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August 22, 2012

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A woman might prefer the company of a good book to the company of a man; reading as an act of self-pleasure.

He should have given her a foot rub while she was reading, instead of painting a picture of her.

Woulda been our loss, but his gain.

5) Fanfic certainly existed before copyright law -- Arthurian legend, for instance, is fanfic all the way down.

This has me thinking that some of the pronouncements that come from the leaders and members of religious organizations could qualify as (a sort of) fanfic.

Fanfiction is fiction that explores the multiple possibilities arising out of a pre-existing source story.

Right?

The notion of Homer ams fan fiction is a cool thought, but the Greeks didn't have a notion of fiction. Isn't the fact that someone is taking these characters to places they have not been before fundamentally different? I'm not sure about Homer, but one has to imagine that Matthew et al didn't see themselves as engaging in the creation of a fictional world.

The source may be another fiction, or it may be the reported actions of real people, living or dead.

Matthew et al may not have seen themselves as creating a fictional world, and even if they were reporting facts, people like Jerry Falwell and Osama bin Laden managed to create some fiction based on the earlier (assumed to be) intended truth-telling of others.

It's hard to tell how much people like Jerry and Osama actually believed their own derivative fictional creations, but "(sort of)" was intended to cover that possibility. (...delusional fanfic, maybe?)

IMO this is something that needs explaining

I'm not really familiar with fan fiction, but it sounds something along the lines of elaborating a narrative, and/or a world, as a communal activity. I.e., in the context of a community, where what the community shares is a common interest in the narrative and/or fictional world.

If I'm barking up the right tree, I would respectfully submit that the reason more fanfiction writers are women is that women are more attuned to doing things in the context of a community, of whatever kind.

I don't know why that is, and I make no bold (or even mild) statements about why that might be, it's just an observation, FWIW.

one has to imagine that Matthew et al didn't see themselves as engaging in the creation of a fictional world.

This is an interesting idea in the concept of a discussion of fan fiction, because the gospels - at least or especially the synoptic gospels - were in some measure a distillation of narrative elements that were known and shared within the community of early Christians.

They are also not a simple just-the-facts reportorial account of the life of Jesus, but an attempt to understand and make sense of what must have been, at that point, a puzzling and even somewhat alarming reality.

Who was that guy?
What did he mean when he said all of those puzzling things?
What happens now?

IM very HO, one of the things the gospels are (among many) is an attempt by the early Christian community to explore and, by exploring, try to understand the phenomenon of Jesus, through narrative.

So, leaving the question of truth vs fiction aside, and just considering it from the point of view of a communally constructed narrative, maybe not so different.

Slightly tangential but the prose of antiquity (both Greek and Latin) drew a fine line between reporting actual speech (i.e. words believed to have been actually spoken) and fictional speech (e.g. when the actual wording was lost). Interestingly for the latter direct speech was used but oblique for the former. All the speeches 'quoted' in classical literature were therefore of the kind 'that's what he should (or might) have said'. So, if the text goes: "And he spoke: 'Bring me the head of Willy the mail boy'" then that is not what he actually said for sure but what the historian believes to be the 'proper' words. But if the text said: "And he told them that the head of Willy the mail boy should be brought to him", that means that the writer believes that this is what was actually said. Most famously Cicero's speeches were not publishd transcripts but what Cicero afterwards thought he should have said instead of the real thing (and of his many speeches against Catilina and Verres only one got actually held each since the opposition already folded after the first).
So, readers of e.g. the gospels would have known not to take the written down speeches of Jesus as literal but as the interpretation of the evangelists. They would have seen the 'message' as authentic but not debated which author aped the saviour's words best and most literal.

What about Shakespeare? Is there any play by him that is 'original' as in 'not based on pre-existing material'. But he transformed the material to such a degree that the result is something genuinely new (and there is tons of pure fiction esp. in his 'histories').

IMO this is something that needs explaining

Maybe the explanation is that most fiction is already written by or for men. Publishing companies and movie/television studios tend to be run by men. But even when they're not, everyone just knows that things that appeal to women are inherently inferior and not profitable and that media must cater to the (imagined) male perspective.

I mean, there's a reason that the Bechtel test exists and there has to be reason why so much TV fails it.

