alixtii: Ludwig Wittgenstein. Text: "The Limits of My Language. The Limits of My World." (Wittgenstein)
From [ profile] news:
Just so you know, we based these changes on input from both experienced and new users who were not familiar with LiveJournal.
LJ? Learn how to place your modifiers, please. That sentence is a disaster.
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
Remember when Obama claimed that white racism wasn't endemic, and nobody had any idea what he meant, but I was pretty sure I disagreed with him?

Mark Liberman at [ profile] languagelog takes up the question here, interpreting the comment the same way I did. So apparently I was right to be disappointed.
alixtii: The groupies from Dr. Horrible. (meta)
In this post (which oddly enough, cannot be found on the main blogroll or via forward or back functions; one can only find it if she has the URL), Geoff Pullum makes it very clear that he cannot see the fnords.
alixtii: The groupies from Dr. Horrible. (meta)
There is a claim I've seen being made a lot lately, in a lot of different places (but part of the same overall argument) by different people, that if a word applies to everything it becomes meaningless. Can anyone explain this claim to me?

If I say "everything is made up of atoms" does that mean "made up of atoms" is a meaningless category?

I remember having a conversation on the OTW FAQ and the language it uses, referring to what I would call source texts as "original works" and thus inadvertently imply intentionality which isn't truly there in the case of many RPF canons, in the comments of this post, with [ profile] jadelennox, in which she said:
The jargon term "text" encompasses the idea that all objects, experiences, encounters, etc. are analyzable under the same lens is we would use to analyze the non-jargon "texts". There really isn't any jargon-free way to say "I mean everything in the world, except everything in the world from the point of view that you can look at everything in the world as a text". I'm not even explaining it well when I try to translate it into a whole lot of English words. *shakes tiny fist*
Is the "except [. . .] from the point of view that you can look at everything in the world as a text" part of her definition really lacking any semantic content?

If I say everything is about sex, or the death-drive, or the means of production, or the will-to-power, am I making meaningless statements?

If everything is X then, a) that may say something meaningful about the state of everything, and b) that doesn't eliminate the possibility that some things are more X than others, closer to the center of the conceptual web, less problematically X, while others lurk in the fuzzy boundaries.

Or am I just insane?
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
Jewel writes:
What are my New Years resolutions?  Besides hitting the treadmill, which is up there with eating live squid, I'm going to make an effort to infect my brain with positivism.  There is no point in obsessing about the things you can't change, and there's no such thing you can't do.  I've had a really positive year and I'm grateful for another one on its way.
Now I have an image of a Comtean Kaylee, busy rejecting theology and metaphysics, stuck in my head.
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
Rhiannon Bury, "From a Room to a Cyberspace of One's Own: Technology and the Women-Only Heterotopia." In Feminist (Re)visions of the Subject, ed. Gail Currie and Celia Rothenberg. Lanham: Lexington, 2001. Page 58:
Women, however, have never simply accepted these normative discourses and, in response, enter or are placed in segregated sites in which they cannot only resist being categorized as "minus male," but take pleasure in identifying with the devalued "feminine."
Out of charity to Bury, I'm assuming that she was the victim of an overzealous copyeditor here. If I squint, I can almost make it make sense by having it mean that women must do more than "only resist," but really the only way to make it completely comfortable is to break the "cannot" up into two words.

The more I thought about it, though, the more uncertain I became--my reasoning makes sense, but language doesn't always--and so in the spirit of [ profile] languagelog I turn to Google psycholinguistics, which give me 1,610,000 hits for "can not only * but" and only 80,300 for "cannot only * but" which makes it one-twentieth as common, and which confirms that my instincts seem to reflect the majority usage. Which is a relief.
alixtii: Summer pulling off the strap to her dress, in a very glitzy and model-y image. (River)
Literal-Minded provides (in a post from 2004) some good examples to parallel the femslash:slash relationship, in particular rooster:chicken, thumb:finger, square:rectangle, rectangle:quadrilateral, lesbian:gay (which of course is the obvious one when we're comparing to femslash:slash), and senator:congressman. (And there's an interesting meditation in the comments on whether abusers are in "abusive relationships.") [ profile] languagelog only gave me microwave:oven (whose dynamic is less perfectly parallel).

