUs before AU was the common term. Dar & Kerry were pretty clearly Xena and Gabrielle in the tech industry (and rereading them, they are so cute and 90sriffic! Pagers! Mobiles! Laptops being serous tech!), and one thing I had forgotten until rereading was how their lesbianism was an ACTUAL ISSUE. The baddies in the stories often tried to use it as a lever against the characters; the issue of being out and WHERE to be out (at work, with family, with friends) was very much a thing.

And here's the thing--that still is. There was a great panel about queerness and sexualities with an emphasis on trans at the Star Trek Celebration, and the speakers were upfront about the spaces of their queerness: Some were out all the time, some were out in Chicago but not in their hometowns, some were out to their friends but not their families, etc. etc. Acting like this isn't a thing, as if there are no such things as safe spaces (this came from a fan podcast I was listening to yesterday), is absolutely bullshit, disrespectful to people, and frankly rather dangerous.

Similarly, up until about, what? Ten, fifteen years ago or so, fandom was similarly an issue. People didn't want it known they were active and fandom and being outted/doxxed by other fans/anti-fans was a thing, and a scary one. It was the sort of thing people would use to get people FIRED from their jobs and similar shit. Acting like this didn't happen, or is part of a distant and archaic past is BS and just as problematic as the other shit we face, like erasing POC and women from our texts and from fandom, facing the problematic intersections of race and class and sex and all those other things.

So TL;DR: Maybe slash is "safer" than it used to be, but that doesn't change its historical contexts. Acting like it wasn't a thing isn't making an argument for making more progress, it's contributing to the erasure of the successes we've had.

ETA: On further reflection, I do think it should also be considered how slash fiction effectively normalized queer relationships for at least two generations of readers (the generation that had the Internet in the 90s when they were teenagers, followed by millenials who always had Internet). Given the minimal presence of positive queer relationships in literature and media, this is a not insignificant population reading a body of work that was otherwise not present.
caitri: (charles write)
So a few weeks ago I was in the audience as a panel of writers spoke, and one of them made a grumbly comment about reviewers and critics which has been in my mind ever since, so I thought I'd write a bit about it.

I've been a book and film reviewer for the best part of a decade; almost all of my reviews stay here on my lj, but a lot of them get published elsewhere too. I'll be blunt and say this up front: book reviews are hard work. It takes time to really read a book, time that seems even longer when you come to the conclusion that it's not a good book and that you would ordinarily put down, but you have to keep going because you agreed to do the review. The other sticky whicket is that most places don't even pay for book reviews: your "payment" is the free copy of the book you got from the publisher, so you've put several hours into reading the book and then a couple more into writing about it.

Writing about books isn't easy, either; depending on the audience of the publication, it can be difficult and frustrating. When reviewing for academic publications, you have to check that the writer did the research on their material (which sounds like it should be assumed, but nope--nope nope nope. Some editors are lazy and inattentive, or just plain don't care. Ditto writers for that matter.); you have to think about how useful the book would be for students, for teachers, for librarians. Strangely, fiction reviews are even harder because you have to OWN the fact that you like or dislike it, and then sort out why that is and what others would think about it.

As an example, I read The Very Best of Kate Elliot recently for The SFRA Review, and that was a case where I didn't like the book and I had to push through to finish it. I thought that a lot of the stories were just simply boring--nothing much happened in them. Worse, I have Editor's Brain, so I kept thinking "if you moved this scene up," "if you deleted this bit," "WHY?" etc. The thing is, that's exactly the sort of commentary you don't want in a professional review: the story is done, not workshopped. But nonetheless, how to communicate its weaknesses while keeping in mind that what does it for me does not necessarily do it for others? What I ended up doing was discussing the strongest of the pieces at length and then talking about trends in fantasy reading and publishing right now. I also gave a shorter review than I usually do, simply because I didn't think the material merited much filler.

In contrast, I just sent in a review of Eva Darrows' The Awesome to The Future Fire last night. That was a book I had a lot of FEELS about because it was YA lit with an awesome heroine and a negligible romance plot. (I am old and cranky; the current surfeit of stories where young women meet their ~one true love~ in freaking high school just appalls my sensibilities.) I flailed at length about it, and will share the review here when it's out, but that brings me to another reason why I love to review books, which is:

If a book is AWESOME I have a platform to valorize it. Maybe it's the librarian in me, or only the geek, but when I love something, I want **everyone** to know of its awesome. I love signalboosting new authors, or authors who don't get enough press, because I want them to get more recognition. One of the things I really love about The Future Fire is how they specifically try to signalboost minority writers and independent presses, which is exactly the sort of people and material who need more attention paid to them.

In short: I review things because I want to champion writers and the conversations about genre. I don't believe in reviewing to be a dick (although that is certainly the case with some reviewers, but oy), I believe in reviewing to help readers AND writers.

On Hope

Feb. 28th, 2015 01:30 pm
caitri: (chris vocabulary)
I wrote this on Facebook, but thought I'd share here:

In one of the Nimoy remembrance threads on my wall there's a discussion about TOS and hope, and I wanted to elaborate on that a bit more. I was at a con a number of years ago and someone in the audience said something like "of course TOS was optimistic, things were easier back then," and a speaker, I think it was Don Baker, responded, "That's the thing though. This was 1966. We were in a terrible war, our political leaders were being assassinated every few years, there was nuclear tension with Russia and frankly, we were convinced that the world was going to end soon. To have Star Trek say 'no, we're going to survive, thrive, and become better' was a HUGE deal then and it is now." And I thought that was so great.

And here's the thing that separates us, then and now: In a lot of ways, the world actually IS better than it was in 1966, even if it's damn hard to believe it sometimes. The thing is, we have the technology in our hands, right now, to make the world the place we want it to be: If we decided to give homes to the homeless, to feed the hungry, to solve any number of problems, we could do so, but we don't. And it's not because people aren't trying, it's because they are shouted down by the naysayers.

Here's the thing: Hope is hard. It really is. There's a reason why, in so many myths, hope is this hidden, locked up thing. It's precious, and it cuts to the bone. To have hope, you have to find strength, and people to share it with, and it's hard. But it's possible.

Star Trek showed us hope. So now we have to do the work. That's all there is to it. It's that easy, and that hard.

caitri: (Gamora)
To start with, there's an upset in Agent Carter fandom on the absence of POCs in 1940s NYC. Tamora Pierce stepped into it by stating that "If you mean the cast is primarily white, it’s the 40s. Which is more offensive to you: black help and blacks in service, or no blacks? I would like to see more POC, yes, but that was the time, and I’m not sure I’d like to see more POC if they’re always going to be in service" and it was one of those moments of OH GODSDAMMIT YOU TOO?! (Seriously, my love for Alanna is now muchly sullied. Anyway) So I wanted to blather on a bit.

So, first of all, the erasure of women and POC from everything is very much a narrative of our culture--in history, in writing, in art, everything. (I've promised myself that one day I'm going to write an essay called "My Invisible Labors" on every time my participation in something high-profile had been erased by TPTB.)

First off, this happens because of a straight-up devaluation of contributions, or what I sometimes like to refer to as "the magical elf narrative." This is when things happen magically, without people "doing" anything, because the people themselves are invisible. Think of it as like hotel service, right, you check into a room, it's perfectly clean and neat, you leave the place a mess, and come back later, and--everything is magically clean and net again, the bed all made up, the towels replaced, etc. You sometimes catch glimpses of hotel staff, but most of the time you don't think about it, because we don't value their labor. I tie this directly to Pierce's statement, because she is devaluing a specific kind of labor--but THE SAME THING HAPPENS ACROSS THE BOARD.

