Textual echoes

Cyber Echoes

Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

[0.1] Abstract—This section of the special issue gathers articles by scholars who attended Textual Echoes, an academic conference solely focused on fan fiction.

[0.2] Keywords—Academic; Conference; Fan fiction; Proceedings

Cyber Echoes. 2012. "Textual Echoes." In "Textual Echoes," edited by Cyber Echoes, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 8. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0390.

1. Textual echoes

[1.1] This special issue of TWC gathers articles by scholars who attended Textual Echoes, an academic conference solely focused on fan fiction, organized by the research group Cyber Echoes and hosted by Umeå University, Sweden, in February 2010. The members of Cyber Echoes—Berit Åström, Katarina Gregersdotter, Malin Isaksson, Maria Lindgren Leavenworth, and Maria Helena Svensson—are also the guest editors of this issue.

[1.2] Fan fiction has received academic attention for some time now, and two main tendencies in particular have attracted attention. Resistive readings were at the heart of much of the early criticism, often with a focus on how fan fic creates (mainly homoerotic) new pairings and depicts explicit sexual scenes (see, for example, Jenkins 1992; Penley 1992). That is, fan fiction authors were often lauded for their defiance of cultural norms. On the other hand, and more recently, scholarly attention has been directed to how fan fiction may uphold cultural hegemony (Scodari 2003) and has drawn attention to how resistive readings simply make implicit or latent themes explicit (Woledge 2006). The contemporary output of cultural texts that defy preferred readings and encourage audience participation has also resulted in analyses that are more hesitant in proclaiming fan fiction necessarily subversive (see, for example, Gwenllian Jones 2002). Despite increased interest in fan activities of various kinds, and despite the increasingly varied academic response to them, fan fiction as a text form has been relegated to the sidelines as only one expression, and there is still a need for developed and sustained close readings. Fan fic texts deserve to be investigated with the same interest, methodological stringency, and academic seriousness as other texts do. Close readings can illustrate overlaps between the abovementioned tendencies and offer additional ways in which fan fic demonstrates negotiations of canon structures. To this end, Textual Echoes invited scholars who approach fan fictions as literary, linguistic, or cultural artifacts—as objects of analysis.

[1.3] The essays in this issue, like the conference contributions, are examples of so-called third wave fan studies, which are characterized by their widened theoretical and methodological scope and, importantly, by the move away from the binary view of fan activities as either subversive or hegemonic. Treating fan fic texts as objects of study opens up possibilities to provide further nuance to discussions of fan creations, for instance regarding their relation to older literature (whether derivative or original) and their aesthetic, and possibly also commercial, value. As all authors in this issue demonstrate, no general conclusions can ever be drawn when investigating the vast field that is fan fiction, even when the texts studied originate in the same fandom. What is also evident from the articles included in this issue is that fandoms and popular canons such as Star Trek, which have previously been given much attention by scholars, still yield a multitude of interpretations and new meanings.

[1.4] With the content of both collective and specific fan fiction sites exploding, it is of course increasingly difficult to speculate about which texts will spark the interest of fan fic authors. The story worlds typically discussed at the Textual Echoes symposium proved to be quite complex, often dispersed across different media formats (written texts, TV series, films, manga), and in most cases serialized. Complex story worlds naturally give rise to different means of fan interaction with them, whether it is a question of filling a gap by a complementary narrative, repairing elements which are deemed lacking in the canons, or offering alternative readings that in some cases can be reincorporated in the canons. Sustained close readings of fan fiction can illuminate negotiations with elements running through the entirety of the story world, interaction with individual episodes or installments, or alternative readings of single characters.

2. Keynote speakers

[2.1] Textual Echoes invited two keynote speakers who opened and closed the three-day symposium with insightful analyses of the field. Elizabeth Woledge's opening lecture, "Fan Fiction—The Logical Extension" (http://stream.humlab.umu.se/index.php?streamName=FanFiction), dealt with, among other matters, the status of the fan, and Woledge made many connections between fan fiction writers and writers of canonical texts. Both types of writers are derivative in similar ways: canonical writers such as Shakespeare or Margaret Atwood also use other texts in their own writings. One main argument was that fan fiction writers, just like appropriated writers, are engaged in the similar writing processes. In her closing lecture, "Affect and the Individual Fan: Rethinking Aesthetic and Economic Values of Originality" (http://stream.humlab.umu.se/index.php?streamName=AffectAndTheIndividualFan), Kristina Busse situated fan fiction in a long history of aesthetics, and successfully problematized the much-debated terms originality and repetition. One important point Busse stressed concerned the love for familiar tropes fan fiction writers share and the concurrent desire to search for new ways to use them in their writing.

