alixtii: An image from the webcomic Sinfest. A female devil chases after our hero, saying "Come here and get whipped like a man!" (BDSM)
In my profile, there is (and has been for years) at the very top, a quote from Roland Barthes about Parisian striptease: "Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked." It is given such a prominent place because I consider it in many ways to be my philosophy of ficwriting. I try to write in that same contradictory space in which Parisian striptease took place: presenting the female character for the reader’s desiring gaze without stripping them naked of their agency so that they become desexualized--for an object has no sex.

[personal profile] aris_tgd refers to "the dominant narrative of [. . .] fetish and [. . .] kink" as being the narrative "your bodies are thing which we are entitled to": having X as kink (in the original post, disability) means using X as an object of one's pleasure. This fantasy of entitlement exists in a similar contradiction: the woman's (or POC's or disabled person's or so on) agency undermines the entitlement by making access to their bodies their choice, while violent rape undermines it from the other direction (if one were truly entitled, force would not be necessarily). It is a truism that slash, of both the m/m and f/f varieties, is (among other things) a mechanism for exploring these types of power imbalances, often for the purposes of kink, without invoking the politics of heterosexuality.

Often, then, in fic as in society, the violence or implied threat of violence is shifted away, masked, sublimated. In the fics I cite in this post, my School of Lost Souls and [personal profile] wisdomeagle's Gather Paradise, this is the case. In my fic, Fred is entitled to River's body as part of a larger claim on River's body made by the Alliance, a claim whose logical endpoint we finally are shown in the movie Serenity and The R. Tam Sessions. In Ari's fic, the violence is similarly transferred to Wolfram & Hart, the demonic law firm which employs both Lilah Morgan and Fred Burkle, the two halves of the fic's pairing, at various points in the run of Angel. The characters in both fics do not have to resort to violence in order to assert their entitlement over the bodies of others, because all of the characters are already embedded in a system which systematically undermines their agency.

It is not coincidental that in both cases this nexus of power is aligned in opposition to the moral order of the canon universe; both the Alliance and Wolfram & Hart are the "bad guys." Both Ari's fic and my own thus become fics which not only depict sexual entitlement and enact a fantasy of sexual entitlement, they are also in some sense about sexual entitlement.

On the other hand, in my Narnia AU The iPhone of Queen Susuan the systemic nexus of power which affords the male protagoniost access to and control over his sister's body is aligned with the general moral order of the canon universe. Peter is entitled to Susan's body because their god has said so. Note that while I'm taking the dynamics to an extreme not seen in the canon text, I don't think I'm essentially changing them. Instead, I'm highlighting something that is already implicit in canon.

It would seem that imaginative resistance--the term philosophers of language use for the phenomenon wherein we find ourselves unwilling or even unable to imagine fictional worlds wherein the moral order is contrary to that which we believe holds in the actual world--would cause us to recognize Aslan as being evil in ordaining such an order, and Peter (and Lucy and Susan) as complicit for cooperating with it. (That would certainly be, say, Christopher Hitchens' analysis.) Insofar as this is the case, it seems that it should function as a satire.

And yet . . . it doesn't. It's not a fic about entitlement, simply a fic which depicts entitlement, enacts a fantasy of entitlement for the pleasure of the reader. It reads like an id fantasy of discipline and submission to discipline. There is, I think, a readerly construction of author's intent--the author-function--going on here: the reader intuits (and whether she is right or wrong is irrelevant so long as she follows the established conventions of her interpretative community) that the purpose of the fic is not to critique. This involves an examination of the plausible pscyhology of a community member: while it is not plausible to assume that Dean Swift really wanted to eat babies, it is much more plausible to assume that the idea of Peter spanking Susan might get an author hot. (Then again, maybe Jonny had a baby-eating kink. Who knows?) To say that a fic is "about" X is to say that we construct the author-function as havin depicted X for the precise purpose of making a statement about it; in "The iPhone of Queen Susan," this doesn't happen.

But as I've pointed out before, the real question is not whether the reader constructs the author as advocating (or at least not advocating against) a point of view. Insofar as this is what we are worried about as authors, we are shifting the focii of attention to ourselves and away from the suffering of the oppressed--we are more worried about looking sexist or racist or ablist than in acting sexist or racist or ablist. Instead, the question we must ask is: how is the story functioning within the community of its readership? Is it normalizing harmful behaviors, reinforcing damaging stereotypes, &c? The answers to these questions will rely as much on the character(s) of the readership(s) as on the content of the story. It is a matter of ethnography rather than literary criticism as such. The way Triumph of the Will or Birth of A Nation might function when shown to a contemporary sociology or history class is very different than how either film would have functioned in its original context, for example.

I've been accused in the past of being too trusting of fandom's ability to read fics critically in terms of sexual politics. It is a point well-taken: firstly, the generalizations I made about fandom's critical capacities two years ago aren't necessarily the same as I would make today; and secondly, obviously any of our understandings of "fandom" will be severely constrained, each of us having different and often strongly disparate experiences. Of course, neither is "fandom" synonymous with my readership, however. The question then becomes: how can I do my best to frame my stories in such a way trhat my own particular and unique readership receives them in the way which does the leat harm and the most good?

I think the advice that [personal profile] aris_tgd gives me in the comments to her post is probably the best solution:
I think that labeling these things as kink instead of as "how the world works" does help to change people's minds about the narrative. I mean, labeling "a man having sex with his wife even if she doesn't want to because that's what he's entitled to" as "spousal rape" instead of "how a marriage works" changes how we think about bodily autonomy and what marriage means. Labeling these as "constructed narratives for a particular kink" helps the reader realize that they are constructs.
ETA: It strikes me that it's probably important for me to point out that [personal profile] aris_tgd uses the term "label" instead of "warn" in the quote above. The distinction is important to me: what we're talking about is something an author uses to shape a reader's aesthetic experience, in the same we she uses the content of the story itself, not something which is imposed on the author regardless of what it may be she is trying to do. I'm thinking mainly in terms of AO3's tags, which a reader can also choose not to see if they don't want to be spoiled. (I have tags set not to display, for example.) I don't warn for story elements other than rape; I do, however, tag things in ways I consider to be accurate and appropriate, and I tend to be a maximalist rather than a minimalist in tagging (since even for someone who has tags set not to display, tags will still be a mechanism, via the sidebar, of finding new fic, so the more tags an author uses the more likely a reader will find her fic).
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
The "plagiarism = use without attribution" meme is going around again, and whenever it does, it really, really bugs me because by that standard Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are both plagiarists--and any standard which results in that conclusion is for me a reductio ad absurdum. [ profile] miriam_heddy has a good post discussing some of the issues here, but there are some things I want to say myself--mostly, I think, in parallel with her. She writes:
plagiarism is judged by effect )
I'm not 100% sure whether she is writing in her own voice or merely summarizing a certain paradigm; her post is mostly descriptive, analyzing (quite well) the way "plagiarism" functions as a normative concept differently in academia and in fandom. But it doesn't really matter, because it's the paradigm cited above to which I'm going to respond in this moment as I make my extremely prescriptive argument as to what plagiarism is and is not. Under my view, the claim above isn't wrong so much as it is misleading, and (as [ profile] miriam_heddy clearly recognizes) parallels issues of author intentionality in general. So I'd accept her use of Fish, but modify it with a use of Foucault (drawing on "What is an Author?").