Think of the books that are "magically" ordered and shelved in libraries, of the author-less blocks of text in various circulars and so forth. (I remember once being scolded by a faculty member for not buying a book for her. I apologized and started looking in my records, then asked when she'd put in the request. "What do you mean?" she asked. "You wanted me to buy a book for you but I can't find the record of when you asked for it--usually I keep those on file for when I buy stuff." "Oh, I never told you about it, I just assumed you knew." "..." Yep, actual story, and a useful reminder that I don't actually have psychic powers.) There are an awful lot of things that are done anonymously--or rather, without acknowledgement, because the work is not valued.

Now, when it comes to the idea of POCs as only "the help"--well, 1) that is a very specific, privileged point of view and 2) easily disproven. Like, voila. That we don't see other roles for POC in film speaks more to the received knowledge of filmmakers--people "don't" want to see POC in lead roles, people "won't" find it believable--than to any kind of historicity, and this is problematic. I've written about this before, but once when I was in a fiction seminar and had given folks a chapter of my in-progress novel about a black girl in 17th century England, a ridiculous amount of time was spent--by white people--telling me that it wasn't realistic because "there weren't black people" back then...which led to me reciting population statistics in London and so forth because, well, me, and then finally the teacher just telling me that "even if it's realistic, it's not believable because it's too much," like there's this intellectual yard stick and it has some kind of quota system to it.

Which, you know, ALL KINDS OF BULLSHIT, BECAUSE FICTION.

[And it's funny, as I'm writing this I'm participating in a discussion on Facebook on the issues of class and poverty and elite universities, with someone decrying this as kids "feeling sorry for themselves" and others (including me) arguing that social and economic isolation have very real effects on the academic performance of students, and how there are programs developing to help with this. So, you know, a nugget of hope in the world, as it happens.]

The other thing going on is, well, how all of this is still going on. TPTB still try to limit opportunities for POC and women based on the received knowledge WHICH THEY HAVE BEEN TAUGHT. It's a full, ugly circle of power, and privilege, and really the only way to break it is through education, new texts, and (clearly) sheer stubbornness.

Plus the other thing is--aren't these erased stories just simply more interesting? I mean, think about how everyone freaking loves Downton Abbey--because the bulk of the emphasis of the story is on the less privileged. Hell, they even dabble a bit with diversity with the gay dude, even though they basically made him Neutral Evil. But--can't we hear the stories of ALL the gays, and ALL the POC, etc. etc.?

Anyways, I'll conclude this messy ramble: I didn't get accepted into a prestigious conference, and was feeling rather bummed about it, and I talked to my dissertation chair about it. Her response was basically "lol of course not--because you're writing about women, and that group has always been invested in ignoring them as much as possible. Be patient and get the last laugh!" My chair, btw, is pretty literally a rock star for writing THE book on women's writing in history, so, yeah, she would know, wouldn't she?

Now, it should go without saying, that the rest of us should have our last laughs at the expense of those writers who keep insisting we don't exist, or that we are "too much."
caitri: (Dorian)
I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, I just wasn't sure how to because there's always the "stating the obvious" thing.

So to start with, a month or so ago I had a chat with another writer friend, who was angsting about "how" to write POC in her novel, because she has fears of being perceived as racist or accidentally racist. Which I guess happened because she read the new Donna Tartt book, and I guess Tartt was criticized for writing all POCs as servants and whatnot? Anyway, my (ever so deep) response was, "Dude, just do your research and write people AS PEOPLE."

which, you know, obvious, right? And yet.

So I just finished reading the new Diana Gabaldon book, Written in My Own Heart's Blood. Which, I largely love her because man she does historical research RIGHT. But she's one of those cases where she tries to write diversity and comes so CLOSE and yet SO FAR. Because she writes POC in broad strokes but doesn't seem to understand that she's doing so, or that, for instance, coming at historical stereotypes from the opposite end is problematic, ie. that writing Native Americans as nobly doomed and JUST AS PROBLEMATIC as writing them as scalping maniacs. And its one of those cases of, see, putting all that attention to detail and family trees and characterization that you put into the Scottish people? Doing THE SAME THING to the Mohawks and the Black freemen and slaves.

Like I said, should be EASY. AND YET.

Here's the other thing, particularly about historical fiction (And this needs to be its own post sometime): Historical fiction is ALWAYS just as much about the time in which it was written as about the time it depicts.

So, for instance, Downton Abbey. (I fucking hate Downton Abbey but damn is it a useful Cliffsnotes sometimes.) Thomas, Teh (sic) Gay Character, is largely treated sympathetically even as he is often a douche. But there's one episode where a character informs the police of his Gayness and Lord Grantham has to talk to the cops and be all "he's just as God made him" and there's a moment and Thomas is left alone. And some people were all "Ohmigod, that is so not historically accurate!!!!" Which, of course not, because in 20fucking14 you can't demonstrate that sort of intolerance without being *read* as intolerant yourself--it's a storytelling decision to maintain sympathy. BUT, when they *do* choose to demonstrate period-accurate intolerance to the Jewish characters? That TOO is a decision, and we HAVE to understand that by doing so the writers are trying to demonstrate that as an old intolerance that is dead and thus "safe"--and never mind how contemporary Jews are getting the same crap as always because it is "invisible" and "historically accurate." We're saying that anti-gay is not okay but that anti-Semitic is normal.

Now think about what that means.

Meanwhile, back to Gabaldon. She has a history of some deeply problematic things, but there were two in this book that REALLY stuck out at me. SPOILERS ) I still love the writing by itself but I really want to make Gabaldon take some consciousness-raising classes and whatnot.

Anyways, as a sort of conclusion: All writing is a deliberate choice on the part of the author. It may be an unexamined choice, but it is still a choice. When it comes to historical fiction, you can't really say "that's how it was back in those days" because that writing isn't coming from THEN, it's coming from NOW, and it's coming from YOU. And you have to be aware of that last bit before all others.
caitri: (books)
So I'm reading a volume of essays on Early Modern women's life writings, which can be identified as just about any nonfiction prose--including diaries, letters, autobiographies, religious writings, commonplace book material like recipes and household accounts--and personal poetry. For a long time much of this material has been totally overlooked because, you know, women's stuff, that's not historically valuable or interesting. And it's interesting to me that culturally we have this dichotomy of "darnit, womenfolks, stay in the house and let men handle the big thinkie thoughts" and "augh, women write about nothing but marriage and family and household stuff, like that's valuable, pfft." That they are there and not there at the same time.

I was taking a course at Rare Book School last week on the history of the Stationers' Company of London, and was delighted that there was a brief section where we discussed women stationers. For many years I was sternly told that, you know, women printers didn't actually print or anything, they were just, you know, there and stuff, at least of course until they remarried or died. Which, you know, that little story is being firmly taken down now, but the insistence on that narrative always struck me: the idea that women couldn't possibly run a business or be knowledgeable about a trade because reasons. Anyway, in class we talked about how women were sort of "written around" in the ordinances--the rules that men could only teach the trade to his sons and his apprentices--with the implication that wives and daughters probably knew the trade, they just wouldn't expect to one day set up their own shops. And then in the late seventeenth century you start getting women who *do* formally apprentice themselves in the trade (this means that their parents pay the trade master $$ for the seven year apprenticeship, and then they live in the master's house working for room, board, and some pocket money) and are then made free. And it's a very small group, but it *happens.*

Anyway, digression. But we look at women's work and devalue it as a matter of course--witness the fact that it's 20fucking14 and women still make, on average, $0.70 to a man's $1.00. If we don't value the work women do in offices or in homes, why would we value their writing?