Another example is the Starfire character that Dr Science wrote about a few months ago. Comics is a dying industry so you'd think that the industry would be thrilled that the teen titans TV show might bring some new younger readers; I mean, there are more people watching that one TV show than there are comics buyers. But while the TV Starfire is a fleshed out character that tween girls can identify with, the new comic version is an expressionless sex machine with no character that looks like she was traced from porn. No parent in their right mind would buy that for their kid and no tween will ever identify with that character. From a business perspective, this is just suicidal. But everyone knows that the only customers that matter are the male ones that want porn all the time, or something. I'll grant you, comics is worse than other media in that regard, but it seems more like a difference of degree rather than kind.

everyone just knows that things that appeal to women are inherently inferior and not profitable and that media must cater to the (imagined) male perspective

i did not know this.

everyone just knows that things that appeal to women are inherently inferior and not profitable...

And there, in a nutshell, is the reason that the publishing industry is on the ropes -- they are part of that (supposed) "everyone". Women are, by far, the major buyers of books. But if you insist that your major real market is somehow inferior or otherwise not worth serving, you are just asking to be left on the dustheap of history.

@ turbulence - the tension between comics as 'kid stuff' to be purchased by and for kids and comics as being primarily for the comic book nerd (as largely self defined in the autobiographical indie press) really plays into this one. A sizable chunk of the latter resents the market power and sway of the former and the backlash of the Starfire reboot is a move to try to recapture the base after the tweens were lured away by manga.

As for Biblical fanfic, IMO Kierkegaard's "Exordium" from Fear and Trembling is the ne plus ultra of the genre in terms of narrative sensitivity and exploration.

But if you insist that your major real market is somehow inferior or otherwise not worth serving, you are just asking to be left on the dustheap of history.

As cleek wisely noted, it's not the case that the publishing industry ignores women. Although there are certain genres that might appeal more to men, and others that might appeal more to women, most everything that anyone wants to read is out there. If it's not, it's not because the publishers are nixing submissions based on gender preferences.

So, leaving the question of truth vs fiction aside, and just considering it from the point of view of a communally constructed narrative, maybe not so different.

That's a neat point, Russell. Doc, in the fanfic community, is there any mechanism for somehow rejecting a narrative because it doesn't hew closely enough to the characters or the story? It reminds me of what Hartmut noted in another thread, about Jesus escaping and going to Japan. I'm trying to imagine a Gospel of Taro, based on the further teachings of Jesus when he was in Eastern Japan. Pat Robertson might not be appreciative, though he would probably like the story of Jesus the weather god causing droughts because the US is rushing headlong into approving same sex marriages...

Also, I think a lot of what drives fanfiction now is the point, observed by Norman Spinrad I think, that shows like Star Trek tend to take a cast of characters and never let them change. This isn't to diss Star Trek as, but it is less about following a story arc to see how the characters change and more seeing how these characters react to situations. I don't think we are going to see any Breaking Bad fanfic. You can trace the idea back (Sherlock Holmes is essentially a character who never really changes, and one could imagine all of Greek epic heroes in the same way), but TV, with its lack of an identifiable 'creator' seems to prime the pump a bit.

Although there are certain genres that might appeal more to men, and others that might appeal more to women, most everything that anyone wants to read is out there. If it's not, it's not because the publishers are nixing submissions based on gender preferences.

I'd be interested in seeing data to support this.

I think the publishing industry as a whole is somewhat biased against female writers. I think that because if you look at the big review magazines like NYRB, LRB, NYT, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic, they tend to overwhelmingly review books by men, by a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. See this and scroll down looking for the "Authors Reviewed" charts.

Now, I think a 3:1 skew suggests that (1) women are simply worse writers than men, (2) women are less likely to write than men, (3) women are less likely to be selected by publishers, (4) women are less likely to be marketed aggressively by publishers, or (5) reviewers are less likely to review women's writings (which in turn means that women are less likely to get the sales boost from being reviewed by the NYRB).

So Sapient, how do you explain the glaring discrepancy amongst review sites? Which of my suggestions (1-5) do you think best explains the data? Or do you have an alternate hypothesis?