3. Symposium presentations

[3.1] The internationality of the Textual Echoes conference went beyond hearing speakers from different countries; there was also a focus on primary material gathered from fandoms outside Britain and North America. The Anglophone perspective that has characterized much of fan studies was challenged; new insights were gained into, for example, how the textual production originating in fandoms in Poland, Sweden, and France varies as a result of cultural differences, and how national fandoms are organized and developed. Presentations also focused on Japanese fandoms connected to manga and yaoi, and on yet another set of cultural practices and codes.

[3.2] This is not to say that Anglophone culture was ignored. On the contrary, fantastical story worlds, such as the Harry Potter and Star Trek (and spin-off) universes, the worlds of the TV programs Supernatural and Torchwood, and vampire worlds were the focus of a number of presentations. These story worlds were characterized as dissolving boundaries—boundaries beyond even the fantastical canons themselves—while still adhering to the texts' latent or nonlatent themes. In the case of popular culture texts, presenters noted the contemporary media climate: audience participation is encouraged, and story worlds may be regarded as open texts, thus decreasing the traditional distance between sanctioned products and fan interaction. Open texts could then be seen in relation to presentations focusing on fan fic treatments of classics, such as novels by Jane Austen, which to a greater extent are surrounded by aesthetic and content-specific rules. In a more modern classic, Bridget Jones' Diary, a linguistic analysis of the nouns that follow possessive pronouns reveals that focus even on such details can demonstrate differences between source text and fan texts.

[3.3] Fan fic, as a text form that attracts a young audience, was analyzed as an expression of budding sexuality; as a safe place to investigate desires; and as an opportunity to depict, in writing, culturally charged "first-time" scenarios. Given children and adolescents' familiarity with the form, it was also suggested that fan fic holds extensive pedagogical possibilities when seen in relation to other practices, such as the rhetorical concept of imitatio.

[3.4] The preponderance of alternative depictions of sexuality in much of the primary material resulted in several talks about new pairings. Queer theory was applied to counter the pathologization of female fans involved in yaoi, and readings of other types of fan fiction illustrated tendencies of resistance to culturally scripted norms. Slash and femslash from a number of fandoms was analyzed, but rather than arguing exclusively that fan fics in these categories were automatically subversive, several presenters drew attention to how generic structures and cultural norms still influence and circumscribe fan fic representations. There was also an interest in more radical fan fic rewritings, such as human-to-animal transformations and mpreg (male pregnancy stories), with presenters concluding that power reversals are often the end result.

[3.5] It was also illustrated that an enlarged concept of fan fiction yields interesting results when seen in relation to ludology. In these readings, fan fiction came to be seen as a hybrid text form, bridging the gap between narrative and play. Games are often set in fantastical story worlds, particularly online games; they rely on players filling the gaps and providing avatars with background stories and motivations, much in the same manner as fan fic authors do. In these discussions, a concept returned to was intertextuality, a key term that worked as a natural (perhaps given) cohesive framework for all presentations at the symposium. Intertextuality emphasizes the necessity of seeing fan fiction within the context of literary studies, and to doing close readings of individual texts instead of drawing general conclusions about an entire fandom. When analyzed as literary and cultural artifacts, fan fics evidence each individual author's interpretations and the ways in which she or he creates intertextual links to her or his chosen canon by basing even profoundly altered stories on characterizations, complex plot elements, or narrative structures found in the canon. Careful analyses of individual texts can further suggest ways in which cultural norms are negotiated and/or contested by individual authors, but such analyses may also show how the writers are powerfully influenced by representations and stereotypes in a wide variety of texts.