And apparently there's a name for the phenomenon: Q-based narrowing. Wikipedia explains:
In semantics, Q-based narrowing is narrowing (a reduction in a word's range of meanings) that is caused by Grice's Maxim of Quantity (see Gricean maxims). Q-based narrowing occurs when a word A is a hypernym of a word B — that is, when every instance of B is an example of A. It is then common for the use of A to imply not B. For example, consider the words finger and thumb. A thumb is a kind of finger (hence the phrase ten fingers), but the term finger is not ordinarily applied to it: someone who has hurt their thumb might technically be correct in saying "I hurt my finger", but it would be misleading; the ordinary thing to say is "I hurt my thumb."

The term Q-based narrowing is due to Yale linguist Laurence Horn.

I haven't yet seen an in-depth analysis of the political implications of this phenomenon (other than ruminations on woman:man in general, a la Luce Irigaray, or Derridean deconstructions of binary thinking), but I'd like to.
alixtii: The groupies from Dr. Horrible. (meta)
For the record, I am white, male, heterosexual, middle-class, American, Christian, . . .  frankly? It'd be quicker to name the ways I'm not privileged.

I say this not because it's National Coming Out Day [I notebooked this post in class and on the train yesterday--Ed.] (although I sort of do want to make a long post about how I experience my heterosexuality, and how I feel certain labels apply to me, and what it means when everyone assumes those labels apply to me already anyway, but can't think of a way to do it that wouldn't make me feel like I'm appropriating), but because it means that I have pretty much two choices: I can, in the long tradition of privileged individuals, ignore my privilege, or I can learn to deal with it. I won't claim that I've done the latter; indeed, there is no doubt in my mind there are numerous ways in which I have not. What I have done is think a lot about what is the  best way to try.

Learning to deal with it is not necessarily accepting every claim made by a traditional victim (survivor?) of injustice. It is not to automatically agree that everything which is claimed to be descriminative or unjust or whatever-ist is. That'd be intellectual suicide, and an abrogation of one's moral responsibilities to boot. It may happen that, when all is said and done, when one looks at a situation from the perspective of who one is, there will still be disagreement. That's okay.

I vote for Party X (out of two choices, does any of my flisters really doubt which that is?) because my parents vote for Party X (or Party Q when they are reasonably sure Party Y won't win, as do I) and instilled me with the values that lead me to vote that way. Most likely, if my parents voted for Party Y than I would too. Recognizing this doesn't make me want to stop voting for Party X--I still think I am right to vote for Party X, and will continue to think so until convinced otherwise--but it does make me stop and think about why I am voting for Party X, to re-examine my premises.

Similarly, what is required when a claim of injustice is made is a pause, a hesitation, an honest assessment of oneself and one motives, and above all listening with an open mind.

. . .

the part about Sapir-Whorf, which is very relevant to the above if you look at it sideways )
alixtii: Mal and Kaylee, from Serenity the Movie. Text: "I Love My Captain." (iluvmycaptain)
Okay, I've come across this sentence at a description of the SFWA DMCA wank at by RGR, a magazine which was served with a DMCA notice for material they themselves owned:
This behavior is irritating at least and draconian at best, and we wonder if the SFWA doesn’t have better things to do.
I find this sentence fascinating. Usually the construction "A at B and X at Y" is to use to describe a spectrum of possibilities: at point B, on one end of the spectrum, situation A is the case, while situation X is the case at point Y on the other side. Usually, A and X share something in common (they're usually both negative) to make the point that all points along the spectrum share that thing in common.