Turb,

Poetry actually responded to the VIDA graphs (in which they were 50/50. Even a publication that seems dedicated to equality in their reviews said:

Still, the poetry numbers are unequal, and troublesome to us. One difficulty is that we receive many more submissions from men: the last count, done last year, was 65% men and 35% women. Why this might be is a source of endless speculation around here—is Poetry thought of as partial to men? do fewer women poets submit their work to magazines in general?—but we don’t have any good answers

Although VIDA explains Why the Submissions Numbers Don’t Count

I find this a little rambling and, essentially, says that no matter what other factors are involved the output numbers should be equal.

i don't know, I've thought about this a lot, and whether there was fanfiction before copyright really depends on what you mean by it. I've argued that before copyright, what we now think of as writing fanfiction was more like general writing pracice. There were stories, and characters (or at least figures) and people told them, the question was whether they told them better or worse. It's not like all those romance writers thought there was an original Arthur "author," and they were writing versions of his story that had less claim to it.

Authorship, or writership, did change with changing models of intellectual property, distribution, and profitability--just like fan writing practices have changed with the internet from, say, amateur Sherlock Holmes pastiche--it's much more collaborative now, and it does have a different "feel" when it isn't, I think.

So from that perspective--to the extent that fanfiction implies the existence of an original, fixed, authorized source text---no, it hasn't always been around. To the extent that it means telling in and out and around existing stories, then yes, Shakespeare and Homer and Mallory were all big ficcers

what do the numbers on review sites have to do with anything?

are female authors being published? yes. are they selling? yes. are they well-represented at the top of the best sellers lists? yes.

what do the numbers on review sites have to do with anything?

Getting reviewed in one of the big journals boosts sales and definitely increases discussion of your work in publishing community.

are female authors being published? yes. are they selling? yes.

Who are you arguing with here? Because no one is claiming that female authors aren't being published or are not selling at all.

are they well-represented at the top of the best sellers lists? yes.

What does well represented mean? 50%? Or 5%? Are best seller lists representative of the market as a whole? Do you have actual data on this or are you just reporting your subjective feeling by scanning a snapshot at one moment in time?

Who are you arguing with here? Because no one is claiming that female authors aren't being published or are not selling at all.

i'm responding to this:
Maybe the explanation is that most fiction is already written by or for men. Publishing companies and movie/television studios tend to be run by men. But even when they're not, everyone just knows that things that appeal to women are inherently inferior and not profitable and that media must cater to the (imagined) male perspective.

female authors are published, they can and do sell well, they can and do have large audiences.

are these women catering to the male perspective? (whatever the fnck that is)

What does well represented mean? 50%? Or 5%?

well, you could take a look at the link i provided. it's the NYT 2012 best seller list(s).

here's another list. fifteen of the top 20 top books are from female authors, including all of the top 11.

russell suggested:

If I'm barking up the right tree, I would respectfully submit that the reason more fanfiction writers are women is that women are more attuned to doing things in the context of a community, of whatever kind.
I don't think this can be the reason, because (until very recently, with the rise of social media) many fanfic writers' first stories are written before they have any idea that other people write such things. It becomes social later, but the first impulse -- the drive -- often starts on your own.

Turbulence:

Maybe the explanation is that most fiction is already written by or for men. Publishing companies and movie/television studios tend to be run by men. But even when they're not, everyone just knows that things that appeal to women are inherently inferior and not profitable and that media must cater to the (imagined) male perspective.
I think you're essentially correct, but only if you focus on movies&TV -- which are much more common sources for fanfic than text-only works, anyway.

Movies and TV focus really hard on giving males what they want, or what they are supposed to want. For a female, movie & TV stories are likely to be much less satisfying, so she *has* to re-write or expand the given story to get what she wants.

@liberaljaponicus

"the Greeks didn't have a notion of fiction".

This is a proposition which doesn't stand up to much analysis. They may not have expressed themselves in our terms on the subject, but they were well aware that there were indeed made-up narratives - and debated the value of them. From the Muses of Hesiod who knew "to tell many lies that sound like truth" but also to "sing reality", through the Cretan tales of the Odyssey, to Plato's "noble lie" and his myths, there's abundant evidence that the Greeks were aware of a category that fits with our "fiction". No, they didn't debate it in our terms, but it's simply not realistic to say they had no notion of it.

NickT, perhaps it is too strong to say that they didn't have a notion of fiction, but my impression is that it would be the same vibe that you would get going into a typical evangelical church and saying that the Bible is fiction. Plato, of course, wanted to ban Homer from the Republic, so that suggests that the Greek definition is a bi different than ours. And that sort of asks the question 'what is the definition of fiction', and we might have some definitions that overlap with what the Greeks believe, but a definition that clearly marks it as non-reality gets away from the notion of a tale divinely inspired.

what is the definition of fiction

Guessing here, but: stuff that conservatives believe? :-)

Say rather, fiction: the stuff that true-believers on both sides claim as facts.