It's not as simple as "what the author meant" or even "what the reader thinks," but a more complex hybrid: "what the reader thinks the author meant." The author's intentions are very much involved, but only insofar as constructed by the reader, as an author-function. Which was in my mind when I hazarded that perhaps ethics is about constructing a moral-agent function. I say in that post, parenthetically, regarding the then-recent "American President"/[ profile] reel_sga wank (ETA: see here, courtesy of [ profile] fairestcat), in which large portions of Sorkin dialogue were used in an SGA fusion:
the most damning facts )
In other words, the problem wasn't that they used other texts in their own without citation, but that when people complimented on those specific passages, they didn't say, "Thanks! Eliot really could write couldn't he?" but instead accepted the praise for themselves. That is the dividing line between allusion and plagiarism, I continue to insist.

I've already made it clear I've posted in this issue before; most recently was here, when I linked to this [ profile] languagelog post with commentary, which gave the following distinction between plagiarism and allusion (I quoted it even more extensively in my previous post):
subtle line between plagiarism and allusion )
Note the reliance on (a readerly construct of?) authorial intent here; what matters is not whether something is noticed or not noticed but whether (we think) the alleged plagiarist wanted the plagiarism to be noticed. She could have misjudged her audience, and expected they would, say, recognize Buffy quotes in a Harry Potter fic, when it turns out they actually don't (what's wrong with them?). (I certainly don't recognize all of Pound's allusions in the Cantos, but that's why I have a trusty compendium--it's my fault for not living up to Pound's rather clear expectations, not his fault for having too high expectations.) I cited the Angel quotes in this XMM fic just to be safe, but I really feel like I shouldn't have had to do that--it was a virtual certainty that my flist would recognize the scene I was paying homage to. I could have been wrong (although judging by the response, I wouldn't have been), but it would still have been in good faith.

Of course, it's fairly easy to construct the intent of an author/moral agent who utilizes a passage from an obscure passage of which no one has ever heard; equally easy is it to construct that of one who uses an instantly recognizable line of Shakespeare. The problematic cases which lie in the grey area between are much harder to judge, but my inclination is always, in the name of increased artistic freedom, to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

[ profile] miriam_heddy certainly seems to recognize all of this:
fandom ethics generally dictate )
Yet [ profile] miriam_heddy remains in the descriptivist mode; in the end, she seems happy to simply try to more clearly articulate what the fannish mores are which pervail at this socio-historical location:
the vocabulary of fandom )
I'm not happy with that, because I'm afraid that if Eliot and Pound were in fandom, the fen would burn them in effigy right next to [insert accused plagiarist here], and I'm more than willing to take a normative stance on that as a very bad thing. If we're continuing the paralleling of ethics and literary criticism, my stance can be compared to feminist or post-colonial criticism: readings of a text given to multiple interpretations, but with a strong normative claim about the way we should be reading. There is something specifically deficient and detrimental about a definition of plagiarism as strictly equivalent to mere "use without attribution."

Note that I have no opinion on whether any specific individual is or is not a plagiarist by the standards I suggest (for one thing, I have no experience of their audiences, and thus what those audiences could reasonably be expected to know); I only want to ensure that all individuals are judged by the correct set of standards. The target of people's scorn may well deserve it; but when dishing it out, there's a very real danger in nonetheless painting with too wide a brush.
alixtii: Avril Lavigne, wearing glasses, from the liner notes of "Let Go." Text: "Geek." (geek)
The comments to Scalzi's post on OTW actually turned intelligent again (thank the Lord!) after that hetero/sexist detour I posted about previously, and have well and truly broken the 500-comment mark at this point. (I can count on one hand the number of times I've broken the 50-comment mark and have had my threads collapse.) But I've seen, here and there, references to a post about Heinlein where the comments were also nearing the 500-comment mark, and being the huge fan of Heinlein that I am, I went over to read. It's here.

I haven't read the comments yet, but the post itself is fantastic. I don't always agree with it;Scalzi seems (at best) ambivalent as to whether Heinlein was a sexist (and other things), and I can't really accept that, although I'll concede that trying to construct the author-function based solely on the published fiction is a more difficult prospect than it seems, because one quite quickly finds oneself coming up against a wall of unreliability: yes, a lot of his point-of-view characters sound alike (hardly a bad thing, IMHO, since the voice is so engaging) and it's tempting to assume they're all mouthpieces for Heinlein, but the fact of the matter is that Maureen Johnson and Lazarus Long hold differing positions (assuming one can trust them to be espousing the positions they actually believe in, which is always iffy with Lazarus) on any number of issues, and Heinlein undermines his narrators' reliability in other ways as well.

None of this means that Heinlein wasn't a sexist bastard. (I think other accusations, such as heterosexism and racism, are fair but more subtle-- he embraced his sexism wholeheartedly.) Just that texts don't speak with moral voices, as I might have mentioned before in this journal?

(If you have an hour, I'll give you my reading of Atlas Shrugged as advocating Rortian liberalism.)

Anyway, read Scalzi's post. It's intelligent and powerful--just like Heinlein at his best.

ETA: Note also that my favorite Heinlein books are the later ones--Time Enough for Love through To Sail Beyond the Sunset. I asked for Laz/Lor for [ profile] yuletide. And I like the Starship Troopers film too--but then, you already know I'm not a purist.
alixtii: Veronica and Mac. Text: "Girlfriends Actually." (Veronica Mars)
[ profile] inlovewithnight linked to this article, "Harry Potter and the Framers' Intent," which discusses the way one should respond to JKR on Dumbledore's sexuality in relation to various theories of constitutional law. I used the same exact parallel in the comments of this post, actually, to discuss my position on authorial intent. What the article writer fails to emphasize sufficiently, however, (because he is too interested in selling his position on consitutional law, one I agree with) is that one doesn't have to go all the way to the place he goes wrt constitutional law to get to the rejection of JRK's authority. Even the position of a conservative originalist/textualist like Scalia would be enough to transfer the interpretative authority from JKR as author to the world as readers (which includes JKR, but also millions if not billions of others); the question of whether posterity should approach the text with the same interpretative conditions that we do is a question that can be saved for, well, posterity.