I have a friend on FB who has several times mentioned starting a blog to talk about being a single mother and stuff, and we had a conversation once where she wondered about putting a donate button on it because she felt bad being seen as "asking" for money from women like her who were her intended audience of working moms, and I was like, "Dude, no, the rest of the world will insist your writing's not valuable as is, so why help them with that assumption?" Similarly, for a long time fans who had a donate button on their sites, or just bloggers, would be attacked for daring to think they should be paid--for work that often, you know, requires paid domain space, sometimes advertising, etc. etc. MedievalPOC has been through the ringer for that too recently, and never mind she has a *huge* site that has become a reputable historical and fan resource for locating books and material on POCs in history and SFF.

I'm fascinated (repulsed, but fascinated) by this cultural notion about being unable to recognize women's writing. I mean, I'll be honest, until I started reading this book, recipe books hadn't occurred to me, but of course they are: they show what's available, what people are doing, and often little histories like "this is my grandmother's" and whatnot--which, I did know they were often useful for geneaologists, but as documents of *writing* hadn't occurred to me.

And then, looking at other forms of contemporary writing: We have social media, of course. I've had this lj for a decade at this point (I remember when the first sort of blogging software/online diaries were a thing and people pooh-poohed them as a sort of exhibitionist writing, as if you could care about a stranger writing about their life, god!). There's an interesting transition to be seen in the trend of blogs that become books (or, like Julie and Julia, sometimes movies too). Can we see this as an analogue to the transition from manuscript culture to print culture, or no? Especially in terms of authority and value. (How does it change when you read a blog versus pay $20 for a book that reprints those blog entries? Is that different from collections of newspaper essays and such?)

I tend to read a lot of SFF blogs, but also cooking blogs, and I think there we start to see similar material to 17th c. stuff, in terms of people recording recipes but also talking honestly about things like depression, job-hunting, relationships, etc. (Seriously, I dare anyone to read Hyperbole and a Half's piece on Depression, and not find it visceral and brilliant.) I post a lot on FB, mostly just sharing SFF and news stories with my own (brief) commentary that I find to be of interest. Sometimes those posts become precursors to longer pieces of writing here; more often I just like having on and off conversations with people throughout the day because otherwise I get bogged down in the solitude of reading. I don't consider that material "published" in the same way that I do my lj stuff, though; I guess because it takes more effort and thought to put together an lj post than a FB post. Also the difference in venue/audience: people on lj are here because they like/want my writing, whereas some people are on FB because of my writing and work while others are relatives, social acquaintances, and so forth. (Scott once referred to my FB as my version of "LinkedIn" which I think is very true.)

Anyways, to conclude: If contemporary historians are revising what they consider to be historical writing, how/does this also apply to writing through social media? How do you even begin to preserve that material (and do you want to)?
caitri: (charles write)
Okay, so the other night I got into a spat on FB about "taking genre writing seriously." Because, you know, lolz, and whatever, amirite? *snort* But it got me thinking on the topic of writing and reading (shocking, I know), and what they mean in the everyday sense.

The Value of Literature

So lo many moons ago I remember my Mom asking me in college, "Are you sure you want to be an English major? You're never going to get a job!" Which is a not unusual statement from many parents. Which is untrue because 1) strangely enough the ability to write in a concise and comprehensible way is actually NOT easy, so people actually do want these skills in a variety of jobs, and 2) the ability to write when balanced with an ability to think critically and under time constraints is also fucking useful. And these are the things that most often come up when people want to defend the humanities, but this overlooks the specific value of literature. Literature is valuable in that it is kind of the doctor of our culture, taking our pulse and telling us what's going on. The recurrent trends in publishing are more than what's popular, it's what we are thinking about, anxious about, preoccupied with.

Plus, my more cynical response: We can't all be fucking neuroscientists. There are a thousand and one ways to contribute to society, and literature is one. I think it's really telling that we tend to value only the really high-end jobs: actors, sports players, government officials, etc. But you know who is invisible and who, once they are gone, you really miss? The janitors. And a lot of writers are kind of like janitors, there's tons of "invisible writing" out there that we don't think about but we need in our lives.

The Value of Popular Literature

Popular literature is like Culture Concentrate: everything that worries us in big neon letters. The common wisdom used to be that popular literature and genre writing were the distillation of the status quo, but a century of literary criticism has proven that's not always true, and often, far from it. Whatever you might think about the Twilight books, they opened up a metric fuckton of conversations about young women in our culture--and a lot of these were conversations we REALLY needed to have!

The other thing about genre writing that I liked to point out when I taught was--literature that is not highly regarded thus has a LOT of wiggle room to do interesting things. For instance, comic books: as painfully bad as a lot of writing is especially in older books, they got away with a LOT. I remember being really struck by a Captain America comic ca. 1964 where Cap declares that the greatest thinkers of the new generation were Martin Luther King Jr., Marshall McLuhan, and JRR Tolkien: a civil rights leader, a media theorist, and a fantasy author. And holy fuck is that one trifecta to hold up as intellectual standard--and to a bunch of kids no less!! The entire genre of science fiction has always been the playing ground for a variety of exploratory political ideas, back to the 16th c. with Thomas More's Utopia.

Art is always political.

Whether it's high or low art, it's still true. Nothing is created in a vacuum, and everything is a product of its own time: it's an action, a reaction, and a lot of works are famous for starting chain reactions right back: Whether it's Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Jungle, or apparently right now, The Hunger Games (check out what's going on in Thailand if you don't believe me).

Why I take genre writing seriously.

You know, a theme of the 16th and 17th centuries was the ability to read correctly--it was part of that whole Reformation thing that then seeped into everyday life. I've been reading Thomas Hobbes and William Tyndale back to back, and man, the preoccupation with reading--specifically the Bible, but everything to a lesser extent--is just so acute. Which, of course, it would be, back when reading the wrong thing could get you hanged for treason or excommunicated or worse. But this determination to read everything as meaningful--the events of our lives as well as the words on (any kind of) page--is still something we see in our society, and hell, it's probably hard-wired into us now if it wasn't five hundred years ago. I think the ability to read seriously is what gives insight not only into specific works but also into our culture. I feel that's important for me to do not only as an individual but as a citizen of the world. If by reading certain things I see that some are oppressed, then I want to do that which will free them; if by reading I see something that hurts, then I want to find the thing to contribute that heals--etc. ad nauseam. And we all do this too, whether it's by choosing to--or not--shop at certain stores or using certain products or companies or (strangely enough), books.
caitri: (books)
So earlier this morning I sat down to read Sidney's "The Defence of Poesy" and was reading the introduction and there was a really interesting bit on Renaissance writing and imitation. English Renaissance literature--prose and poetry--grappled with imitation as they came out of the Continental European Renaissance and its preoccupations with classical culture; you can see this particularly in the concurrent shift in reading practices (intensive to extensive) where you go from reading the Bible and Aristotle to reading the Bible, Aristotle, Cicero, Herodotus, contemporary pamphlets, etc. etc. etc. You have a shift not just in texts but in how to *read* the texts: from memorization to being able to crossreference or gloss.

There's three forms of imitation: Greek mimesis, which is imitation of representation (drawing an apple, say); Latin imitatio, which is literary and stylistic imitation from a model (an argument using Cicero's rhetoric); and emulation, what is believed to be readerly imitation (reading Sidney and then writing an essay).

