Theory

The role of affect in fan fiction

Anna Wilson

University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

[0.1] Abstract—In this article, I argue for greater consideration of the role of affect in fan fiction when comparing it with literary forms from antiquity. Fan fiction uses an affective hermeneutics—knowing through feeling—and as a literary form it is inextricable from the fannish discourses that produce it. Yuletide letters—story requests in the annual fan fiction gift exchange for historical RPF—show how fan fiction readers and writers frame knowledge of history in terms of affect in order to fill the gaps in the past.

[0.2] Keywords—Classical literature; Classical reception; Emotion; Gender; Hermeneutics; Medieval literature

Wilson, Anna. 2016. "The Role of Affect in Fan Fiction." In "The Classical Canon and/as Transformative Work," edited by Ika Willis, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 21. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2016.0684.

1. Introduction

[1.1] It has become almost a cliché of fan studies to place fan fiction in a much older tradition of transformative literatures in which the author works with a preexisting story or set of stories well known to his or her audience, such as classical epic poetry or medieval romances (Abigail Derecho's 2006 article summarizes this argument well; see also Amy Sturgis's 2004 chapter on Tolkien as well as Pugh 2005, 9–18). These comparisons often focus on the literary resemblances between these two genres, primarily the similarity of form: both fan fiction and these premodern genres use sophisticated allusion and intertextuality to create new meanings, and both assume a knowledgeable audience with a shared understanding of their source. However, such comparisons run the risk of losing sight of both the importance of fan fiction's attitude toward its source (or canon) and the significance of affect in how fan fiction functions as a literary genre. Fan fiction assumes an audience that not only knows a story but (by and large) loves it, and this loving intimacy is at the heart of fan fiction's drive to deliver "'more of' or 'more from'" (Pugh 2005, 29) a story, world, or set of characters. The first part of this article argues for a greater consideration of the role of affect in fan fiction as a literary form; the second part explores the role of affect in blog posts on historical real person fiction (RPF) for Yuletide, the annual fan fiction gift exchange for rare fandoms. These blog posts show how fan fiction writers and readers create fandom as an affective community and reframe knowledge of history in terms of affect in order to restore lost histories.

[1.2] This issue of Transformative Works and Cultures seeks to both develop and problematize the idea that fan fiction is the successor—or at least distant relation—of the epic poetry of classical literature (which retells and reworks stories from ancient Greek and Roman myth) and medieval romance poetry (which retells and reworks the stories of King Arthur and his court, Alexander the Great, and other figures from history and legend). Other scholars, such as Rachel Barenblat (2014), have drawn comparisons with both the way in which Biblical exegesis draws out multiple layers of meaning and points of view in stories from the Bible and with the midrash tradition of commentary on the Torah. These premodern literary traditions are all transformative in the sense that fan studies has coined, meaning that they transform a preexisting tradition. (The word transformative is used in explicit opposition to more value-laden terms like appropriative or derivative.) They also fall broadly into the category of reception, a term more in use in classics, meaning a literary tradition shaped around receiving another literary tradition or set of texts. Classical reception refers to the huge body of postclassical works that transform, rewrite, reinterpret, or allude to classical texts, from literary works like Ted Hughes's Tales from Ovid (1997) or Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) to more pop culture incarnations, such as the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess. Reading fan fiction in this wider context of reception, as this issue seeks to do, can help us to trace new lineages and analogies with literature from the past. Comparisons with classical literature draw attention to fan fiction's place in a larger literary history and also help to highlight the currents of power, authorship, intertextuality, and communal storytelling that exist in all these genres. However, such comparisons between fan fiction and these venerable literary traditions often go undertheorized, utilizing the cultural cachet of literary greats like the Aeneid in defense of fan fiction as a creative activity. These comparisons neglect one of the defining characteristics of fan fiction: its creation and circulation within communities of fans. To define fan fiction only by its transformative relationship to other texts runs the risk of missing the fan in fan fiction—the loving reader to whom fan fiction seeks to give pleasure. Fan fiction is an example of affective reception. While classical reception designates the content being received, affective reception designates the kind of reading and transformation that is taking place. It is a form of reception that is organized around feeling.

[1.3] In recent discussions of the role of emotions in literature, theorists have distinguished between affect (the physical and mental responses that comprise feelings), and emotions (the cultural and social forms into which feelings are organized) (for example, Ruth Leys's "The Turn to Affect" [2011]; Sianne Ngai's Ugly Feelings [2005, 23–30]). Focusing on affect—the physical and mental manifestations of feeling such as tears or arousal—helps to avoid reducing or conscribing the complex affective engagement with texts to specific and culturally-inscribed emotions such as happiness, although of course it is often difficult to draw a hard line between affect and emotion in practice. This distinction also follows usage in fandom, where feels are celebrated and indulged above specific emotions. Feels, in fact, are the shaping force behind fan fiction as a genre. Moreover, as affective reception, fan fiction is a form of literary response where literary allusions evoke not only a shared intellectual community in the audience but also a shared affective community.