Scalia writes:
Two persons who speak only English see sculpted in the desert sand the words “LEAVE HERE OR DIE.” It may well be that the words were the fortuitous effect of wind, but the message they convey is clear, and I think our subjects would not gamble on the fortuity.

[. . .] As my desert example demonstrates, symbols (such as words) can convey meaning even if there is no intelligent author at all. If the ringing of an alarm bell has been established, in a particular building, as the conventional signal that the building must be evacuated, it will convey that meaning if it is activated by a monkey. And to a society in which the conventional means of communication is sixteenth-century English, The Merchant of Venice will be The Merchant of Venice even if it has been typed accidentally by a thousand monkeys randomly striking keys.

[. . .]

What is needed for a symbol to convey meaning is not an intelligent author, but a conventional understanding on the part of the readers or hearers that certain signs or certain sounds represent certain concepts.
And remember: this is the conservative position; the liberals would agree with it, and go even further (to the claim that meaning is even more manipulatable than Scalia would accept--but still not authorized by the [living, breathing, historical-biographical] author, but by a reader-constructed author-function).
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
Troilus and Criseyde [link is to complete text at Wikisource] functions as a satire, in effect reversing the topoi of the dystopian satires which would come into fashion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by locating the dystopia not in a potential future but instead a primeval past. “[T]he language that satire imitates serves or reflects the disturbance of culture” so that “[t]he metalinguistic function in satire articulates the equivalence of meaningless with social disorder” (Knight 35). Chaucer’s explorations of language, then, are part and parcel of his social commentary on “Trojan” values.

Various mechanisms are used by Chaucer to distance himself from the [pagan] authorial persona which narrates the poem—until the end. In the last few stanzas, Chaucer strangely renounces his previous ironic stance and speaks in what is either his true voice or, possibly, yet another ironic shield. Yet neither possibility is a completely satisfactory option. If we see Chaucer as speaking in his own voice, then this switch represents the death-knell of the very ironic stance which made the poem so rich. Instead of a rich web with layers of meaning, Chaucer provides us with a single, “correct” interpretation rendering his poem oddly unidimensional. Religious truth, under this not only Christian but Christianist (in the sense of a system of codified belief rather than transformative religious praxis) reading, is allowed to trump aesthetics, and the richness of the poem is sacrificed as a result to the single, exclusivist Christian vision. As Theodore Stroud notes, "at least one issues seems to defy resolution, that is, the emotional confusion we experience at reading the palinode. Nothing adequately prepares us for Chaucer’s condemning every vestige of the morality not merely by which his characters have acted but in terms of which the narrator comments on those actions" (1).

All of the metalinguistic markers throughout Chaucer’s text invite us to be suspicious of his ultimate meaning, but the palinode asks us to reject that suspicion in favor of a simpler (and, in my opinion, far less interesting) belief in the efficacy of the Christian message. Yet neither is it satisfactory to assume that Chaucer is simply creating another layer of ironic play. To interpret Troilus as a satire in this way would be to assume that the Christian epilogue is at its heart insincere, that the Catholic Church is simply another target of its satire. There is no evidence within the text itself upon which to base such a fairly radical claim, however, and the interpretation of Chaucer as a postmodern nihilist, announcing the impossibility of objective truth, has something of the flavor of anachronism.

However, it may do us well here to draw on semiotician Umberto Eco’s concept of the postmodern moment as something which is
not a chronologically circumscribed category but a spiritual category, or better yet a Kunstwollen (a Will-to-Art), perhaps a stylistic device and/or a world view. We could say that every age has its own postmodern, just as every age has its own form of modernism (in fact, I wonder if postmodern is not simply the modern name for Manierismus as a metahistorical category).
Viewed in this way, the postmodern reading of Troilus and Criseyde no longer seems quite so anachronistic. Eco locates this postmodern spirit in an engagement with the past, an engagement that Troilus has in spades:

I believe that every age reaches moments of crisis[. . . .] The sense that the past is restricting, smothering, blackmailing us. The historical avant-garde [. . .] tries to settle its accounts with the past. [. . .] The postmodern response to the modern consists instead of recognizing that the past—since it may not be destroyed, for its destruction result in silence—must be revisited ironically, in a way which is not innocent. (2-3)
Chaucer revisits the past in this way in Troilus and Criseyde when he, within the text, ironically engages the history of the fall of Troy, the prefigurement of London’s self-identity as Troy Novant, and when he, through the text, engages in the language and form of classical epic. This return is necessary because otherwise one can merely replace the broken idols with new ones (as Chaucer himself is doing under the Christianist reading). Irony provides an avenue for a new type of speech altogether (Eco 2).

Still, there seems to be no textual way to adjudicate between the Christianist and postmodern readings. As Eco points out, “[i]n the case of the modern, anyone who does not understand the game can only reject it. With the postmodern it is possible to misunderstand the game, by taking things seriously.” Our best decision in such a situation may be to not decide at all. Perhaps it is best to let both possible interpretations of Troilus and Criseyde stand next to each other, interrogating each other, as an ambiguity which enriches the text, creating its own new web of multi-leveled meaning. The puzzle of the satiric nature of Troilus is, maybe, one which is best left unsolved. 
works cited )
. . .

As a result of grad school, a lot of thoughts are swimming around in my mind. My impulse, which I think is a good one, is to return to my notes and papers from undergrad and to use them to help me shape my thoughts. A year's passage or more helps me to examine my earlier--sometimes completely forgotten--thoughts with the necessary critical distance.

There's been a lot of talk of postmodernism in this journal, in my grad school classes, and in various discussions to be found on the 'net (such as at Kristina Busse's blog), and I think the above argument about Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde as a postmodern text, made when I was a senior in undergrad ([ profile] deliriumdriver no doubt remembers the night on which it was written, as we had the same class and we spent the hours of morning IM-ing each other as our page counts slowly grew higher), helps to cast light on it. What does it mean to think of Troilus as a postmodern text, and how is that different from thinking of, say, Speranza's Victors that way? Since many of these conversations are also ones that members of my flist are invested in, I have provided it above. (I have chosen not to subject you to the ten pages of semi-close reading which preceded it.)