But in RGR's example, "at best" and "at least" mean more or less the same thing, lying at the same side of the spectrum, and RGR doesn't seem to particularly feel the need to explain what, exactly, the worst-case scenario would be.
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
The book I ordered, Alice's Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture by Will "I'm Not Allowed to Say I Think Hayden Panettiere Is Hot" Brooker, has arrived. I'll tell you what I think of it when I've finished. That means, so far, I've gotten books by this guy, [ profile] henryjenkins, and [ profile] rozk, but I'm still waiting for [ profile] kbusse_blog's book to show up. Woes.


I posted fic Tuesday night, Emma and Kitty acting out one of the femslashier (and cross-gen-y) scenes from "The Snow Queen," in a way which actually fits into AXM canon. I thought my flist would eat it up. (Apparently not?)


Courtesy of [ profile] slammerkinbabe: The Roberts Court continues to prove itself activist. (N.B.: My intent is to make fun of the "activist" meme, not to endorse it. There are times when when the Court should be activist [I have a very expansive view of Constitutional rights] and times when it shouldn't. The best government isn't the government which governs least, but the one which governs best. In other words, I'm unashamedly partisan.) Actually, looking at the front page of the New York Times, "activist" doesn't really begin to cover it. God they were busy. (And conservative. Oh, so very conservative. Much more than I actually expected, really. I guess stare decisis is a thing of the past.)


Earlier today, I was confused whether it should be "Do you want Mom and me to go to the store?" or "Do you want Mom and I to go to the store?" On reflection, taking out "Mom and" makes it pretty clear that the "correct" pronoun is "me" (as one would never say "Do you want I to go to the store?") but I'm still not sure why that is the case, or what all of the pieces in that sentence are doing. Sentences that I can't diagram vex me.


The rector at my parish, who will be retiring shortly (woes!), gave me two books by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in order to clear out his own collection. I've only browsed through them, but in general I have to say I find theological works from that era absolutely fascinating, since besides a few pages of Tillich that I read and fell in love with in high school (yes, my Catholic high school had Tillich in its library) I've pretty much only read theology that was written since 1970 (mostly feminist, postmodernist, and/or liberationist theology) or else stuff like Aquinas and Augustine. The specific set of problems that a 1960's theology needed to address is similar in many ways to those of today, but alongside Beyond God the Father, Ecology & Liberation, and The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida it sort of ends up looking rather quaint, if you know what I mean. (OTOH, some parts I read and I totally go "OMG, I can't believe he just said that.")
alixtii: The groupies from Dr. Horrible. (meta)
There's a post over at [ profile] languagelog that touches on the issue of whether use-without-citation always counts as plagiarism. Geoff Pullum's answer is one with which I agree, although different in some respects from the fannish consensus which seems to have been reached. Here's the money quote:
That's the subtle line between plagiarism and literary allusion. It's plagiarism if you copy someone's writing and you don't want it to be noticed that you were copying; it's allusion if you do exactly the same but you do want it to be noticed.

If I had hoped Mr McIntyre would not identify the source of my very funny metaphor and would think me responsible for its brilliantly humorous simile, I would not be a brilliantly humorous writer, I would be a dumb and contemptible plagiarist. And if I had thought he would spot the quotation but I was wrong and he did not, I would be in an awkward spot for two reasons: (i) I would have gratuitously insulted someone I didn't even know, and (ii) I would have used someone else's clever humor without admitting it or citing the source, and would thus have put myself in danger of being fingered later as a plagiarist.

But I had judged him right: I took him to be well acquainted with such familiar features of our culture as the Dilbert strip, and I intended him to see that I was quoting, and he did, and I intended him to see that I intended him to see that I was quoting, and he did, and I intended him to see that I intended him to see that I intended him to see that I was quoting, and he did, and... Perhaps it would be simpler if I just cut this (non-vicious) infinite regress short and say that I intended there to be not just recognition of the quote but also mutual recognition of our mutual knowledge state.

Eliot and Pound used uncited sources all the time in their own work, after all, and I think its perfectly reasonable for me to drop a line from Firefly or Angel without being required to give chapter and verse. Because, like Pullum, I trust you guys to recognize that I'm quoting.