So we have this entire humanist vocabulary for dealing with adaptive texts. This is why you also have the rhetorical devices of "I heard this story" or "I found this source" for wholly fictional works, because that was what was respectable for a lengthy period of time. It wasn't until we got to the Romantics with their emphasis on valorizing self-expression--and of course, the accompanying image of the heroic (dare I say Byronic? I dare! I dare!) and struggling author--that we truly shift to the modern preoccupations with "originality." It is also worth noting that this is concurrent with the development of copyright culture; where print culture is truly modern in that only printed books are "published" and the circulation of written material is directly tied in with ideas of professional authorship and ownership and livelihoods.

And so OF COURSE I had to tie all this in with our contemporary attitudes to adaptation and, of course, fan works. I recently picked up Diana Gabaldon's newest book; she had a rather famous spat with fandom a few years ago (I'm linking to the Fanlore wiki because a lot of the original stuff has been scrubbed from the internet); the gist of which is that she felt that fanfic was like raping children (yep, actual words) and then she backed off only slightly when people called her on her crazy. Anyways, in her newest book, there's a cameo with Natty Bumppo, you know the hero of the Leatherstocking Saga, or, if you prefer, young Daniel Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans (y'know, either/or). And what I find continually interesting is how the use/re-use of famous characters becomes imminently respectable if done in a "literary" fashion--eg. legit publication, the bigger the author and the publishing house, the more legit it is.

I mean, when we quote Henry Jenkins, we always talk about "textual poaching" in the context of fan writing, but what about the textual poaching in publication? I mean, sure, Fifty Shades of Grey and other Twifics began life as fic, but once they got bought up and published by various presses, they become (magically!) adaptive texts, in dialogue not only with Twilight but with the other texts. (Archontic literature at its finest?) Once it's been bought and paid for, it's no longer "fan" writing; it's legitimizing bastard texts, if you will. And people complain about all this, rightly or wrongly, but that doesn't change you have an entire body of work in conversation with each other and with a clear line of descent. In comparison or contrast, you can look at Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments books, which originated in Harry Potter fic--and her HP fic that, itself, quoted extensively (and some places where it wasn't quoting so much as cutting and pasting...) a number of other media texts including Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (I maintain a major weakness of the film version was there were no Whedon actors involved; imagine if Jace had been played by a CGI de-aged James Marsters, and how much more sense everything would have made then!!!)

In conclusion: the cultural capital we assign various works varies greatly depending both on time period and material, and--at least seemingly--happenstance.
caitri: (books)
It was funny watching these two films back to back: Scott *really* wanted to see Edge of Tomorrow, which I disliked so much I insisted we go see Maleficent asap. So.

I do not understand the good reviews Edge of Tomorrow is getting, I'm going to say that straight up front. It is tedious, trite, goes on for ages, and does nothing whatsoever interesting. No, I take it back, I liked the mecha suits: they are proof we could have an excellent Starship Troopers film if anyone ever cares to make it.

Seriously though, it is the male fantasy/fairy tale: Weeny man Tom Cruise develops masculinity through War, gains affirmation in the eyes of others, and gets rewarded with a hot girlfriend. Emily Blunt's Rita is that classic Strong Female Character in the sense that her awesomeness is there for a male reward, and it is transparent that's what she's there for in each scene in which the characters go "OMG she's with him?!" It was exhausting and nauseating, and while I don't typically hate Tom Cruise, I did want to beat him to death with a spoon after this movie.

[Has anyone on my f-list read All You Need is Kill, the Japanese book on which the film is based? I'm curious if it is better or worse, esp. with regards to sex roles.]

In contrast, Maleficent: OH MY GODS YES. This is a film I can't wait to watch with my yet unconceived daughters and any other small girl younglings. It's fun both as a transformative work--every line and beat from the original is there, flipped and changed--and as a visually nuanced film. Someone mentioned that the fairies were surely inspired by Brian Froud--yes, yes, yes! (Also, memo Disney: I would ABSOLUTELY pay to see a film of Froud's Faeries, I'm just saying.) I also love how Maleficent herself is visually coded as both devil (horns) and angel (wings); it really speaks to patriarchal Christian revisionism/co-option of goddess figures from other cultures.

Slight tangent here: I adore the modern use of fairy tale "retellings." Fairy tales themselves are a genre whose roots are specifically found in the political and proto-feminist writings of women in 17th/18th c. France and Europe. As happens, the fairy tale gained respectability when male writers--including the best known of them, Charles Perrault--began publishing fairy tales that removed and repurposed the material of the women writers. (If it sounds like what's going on with contemporary YA, YOU ARE SO RIGHT.) Fairy tales became codified by the Grimm brothers in the 19th c., who did some retooling so that the girls and princesses all became passive, the mother figures all became evil, etc. etc. Make no mistake: this was patriarchal social violence to specifically women's writing, and that's what we've been stuck with, up to and including Disney's oeuvre of the 20th c.

This is why Maleficent becomes doubly interesting, because it's a transformative text that takes on and criticizes it's original: there is a dialogue with Disney's Sleeping Beauty not just in the storytelling and visuals but within the writing itself: "This is not the story you were told" etc. etc. This is about how history transforms narratives and *especially* women's narratives with a patriarchal agenda.

Within the story itself, just, here, have bullet points:

*The symbology of feminine Nature and masculine City/Civilization. Very Margaret Mead, but even so, it absolutely works, especially in the context of "developing patriarchy.

*The symbolic rape of Maleficent: She refuses to be broken, and she maintains her power. Likewise at the end when her wings are restored. Just: I love that we have this developing cinematic language of victims reclaiming their power, when we have this insistent history in cinematic and other textual narratives that this can't happen, better off dead, etc. etc.

*Women's power is shared power. Women's relationships are about mentoring and respect. (In specific contrast to the "pixies" that have total buy-in into the patriarchy, who view women's relationships as antagonistic, etc. etc.)

*True love is the relationships of family/found family.

*The prince: TOTALLY not into dubcon. He probably saw the "1 is too many" ads and was all "I would like to use my privilege to not buy into this destructive system, thanks."

*Diaval: I love how his relationship with Maleficent develops and how he is very much the anti-Stefan. Not only is he not threatened by Maleficent's power, but that lack of fear is what makes him her friend. I love how there's the ongoing joke of he doesn't like being transformed into this or that, but when she transforms him into a dragon, not only does he use his serious newfound strength to save her (note: he doesn't have to do this, and in any other narrative where we'd have a subservient male he would be filled with hate and not try to protect her), but I think she kind of realizes his friendship and love for her, because you notice at the end his clothing has transformed into a total echo of hers: a sort of royal garment that covers him completely (versus the sort of open shirt "you're pretty" outfit he has worn the rest of the film) with a feathered shoulder-garment that looks a lot like hers. I also love how they are flying together at the end, and that she is allowing and sharing her joy of freedom with him. The more I think about it, the more I think of him as a sort of counterpart to Pacific Rim's Raleigh Beckett: he is a male nurturer--he feeds baby Aurora, he always thinks protectively/defensively rather than offensively, and most tellingly, particularly after her rape, he is a male that Maleficent actually *does* trust. His power comes from accepting strong women, not fighting them.

*I love how Aurora is coded as beautiful not just because of her physical beauty but because of her openness and love for the world. This is a baby that goes up to a woman clothed in black with horns who reeks of "OH MY GOD WHAT DO" and is like "YOU'RE SO PRETTY I LIKE YOUR FEATHERS HI!" I love how she eagerly identifies Maleficent as her fairy godmother does not come off as naive and stupid--which it could have easily done--and instead comes off as a young woman who has paid attention her whole life and knows who genuinely does love her. (Which also makes her underplayed heartbreak at her father's coldness so sad, too.) I like how Maleficent confers the crown on her at the end, because again, shared power of women, women's community and continuity, etc.