[3.6] The abstracts from the symposium are available online (http://www.mos.umu.se/forskning/cyberekon/symposiumabstracts.htm).

4. The texts in this issue

[4.1] The essays in this issue's Theory, Praxis, and Symposium sections deal with issues ranging from gender and queer theory via ludology and transmediality to issues regarding commerce in relation to fan works.

[4.2] Charles W. Hoge explores the possibilities that emerge when reading fan fictions as play in "Whodology: Encountering Doctor Who Fan Fiction through the Portals of Play Studies and Ludology" (Theory). The textual world of Doctor Who seems particularly open to fannish engagement, not least because there are whole episodes of the series missing as well as a lack of emotional scenes, which gives the fans opportunities to fill in gaps in narrative and characterization. Hoge shows how Doctor Who fan fic constitutes a paratextual world that not only parallels the TV series, but also leaves discernible marks in the canon, especially in the new series (2005–). Applying game and play theorist Roger Caillois's criteria for games to fan fiction, Hoge finds that fan fic shares several traits with games, for instance—and perhaps unsurprisingly—the concept of mimicry. A less expected element in fan fiction, and one that is a basic component of games, is what Caillois calls agon—that is, competition between players. Hoge demonstrates how Doctor Who fan fic aligns itself with the idea of agon as well as with the "sensory-wrecking stupefaction" (¶3.4) linked to the notion of illinx. Furthermore, he argues that both the act of creating fan fiction and the content of fan fic can be parts of the process of illinx.

[4.3] The Praxis essays in this issue address the themes of desire, sexuality, and identity in relation to fan fictions. Bridget Kies, Mark McHarry, and Kate Roddy discuss, from different perspectives, both how these themes are treated within the fan fic texts and how they can be understood as parts of complex and sometimes ambiguous identity formation processes and as articulations of desire.

[4.4] Rather than focusing on the "one true pairing" often expressed in fan fiction texts, Bridget Kies explores the erotic triangle of Tom Paris–Harry Kim–B'Elanna Torres in "One True Threesome: Reconciling Canon and Fan Desire in Star Trek: Voyager." Problematizing the resistance-incorporation paradigm (according to which fan productions are either resisting or incorporating elements of the canon) that characterized much of early fan studies, Kies discusses fan fic authors' reorientations of desire, identification, characterization, and genre. Her close readings of 11 triad fan fics show how some combine traditional romance story lines, for instance depicting marriage and child-rearing, with the queer erotic formation of the threesome. Other fan fics present endings that deviate from romantic genre conventions as well as from expectations in a heteronormative society. Kies concludes that the romantic triangle "loses its stability when the triad attempts to align itself with heteronormativity and remains stable as it distances itself from certain hegemonic values" (¶4.2).

[4.5] In "(Un)gendering the Homoerotic Body: Imagining Subjects in Boys' Love and Yaoi," Mark McHarry gives a background to the manga genres of boys' love and yaoi, its Western expression, as well as to dōjinshi, fan comics with young male characters. He goes on to present a close reading of Maldoror's Freeport, a fan novel based on the anime Gundam Wing, through the lens of psychoanalytic and philosophical theories by Elizabeth Grosz, Julia Kristeva, and Michel Foucault. McHarry argues that although the characters in Freeport can be seen as "queer border dwellers" (in Thomas Piontek's terminology), they are situated in a nonliminal space rather than at a threshold separating sex and gender. He thus problematizes the binary concepts that have governed much of Western queer theory, showing how "productive subjects, able to desire and be desired" (¶6.3) can be imagined along other ungendered lines.

[4.6] In "Masochist or Machiavel? Reading Harley Quinn in Canon and Fanon," Kate Roddy discusses fan fic writers' reworkings of the seemingly masochistic Harley Quinn (the Joker's girlfriend in the Batman canon) in relation to medical and feminist discourses about female submissiveness. She shows that while in the canon Harley Quinn is mistreated by the Joker, the fans reconstruct and question her (potential) submissiveness by portraying gender, subjectivity, and power as very complex issues. Roddy's analyses highlight fan fic authors' awareness of BDSM tropes and theories according to which the masochist is not necessarily a passive victim, but rather the one tacitly directing or manipulating the dominance/submission games. The masochist can be Machiavellian, in the sense that she is creative and manipulative. Fan writers use the conventions of BDSM play to question and subvert the idea of female submissiveness as passivity, thus problematizing its pathologizing and antifeminist connotations. How to interpret Harley Quinn's "ambiguous subjectivity" is, in the end, up to the reader who is invited "to participate in the text instead of merely consuming it" (¶5.4).