That remains enough even if I'm wrong in my trust. After all, I hardly recognize any of Pound's allusions; that's why I have my trusty A Compendium to The Cantos of Ezra Pound by Carroll F. Terrell. But as I argued here, right after the [ profile] reel_sga discussions, the most important thing is that a writer act in good faith toward her readers.
alixtii: Dawn Summers, w/ books and candles. Image from when Michelle hosted that ghost show. Text: "Dawn Summers / High Watcher. (Watcher!verse)
So many of you, the ones who follow [ profile] metafandom at least, will be familiar with the rough outline of the discussion: [ profile] kradical--Keith R.A. DeCandido, the author of, among other things, the Serenity novelization (which I own but have yet to read)---made a post discussing the difference between fanfic and professional media tie-in fic in which he had the bad sense to call tie-ins "superior" (with the scare quotes) because they were a) legal and b) professionally edited. Discussion ensued, in which there was both much blowing what KRAD said wildly out of proportion and people who decided, much as they did during the SGA race discussion, that as long as the conversation was going on they might as well chime in. Which brings us to this post by [ profile] liviapenn, who puts forth the challenge: "Let's make a list. Of awesome, legal, published fanfiction."

Now this post is wonderful just to see all the derivative works which have made their way into print, some which really boggle the mind, like Flatterland: Like Flatland, Only More So. But what I really find interesting are the places in the comments where fans question the criteria for inclusion into the list, by putting forth some defintion of their own of fanfic--their Theory of What Fanfic Is and Is Not, so to speak--and explaining how Professionally Published Work A doesn't fit into that definition of fanfic. What they're trying to do is put forth a conceptual analysis, the primary tool of "analytic philosophy," in which one attempts to sort out problematic cases. One of my professors from university (very much from the analytic tradition--he had a Ph.D. in math from Cambridge and one in Philosophy from the den of positivism known as M.I.T.) explained it like this: Everyone agrees that it is bad to boil babies and good to help old women across the street (although I must add that of course "everyone" agrees on no such thing), the trick is to tease out the essential qualities so as to address problematic cases and decide whether they fall under the concepts of "good" or "bad."

The goal is to "carve nature at the joints" which, of course, implicity assumes that nature (or at least language, as analytic philosophy has largely dumped metaphysics and epistemology in exchange for philosophy of language) has joints, that there's a clear cut place where something stops being fanfiction and starts being something else, even if no one else has managed to find it or quite agree on where it is.

The best way to point out that someone's analysis of goodness is faulty is to prove that it includes boiling babies or excludes helping old ladies across the street. (This is in contrast to, say, the deontological ethics of Kant, who would start with first principles and run with them irrespective of how ludicrous his conclusions ended up looking.) And with fanfiction, the best way to prove that a given Theory of What Fanfiction Is and Is Not is faulty is to demonstrate that it excludes the latest McShep WIP.

The first Theory of What Fanfiction Is and Is Not was provided in this thread, with the specific problematic case being Gregory Maguire's Wicked:
Read more... )
Now to provide a functional definition of fanfic makes perfect sense to me (I don't agree with [ profile] liviapenn when she accuses [ profile] djonn of tying the definition of fanfic to issues of quality), but this definition seems particularly problematic. My problem with dividing fanfiction from "a manuscript where the [. . .] serial numbers were filed on" based on whether the work engages the source material isn't that I think the division is nonsensical, the way that I think a division between gen and het based on canonicity is nonsensical (although producing a workable account of what is and isn't "engaging with the source text" may well prove impossible). It's that it excludes a number of stories from being fanfic which aren't problematic cases--in this case, pretty much any PWP. Indeed, this type of story is so manifestly a part of fanfiction that we've coined a term for it: ATG, or "Any Two Guys/Girls." And the conclusion that these ATG PWP's aren't fanfic is a reductio ad absurdim which for me refutes [ profile] djonn's entire Theory of What Fanfic Is and Isn't.