This piece doesn't, although I thought it did, draw upon the essay by Eco of which I'm thinking when I talk about Eco describing postmodernism as a mode of reading--that essay was Postlude to The Name of the Rose and I think I had left it home?--but it does, of course, draw extensively on another, different set of statements by Eco about the postmodern. When I originally wrote this, of course, the goal was to understand Chaucer; I return to it now in order to understand the postmodern, and thus it functions as a case study.

Oh, Really?

Sep. 2nd, 2007 09:24 am
alixtii: Mary Magdalene washing the face of Jesus of Nazareth, from the film production of Jesus Christ Superstar. (religion)
The church down the street from me:


Not all that interesting--[ profile] languagelog is full of examples of intensifiers and negation screwing each other up in just this way--but it made me laugh in the "That doesn't mean what you think it means" sense. Although, returning to one of my old chestnuts, note that we do immediately know exactly what "you" "thinks it means" even though it seems to be at odds with what the text "really" says--that is, we manage to construct the author-function in a certain way, as having made a mistake, due to what we know about the socio-historical context in which the linguistic act took place.

(The Baptist church on the other side frequently provokes WTF? reactions from me--I'm still puzzling over "No one is poor who has a godly mother"--but the church up the street usually manages to have more reasonable expressions on their bulletin board thing.)

Okay, I better go take a shower now so I can go prove myself to be too good to stay away from my church.
alixtii: The groupies from Dr. Horrible. (meta)
The concept of canon whoredom requires, if not a single privileged meaning (which the authorial intent people of course have, or at least claim to have), then a set of privileged meanings which exclude a set of other meanings. One can see me working towards this in some of my earlier meta in which I try to perform a conceptual analysis of what makes something AU. Making Tara a robot doesn't make a fic AU, because we don't know she isn't, but...

...but what? If you take it far enough, there really isn't anything that can't be reconciled with canon with enough fanwanking, even if it seems like a fairly straightfoward objective claim like what was written on Buffy's tombstone (which is itself an interesting case, as the existence of Buffy's tombstone, while "clearly canon," is itself hard to reconcile with the events of "Bargaining" and is thus in need of fanwanking). The text becomes radically manipulatable, and there are no privileged meanings--which is pretty much where I am now. A Wittgensteinian response would probably be to recognize that within a group of socially positioned readers, certain meanings would emerge as more central than others, in the way that a microwave oven is less "oven"-y than a toaster oven, but would resist the notion that we could ever systematize that spectrum, since to do so would require a position outside of language. That is, to the Wittgensteinian, what is important is that it "feels right," which is I think what we go for in fanfic over and above technical accuracy. So we end up with an approach that actually privileges fanon over canon.

I do think that the impulse, which I manifested as a baby fan, to delineate a set of acceptable meanings is a gendered one, especially insofar as it seeks to ally the gendered subject with a system of Authority (sometimes a system of clearly imaginary authority--do the producers of our shows really care if we accept X as canon?) against the violator. These issues have been brought up in [ profile] fandebate, but the best example might have been that guy in [ profile] fanficrants who claimed that all the people who were writing SPN/BtVS should a) use comics canon, b) use the "right" interpretation of canon, in which Willow's level of power in comparison to that which they've seen in the Winchester's universe was X. Bargining in and telling the women how to write their stories. Not to mention how it fits into the fanboy stereotype of knowing all of the exact technical specs of the Enterprise. All the focus on facts and dates and measurements, and relatively little on character--my (previously-held) notion of canon-whoredom/AU-ness just sort of shrugged and swept that into a separate category of OOCness, which was too fuzzy to sharply delineate, and then ignored it.
alixtii: The famous painting by John Singer Sargent of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth holding the crown. Text: "How many children?" (Shakespeare)
[ profile] executrix [ profile] liz_marcs linked to this debate over the canonicity of the Season 8 Comics and as much as I knew I should, I couldn't look away.

So far, I have wisely refrained from joining in, because why bother when you know the other person is incapable of listening? (Although I always have to wonder at people who treat the term "canon" as if it were transparent. We as fen invented the relevant sense of the word. Nobody uses it that way outside of our circles.)

I do want to point one thing out, though, here because my flist is capable of listening. Now, it doesn't matter what Joss Whedon says. We as fen define what is canon. But if we look at what he did say? He never said the comics were canon.

He said that he understood the comics to be canon, and he understood them that way because he was writing them.

You might argue that the difference in meaning is small, but I never assume that Joss Whedon doesn't know what he's doing when he is using language. He made a statement about how he saw the comics. He never, ever told us as fen whether we should consider them to be canon. And I don't think he would, other than a) ironically, or b) unthinkingly. Joss understands that "[w]hat may or may not have happened is entirely up to the viewer, that's what makes it art."

(And seriously, if I'm going to read Joss Whedon-penned comics, I want him to treat them as canon. That doesn't make them canon, but I want him to treat them that way.)

ETA: And [ profile] liz_marcs is my hero all over again, as I read through the comments more fully. She and [ profile] janedavitt bitchslap this guy into the next century.

ETA2: And I finally gave in and threw my hat into the ring: Read more... )

ETA3: Actually, the whole exchange has me thinking about the fanboy/fangirl distinction I sometimes talk about with [ profile] cathexys. This guy is so very much a fanboy. I can't help but think that his constant appeals to the Word of Joss and his inability to allow for any shades of grey in legitimate reader response somehow reveals an insecurity about his ability to exist outside of a hierarchical system--that he (unconsciously) sees fluidity of meaning as a challenge to his own position and power and privilege.

Sometimes I'm glad I'm a fangirl.
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
As a reader, one has the right to read a story however one wishes. One can read a story written in English as if it were written in ungramatical French. One can read it through a feminist lens, or a Marxist lens, or a post-colonial lens. One can print it out and use it to wallpaper one's study.

One can go on to write fanfic about how character A and character B were really screwing each other off screen. (Yes, even if the original story is a fanfic. So I say.)

When one comes across truly offensive content--homophobia, racism, misogeny--one has the right to make a fuss. When one comes across something that just offends oneself, one still has the right to make a fuss, but everybody else has the right to mock and laugh and tell one to STFU.

Or one can use that marvelous invention, the back-button.

Once the story is written, the author is dead.

BUT. . . .

As an author, one has a right to tell a story however one wants. One has the right to include content that will make the readership feel uncomfortable.  One has the right to make implicit promises and then not follow through on them.

One has a right to end a chapter on a cliff-hanger.