[4.7] Maria Lindgren Leavenworth discusses the text world of The Vampire Diaries (TVD) and fan fiction linked to it, in "Transmedial Texts and Serialized Narratives" (Symposium). The three core features of transmedial worlds—mythos, topos, and ethos—are all treated in relation to TVD fan fiction, which builds on different parts of the TVD story world, each containing different characters and ontologies. Naturally, story worlds that present partly different stories and characters in different media provide rich material for fans to engage creatively with (even if it might prove challenging for readers of TVD fan fic to keep track of which mythos, topos, or ethos is relevant in a particular story). Similarly, the serial format itself seems to spark fannish activity. Lindgren Leavenworth shows how the puzzle of the transmedial narratives and the redundancy of the serialized form "push and pull in somewhat different directions" (¶12), and that fan fic writers actively participate in the meaning-making processes related to the expanding text world.

[4.8] The question whether fan work should remain free is raised by Nele Noppe in "Why We Should Talk about Commodifying Fan Work" (Symposium). She advances arguments for a commodificaton of fan work and sees opportunities for hybrid economies for Web-based commerce. Hybrid economies place themselves between commercial and sharing ones, yet build upon both. The best example so far is open source software, which shares many characteristics with production of fan works. However, it is not likely that fan work will be commodified in a near future, not only because many fans resist such a development, but also because current economic practices privilege large companies rather than individuals. Noppe points out that some sort of legal recognition would be required for a hybrid economy to function in the context of fan works. She argues that the conditions for a hybrid economy suit contemporary media fandom well and that "different economic systems that prioritize different values can coexist and reinforce each other" (¶4.3).

5. Acknowledgments

[5.1] Cyber Echoes wishes to thank Umeå University and especially Humlab for their financial and material support, as well as Challenging Emotions, part of the research environment Challenging Gender, also at Umeå University. We were fortunate to have invitations accepted by our keynote speakers, Elizabeth Woledge and Kristina Busse, who framed the symposium and offered astute observations throughout the three days. Kristina Busse also kindly suggested this issue of TWC as a publication venue, for which we are grateful. Naturally, any symposium is only as good as its presenters, and we are happy that the participants braved the dark and the cold, and made such great contributions.

[5.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 8 in an editorial capacity: Cyber Echoes—Berit Åström, Katarina Gregersdotter, Maria Lindgren Leavenworth, Maria Helena Svensson, and Malin Isaksson (guest editors); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Anne Kustritz, Patricia Nelson, and Suzanne Scott (Symposium); and Louisa Stein (Review).

[5.3] The following people worked on TWC No. 8 in a production capacity: Rrain Prior (production editor); Beth Friedman, Shoshanna Green, and Vickie West (copyeditors); Wendy Carr, Ekaterina Fawl, Allison Morris, Kristen Murphy, and Gretchen Treu (layout); and Carmen Montopoli and Vickie West (proofreaders).

[5.4] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 8: Rebecca Busker, Pawel Frelik, Alex Jenkins, Rachael Joo, Anne Kustritz, Alexis Lothian, Douglas Schules, James Thrall, and Andrea Wood.

6. Works cited

Gwenllian Jones, Sara. 2002. "The Sex Lives of Cult Television Characters." Screen 43 (1): 79–90.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.

Penley, Constance. 1992. "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture." In Cultural Studies, edited by Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Teichler, 479–500. New York: Routledge.

Scodari, Christina. 2003. "Resistance Re-examined: Gender, Fan Practices, and Science Fiction." In Popular Communication 1 (2): 111–30. doi:10.1207/S15405710PC0102_3.

Woledge, Elizabeth. 2006. "Intimatopia: Genre Intersections between Slash and the Mainstream." In Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, 97–114. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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