Another example can be found here, when [ profile] azdak takes on the problematic case of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead :
Read more... )
First off, there's plenty of fanfiction which is written not out of an intense love for the source text, but out of a desire to play with it, to fix it, or just because one thought one could write it and put it down as such for [ profile] yuletide. So [ profile] azdak's Theory of What Fanfiction Is and Is Not ignores the rich diversity of motives fanficcers might hold as they work their craft.

Secondly, the definition assumes that fanfic treats characters only as people and never as fictional characters. Some fics are more meta than others, but being a pretentious metafic doesn't make a fic not fanfic. Fic for Stoppard's play continues to treat Ros and Guil as fictional characters even as they slash them, because to remove that element would be to ignore sometime integral to the source text (one'd be writing Hamlet slash rather than Stoppard slash), but it's still fanfic. Most people on my flist are familiar with some of [ profile] wisdomeagle's mind-blowing metafiction, and I've written a metafic or two myself.

Other Theories of What Fanfic Is and Is Not come off just as badly. Tying fanfic's status explicitly to copyright issue excludes not only the problematic cases but also half of [ profile] yuletide as well. (OTOH, the Yuletide fics often don't rest as comfortably under our notions of fanfiction as other fics for 'thons might.) Notions of community can't unproblematically make a distinction between literary fiction and professional science fiction are also written in the context of a community (at times an overlapping one with fandom, at times not). [ profile] cathexys' attempts to delineate a slash aesthetic haven't been as successful as she'd like.

I don't want to come off as claiming that Wicked or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead aren't problematic cases, or that it isn't problematic to lump Homer's The Oddessy and [ profile] liz_marcs' Living History in the same category. [ profile] liz_marcs' story is clearly and intuitively fanfiction in a way that Homer's isn't. But when the definition we construct to exclude Homer also ends up excluding Living History, that's a sign that the definition is fundamentally broken.

As a post-structuralist, I tend to view conceptual analyses as quaint holdovers from the days of Bertrand Russell, when it was thought that language could be made as wonderfully precise as mathematics. (It turns out mathematics ends up being as wonderfully imprecise as language.) But that isn't to deny that conceptual analyses can be great fun as logical puzzles, especially as one comes up with more and more convoluted examples to prove that under a given definition case A which intuitively falls on one side of the line in truth falls on the other. Indeed, that's why analytic philosophers are so much fun to spend time with--they always come up with the kookiest examples. (And then no one in the classroom laughs, and I'm looking around wondering if I was the only one in my Intro Phil class awake.)

Instead, I turn, as I did in the gen vs. ship debates, to the notion of genre, to the post-Wittgenstein idea that language is always-already fuzzy, and no matter how much you look you won't find uncomplicated joints in language or nature. In her defense, [ profile] azdak recognizes (parenthetically) that what she puts forth may be if not "the defining quality" then "at least one of the central characteristics," but still she seems to think it to be defining enough to disqualify Stoppard's play without needing to refer to any of the other ways it is different from our core notion of what fanfiction is and does. In the end, all we have is partial truths and faulty definitions--and if you've ever looked inside a dictionary, you know that's all we ever have. Fanfiction is about engaging with the source text, except when it's not. Fanfiction is about treating characters as human beings, except when it's not. Fanfiction is about violating copyright, except when it's not. Fanfiction is about community, except when it's not. Fanfiction is written by women for women, except when it's not. Fanfiction is subversive, except when it's not. Fanfiction is about unleashing fantasies, except when it's not. Fanfiction "reads like fanfic" except when it doesn't. A fic that does many of these things will fit more comfortably under our intuitive notion of what fanfiction is then a fic which only does one of them. Some works are clearly fanfiction or clearly not fanfiction, being the fannish equivalent of baby-boiling, while some problematic cases rest in the grey areas between.