[1.4] Fan fiction often demonstrates a high level of knowledge of and insight into its source texts (or canons, in fan fiction vocabulary) and, as an allusive literary form, rewards equally high levels of knowledge in its readers. This knowledge has an erotic inflection (as, famously, in early English translations of the Bible, where to know is to intimately penetrate); fans have not only understanding but intimacy with their canon, and fan fiction increases this intimacy. Theorists of fan fiction often speak of fan fiction as filling the gaps in a source text, a phrase with its own sexual undertones that also describes fan fiction's self-assumed role as interlinear glossing of a source text. Silences and absences in the source text act as barriers to intimacy, and fan fiction writers fill these silences with their imaginative activity, enabling their own deeper understanding of the world and characters of the source text. In its current context in popular media fandom, fan fiction is, among other things, a heuristic tool: a mental technology that facilitates understanding of a text by means of an affective hermeneutics—a set of ways of gaining knowledge through feeling.

2. Affective hermeneutics

[2.1] Affective reception also has parallels in premodern literature. Scholars of medieval literature have described the mechanisms of affect in certain forms of medieval Christian meditation, wherein worshippers (usually women) imagined themselves as present during the last moments of the life of Christ as described in the Gospels and, through imagining the motivations and feelings of the various Biblical characters, provoked intense affective responses in themselves (like tears or elation) that were spiritually beneficial. For example, in The Book of Margery Kempe, the biography of a late-14th-century English Christian mystic, Kempe visualizes herself speaking with the Virgin Mary after the death of Jesus and offering her a hot drink to comfort her. Other examples from late medieval meditation guides and the biographies of women mystics suggest that this imaginative meditation practice bears a resemblance to the Mary Sue genre of fan fiction, in which the author writes a wish fulfillment fantasy in which she literally finds intimate connection with the fictional characters. This similarity between late medieval meditation and Mary Sue fan fiction appears in both the self-insert imaginative approach to texts and in the delicate balance that readers had to maintain between entering the text and distorting it (note 1).

[2.2] Historians of medieval education have also suggested that affective hermeneutics were important in medieval mnemonic and pedagogic theory. Classroom and educational tracts, as well as personal accounts such as St. Augustine's Confessions, give evidence for the continued use in the classroom through antiquity and the Middle Ages of an exercise in which students composed speeches for historical figures at important moments of their lives, often moments of high emotion or drama. Augustine writes about the emotional content of his Latin education: "I was forced to learn the wanderings of one Aeneas…and to weep for dead Dido, because she killed herself for love" (note 2). Classical and medieval pedagogy encouraged affective investment in characters from history and poetry (such as Dido) as a mnemonic device to improve Latin language learning and oratorical skills (Woods 2003).

[2.3] Like these historical literary genres, fan fiction cultivates intimacy between readers and the original source text or canon through a focus on affect. Scholars in medieval studies have formulated a number of different descriptions of the affective hermeneutics—that is, the way of knowing that uses affect—in operation in medieval genres. Karl Morrison (1988) identifies a common trope in some premodern Christian literature that encourages the reader to identify with Christ by imagining how he feels during the events of the New Testament Gospels in order to better cultivate Christlike characteristics in themselves and to gain knowledge of Christ. Morrison calls this a "hermeneutics of empathy." Meanwhile, a number of scholars have written on seeking identification with historical figures or, in Aranye Fradenburg's words, "the allure of the mirror image" (1997, 215). In Getting Medieval, Carolyn Dinshaw explores a similar model of understanding the past that she calls a queer historiography, wherein a reader empathizes with people from the past on the basis of a sense of shared identity—in this case, queerness—in a way that allows them to imagine their way into that historical moment (1999, 1–2). This is a mode of historical enquiry which stands in opposition to theoretical positions emphasizing objectivity, distance, and the neutral interpretation of evidence. Both positions, of course, are more hypothetical than practicable and represent theorizations of two extremes; Dinshaw's work represents a rise in the theorization of the role of emotion and affect in analysis of literature and history.