In short, IT WAS A REALLY GOOD MOVIE AND I LIKED IT A LOT.
caitri: (books)
So earlier I had a conversation in comments with [livejournal.com profile] afearfulthing that got me thinking; the context was of reading only fic, blogrolls, and recs. In short, the selective reading of only trusted sources etc. There's nothing unusual in that, per se, except the reflection/self-consciousness of choosing to read from a body of free, communal, and public work versus industrial/pop culture production. I think that self-conscious choice is the key part, here, because it implies not only active choice in selection but also active selection.

A project I'd love to pick up one day is the history of women's private reading. Reading is of course both fascinating and difficult because it is in many ways invisible: How do you know who read what? And what she thought of it? There's a rabbit-hole of locating information from marginalia, from bookplates, from notes and diaries, from eyewitness discussions of women in line at bookstores, etc. etc. There's the story about Anne Boleyn's Bible: how she made marks in it with her fingernail: this visceral, bodily connection with a text that is still almost literally invisible.

A lot has been done on women's reactionary writing--especially in fandom, where fanworks are operators of critique and in some ways recovery: bids to "rescue" characters we love. But I'm not sure much has been done on reactionary reading--I'm writing this freeform without having done any research.

I'll use my own experience to talk about this a bit: I often find a lot more reading material of interest to me in fandom than in traditional publishing. Part of this is an access issue: what I want is a really good story with x, y, z. In a brick and mortar store or a library, you can ask clerks for recs, or see what they are promoting at the moment; but these depend on that individual person, and--sometimes--the necessity of building a relationship with them. In an online bookstore, you can run a search and sort by popularity, but this is limited by the interface's algorithms and the site's own audience. You go to a fansite, or AO3, search by tags and recs, and boom--you're done. Because you're automatically in a community of the likeminded. Going back further, you end up with similar situations in print zines, because the zines were community-based--if you were in that community, you would probably already like its content.

I imagine the closest analog to this community appeal in traditional publishing is how some companies--and I'm think specifically of Marvel and Harlequin here--build their lines for specific demographic audiences. Both companies literally have dozens of titles and each of them is for a specific audience: older readers, younger readers, African-American readers, queer readers, etc. I'm curious if anyone can think of other companies that do this?

I'm also thinking of the ongoing schisms in fandom right now, particularly on the topics of race. Check out N.K. Jemisen's GOH Wiscon Speech for more, but here's a key bit:

Maybe you think I’m using hyperbole here, when I describe the bigotry of the SFF genres as “violence”. Maybe I am using hyperbole — but I don’t know what else to call it. SFF are dedicated to the exploration of the future and myth and history. Dreams, if you want to frame it that way. Yet the enforced SWM dominance of these genres means that the dreams of whole groups of people have been obliterated from the Zeitgeist. And it’s not as if those dreams don’t exist. They’re out there, in spades; everyone who dreams is capable of participating in these genres. But many have been forcibly barred from entry, tormented and reeducated until they serve the status quo. Their interests have been confined within creative ghettos, allowed out only in proscribed circumstances and limited numbers. When they do appear, they are expected to show their pass and wear their badge: “Look, this is an anthology of NATIVE AMERICAN ANCIENT WISDOM from back when they existed! Put a kachina on the cover or it can’t be published. No, no, don’t put an actual Navajo on the cover, what, are you crazy? We want the book to sell. That person looks too white, anyway, are you sure they aren’t lying about being an Indian? What the hell is a Diné? What do you mean you’re Inuit?”

But the violence that has been done is more than metaphysical or thematic. Careers have been strangled at birth. Identities have been raped — and I use that word intentionally, not metaphorically. What else to call it when a fan’s real name is stripped of its pseudonym, her life probed for data and details until she gets phone calls at her home and workplace threatening her career, her body, and her family? (I don’t even need to name a specific example of this; it’s happened too often, to too many people.) Whole subgenres like magic realism and YA have been racially and sexually profiled, with discrimination based on that profiling so normalized as to be nearly invisible. How many of you have heard that epic fantasy or video games set in medieval Europe need not include people of color because there weren’t any? I love the Medieval PoC blog for introducing simple visual evidence of how people like me were systematically and literally excised from history. The result is a fantasy readership that will defend to the death the idea that dragons belong and Those People don’t.


An ugly truth in publishing is systematic erasure of choice--just check out what's going on with Amazon right now.

[Direct linking because the embedding code just isn't working: http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/t1nxwu/amazon-vs--hachette---sherman-alexie]

The commentary on first-time writers and publications is as fascinating as it saddening and disgusting.

As such, we as readers (and writers) are left to make our own alternatives where possible--and then we see this co-opted as well in terms of the major publishers that give mega-contracts to fanfic authors with proven track records (most recently, literally two days ago, a 1D fan bags a mid-six figure deal for her fan novel), and Amazon's own Kindle Worlds.

This cycle of production and consumption is fascinating--I have a whole 'nother piece I want to do on historical disruptions in terms of women's writing and reception--but what we see here is how publishers are taking advantage of alternative communities and trying to use them for more profit.
caitri: (charles write)
I feel extra guilty and sad at her passing because I've read so little of her. I read a portion of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was in...middle school, or possibly a freshman in high school. It was the Rape Scene, and it was upsetting, and I couldn't go on. For ~20 years I meant to pick the book up again, but I haven't, because cowardice.

When I was a senior in high school, we had to write papers for some contest on government something something. You were required to do it if you were taking Government that term, and I was assigned to take Gov the spring term, so I didn't have to do it. But there was a cash prize, and I was anxious because not only did I want to get into a good college, but I also had an inkling (an inkling that wasn't even a drop in the ocean of the reality) of the problems I would have once in university because of my background (rural, middle-class in the sort of way that would be coded "poor," as I would find a year later). So, a writing contest, a cash prize, and me.

And let's not forget rural South.

So: I remembered Angelou, and I wrote a paper around the theme of the caged bird:

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.


I wrote about women struggling for the vote and a place in the American political landscape. I wrote about feminism, and how in 1998 there was still no Equal Rights Amendment. I wrote about being a young woman struggling to find her voice even as what we had to read and write about all the time were dead white men. (Oh, I was an angry girl, and I wish I had a copy of this essay still, because it's funny how I've kept the same preoccupations even as I've learned how little I know, and how I've tried to remedy that ever since.)

This went about as well as one would expect.

My Mom didn't like it. (She also mocked how I read poetry, and her saying back to me my own words of I like reading it that way have stayed with me all these years.) (She was also freaked about how I ordered copies of Camille Paglia's literary criticism, because one of the titles was Sexual Personae. Look, I was a baby feminist AND a baby literary critic, I didn't know better!) She wanted me to change it, and I refused.

We had to read our entries in the Gov. classroom. I remember going up, reading the paper, and as I left, a student whispering, "She used words I've never even heard before."

I heard at some point that my paper upset the voting committee, who I think consisted of three old white men and one white woman. I don't think I ever learned what upset them, though let's be honest, it could have been just as much a white girl quoting a black poet as much as anything.

Needless to say, I didn't win the cash prize, or any prize for that matter. But what stayed with me was, at least, the visceral power of words, and how the right ones could make people--teachers!--so very angry. This may have been one of the first times I understood the power of the status quo, and how much I wanted to tear it to pieces.