One has the right to post the story in one large chunk, or in parts once every day, or whatever makes one's writerly heart happy. One has the right to make the readers wait in delicious agony for that next part.

One has a right--nay, an obligation--to make one's readers feel. That's called good writing. Readers don't have to feel what one wants them to feel, but if one isn't trying to exert one's control over them, one isn't doing one's job.

One has a right to give one's readers what (one thinks) they need rather than what they want. One has a right to give one's readers what (one thinks) they want rather than what they need.

Being "cruel and manipulative" is part of an author's job. Period.

All of these things are tools in a writer's toolbox. And next time I see someone trying to steal these tools out of my favorite writers' toolboxes, I am going to be very, very upset.

(Which is not to say that my favorite writers couldn't make great stories with a blunt screwdriver and their hands tied behind their backs.)
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
As remarked before in this journal, the underlying process of the game of "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" provides some interesting fundamental similarities and dissimilarities to other processes of inquiry: to a detective investigating a mystery, to a scientist developing a theory, to the work of logicians, linguists, and lawyers. So it should be in no way surprising that while going through my favorite blogs, I came across several matters of interest which speak to the philosophical issues at hand in the way we go about our canon-formation (speaking of canon here as a set of "facts" about a fictional and/or actual world derived from a text, rather than as the text itself).

Language Log, Volokh Conspiracy, and Original Meta )
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
  • Sign at my work:

    A real "I don't think that means what you think it means" moment.

  • I have the maturity of a junior high student today, and I think it is really funny that Frances Hodgson Burnett is so fond of the word "queer."

  • What do these two things have in common?

    I will tell you. They both make very good introductions to a post about the author-function. I've been talking about author-functions a lot recently, but to some of you it may have seemed like I just began talking about a strange new concept out of the blue. I explain it in my thesis, but that is unfortunately a) flocked and b) long. And some of you are fluent enough in theory to catch my references, but having read Foucault really shouldn't be a requirement for being able to follow my line of thought in this journal.

    So hopefully, the two relatively real-world examples of the author-function at work given above will help me explain it. In the first case, I can say "I don't think that means what you think it means" because I can reconstruct what (I think or imagine that) the author meant--that people who are not authorized to enter alone can becomes authorized-of-with-an-escort--even though I find it at odds with the "literal meaning" of the words. What is at stake is the difference between two ways of constructing an author-function.

    In the second case, I know what "queer" means today, and I can use it to even further tease out some (in retrospect, rather blatant) subtext to be found in FHB's stories. At the same time, I know that that use of "queer" wasn't as common or as widespread as it is today when FHB was writing. So I can read FHB's texts in two different ways: the gay version, and the "normal" version.

    Neither of these two reading practices, despite the fact that they both rely on a conception of an author, are illegitimate. Indeed, any theory of signification that would render such common practices of reading would be by that a fact a reductio ad absurdim argument against itself. These are common, everyday moves which we have to be allowed to make.

    But they are not moves which involve authors. At least not real authors, not living flesh-and-blood authors who smoke cigars and read the Guardian and have opinions of their own--God no. What both moves ultimately rely on is an idea of an author, constructed by the reader primarily from the text with help from some extratextual sources (my knowledge of the English language in both cases, my knowledge of common business practices and the conventions of door sign messages in the first case, my knowledge of the history of the word "queer" and the linguistic landscape of the Edwardian age in the second case). The actual author is nowhere in sight, and so the intentional fallacy has not been committed.

    Here are some examples from Richard Lederer's linguistically-suspect (suspect because it relies sometimes on "rules" that aren't, most commonly rules about modifier placement) Anguished English. In each case, we manage to extract the "meaning" of a hypothetical author "in opposition to the literal meaning of the words" even though we know absolutely nothing about the actual author. We are utilizing only the texts in front of us, because we have nothing else at hand, but we are doing so in a way which involves speaking and thinking about authors. We aren't engage in strict exegesis as such, but a form of imaginative play:

    The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind, and they can be seen in the church basement Friday afternoon. [We "recognize" that the "author" meant "cast-off" (an adjective) instead of "cast off" (a verb and preposition), but we can also understand and snicker at the femslashy version. The two ways of reading the sentence do different things, but neither way is right or wrong.]

    For Sale. Three canaries of undermined sex. [We "know" the "author" "really meant" "undetermined." But how do we know?]

    Once I came across the idea of the author-function, in Foucault's "What is an Author?" I struggled with the idea. How was Foucault arguing we should engage the texts? Should we privelege authorial intent, or not? Was historical/biographical/cultural knowledge relevant, or not? Of course, the frustrating thing about Foucault is that he rarely argues anything. The few normative statements he makes are usually ones his method clearly cannot support, and leave the reader scratching their head and wondering how he could possibly write something so bone headed.

    But a few months later, as I was working on my honors thesis, and trying to figure out how exactly one extracted the meaning of Nineteen Eighty-Four (a meaning that was precisely the opposite of its ostensible meaning), it suddenly clicked. Of course the author isn't a person, but a discursive function! How could it be anything else? I asked myself.

    This allows the critic, as [ profile] hermionesviolin has pointed out to me, to have their cake and eat it too. And as I am a fan of cake--especially chocolate cake--this is a good thing.
    alixtii: Peter and Susan, in extreme close-up. (incest)
    Via [ profile] voleuse: [ profile] hth_the_first on what makes a couple slashy, and [ profile] liviapenn responding (not really rebutting) with "normal behavior isn't slashy."

    See, the thing is: yeah, normal life is slashy. It's 'cesty. It's a lot of things, some of them things which even fandom doesn't have words for, that we don't see because we're not used to looking at a life-text that way. I've lived in an appartment with two other men, and I've lived in a house with my family members. And there have been perfectly innocuous events (doing the dishes even!) that if they were to appear on a television screen then yeah, I would read them as slashy or 'cesty.

    Which is not to say that I wanted to sex with my roommates or my family members, or that they wanted to have sex with me. When we're looking at life, we tend to get caught up in the ding an sich, in issues of "what really happened." It seems perfectly sensible to wonder "How many children had Lady Macbeth?" when you've just had Lady Macbeth over for tea.