[2.4] Affective hermeneutics direct focus toward moments of high emotion in a text that stimulate equally strong feelings in the reader; these heighten a sense of empathy, connection, or intimacy between the reader and the characters in the text. Affective hermeneutics also seek to fill the gaps in canon through attention to the emotional lives of texts themselves. For example, in order to write a character's backstory or a pastfic, a fan writer draws on her understanding of a character, gained through her knowledge of the character's actions, behaviors, and affective expressions. Her imaginative projection of a backstory increases both her and her readers' emotional understanding of the character's canonical actions and further develops empathy and intimacy with the character. Because of this value placed on emotional knowledge in fandom, comments praising a good piece of fan fiction often say that it is in character—that is, that the fan fiction gives a recognizable and believable account of a character that readers already know and love. Fan fiction thus provides an opportunity for readers and writers to mutually affirm their intimacy with a text and with its characters. This hermeneutic model provides a useful way to understand the importance of love to fan fiction and complements the understanding of fan fiction as a transformative work.

[2.5] Fan fiction's primary focus on the emotional life of texts has structured the way in which the genre has developed in almost every respect; this is particularly obvious on examining the apparatuses that structure both online fan fiction archives and the most common literary forms and subgenres within fan fiction. Online archives categorize fan fiction according to conventions that have grown up within the community over time, often originating in early zines; stories are rarely categorized according to the genres that are conventional in book publishing (such as romance, science fiction, or crime) but are instead categorized first by fandom, then by the type of emotional or romantic relationships in the story—gen, het, and slash—and then by the characters in the story. Many other genre classification conventions that have emerged within fandom also serve to classify the kind of emotional experience the story offers; PWP (porn without plot), hurt/comfort, deathfic, mpreg, and Mary Sue stories are all good examples. So too are episode tag stories, which often seek to close an emotional arc that has been unsatisfactorily dealt with in canon, and pastfic, or fan fiction which imagines a backstory for characters that contextualizes their emotional reactions in canon. These genre classifications enable fans to seek out time with the worlds and characters that they love and to seek out certain kinds of emotional experiences with texts.

[2.6] This affective hermeneutics is substantially different from the critical reading conventionally taught in the university classroom (although again, this should be taken as a theoretical reading model rather than necessarily one always followed in practice), which values a stance of critical objectivity, even suspicion, toward the text. Eve Sedgwick is a founding thinker on affect in the study of literature, particularly in her essay "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You're So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is about You," in which she identifies the paranoid impulse (that is, a suspicious, defensive attitude toward the text) behind most forms of critical reading. Sedgwick proposes the cultivation of reparative reading that is loving, nurturing, and productive. Camp is one such mode of reading, Sedgwick suggests, and it is this mode that her followers have most prominently taken up, but her essay ends with a call to learn from the practices of "the many ways selves and communities succeed in extracting sustenance from the objects of a culture" (2003, 151). Fan communities are undoubtedly among these.

[2.7] These two hermeneutics of affective and critical reading may be literally in opposition to each other. A university professor who teaches courses on 20th-century literature may include Arthur Conan Doyle and may even be a self-confessed fan of Sherlock Holmes but would rarely present him– or herself as such in the classroom or on paper, where the norms of academic discourse demand a stance of critical distance. This scholar's professional contributions to the field of detective fiction studies will hence be very different from the same person's erotic fiction, short-form essays, and poetry about the bond between Holmes and Watson, published (pseudonymously) on the internet in the Sherlock Holmes fandom. Each practice eats into the time of the other, and the existence of each persona may threaten the other (many professionals who are also amateurs—or fans—in the same field take extreme pains to keep their identities separate). And yet these two bodies of work inevitably inform each other. It is this tension between amateur and professional modes of reading in academia that has motivated increasing interest in the role of affect in the humanities in the last two decades, particularly in queer theory, influenced by Sedgwick's work.

[2.8] The role of love in reading is the subject of an emerging discourse not only among literary theorists such as Dinshaw and Fradenburg but also among pedagogical theorists such as Michael Warner and Rita Felski, at the forefront of a movement in literary theory sometimes called postcritical reading. In his essay "Uncritical Reading," Warner (2004) questions the naturalization of critical reading in the classroom and the academy and asks what kind of cultural ideals are reinforced by this form of reading. Warner cites Saba Mahmood's study of the grassroots women's piety movements in Egypt, whose members seek to read the Qu'ran in ways that do not line up to western ideals of critical reading because they seek a different model of personhood and subjectivity. This is "not just a different technique of text-processing, or a different attitude about the text object, but a different kind of subject to which the technique is oriented" (19). Critical reading in the university is geared toward the formation of an ideal subject; accordingly, critical reading is defined by the subjectivities that it rejects. Warner's description of the uncritical interactions between students and texts in his classroom could also describe a great deal of overlap with the affective, empathetic, excessive reading practices of fandom:

[2.9] They identify with characters. They fall in love with authors…they shop around among taste-publics, venturing into social worlds of fanhood and geekdom…Their attention wanders; they skim; they skip around. They mark pages with pink and yellow highlighters. They get caught up in suspense. They laugh; they cry. They get aroused (and stay quiet about it in class). They lose themselves in books, distracting themselves from everything else, especially homework like the reading I assign. (2004, 13)

[2.10] Warner's argument implicitly acknowledges fandom as an alternative hermeneutic framework available to his students, affective as opposed to critical reading. Felski describes the process by which students are required to renounce this affective style of engagement in the classroom as "moving from attachment to detachment and indeed to disenchantment, undergoing not just an intellectual but also a sentimental education" (2009, 30). As a site of alternate reading styles, fandom therefore becomes a possible site of reading subjects and subjectivities alternative to those traditionally sought or celebrated in the classroom, just as Sedgwick celebrates camp as a mode of reading that provides space for queer subjectivity. The affective quality of fan fiction—and its implications—could potentially be overlooked or erased through scholarship that identifies it too readily with classical literature, which has—correctly or not—so long been associated with western high culture and the literary canon of Great Books on which the university rests.

3. Affective discourse in Yuletide

[3.1] Focusing on Yuletide letters highlights some moments of friction between these two modes of reading, which help to illustrate the differences between them and to show how fan fiction emerges from an affective, fannish discourse. In historical RPF, fan fiction writers read classical literature and history through the fannish hermeneutics that I have described, turning a fannish reading style onto texts that they have first encountered in a more critical mode, often in the classroom. Fan fiction writers focus on the emotional life of historical characters and imagine a way into their lives, a route to knowledge not conventionally countenanced by the academy, as Felski and Warner show, but complementary to other ways of intellectually exploring texts.

[3.2] Yuletide, an annual fan fiction gift exchange that has been running since 2003, is a festival for "rare and obscure fandoms" (http://archiveofourown.org/collections/yuletide). Participants fill out a form indicating the rare fandoms that they are willing to write for and are assigned a recipient; they then write a story tailored to this recipient's request and upload it to a central archive (previously a dedicated archive, now the Archive of Our Own) where it is made public on December 25. They also fill out a form indicating the rare fandoms for which they would like to receive fan fiction and can give a number of further details about the kind of story they would like; participants often supplement these brief request forms with Yuletide letters, hosted publicly on their LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, Tumblr, or other social media space, which their assigned writer can seek out in order to glean details with which to write the best possible gift for their recipient. Thus each participant usually writes a story for one person and receives a story from another.

[3.3] Media texts with large, active fandoms (such as Supernatural, Sherlock, or Teen Wolf) have huge followings, with fans generating thousands of stories throughout the year. Yuletide provides an organizing mechanism to generate fan fiction for fandoms too small to maintain an active community for the rest of the year. The festival has grown from a few hundred participants to nearly 2,000, and in 2013 generated stories in more than 1,600 fandoms. For organizational purposes, Yuletide moderators and participants divide historical RPF by century or by cultural movement into numerous subcategories that vary slightly every year and often overlap; for example, Ancient History RPF, Classical Greece and Rome History and Literature RPF, Roman Republic RPF, Greek and Roman Mythology, and Classical Mythology are all separate tags on the Archive of Our Own, the fan fiction archive on which Yuletide now operates. As these tags suggest, there is some overlap between legendary and historical figures in ancient history, where the two blur together in the centuries of literary tradition surrounding them. People may first encounter Mark Antony as a character in a Shakespeare play or from reading Cicero's Philippics, for example. Taken as a whole, however, historical RPF has been one of the mainstays of Yuletide since it began, ranging from ancient to modern, including such diverse fandoms as Swinging London RPF, Akkadian Empire RPF, American Revolution RPF, and Classical Music RPF.

[3.4] Yuletide participants who request fan fiction for historical figures or for texts from the literary canon often do so having first encountered these texts in the classroom, as will be seen from some of the letters below. Yuletide provides a space in which these readers may renegotiate their relationship with these texts, a space where the conventions and language of academic literary criticism meet those of fan fiction. This dialogue is not an inherent part of the gift exchange but has sprung up around it; Yuletide letters represent a way in which fans have, perhaps, sought to fill the gaps in Yuletide itself in order to provide the fannish discourse from which fan fiction emerges.