So I've not read as much Maya Angelou as I should, but she still means a lot to me. She showed me the world as it is--full of struggle, sometimes violent struggle, and sometimes an intellectual struggle that cuts to one's heart. This is a very simple gift, and one that brought my eyes wide open. In short, I think a lot of who I am is--accidentally, tangentially, and perhaps serendipitously--because of her.
caitri: (Status is Not Quo)
So I've had my mind on writing this post for a few weeks but I just haven't quite crystallized all my thoughts, but then I decided better to get it out and screw it up than never get it down at all.

Okay. So. This post is brought to you by a few different moments in the past weeks.

1) A conversation I had on Facebook about YA literature in which a male acquaintance (with all best intentions; I mean, he loves Tamora Pierce so he's not all bad, he's just...misplaced) said multiple problematic things, of which the one I found most irritating was a statement that he doesn't like the trend in YA novels of having romance plots/focus, because he didn't find that empowering for women at all. (Subquestion: How does a man even get to talk about women's empowerment? I mean, really? Skipping Joss Whedon who, while problematic, still gets 90% more than everyone else with a penis.)

2) In a Romance Studies panel at PCA, a speaker mentioned teaching a class where she asked her students to name their favorite books/writers, and all the women gave answers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway and other white male western canon writers, whereas the men were all over the place, and when they talked about it in class, esp when they broke out into gendered groups, that a lot of the young women were giving performative answers because of fear and shame. (Subnote, the area co-chair of Romance Studies at PCA is Eric Seeger, a dude, who is one of the few/only male academics I have seen who does everything RIGHT when interacting with women scholars and letting them talk and then responding, and basically I want to sponsor a session where he can teach other men to do that, because damn.)

3) My interests in fandoms, book history, women's writing, etc. just really highlight the gender divides of how we deal with women writers and publishing etc. I posted on FB about the recent SFWA fracas and an article talking about how much more professional the Romance Writers Association is in championing their writers and publications, and another guy I know wanted to have the lolz. And it's like, um, hey that romance genre that is so derided? Yeah, it is responsible for 55% of American/British publishing. That means that more romances are published and sold every year than textbooks, religious texts, other fiction, and nonfiction com-fucking-bined.

And so there's a lot of things going on, and so I want to kind of break them down a bit.

What women write/publish, esp. with regards to genre.

There's a great quote that I can't remember, but it's about how if a man writes a book about war, it's touted as being a universal tale of experience, but if a woman writes about family, it's drivel. And I think that is probably one of the best and most cogent appraisals ever.

Henry King has that seventeenth century dedication "To a Lady" where he talks about how women aren't allowed to write anything but romance (and so we know how far back that goes, at least) (and for context the poem is part of a gift of a blank book with the rest of the poem being about how he hopes the recipient will fill it whatever characters and fancies she likes), and I think there's way scary truth to that. I mean, look at those few women we have allowed to enter the western canon:

*Jane Austen
*Charlotte Bronte
*Emily Bronte
[poor Anne Bronte always gets left out, doesn't she]
*Mary Shelley
*Virginia Woolf

So that's three writers of what we would call romances, an SF writer, and a writer whose best-known work, A Room of One's Own, eliminated the women writers of the past. Damn, guys, agenda much?

Why women write/publish genre.

Er, see above? Self-fulfilling prophecy, in many ways.

(See also, What If All Book Covers Were Given a Chick-Lit Makeover. See also, Joanna Russ's How to Suppress Women's Writing, come to that.)

There's also this whole thing of, okay, women aren't going to be "allowed" into conventional/respectable literature, so they end up in the genre ghettos, and then the corollary of the recent John Green saved YA backlash. (*Note: I have not read any John Green, nor do I want to. From what I've seen in articles and Twitter he seems to be a white dude trying to be an ally, BUT, he is also a white dude getting exorbitant praise from the establishment at the expense of women and POC writers.) Which, can we even really talk enough about just the IDEA of a man "saving literature"? Oy.

And then the flip to that is of course Nicholas Sparks as the "only" writer of "love-tragedies." Erm.

The very vocabulary of our publishing and genre discourse.

Where the word "hack" used to mean prostitute and so "hack writing" is cheap and unartistic writing.

Where "streetwalker" used to be the term for the women who were out in the streets selling the pamphlets that they often also wrote and published and now that's a term for prostitution.

Where "gossip" used to be the term for a community of women, often professionally, as of midwives, and is now a term for scurrilous information.

Bonuses:

"Book clubs" as a feminine activity, with the addition of "book club guides" in published volumes often being in fiction, very occasionally nonfiction, and *always* being tied in to books by or about women. Like, seriously, ever notice how heavy political books never have book club guides? Not even the scary far-right ones? I'm just saying.

Book and literary histories that try their best to deny the agency of women in all levels of book publication and production. The "stigma of print." The history of removing women from public discourse/vilifying them if they ARE in public discourse.

What it means.

The social expectation of denouncing popular writing by women, whether romances, SF/F, whatever, while often at the SAME TIME those same books sell immensely and get book deals. I can literally name on one hand the times I have heard someone SAY they actually liked: Twilight, Divergent, FSoG, etc. JK Rowling and Harry Potter and Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games are the ONLY ones that have gotten free passes, I assume because male protagonist one the one hand and dystopia on the other. That's "cool."

The flip side being if you DON'T denounce them or don't denounce them quickly enough, you'll get ragged on for low tastes, etc. etc.

Basically we're reinforcing the cultural capital of elite white male writers at the expense of all else. Good job, team.

~

Where do we go from here?

Well, Tumblr. >_>

Seriously though, if you look at the creation of "safe places" for women to talk about writing or to write, it is online space, frequently LOCKED space (back to that public/private discourse again). There are probably arguments to be made about zine culture too, but I know zine culture best through the lens of SFF fandom, and, well, hey, what do naked collating parties in the 70s say about the culture of women's writing then?

(And of course, zine culture will be trashed at the expense of artist books and arguments about vanity publishing, etc. etc., but that's a WHOLE OTHER ARGUMENT about means and ways of production.)

Anyway, to conclude: There are very specific histories and stigmas associated with women's writing and reading, even before we get into specific genre stuff whether romance or SFF. The farther you go back, the more you can see about acknowledgements of what's going on as well as the attempts to subvert it and create new spaces, which are then often taken over themselves to that they can "be saved." Think of the "Fake Geek Girl" phenomenon despite the open history of women saving Star Trek or even that a woman INVENTED SFF (whether or not you want to specify whether that woman was Mary Shelley or Margaret Cavendish). So.

I think I may have just made a book outline. Shit.
caitri: (fandom is like rl)
So I spent last week at the Popular Culture Association's National Meeting, which is always basically like nerdy braingasms. I gave a paper on Pacific Rim, spoke on a roundtable about Tolkien and derivative works, and ran a panel and roundtable on vampire literature. I also sat in on papers on comics, audience reception, adapting Sherlock, and a bunch of other things, and had some really great conversations, and then on the plane started sort of writing the following in my head:

Okay, so one of the ways to look at book history is how production and readership ties in with class: Today we refer to this (rather obliquely) as highbrow (Shakespeare), middlebrow (Tolkien), and lowbrow (comics? WWE?) culture. Now, what sort of came up in conversation at lunch one day, as happens, was the discussion of fandom as middle class activity. We like to think of the internet as freely available, but let's face it, it requires a computer and a connection, and any fanworks require software for images and wordprocessing. They also require time. This can also be tied into the assumption that fanworks are all by (middle class) teenage girls, because who has more leisure time for fan creation and media consumption, etc. etc.

