by Doctor Science
Over at Making Light, Patrick Nielsen Hayden wrote about how Ewan Morrison mangled the history of fanfic in his recent article in The Guardian, In the beginning, there was fan fiction: from the four gospels to Fifty Shades. Subheading in The Guardian:
EL James's Fifty Shades of Grey originated as a piece of fanfic based on the Twilight series. So is fan fiction something to be feared? And where did it all begin?Oh, stab me *now*.
I entered the discussion as comment #264, and wrote:
Late to the party again, but I'm here.
Sica @ #240:
The impulse I have for fanfic isn't to uncover or find out "what's really there", it's to have fun with "what could be there". I think that's my favorite thing about fanfic. It's like this ever expanding fractal flower with multiple versions of the same stories, characters and tropes.
My experience exactly. In fact, I'd say that a workable definition of fanfic would come from turning what you said inside-out:
"Fanfiction is fiction that explores the multiple possibilities arising out of a pre-existing source story. The source may be another fiction, or it may be the reported actions of real people, living or dead."
1) Fanfic is speculative fiction where the speculation is centered on a story or person thought of as a character. SF is speculative fiction where the center is the nature of the world.
2) An important part of the "feel" of fanficdom is that fanfic is multifarious: there is no single right answer, nothing that is, as DBratman says, "really there". Much of its pleasure comes from its multiplicity, intertextuality, and joyful cross-reference. Fanfic writing certainly *can* be a solitary, individual pursuit, but it doesn't *have* to be.
3) The more a story-telling culture involves a community playing together with a set of characters, plots, or tropes, the more it will "feel" like fanficdom. Conversely, if fanfic is produced in isolation, without reference to other stories and storytellers, it will "feel" less like fanfic even if it fulfills the simple definition of being a transformative work.
4) I think it's important to recognize that, right now, in western culture and AFAIK in Japan, the majority (possibly the vast majority, 80% or more) of fanfic writers are female. IMO this is something that needs explaining, because the story-telling impulse is part of the common heritage of humanity.
Meanwhile, the fact that fanfic is currently more-practiced by females gives it a feminine "feel" or association, it colors what we think of when we think of fanfic. I don't think it changes the *definition*, but it definitely gives a certain tint to the word.
5) Fanfic certainly existed before copyright law -- Arthurian legend, for instance, is fanfic all the way down. However, fanfic as she is experienced today is in tension with copyright and with the money economy, which also gives it a certain "color". I've known fanfic writers to feel that it's only *real* fanfic if it's transgressive, coloring outside the lines.
Winslow Homer has it bad for this woman.
The woman, alas, has it bad for the book.
And so, despite his charged attraction, she is unattainable. And it is that unattainability, that diversion of women from standard cultural roles and social mores toward independence of thought and action that challenged traditional American notions of femininity, the moral status quo, and seized Homer's imagination and desire.
A woman might prefer the company of a good book to the company of a man; reading as an act of self-pleasure.