[3.5] The Yuletide organizers orchestrate the actual story exchange, but over the years a community structure has grown around Yuletide, creating an online space in which fans of these rare fandoms—texts that do not typically generate fan fiction—can meet, discuss, and share their fannish passion. Yuletide thus not only generates fiction for these rare fandoms but also, in a sense, generates the fandoms themselves—that is, the discourses, friendships, and conversations that make up fandom activity. In larger fandoms, similar expressions of excitement and desire, character insights, plot speculations, and formulations of friendship with other fans happen regularly in social media spaces given over to fan activity, and fan fiction circulates in these spaces side by side with this community-building activity; no such activity (or very little) exists for the fandoms to which Yuletide caters. The affective work done by Yuletide letters to build this fannish discourse shows the intrinsic link between the affective activity of fandom and the generation of fan fiction.

[3.6] Yuletide letters, hosted on participants' blogs but collected and often archived for easy searchability by Yuletide volunteers in one of the central Yuletide discussion communities, are a major part of this community formation (note 3). The ostensible purpose of Yuletide letters (or Dear Yuletide Author letters) is to communicate story preferences and dislikes; in fact they form a much larger and wide-ranging affective discourse. For example, letters often extend potential friendship to the assigned writer as someone else who shares an unusual fandom, and some express excitement and love about the fandoms that they are requesting. Thefourthvine's 2014 Yuletide letter begins "So basically know that I am extremely fond of you already, because clearly you are a person of taste and discernment, loving one of these small fandoms as much as I do" (Dreamwidth, October 17, 2014). Digitalis's 2013 Yuletide letter begins "if you are reading this then you are my Yuletide writer! How incredible that you have picked up my incredibly small and stupid fandoms! You must be completely insane! I like that. We should be friends" (mea-mariamne, LiveJournal, October 7, 2013). The spontaneous emergence of Yuletide letters around this fan fiction gift exchange suggests that the affective discourse of fandom (that is, excited conversations and expressions of love) is inextricable from the production of fan fiction; fan fiction does not emerge in isolation only on the basis of shared knowledge of a text with a recipient but also out of a shared love, something emphasized and reiterated in the Yuletide letters.

[3.7] In the following Yuletide letter, Emilyenrose writes to an as-yet-unknown Yuletide participant about her request for fan fiction about the great ancient Roman orator and politician, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE):

[3.8] I have a thing to confess, and that thing is: I love Marcus Tullius Cicero. No, seriously, I adore him. I'm fascinated by his intelligence, his ambition, his—grandness, I suppose you could call it; he's a historical figure who is genuinely larger than life. I'm also fascinated by his weaknesses—the pomposity, the self-absorption, the obsession with what other people think of him, the compromises he makes to get what he wants. He is just interesting…Sixteen of the volumes [of Cicero's letters] are addressed to Cicero's lifelong best friend Atticus, and they are fascinating—they're so personal and affectionate, and they show a completely different side of him from all the political works. You can really see how sincere Cicero's affection for him is. (LiveJournal, November 16, 2009)

[3.9] This Yuletide request letter shows the disjuncture between subject matter and style of discourse. Emilyenrose reveals that her request comes out of her undergraduate work on Cicero, but she uses hesitations, colloquial language, and use of font and formatting to mark her desire as both decidedly and embarrassingly unacademic: "I am, um, doing my undergrad dissertation on the letters (well, one book of the letters, there are like thirty-five volumes) and it has made me want fic." Emilyenrose's request suggests that fan fiction and the fan community allow scope for a focus on the emotional life of Cicero in a way in which her academic work does not. Her letter makes it clear that her academic interest in Cicero's character is bound up with her affective investment in him as a person and in his relationship with Titus Pomponius Atticus. The fannish space allows her to approach Cicero with an affective hermeneutics that focuses the gaze on the affective elements of Cicero's life and writings.

[3.10] On the other hand, although Emilyenrose is requesting a fictional representation of the relationship between Cicero and Atticus, her request is framed by her scholarly understanding of Cicero's biography, and she justifies her emphasis on their friendship through historical evidence. The letter does not argue or assume a romantic or sexual relationship between Cicero and Atticus but instead leaves it up to the writer: "I have a slight preference for a friendship story over a romance, I think, but I'd be interested in reading either." She gives details of his extraordinary bond with Atticus—"there are sixteen books of Atticus letters. Compare that to: ONE book of letters to Cicero's brother. ONE book of letters to his personal slave"—and other historical evidence—"the earliest letter we have dates from 68 BC, when Cicero was in his mid-30s—but Nepos' biography of Atticus says that he and Cicero met at school." Emilyenrose's letter thus suggests that her desire to see this relationship explored in fan fiction is contiguous with and complementary to her academic research. Moreover, Emilyenrose invites her audience to imagine this as a schoolboy friendship, situating Cicero's emotional life in the same educational milieu in which she herself has met Cicero but now charged with affective, even erotic potential. In the same way, Emilyenrose's relationship with her own school text—Cicero's letters to Atticus—is charged with affective potential in this fandom space.

[3.11] Rumpleghost's 2012 Yuletide letter also brings affective hermeneutics to a classical text encountered in the classroom and points readers toward its source, an Ancient Greek legal text:

[3.12] I'm talking about the guys represented in Demosthenes's legal speech "Against Conon." (You can, incidentally, read that here [the original includes a hyperlink to the translation and original texts], should you decide to give it a chance despite not being familiar with the source. It's a pretty small source.) I spent a good part of my semester studying this text and I just—I love the characters in it so much. (LiveJournal, October 21, 2012)

[3.13] This letter also takes a character-focused approach that opens up the speech to fannish imagination but likewise balances this with historical detail: "because the only information we have about Ctesias's character is from the speech and most of that is slander, you can go totally wild in making him be whatever you want, though I would love it if you based him on details you found in the text." The request fleshes out the bare bones of the story about these two men gleaned from the legal speech, suggesting a story about "the days they first meet at the army camp on garrison duty, where Ctesias and his friends are drunk every day and Ariston is a little:|:|:|-faced dude, follow flirtiness/hijinks/confrontation/sex there!" The request overall conveys deep affection for these characters and a profound affective investment in the antagonistic relationship that Rumpleghost imagines between them ("Ctesias being lazily charmed by Ariston's snarky little existence"), while there is an unspoken shift away from the aspects of the speech typically studied in the classroom (such as its legal, ethical, political, and linguistic elements) onto its affective content: Ariston, the speaker, is "prickly" and "pompous" with "incredible self-righteousness," while Ctesias is "a provocative douche," and the speech shows "what grumpy, similar little guys they could be." The Yuletide letter establishes the affective hermeneutics with which Rumpleghost herself approaches the text and in doing so establishes the fannish discourse from which fan fiction can emerge.

[3.14] Another request for fan fiction about a minor figure from Ancient Greek history, Callicratidas (a Spartan general who appears in Xenophon's Hellenica), begins once again by establishing a sense of affective connection with this historical figure that picks out a strong sense of his affective self amid his historical context:

[3.15] I love Callicratidas!…I love him for his straightforwardness and integrity and honour, for his vigour without rashness (well, mostly) and obedience without obsequiousness, for being a man of principle in a morally bankrupt world undergoing rapid, profound social change, and I can't help but adore his total lack of people skills. (tevildo, Dreamwidth, November 17, 2011)

[3.16] This letter also explicitly relates this fannish approach to academic discourse:

[3.17] In his paper "Xenophon and Callicratidas," Moles (1994) rolls his eyes at the academic sort of gushing: "Callicratidas seems to inspire historians to romantic heights." Not only historians, Mr Moles! Basically, I have such a fictional crush on Callicratidas that you can write anything as long as he's in it, and I will love it, and you for writing it, to bits.

[3.18] The opening of this sentence, with its correct usage of MLA citation style, has a dry, scholarly air that dissipates into a cheerful burst of unscholarly feeling which lays out Tevildo's affective priorities. The primary and secondary sources to which Tevildo links their assigned reader also stress these priorities:

[3.19] If you know your stuff and just need something to get you enthused, Xenophon's Hellenica 1.6.1–1.6.38 is the most 'romantic' account, and gives a good feel for the character and his voice. If hard information is what you're after, Donald Kagan's The Fall of the Athenian Empire is probably the best starting place.

[3.20] Digitalis's 2013 Yuletide letter requests fan fiction about the relationship between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his young lover Antinous, who drowned mysteriously in his late teens and was then deified by the grief-stricken Hadrian who set up a cult of worship in his honor. This letter is even more explicitly geared around curating an affective experience:

[3.21] Give me angst. Give me myth and the inherent differences in power and the trauma of Hadrian realizing his invented otherness as the Hellenophile emperor from the provincial backwoods compares not at all to the displacement of his concubine…Give me one-sided love, or two-sided love, or boiling hatred, or mutual wariness, or all-out fear, give me suicide or human sacrifice or an accident borne out of a fight, give me interfering gods or the silent universe, give me tears and horror and Stockholm syndrome and blood and vomit, give me love too strong to be sane, I don't care, just give me BIG EMOTIONS. (mea-mariamne, LiveJournal, October 7, 2013)

[3.22] Digitalis's letter, like Emilyenrose's and Rumpleghost's, professes affective investment in the historical figures ("I have an unhealthy amount of love for these two"). Although there is no attached bibliography, there is still a clear investment in historical detail: "Hadrian was at least twenty-five years older than Antinous, from a continent away; he spoke a stylized, aristocratic form of Greek." Digitalis also refers to the variety of historians' theories about Antinous' death ("give me suicide or human sacrifice or an accident borne out of a fight"). There is no ambiguity here about the kind of relationship Digitalis imagines and expects their reader to also imagine, since Hadrian's homosexual attachment to Antinous is generally acknowledged, if not always openly discussed, in both the primary sources and in modern scholarship. The gap that Digitalis wishes the reader to fill is, as for Emilyenrose, an affective one, a supplement to the dry details of historical accounts and silent marble.

4. Filling the gaps in history

[4.1] Several other historical RPF requests from the last few years of Yuletide suggest even more clearly how an affective hermeneutics can fill a gap in history, doing what critical reading cannot. Ishie's 2012 Yuletide letter requests fan fiction about a group of 14th-century historical queens:

[4.2] I'm always struck by two things: how comparatively little importance is placed (by us, mostly) on the marriages that helped broker and break alliances and treaties, and on the women who were so married off and what they did once they were. And most especially in how they related to each other: Isabella of France schemed with her lover to replace her husband on the throne with her son, who she married to Philippa of Hainault. Philippa's favored daughter, Joan of England, left to marry in Spain and never made it there, dying in a camp along the way. Anne of Bohemia came to marry Richard II, against the wishes of most of his court and one of the two rival popes of the time (!!).

[4.3] Ishie is explicit about the gap in the historical record she wants her gift to redress, and unites fans and scholars in a single modern us: "We've got hundreds of years of junk about their husbands/fathers/sons/brothers. I want stories about them." After giving the historical context of her request, she asks for a story that imagines its way into the feelings and thoughts of these queens:

[4.4] How do they talk to each other? What do they know/remember/wish of each other? Do they resent their lives or are they content? Did they dream of being queens regnant, with no kings above them? How much influence do they have over their relatives? Do they think about the generations to come? *_* (Dreamwidth, October 26, 2014)

[4.5] Ishie's request presents the historical issue with a fannish slant, again focusing on the affective charge of historical situations. Her letter conceptualizes the story's scope in terms of dreams, inner thoughts, and gossip—the kind of material that a more critical hermeneutics might rule out as lost to historical record. Similarly, Angharad's 2013 request for Badass Historical Queens RPF makes a request for a story that focuses on the feelings of several medieval and early modern royal women about their politically expedient marriages:

[4.6] Elizabeth and Catherine are kinda opposites—Catherine, married for reasons of state to the man who conquered her father, then widowed immediately with an infant son, who eventually ran off with a handsome Welsh groom and had an entire (possibly illegitimate) family that would end up becoming the Tudor dynasty; Elizabeth, who would've seen the specter of such a state marriage staring her in the face, but managed to hold it off for her entire life, despite quite possibly being in love with Robert Dudley. Would Elizabeth have sympathized with Catherine's initial situation, or censured/secretly envied her for the way she relinquished control of her baby and went off to find happiness? Would Catherine have respected the way Elizabeth gave up on marriage and motherhood for the sake of a kingdom, or would she have found it hard to imagine making that sacrifice? And what would Eleanor have thought of both of them?

[4.7] Ishie and Angharad's requests both seek to restore voices lost to the historical record through a fannish hermeneutics and also to imagine affective bonds between these historical women who, in some cases, never met. "Would there be flirting going on?" Angharad asks, "I feel like Eleanor could flirt with anyone."

[4.8] It is clear that the affective hermeneutics used in fan fiction—the focus on intense affect, the desire to inhabit it, to imagine it, and to understand it—has particular resonance for marginal communities whose histories must be read between the lines: for, that is, the "different kind of subject" that Warner (2004) imagines. A "connection across time" like that which Dinshaw (1999) describes arising between herself and Margery Kempe out of her sense of their shared queerness also arises in Angharad's and Ishie's letters, but the source of the connection with these historical figures is more elusive; here it seems to arise from a sense of shared marginalized identity and the desire for a reparative reading of the past that restores lost voices, such as those of medieval queens. However, sometimes the connection seems based in attraction to a person, a desire for intimacy across time that aligns itself, in the Yuletide letters, with a desire for intimacy, friendship, and affective community with other fans.

[4.9] Although the connection across time in these Yuletide letters may not be based in a sense of shared queerness, as it is for Dinshaw, the connection across time is linked inextricably with what is, in a sense, a queer act: writing romantic or sexually explicit fiction for (often) another woman within a highly affective, largely homosocial community. Dinshaw describes this sense of identification or connection across time as itself a "queer historical impulse," a nonnormative form of desire (1999, 1). However, in Dinshaw's examples, this affective hermeneutics applies primarily to the sense as a queer person of sharing affective experiences with another queer person from the past; of having felt, in some way, what they felt. In their essay on lesbian historical fiction, Laura Waters and Sarah Doan suggest that this sense of identification across time between modern lesbian readers and women from the past may offer "fantasy and wishful thinking as legitimate historiographical resources, necessary correctives, or missing links to the impoverished lesbian archive," while it also runs the risk of erasing historical forms of queer identity and community in favor of imposing a particular 21st-century form of lesbianism onto historical figures (Doan and Waters 2000, 15).

[4.10] Dinshaw also gives an example of the role of affective hermeneutics in the history of sexuality: the fan letter she finds in the correspondence of the late John Boswell, scholar of Latin literature and writer of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) (a controversial book that reinterpreted Biblical passages and historical evidence to suggest a more tolerant attitude toward homosexuality in the early church than had been previously thought). An unnamed professor wrote to Boswell: "Whereas I have often felt intellectual 'friendships' across the centuries—historical thinkers with whom I have felt such strong affinities that I feel I know them and that we speak for one another, I had never felt—until I read your book—that I had gay friends across the centuries" (quoted in Dinshaw 1999, 28). Among the historical figures who Boswell suggests as possible gay friends are Ausonius and Paulinus of Nola, two friends from the fourth century CE whose passionate correspondence occupies the same space of affective intensity and emotional ambiguity for modern readers as Cicero's letters to Atticus do for Emilyenrose, and Ctesias and Ariston's relationship does for Rumpleghost.

[4.11] Reading the affective hermeneutics of fan fiction has great potential to expand our explorations into what it is that fan fiction does; it also can help refocus attention toward the role of affect and the reader in other forms of transformative literature. Uncritically referring to any ancient literature that uses allusion or transformative formal elements as early fan fiction is to ignore the significance of the context of fan fiction's emergence from an affective discourse and, above all, the central importance of affect to both its authors and its audiences. Bringing attention to affect in comparisons between fan fiction and premodern literature, however, may help to bring out the extent to which these early transformations of other stories might have emerged from their own fan communities of invested audiences and loving readers.

5. Notes

1. See my forthcoming thesis, Immature Pleasures: Affective Reading in Margery Kempe, Petrarch, Chaucer, and Modern Fan Communities, PhD Diss., University of Toronto, 2015.

2. "quibus tenere cogebar Aeneae nescio cuius errors…et plorare Didonem mortuam, quia se occidit ab amore," Confessions 1.13.

3. The Dear Yuletide Writer tag on the yuletide.livejournal.com community links to the posts from previous years archiving links to Yuletide letters.

6. Works cited

Barenblat, Rachel. 2014. "Fan Fiction and Midrash: Making Meaning." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 17. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0596.

Derecho, Abigail. 2006. "Archontic Literature: A Definition, a History, and Several Theories of Fan Fiction." In Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, 61–78. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. 1999. Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre– and Postmodern. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/9780822382188.

Doan, Laura, and Sarah Waters. 2000. "Making Up Lost Time: Contemporary Lesbian Writing and the Invention of History." In Territories of Desire in Queer Culture: Refiguring Contemporary Boundaries, edited by David Alderson and Linda Anderson, 12–28. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.

Felski, Rita. 2009. "After Suspicion." Profession 23–35. http://dx.doi.org/10.1632/prof.2009.2009.1.28.

Fradenburg, Aranye. 1997. "'So That We May Speak Of Them': Enjoying the Middle Ages." New Literary History 28 (2): 205–30. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/nlh.1997.0021.

Morrison, Karl Frederick. 1988. I Am You: The Hermeneutics of Empathy in Western Literature, Theology, and Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/9781400859436.

Pugh, Sheenagh. 2005. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Bridgend, Wales: Seren.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. 2003. In Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Warner, Michael. 2004. "Uncritical Reading." In Polemic: Critical or Uncritical, edited by Jane Gallop, 13–38. New York and London: Routledge.

Woods, Marjorie Curry. 2003. "Weeping for Dido: Epilogue on a Premodern Rhetorical Exercise in the Postmodern Classroom." In Latin Grammar and Rhetoric: From Classical Theory to Medieval Practice, edited by Carol Dana Lanham, 284–94. New York: Continuum.



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