The introduction of drama (esp. the second actor added to the traditional narrator and chorus) was very controversial in Greece. For e.g. Solon theatre was public lying (people claiming to be someone else on stage).

Hold on, liberal japonicus.

Plato in the Republic is not against the use of fiction tout court. Remember, the gennaion pseudos or "noble lie" also appears in the Republic, as does the myth of Er and the tale of Gyges's ring. Plato loves myths - and it's impossible to believe that a philosopher who wrote philosophical novels - e.g. the Symposium, the Phaedrus etc. - had no notion of fiction. His quarrel with the poets is due to the undesirable impact of their words on their audience and their inability to give a reasoned account of what they mean. That's not saying that he has no notion of fiction or bars it entirely, rather than he only approves of certain types and uses of fiction by the right philosophically-minded people.

Similarly, one could cite the Cyropaedia of Xenophon which is pretty clearly the first European novel (arguably the first fantasy novel at that!). Given that much of it is an imaginative reworking of "Spartan" cultural tropes transplanted to a loosely Asiatic setting, I don't really see how Xenophon could have thought of it as anything other than fiction. He marched through a good part of Asia, he spent time in Sparta - he knew what they were like in real, historical, "truthful" terms.

I would also add that the Greeks practiced a variety of forms of rhetoric that clearly involve fiction - epideictic oratory and forensic oratory both involve fictional, imagined scenes and both depend on plausibility and plot to a substantial degree.

Obviously, I haven't been able to talk in more detail about e.g. the fantasies in Aristophanic comedy or, for that matter, the rewriting of traditions (fanfic, if you like) in Euripides. Nonetheless, I think it's clear that the Greeks did have a notion of fiction - and the notion was not actually very dissimilar to ours.

Well, when we talk about Greek literature and Greek notions, the span of time we are covering could be 300-400 years, and if you think about how our notions of fiction have changed over that time, we shouldn't be surprised if there is room for discussion. I'm not trying to dismiss your point, but I tend to think that our notions of fiction are supplemented/extended/exacerbated by our notions of text and printing. It is not how Xenophon considered his work, it is how his readers considered his work and it seems that the majority of readers regarded it as true in some measure. I'm also reminded of the Socratic dialogue Ion, where Socrates 'proves' that Ion has no set of skills, but is possessed by the divine when he recites. Plato would have huge problems with a book that its creator and readers acknowledged as totally fictional, but felt it was still able to influence the actions of people within the society. Perhaps I'm parsing this too finely, but I think Plato had a notion of 'fictional', but not a notion of 'fiction'.

Fiction, at least in the definition that is rattling around in my head, has both the idea that we acknowledge that the creator is responsible rather than someone who simply transmits (though we still retain that idea when we try to figure out the creative process) and that the audience acknowledges it is not real. When the creator is accused of 'lying', or gets dinged for creating something that it removed from reality as folks were in Ancient Greece, it suggests that the culture doesn't really have a discrete notion of fiction (though again, to be fair, we could find people today reacting to fictional things as real, which might be the same thing) Still, I think that acknowledging that things are fictional within a retelling is not quite the same as having a notion of fiction.

This is a bit of a remove from the OP, but if people other than just you and me are interested, I could try and write up a post for more discussion.

The introduction of drama (esp. the second actor added to the traditional narrator and chorus) was very controversial in Greece. For e.g. Solon theatre was public lying (people claiming to be someone else on stage).
Please remember that drama was a religious thing for the Greeks. The plays were undertaken in honour of deities, not solely for public pleasure. When Solon and Plato criticize drama, they are criticizing a religious rite.

Thus, you must remember that the question: "Is drama acceptable?" is really, in this discursion: "Is the worship of Pan (comedies) and Dionysus (tragedies) acceptable?" Thus, any argument here is directed against these religious practices, not against fiction as such. And if we know something, it is that Platon and other philosophically minded Greeks were rather monotheistic and rational and their idea of divine worship did not include sentimental, mystical rites.

Similarly, poetry was considered religious in Greece and even contemporary mythical poems were given some amount of consideration as "true" divine inspiration. For a rational person, it was clear that newly-minted mythical poems were not true in the ordinary meaning of the word. However, the majority of people considered them more or less true. It's easy to understand why Plato was so incensed at poets.

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