    But literary texts don't work that way. Lady Macbeth has a dozen children and no children at the same time. The cat is both dead and alive. (Fanfic opens the box and collapses the eigenstates, so to speak. And this metaphor is so not my own; I remember [ profile] wisdomeagle using it, but I doubt that it's hers either.) While for the most part we conveniently and deliberately forget that our life-text is a floating signifier (which doesn't mean that it isn't real or is radically modifiable or any other pomo nonsense, just that it's eternally cut off from the thing-in-itself), we can't forget that about our fannish texts. We can (and possibly should) argue over what is the most straight-forward interpretation of canon, or even the best interpretation, but not the right one. "It's just a story." (Real life is sort of story, too, but we don't usually look for morals in it, do we? And if I said, "The rain outside is a metaphor for racist intolerance" people would look at me funny, wouldn't they?) (Of course, sometimes we do treat life events as metaphors, like with tarot cards. But this is seen as an unorthodox response--and just not plain understood by some people.)

    I mean, this is half the reason why RPF exists. Because John Kerry and John Edwards were slashy. Because William Moseley and Anna Popplewell really are het-tastic sometimes. (Sometimes as a deliberate choice on the part of the photographer, least as I construct the photographer-function.) Sometimes the subtext is a hint to "what really lies beneath" the floating signifier, as in the Lance Bass case, but I think that for the most case we (for at least the "my flist" value of "we") recognize that Kerry and Edwards weren't sexually attracted to each other, and that Will and Anna have almost certainly never had sex with each other. But because the signifier is floating, we can imagine it being attached to a completely different "what lies beneath," like Anna being a Vampire Slayer or Jason Dohring and Krsistin Bell breaking Katie Holmes out of a Scientologist fortress. (And OMG there's a sequel?! *goes to read*)

    Do we really think that the only reason Simon could possibly have done what he did for his sister was if he were sexually attracted to River? And if we don't think this, does that mean their relationship isn't 'cesty? Because I think we can all agree that their relationship is 'cesty as hell and, if you privelege authorial intent or use interviews when constructing the author-function, deliberately so.

    Reading subtext/slashiness/'cestiness isn't like finding out whodunit in a detective novel. Because whodunit is revealed at the end of detective novel (although I'm sure there's some postmodern detective novel out there that doesn't reveal whodunit) and, y'know, that's text. It's only subtext if there is no explicitly right or wrong answer.

    Cinematic texts have elements like the camera work and the soundtrack which influence the way we read a text without changing one whit "what really happened." But these elements are objective features of the text, and part of the communicative mechanisms which make up the medium. Reading a text is more complicated than just figuring out "what is really going on."

    So reading subtext/slashiness/'cestiness into/out of a text is a response to the floating signifier, to the text qua text, not to the Events Themselves. In Real LifeTM, if a brother accidentally enters a bathroom while his sister is getting out of the shower, that doesn't mean he wants to jump her bones (or vice versa). It just means they live in a house together and she forgot to lock the door and he neglected to knock or she didn't hear him and so he, completely by accident, saw his sister naked. That's what "really happened" (we say). And it happens. No big deal, although the sister probably isn't going to be very happy.

    (Nor the brother, probably, who's likely to be actively repulsed by a combination of social taboos and the Westermarck effect. But we can read that repulsion as a performative act, either a deliberate dissimilation and pretense or as a less conscious Freudian denial. And of course this is why Freudian analysis is so much more popular in literary analysis than in, y'know, empirical psychology.)

    And then, that evening, in the course of doing his wash, that brother takes his sisters' bras and panties out of the dryer and he puts them in a laundry basket. Hell, maybe he even folds them. This is Standard Operating Procedure in pretty much every family across the world that has its own washer and dryer.

    But if I'm watching a forty-minute show and thirty seconds of it is devoted to each of these events, then yeah, it Means Something. Because things don't "just happen" when read as part of a literary text. Because we--if you let me channel Jubal Early for a moment--imbue them with meaning. We give it a purpose. We construct an author-function, and we decode a message, and yes, the decoder ring is jury-rigged so the message will be sex, sex, sex. The mechanism of literary (and within literary I include cinematic and other modes of artistic criticism) criticism is predisposed to read sex out of a scene, in large part because literary critics like thinking about sex. And so do writers, so they play along.

    Let they who are without sin throw the first stone.

    A long expositionary dialogue conducted while two female characters are dressed in towels in the girls' locker room is femslashy. Because yes, Virginia, the all-female space does queer the relationship, despite the fact that this is Perfectly Common Behavior and having conversations dressed in a towel in a locker room doesn't make one a lesbian. (I have doubts as a het male how often this type of behavior actually happens outside of television, but that's neither here nor there. Because, as I've said, "actually happens" isn't the point--there 's a system of cinematic signification and realism doesn't really play into it all that much at all.) (Plus we can't forget the camera as a placeholder for the het male gaze, which sexualizes things even further. I should probably have used two male characters in a boy's locker room, but that's not so much fun for me to visualize. But the point would be the same.)

    When I watch Buffy and Faith in season 3 and see them as femslashy as hell, when the heart that Faith draws isn't a love-heart at all but really a vampire heart (with a stake through it), and besides teenage girls use that sort of heart imagery to each other all the time without meaning anything at all sexual by it (although I still think those interactions are femslashy as hell too), I'm not illegitimately reading my own interpretation into the text. (Although if I were reading my own interpretation into the text I don't see necessarily why that should be illegitimate, but I probably wouldn't write an essay for a grade on the Anne/Violet 'cest in Man and Superman just because there's not a lot of textual evidence.)

    I'm using a more-or-less agreed-upon system of deciphering textual cues, regardless of whether cues were intentionally put in by the writer. (Are Rosalind/Celia so gay on purpose? Probably, but who cares if it's not deliberate? It's a facet of the text that's there. It even meets the non-visual criteria of [ profile] hth_the_first's slash texts--and when I imagine it, it meets the visual criteria as well. Which is not to say that we would at all assume that two cousins who were that devoted to each other had to be sexually attracted to each other if it were happening in "the real world.")

    And when someone points out that hermeneutic I'm using to interrogate the fictional text isn't the same one I'd use to interrogate real life, I answer: whyever the hell should it be?

    And then I imagine them making out with their sister.
    alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
    I've been thinking about the wank (you know the one) and it struck me as interesting the way in which in literary analysis intent is illegitimate, but in moral analysis it's much more important. Unless you're a consequentialist or a utilitarian or one of the handful of other positions which eschew intent in moral analysis, too, but we won't go there. In general, though, I think we are okay with people making mistakes (underestimating the cultural literacy of their audience, say) and not so much with people doing things that they know are wrong. Unless you're an error theorist, in which case everyone falls into the first case, but we won't go there either.

    (The most damning facts about the accused parties in the recent cases is the way in which they are reported to have acted after producing the texts, the comments they made which interpretive conventions lead us to read as to having been made in their own voices and thus cause us to construct their intent in a certain way, as being having not made a good-faith effort. I say this without firsthand knowledge. A fact can be damning without being true.)