Then you backtrack to the days of zines etc. You could obtain fic by either sending through the mail through ads in magazines (somewhere I have a 70s Star Trek mag that has one of those ads in the back for zines, with that old "- /" coding to denote whether it was gen or slash material) or by attending cons and acquiring them in the dealer's rooms (note: I know cons today often have a discounted charge if you want to go to the dealer's room and not the whole con--anyone know how far back that goes, or was it always the case?). So it would have been possible to have gone to buy zines but not shell out for actor photos and whatnot; not sure how many would have done that, but it would have been *possible*, I think.

But then in terms of actual zine production, back to the 1930s, there would still have been costs for paper, mimeo equipment, etc. etc. One of the fun things in my private collection is a short pamphlet by Don Wollheim from around ~39-40 where he is arguing against the US going to war because of the effect that will have on fan/SF culture: paper prices will go up and so will the cost of the magazines AND the fan pubs. (There's a paper in that, sometime.)

So backtracking even more, I'm thinking of Wilkie Collins's essay on the "Unknown Public" that was thousands of women buying books and serials back in the 1800s; his argument, as I recall, was about how they were buying all this lowbrow dreck (of course) and that someone (he) should *really* be teaching them to read properly. (Another note, there's been this preoccupation with "reading properly" back to the 16th and 17th c., and that too is tied in with class and also gender lines. Basically, men worrying about what women were reading goes way the hell back.)

Richard Altick in The English Common Reader actually did a fair bit with crunching numbers on publications and readers and such. I'm not sure if I'm relieved or not that he got kicked off my prelims list cos now I want to go back and look at it, though of course I need to focus on the books I already have. Altick was fairly seminal in shifting the discipline of book history from "how books were produced" to "who was reading them."

Anyway, fan histories/criticism tend to be written to focus on ethnography ("lookit what these people are doing! who are they?"), sociology ("look! it's women! *why* are they doing it??), and only now (like, literally, less than ten years) into literary critique ("this fan novel does x, y, and z."). I'm thinking if you apply book history practices to fandom, how we'll reveal things at a new slant: Not *why* women read and write slash, say, but what fans are really doing with their cultural preoccupations and so forth.

This can also be tied into romance studies, in a way. (Also, at PCA, I kind of wish I cared more about romances because what panels and scholars I have dipped into always seem to be consistently deep and well thought out. This year I attended a panel on gay romances and there were a couple of papers that were just really great histories of the emergence of those genres and how they were coded back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and it was *fascinating.*) Janice Radway's Reading the Romance basically focuses on the issues of women readers and writers, the patriarchy, and the middlebrow. Since a lot of fanworks are romances and erotica, a lot of this criticism and scholarship also applies. For instance, she has an essay about the supposition that romances are primarily lowbrow reading, except, of course, in terms of consumption and leisure time, a lot of romance readers are also middle class women.

Anyways, these are just so preliminary thoughts. So.
caitri: (books)
Today's recommended reading: Confirmation Bias, Epic Fantasy, and You

Snip:

Confirmation bias doesn’t cause the phenomenon of Mysteriously Whitewashed Medieval Europe. (Or Peculiarly Denuded of Women Europe, or Puzzlingly Focused On The Nobility Europe, or any of the other bizarre things we tend to see in medieval Europe-flavored fantasy.) Confirmation bias causes the freakouts that occur whenever somebody points out these phenomena, and names them as inaccuracies.

...

Like the Wikipedia entry suggests, confirmation bias is usually worst when a person feels threatened by anything that challenges their preexisting beliefs. Since the preexisting beliefs associated with bigotry are all tied up in identity and privilege, it’s not really surprising that the sense of threat is there, merited or not. Identity and privilege are things of the ego; they’re about what we think of ourselves. Bigotry tells privileged people that they deserve to be privileged; that they should have an easier life and a better self-image and more power because they are special; that the reason less-privileged folks don’t get the same preferential treatment is because they are inferior in some way. Challenging this thinking means saying to people: actually, no, you’re not all that special, or maybe you are but not because you’re [insert identity], and also those other people aren’t inferior at all, they just weren’t “lucky” enough to be born with your identity. For people who get used to being incessantly told “You’re awesome!” being told instead that, “Eh, you’re just okay” is a little bit of a comedown. (But a comedown is not oppression. Anyone who thinks that really has no concept of what oppression really is.)


(One day I am going to fangirl all over NK Jemisen and it's going to be extraordinarily awkward for everyone involved.)

I've been thinking a lot about race and worldbuilding recently because it's relevant to both of my current creative writing projects. Growing up, I didn't think about race in fiction because it's a topic that doesn't come up that much in the classic SF/F I was reading (because everyone was white) or on tv (Star Trek and stuff where it was a utopia and it didn't matter except when funny-looking aliens had issues, and it probably took me way longer than it should have growing up to figure out Those Metaphors). As an adult, I think about it A LOT because I see the things going on with Racefail and the SFWA fracas and so forth. I really wish it was something that could have come up in my writing classes, which were majority white with one Hispanic, and the one Hispanic teacher who actually told me that having my historical printerfic with a black woman printer stretched credulity because it was "too much" (I am never getting over that, ever, ever; "stretching credulity" has since become my unofficial motto).

It's funny to me how we become entrenched in these cultural narratives (Jemisen brings up the loaded "forces of light and dark") but aren't taught how to break out of them (if anyone has some books on the topic, could you rec them?), and only slightly are we taught to even see them. I feel like I keep my reading eyes so wide now trying to find things that I almost can't relax when watching media anymore (I think this is also why I've gotten addicted to Korean dramas, because the cultural narratives are so different that I actually can sit back and enjoy the story; also, I just really enjoy how they exoticize the west, which probably should be a paper sometime).

~

In today's reading here's a lovely bit of a poem by Lady Anne Southwell (1574-1636) who wrote a poem complaining about women writers being criticized by men:

Dare you but write, you are Mineruaes bird
the owl at wch these battes & crowes must wonder,
they'll crittickize vppon the smallest word
this wanteth number case, that tense & gender
then must you frame a pittiful epistle
to pray him bee a rose was borne a thistle.
caitri: (Is that a Firefly)
Written to appear in a friend's fanzine, sometime.

Here's how it is... )
caitri: (books)
Previously I had a long and rambly post about women's writing that I want to bring up again because I found a lovely nugget in Joad Raymond's Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain. He reprints a comic poem by John Taylor (cited in The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659, selected by Norbrook, ed. Woudhuysen (1982), p. 740) that talks about pamphlets, which was also apparently yet another word for prostitute:

For like a Whore by day-light or by candle,
'Tis even free for every knave to handle:
And as a new whore is belov'd and sought,
So is a new Booke in request and bought.
When whores wax old and stale, they're out of date,
Old Pamphlets are most subject to such fate.
As whores have Panders to emblazon their worth,
So these have Stationers to set them forth.
And as an old whore may be painted new
With borrowed beauty, faire unto the view,
Whereby shee for a fine fresh whore may passe,
Yet is shee but the rotten whore she was.
So Stationers, their old cast Bookes can grace,
And by new Titles paint a-fresh their face.
Whereby for currant they are past away,
As if they had come forth but yesterday.

*NB. All italics are represented as in the text, as they were presumably printed in the 16th c. Also, "Stationers" is a catch-all term for those in the booktrades, so printers, engravers, binders, and even booksellers.

I'm finding it increasingly fascinating and creepy how there is a consistent language connecting women's writing with women's bodies, especially with regards to being read and consumed. I suppose an analog is the "Biblical" (can someone correct me here--I'm thinking this is KJV and therefore 1611 language) phrase "to know" someone ie. "to have sex with them," knowledge/"carnal knowledge" etc.

