Nobody said it was easy (copperbadge) wrote,
Nobody said it was easy


I always experience a significant amount of terror right before I travel alone -- it got so bad when I was going to Boston that I almost didn't go -- but I'm accustomed to it now and I just ignore the shakes and get on the train and I always have an awesome time once I'm underway.

Riding the train from Chicago to anywhere in Indiana is apparently a pretty bare-bones proposition. There's no first class (which I usually take, it's worth the extra $10) and no snack car, so I was glad I packed dinner. Well, "dinner"; a bottle of water, a Clif bar, and a Snickers bar.

I'll spare you the tribulations I had getting to my housing, but I will say that the Lafayette Amtrak Station is not designed to facilitate a cohesive traffic stream after dark. I got lost in the station. I did, however, finally get where I was going and I got a pretty good night's sleep, though this morning I couldn't figure out how to work the shower spigot and my shower was cooooooold. Still, woke me up.

On the train yesterday I was reading Jonathan Lethem's "The Ecstasy Of Influence: A Plagiarism", which was an article published in Harper's a few years ago and which someone told me I ought to read. Back then Harper's didn't have an accessible online archive, and if you've ever tried to get a Harper's out of a library archive, as opposed to a Harper's Bazaar, it's...difficult. So I never got to read it.

Anyway, happily, a few weeks ago Kate_Nepveu linked to it in a post about fanfic, and it really is a fascinating read on the subject of the relationship between corporate ownership and cultural commons. There are a few rough patches where I don't think Lethem quite got where he was intending to go, but overall it's a great essay.

It did get me thinking about fanfic in a slightly more abstracted way, and about why this current debate over it really enrages me so much. I don't normally weigh in on wanky matters, so to get me to make a statement about it, it must really have got under my skin. Now I think I know why.

The process of Extribulum, in the way I execute it and from a purely writerly standpoint (which is not all there is to it), is about deliberately asking what the reader thinks and accepting their thoughts with consideration but without combativeness. In this, it is in direct conflict with the recent authorial protests against transformative works.

Presumably what upsets these authors is not that fanfic is going to lose them sales or just that "the law says you can't". Anyone sincerely protesting on those grounds is an irrelevant fool. Fanfic gains people readers, rather than losing them sales -- the percentage of those who try to sell fanfic is so small, and the culture so self-policing, that I don't think this is the issue authors may think it is -- and to argue something purely on the basis of law-because-law shows a truly shocking smallness of mind.

The only remaining motive, however else a protesting author might cloak it, is the reluctance to see in the concrete how their readers interpret their art in the abstract. Fanfic is a tangible, readable, permanent record of someone's thoughts about the media they've interacted with. These authors are probably very uncomfortable with the idea of alternate interpretations to the ones they themselves ascribe to their work, and try not to think about their "rebellious" readers too much; I imagine critics and reviews, even positive ones, put them in a fair amount of agony too. Fanfic forces them to face the idea of alternate interpretations that not only exist but are laid out in the very form in which they presented the original work.

All of this is, again, a sort of a proof that writers are often on the conservative end of the mental spectrum without realising it; loss of control is a big fear for them (us?). It's also one more argument for giving up the fight against fanfic, because even if people don't write it, they're not going to stop thinking it. There are some very nasty words for people who try to stop other people having independent thoughts. You might not like what fanfic represents, but banning fanfic isn't going to make other peoples' thoughts go away.

The reason this fight gets up my nose, though, is that Extribulum demands to know what the reader thinks. Finding out how other opinions differ from my own, as creator, doesn't actually detract from my creation; I made it, I maintain a great deal of control over it even when accepting feedback on it, and I'm secure in that. Admittedly, being that secure takes time and practice, and I suspect some authors who start out secure are a bit brutalised by the publishing process.

The point is, receiving reader feedback helps me better understand both how to construct the story I want to tell, and how to tell a story you want to hear. If I never know how other people view my work, it's not likely I can learn enough to guide them more carefully to the conclusion I'm aiming at, after all. There comes a point where the only way to get better is to stop living in one's own head and start living in other peoples', though of course that's something of a scary proposition for those unused to it.

So, that's the eventual coherent statement I have: fanfic is inherently valuable as, if nothing else, a document of response to the originating media. To decry the thing is to decry merely the symbol of something you can never control. Stripped to its bones, there's no point in fighting an author about it, because they aren't acting from a place of rationality but one of fear, and fear makes people both incoherent and mean.

See, the thing is, you don't have to fight on behalf of fanfic -- just by thinking independently and having an opinion, you've already won. Which is kind of awesome, really. So the decision you're faced with is not whether to fight about it, but whether to respect an author's foolish, fearful wish and not post it, or publish and be damned.

Given I've already violated the spirit of the wish by having an opinion, I choose damnation every time, myself.

(This is the shit I come up with on trains. Jesus I love trains.)
Tags: extribulum, meta, sam is internet famous
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