    But then it occurred to me that when we perform moral analysis we perform the same sort of Foucauldian process in constructing intent as we do when reading a text. We don't have knowledge about the actual intent of a moral agent (even if they are ourselves!) anymore than we do of an author. Only instead of an "author-function," we'd get something along the lines of a "moral-agent-function." Which would be all well and good, but with ethics aren't we much more invested in finding out what really happened (i.e., with the moral-agent-function being equivalent with the moral agent) than we are with literary analysis. Which is (I think?) because literary analysis doesn't compel us to any action that's more significant than hitting the back button (or, at most, writing a review that can wreck a career) while moral judgments lead to categorical imperatives which can literally be a matter of life and death. (Murder or self-defense? A person's life hangs in the balance! Or, you know, flaming a plagiarizer.)

    In the soi-disant "real world," while we can't circumvent the theoretical limits of intent (we can't subpoena a ding an sich) we can cut through some of the practical ones--and often do, especially in extreme cases. Also, the law has protections built into that assume that when "the real truth" is obscured from us (as it inevitably is) the defendent at least is given the benefit of the doubt. (Too often the protections are circumvented, but that's paranoia for another day. Note to self: why haven't you mailed that cheque to the ACLU?)

    The result isn't necessarily any closer to the truth, but it assuages our fears. We get a truth that we can swallow. We don't need a truth that is Truth, just one that we can unite behind as a community . . . a shared reality, a shared lie, in which we all can believe.

    [I think I need a tag for discussing intent issues. "Author-function"? "Authorial intent"? "Intentional fallacy"? I wish I could make polls.]
    alixtii: The feet of John Henry and Savannah, viewed under the table, Savannah's not reaching the ground.  (Dark Champions)
    [ profile] deliriumdriver was discussing V for Vendetta (the movie version, not the comic) in a flocked post on her journal, and it had me thinking about my own reaction to the movie. No one (and by "no one" I mean "neither [ profile] deliriumdriver nor I") denies that it's a powerful emotional experience while one is in the theatre, but there is a sense in which it sort of falls apart when one thinks about it afterwards. (As opposed to, say, Donnie Darko, which had me screaming at the screen all through the ostensibly science-fictional parts because they made NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.)

    Politically I suspect I am sympathetic to the views of the filmmakers, and I don't have any problem in principle with a movie being intended to be used to promote a political agenda; the intentional fallacy almost ensures the result will be richer and broader than the filmmakers intended. Some of my favorite literary works, from Shaw's plays to Rand's novels, were intended to serve as polemics (but succeed as literature for me insofar as they are read as failing at those intended goals; Shaw was a horrible polemicist because he always gave the devil the best lines). After all, texts don't speak with moral voices, or rather with a unified moral voice, speaking differently to different people in different situations in different places and times (who speak, so to speak, different languages).

    Although from an aesthetic viewpoint I suppose I prefer a little more ambiguity à la Shaw (although the movie did impose ambiguity at points, and I suppose asking for the ambiguity to be "resolved" would mean asking for the movie to no longer be ambiguous), but I don't know what political message the movie was trying to make--or, to avoid the intentional fallacy, I'm clueless how I should be constructing the author-function. I mean, texts don't speak with a moral voice in themselves, but the message to me in this socio-historical moment was . . . I'm not sure. I guess I walked away with a feeling that dystopian governments are bad. Which is all fine and good, but did I really need to be convinced of that? Does anyone?

    The claim that there is a point at which a government's authority becomes illegitimate and the only solution is violent insurrection is one that I can respect (and which, at its extremes, I suppose I hold--as probably everyone who is not a pacifist does). But the movie doesn't seem to answer the question of at what point a government has usurped its own authority, so I don't quite see what the point of the exercise was. There are not-stupid arguments that we have already reached that point, as Bush (or at least, Bush's lawyers) seems to be of the opinion that under Article Four he has the right to do whatever he deems necessary without oversight which to me is an interpretation of the text which makes Roe v. Wade look downright conservative.

    And on some levels I'm just an idealist: is it better to live in a flawed government (and how flawed is flawed?) or to die for an ideal one. I'm already on the record that I'd rather a person let the Earth be destroyed than compromise their ideals, and this seems to be a related sort of ethical dilemma. I'd rather let terrorists blow up America than let people's civil liberties be infringed upon*, because otherwise what we're left with isn't really America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. And practically speaking, I have to admit that this isn't a realistic perspective (hence the idealism).

    *Anyway to rephrase this sentence so the preposition isn't at the end of the clause? It's one of those passive constructions I'm so interested in, like "who(m) was whispered to."

    As far as I can tell, V for Vendetta just channels (from the viewpoint of the filmmakers [at least as I construct the author-function] righteous and legitmate) anger with Bush and the current administration to a strawman (which I suppose considering the tradition of Guy Fawkes' Day is somehow strangely appropriate) and if anything I think that hurts their (my?) cause, because I walked out of that that theatre complacent with my life (it was better than the fictional England!--even though on reflection I'm not 100% sure how so) rather than, say, formulating plans to blow up the White House (or, as a nice middle ground, ready to fill out a cheque to send to the ACLU). (Which reminds me I really should fill out a cheque to send to the ACLU. Why am I putting it off*?)

    "Off" is acting as an adverb in this question, if I'm not mistaken. Or else "put it off" just counts as idiomatic.)

    I think my initial response to V for Vendetta was that I was too close to the events to really judge, and I think that was a wise stance. I mean, Nineteen Eighty-Four--on which most of you know I did my honors thesis--is a pretty shallow book if one reads it as a diatribe against Communism (or the Catholic Church or the BBC), and my English teacher who said that Animal Farm isn't "really" about animals, but "really" about Russians, plain didn't understand symbolism. (Animal Farm is "really" about animals and figuratively about Russians--but it's also figuratively about a lot of other things since symbolism is never an A for B substitution the way metaphor is.) (And a simile is a type of metaphor, except insofar as it isn't really a type of figurative language since similes are literally true.) (Most of my teachers probably didn't understand symbolism, which signals to me either a) I don't understand symbolism, or b) our educational system--both public and private--is a mess.) Brave New World--well, one of the things I like about Brave New World is that I can't reduce it to a single line of thought; I have no clue against what Huxley thought he was complaining. He's a little like Shaw in that respect I suppose (and I suppose that Brave New World Revisited could be seen as the equivalent of one of Shaw's prologues).