~

Other interesting things:

Genre Wars: SFF at the AWP Conference

Both women fielded questions about breaking into science fiction as a male-dominated field. Le Guin’s response—that she “didn’t care what men were doing,” that it wasn’t a feminist movement, but “just taking over,” was patently great. Gloss was quick to point out, though that the question had disregarded the masculinity of the literary canon. Their “take-over” was not of an inherently misogynist genre, but of a larger, male-dominated publishing industry and culture.

...

Mamatas went a slightly different route, tracing the history of publishing to highlight its economic divisions. The pulps, produced for and by the working class, and the “slicks,” which paid their authors and were only accessible to the middle and upper class, is just one example of this phenomenon. If the middle class is in charge of schools, he said, the schools will work in the mode of the middle class. Like Wonders and Kanaka, though, Mamatas spoke in terms of the larger picture—it’s high time that we stop pretending that the literary world’s dialogue about genre has anything at all to do with “bad writing” alone. Surprisingly, art doesn’t exist in a vacuum—economic or otherwise.


The article also references a panel on teaching SFF in creative writing classes, but doesn't discuss the panel in depth, which is too bad. Of the six university-level creative writing courses I've had in my life, not one taught SFF, and not one of the teachers was prepared to provide feedback on SFF material. I say this with the nota bene that I was always told I could write SFF but the profs couldn't help me with it--which, fair enough, but how is it that genre does not seem to come up at all as a topic of discussion in writing courses?

Smuggler’s Ponderings: History, Fandom and Masters of Science Fiction

It seems to me that there’s this idea that Science Fiction – as genre and as fandom – has a “history.” And that (real) fans should know this particular history.

My main question when hearing this argument is: “history” as perceived by whom? As defined by whom?

Why is it that this early history of Science Fiction fandom is presented as “idyllic” when we know for a fact that large groups of people stood outside looking in? Isn’t that history being rewritten in front of our very eyes? Try this: when you Google “best Science Fiction of all time” or “essential Science Fiction novels,” you almost invariably get lists featuring works by the same group of people. Very few contain writers who are not white and male. The narrative that chooses this subset of people as the only worthy “masters” of the genre? Isn’t that, too, rewriting history in front of our very eyes?

It is obvious to me that this idyllic period of Science Fiction “history” is told largely from an American, white, male perspective. It might be an important part of a historical narrative, but it is not the whole narrative. Surely, it can’t be. If we choose to brand only those works “masterful” and “classic” and “essential”, what are we saying?


This article connects a few different dots in recent goings-on, including the Ross-Hugo flap and by Baen editor Toni Weisskopf's piece on "true" fandom/SFF readers.

How to Stage Your Show Without Being Super Racist

In Philadelphia, the Lantern Theater Company is currently wrapping up the run of its annual Shakespearean offering, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. This time, they've put a twist on the great tragedy by changing up the Roman Republic and setting the play in medieval Japan. That's great, except there isn't a whole lot in this production that's legitimately Japanese -- most notably, a glaring lack of Japanese actors.

Dance theater artist (and actual Japanese person) Makoto Hirano saw the play, and it did not sit well with him. So he drafted a letter to the Lantern Theater Company outlining some "friendly unsolicited pointers" on How to Stage Your Show Without Being Super Racist. PROTIP: "DON'T say you were inspired by feudal Japan and then not cast any Japanese actors." Seems like that should have been a big one.


His full, gorgeous letter is reproduced in toto at the link.
caitri: (Cait Yatta!)
I've been meaning to share these, and I keep forgetting.

*My TWC article with all my thinkie thoughts on Steve/Tony fandom was published last month: The Creation and Evolution of  the Avengers and Captain America/Iron Man Fandom.

*Todd and I did an article on the Martin exhibit for College and Research Libraries News that went online this week: How We Brought 3,000 People to the Library....With the Help of Mr. George R. R. Martin.

~

I've been working on my poetry-writing skills, such as they are, after having made the acquaintance of a lovely young English poet named Maria who I decided to adopt/kidnap for the better part of June. (Look, I was in Texas, I have an inarguable personality....mostly I just drag people along and they get Stockholm Syndromed into liking me, ask anyone.) I have been failing at writing fiction for the last few weeks and putting together poems is about as best as I can do. Anyhow, here's one I wrote tonight that I am pleased with:

Rain
falls like diamonds
--small bright drops
on the sidewalk.
Summer heat splits
cloud-dark sky
with bolts of lightning
whose fall to earth
is as silent
as God's humor.

~

Anyway, that's me. I'm living in a hotel in Colorado for the next month, to the bemusement of our kitties. Except for next week, when I'm going to Rare Book School.

I am adjusting to things slowly. Right now I just feel constantly exhausted. Stupid high altitude. Hopefully I'll be a more useful correspondent soon.
caitri: (Badass)
Okay, so Cowboys vs. Aliens wasn't as bad as a lot of the reviews make it out to be, it just wasn't anything to really write home about. (It was still way the hell lot better than Super 8 though.) In fact, I was enjoying its Saturday afternoon entertaininess, and then, well, guess what: In came the Hollywood Indians, including Good!Tragic!Indian! Nat who was adopted and raised by Harrison Ford and thus can see the Brave Goodness inside that cantankerous dick.

The second he opened his mouth to tell his tragic!backstory I turned to Scott and said, "Want to time how long before he bites it?"

Around forty-five minutes later, Scott turned to me and said "Here we go."

Yeah. And still not as painful as ALL THE REST of the Native Americans, of course, being all shrieky, in superstitious awe of the white chick, and, y'know, NOT HAVING ANY LINES (all of the Lakota (?) language was unsubtitled). I cherish the hope that the actors were doing what a friend of mine in South Africa observed Zulu extras doing, which was making fun of what a stupid movie they were in and how stupid the white people watching were. (Apparently when this film screened in SA, my friend was in the theater and like half the audience was cracking up during these Very Serious Scenes for this reason.)

I also went with Scott to see Captain America again since he hadn't seen it.One thing I had observed but not really appreciated the first time around was the ahistorical integration of the US Army; also, the fact that, for once, none of the black dudes got it. *looks at XMFC pointedly* (Also, I liked the one black soldier who mentioned learning German at Howard before switching to French to pick up girls; it made me homesick since I used to live near Howard Law School when I was in DC.) There was a pretty interesting discussion on the IAFA listserv about this topic, including the supposition that this additional decision really helped reinforce the AUness of the Marvel universe. Which, if you take that in conjunction with how the Cuban Missile crisis is depicted in XMFC with the US and Russia bonding pretty quickly in their mutual fear over the mutants, ala Watchmen, rewrites history and sociology pretty interestingly.

A few days ago [livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit was kind enough to share a forthcoming book chapter on the depiction of Native Americans in the various Treks, which was really entertaining and enlightening reading. It's going to be published in the forthcoming Star Trek and History, so do what I'm gonna do and buy it. It really re-impressed on me the importance of not fucking up race in scifi, which is part of the reason I'm trying to do some more research for Heaven is Bloodless.

At the same time I'm reading the final volume of Jacqueline Carey's Naamah trilogy, which is itself an AU, and right now the characters are in Terra Nova and venturing through the Nahuatl Empire. Now Carey always does her research, both historically and linguistically, and it SO. PAYS. OFF. I really wish HBO would do something based on her books, because they have all the things I love. SIGH.

Profile

caitri: (Default)
caitri

July 2017

S M T W T F S
      1
2345678
9101112 131415
16171819 2021 22
23242526272829
3031     

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 23rd, 2017 08:39 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios