We are happy to announce a seminar with fan fiction scholar Kristina Busse. The seminar is a joint venture with the Cyber Echoes research group at Umeå University and the symposium Textual Echoes: Fan Fiction and Sexualities. The seminar will be live broadcast and archived. Links will be posted here later.
[Feb 12, 2010 1:15 pm]
Affect and the Individual Fan: Rethinking Aesthetic and Economic Values of Originality
Kristina Busse, Independent Scholar
T.S. Eliot’s seminal essay “Traditional and the Individual Talent” attempts to balance creative genius with a writer’s heritage in aesthetic production. Aesthetic theorists often posit the creative process as interplay between the familiar and the new, between repetition and difference. Different periods of literary and philosophical thought place emphasis more strongly on either continuity or originality, and thinkers of modernity often privileged originality and artistic genius as they laid the groundwork for a value system that still affects the landscape of contemporary popular culture.
Countering this ascribed modernist valuation of originality, postmodern theorists and artists have emphasized pastiche, appropriation, and intertextuality. In so doing, they revalue repetition as a central mode of creative production. Fan writers and artists can be understood as using this aesthetic framework of challenging themselves to create within firmly established boundaries: as they rework and reshape popular texts, emphasizing and foregrounding their intertextuality, fan texts offer a cultural counterbalance to ideologies of originality. With their emphasis on (often voluntarily) enforced restrictions to restage common narratives or character portraits, fan productions revel in the inspirations borne of intertextuality and repeated cultural reference points.
At the same time, however, copyright laws and marketplace expectations have helped establish aesthetic discourses within fan communities that often mirror modernist emphases on originality and authenticity. While the community often addresses the collective nature of their interpretations and even creations, external models of intellectual ownership remain prevalent when it comes to individual fan works. Moreover, the legal debates within and outside of fandom are intricately tied with capitalist models of ownership. As such, the discussions around fandom as a gift economy confront the bourgeois concepts of ownership of ideas and the possibility of original creations. Indeed, both legal and aesthetic fan discourses suggest that despite a cultural value placed on repetition, fandom still remains at least tenuously invested in more traditional notions of originality and uniqueness.
In contrast to Eliot’s model of artistic genius, emphasizing originality and ownership of individual creativity, I’d like to foreground the fan community as a collective creative culture that values sharing, allusion, and repetition as aesthetic (and affective) choices. Fan communities indeed illustrate a continuing tension in fannish reader response between a general critical meta focus that dismisses clichés and the response patterns that suggest their continuing appeal. I suggest that we need to look toward tropes, the use of familiar plots, scenarios, and characterization as central organizing and generating principles for fan fiction communities. Focusing on the intertextuality that suffuses and often defines fan communities and characterizes their works, I thus want to emphasize a fannish model that advocates repetition and not difference. In fandom, the drive to repeat is not only a central aesthetic principle but also, in no small degree, its emotional raison d’être.