    So the conclusion, insofar as there is one, seems to be that I should stop searching for V for Vendetta's moral voice (because it doesn't have one) and enjoy it (or not enjoy it, whichever the case may be) solely as a work of art, one which asks questions but does not provide answers. This is, of course, the type of hermeneutical process I outlined in my honors thesis, suggested for use on the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, based on part on this passage from Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:
    6.53 The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science—i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy—and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him [sic] that he [sic] had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his [sic] propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person—he [sic] would not have the feeling that we were teaching him [sic] philosophy—this method would be the only strictly correct one.
    And because it seems an appropriate way to end this post, and because it's just that awesome, and because some of you might not be aware of it: Philosophy Songs, a site full of philosophical song parodies including "Antinomy" (to the tune of "Chim Chim Cheree"), "Solipsism is Painless," "Hume on the Brain," and (my favorite) "Supererogationisticextraobligation"!
    alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
    This morning's Seven Days had me crying like a baby. Or perhaps more like me, when I am crying.

    Anyway, [ profile] bethbethbeth has a fascinating discussion going on over in her LJ. She's linked to this post in Neil Gaiman's blog on authors and morality. I know I'm not the only one who immediately thought of Orson Scott Card and his stances on, among other things, homosexuality and militancy. I know this because people who are not me mention him in the comments.

    Most people seem to agree that the author's views shouldn't have an effect on the appreciation of the work, although a few point out that financially supporting someone who spouts hate by buying their book may be a morally questionable activity. But I think [ profile] witchqueen is right in saying that she "think[s] Gaiman's questioner missed the really interesting question, which isn't, 'Do you enjoy the good work of people with questionable moral stance?' but, 'Do you enjoy high quality work espousing a morally deplorable view?'"

    Having just finished an Ender's Game fanfic and having inhabited that world for a while, I can say that the novel is deeply problematic in so many ways. (Which doesn't change the fact that I love it deeply. Oh, Valentine.) The problem isn't just with Card, but with the novel itself. (Although admittedly understanding how Card thinks opens up elements of the novel that weren't obvious before; knowledge about the biographical author influences how we construct the author-function.) And the anti-abortion rhetoric in Shadow Puppets became so thick I felt like throwing up. Although there it was particularly disgusting because it was clear how he was warping and distorting his characters in order to preach his religious message.

    But that's just the thing: we don't notice how problematic Ender's Game is at first because we read it with our moral perspective firmly in place. Card never comes out and says that what Colonel Graff does is good or bad, right or wrong; we're left free to judge for ourselves. Colonel Graff is just being Colonel Graff. Part of Bernard Shaw's genius is that he was never able to commit himself to the socialist message that he wanted to preach (and did preach in his prologues); his sense of drama and character always forced him to give the devil the best lines. As long as the author is true to their characters, it seems, texts don't really have moral voices, because they don't have morals. There's no clear right or wrong side, simply a sequence of events.

    There is always the option of constructing an ironic or satiric author-function (regardless of the historical intent of the actual author) in our reading. I'm able to read Atlas Shrugged as a call for altruism and socialist healthcare. And anyone who thinks the Bible is unambiguously pro-Christian (or whatever relevant religion applies) simply hasn't read it. As [ profile] shrewreader says on the second page of comments: "YMMV: It's not just for driving anymore!"

    But still, there is the intuitive notion that these readings are against the grain, which implies that there is a grain. At least in this sociohistoric location, my intuition insists that there is something in the text which can strategically pass as an essence. (It's actual ontological nature isn't really the issue.) Spoiler for Ender's Game. ) Sure, we can read it as a satire and interpret these conclusions the same way we do spoiler for 1984 ) on the last page of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but is that really just as valid of a reading. And even if it is, the fact that we can doesn't disguise the fact that in most cases we don't and as a radical feminist I privilege praxis over theory.

    I've often said that I don't think a literary work can be "feminist," in that concerns of character, narrative, etc. inevitably distract from that message and introduces thing which are problematizable from a radical feminist perspective. (But then again, what isn't problematizable from a radical feminist perspective?) But does that imply that a text can't be anti-feminist, either, because it is always potentially empowering to somebody? That texts can't be pro-militarism or pro-Nazi, anti-religion or anti-homosexual, that Triumph of the Will is just as much anti-fascist satire as it is pro-fascist propoganda? That the only that the moral message depends on is the moral commitments of the reader, and not any feature of the text itself? That was the conclusion to which I came in my thesis, but I'm still not completely comfortable with that radical a hermeneutic relativism.

    After all, literary texts have the power to persuade and to convert, and it seems a castrated sort of text which could only provide that which one brings to it. (And yet I'm still reminded of Wittgenstein's statement that the Tractatus "will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it--or similar thoughts" and can't help wondering if maybe literature works the same way.) And I've already express my distaste with the "YMMV" doctrine when it is indicative of a radical relativism, because I don't think feminism is tenable under those conditions.

    This is completely a theoretical question; I've already worked out the practical question ("Am I disempowering others, in this sociohistorical location, through my writing?") here. But still my intuitions are conflicting, which usually is a sign that something interesting is going on, theoretically.

    So what do you think, flist? Can texts speak with moral voices? And if not, how do we respond to them when we see them disempowering people in a specific sociohistoric location?
    alixtii: Drusilla holding a knife to Angel's throat. Text: "Got Freud?" (Freud)
    I wrote yesterday that there’s a difference between the way fanficcers and fundamentalists approach their texts, with fundamentalists wanting the “right” interpretation with fanficcers only wanting the “best” interpretation. It doesn’t matter if the most reasonable interpretation of the Bible is that the Rapture is in two hundred years if God actually meant that it would start in an hour, and thus it is going to start in a hour. In a sense, fundamentalists still privilege authorial intent (it doesn't matter what God wrote as much as what God meant), and fanficcers don’t always do that (thank God).

    Then it occurred to me that there are fanficcers for whom it is meaningful to speak of a difference between a “best” interpretation and the “right” one—those in an open canon. If one sees the entire source text as describing the same popsssible world, even when some of it isn’t written yet, then it’s true that the best interpretation of a part of the canon won’t always be “right.” Seen in this light, those fundamentalist Christians who make a reasonable conclusion about what Scripture means but are ultimately wrong can be sort of seen as being jossed by God.

    This is of course why there’s an impetus to privilege authorial intent in an open canon like Harry Potter—it’s the best reliable indicator of what new canon will bring. Equally coherent interpretations of the same canon are only equal so long as no new canon is coming. It’s also why I’d be glad that I write in a closed canon if it weren’t for the fact that I so badly want to see Juliet Landau and Summer Glau to play their characters once again.

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