So keep on putting forth your Theories of What Fanfic Is and Is Not, but expect me to be there, shooting holes in them, because that's my idea of a good time.

ETA: [ profile] azdak continues the discussion with more on "Fanfic" as a fuzzy category.
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
I don't get this. According to one paper cited by the post, Camfranglais "is spoken by secondary school pupils when they want to freely communicate among themselves in the presence of other members of the community without the latter being capable of making sense of the linguistic interactions going on." And one speaker is quoted as saying, "I was thinking that among Cameroonians we could speak our Camfranglais without risk of being understood."

But as I understand it, Camfranglais is simply a mix of French and English, with simplified grammatical structures, as spoken in Cameroon--I understood the proffered examples without too much difficulty. I probably wouldn't be able to understand a Camfranglaphone speaking quickly, but I'd attribute that to my poor mastery of French rather than any inherent incomprehensability to the language. Am I missing something?
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So: I went to that "Usage and Abusage" panel with [ profile] languagelog posters Mark Liberman and John McWhorter as well as Erin McKean and Ben Yagoda. Liberman is right, I think, in saying that a good time was had by all who attended.

One of the best things was being present for the audience reactions--the groans of distaste when some usage or another the audience didn't like was brought out, the audible frustration when the panelists refused to denounce said usage, and whatnot. There was much question and answer, and while I don't think the panelists said much one wouldn't have been able to predict, they always did so in a way which was charming and entertaining, and I had a great time--which makes up for the nightmare I had navigating the NJ/Philly public transportation system.

If anyone was there, I was the gentleman in the "interesting shirt" who asked about the death of whom. I probably should have been more specific or asked about speech instead of writing in order to get a more interesting answer than the equivocal "It'll last longer than you think it will" response I got.

Afterwards, I bought a book by each of the [ profile] languagelog panelists and of course got them signed, and was present as Liberman conversed about the future and follies of the SAT system. (My response: "The SAT Writing was always graded by automatons, and I don't see the difference between the human and cybernetic variety.")
alixtii: Mesektet, aka the White Room Girl. Text: "Dark Champion." (Mesektet)
"femlash" : "slash" :: "microwave oven" : "oven"


Some people are having "the authorial responsibility discussion." Some people are having it intelligently, some foolishly, some civilized, some wankfully--such is the way of the world.

Long-time readers will remember me struggling with these very questions myself when I asked "Do texts speak with a moral voice?"

But the question can't be--or at least shouldn't be--about what is inherently objectionable. The issue is context. Who is reading? Who is being harmed? The last question requires a healthy dose of both theory--to understand how thoughts can lead to words can lead to deeds--and empiricism, to see how they are actually doing it. The same text in different contexts can serve radically different--often diametrically opposite--functions. Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel by socialist Eric Blair, has been reappropriated by the neo-conservatives. Hell, the New Testament has been basically reappropriated by evangelicals and conservatives. WTF?

It's not what is being written, in and of itself, which is at issue; it's what is being written in the context of how, and by whom, it is being read. (And who's writing, both individually and as a community.) What may be perfectly fine in the feminist utopia may be problematic in the here-now, and vice versa.

What other texts--and by texts I include practices, customs, behaviors--does the text in question connect with or resist? Sexual deviants, good and bad, do not have a broad network of structures already in place in our culture to facilitate their predation; sexists, racists, and heterosexists do. (Where rapists fall could be arguable--but again, noncon in a mainstream comic book is not going to have the same sociological effect as in a fanfic. It's just not. The values of the interpretative community are different, the readers are different, it just has a completely different function, and any quick and easy comparison between the two is absurd.) A story about incest is not going to function in the same way as a story about racism.

(Which is not to say that I don't come down firmly on the side of laissez-faire when writing what we want, when representing our fantasies. We have to work out our issues within the iconography which we have at hand, at that means at times writing things which may be sexist, racist, or heterosexist. But writing what we want is not the same as refusing to be critical of them after we've written them--the response to problematic speech is never supression, and always more speech.)

If you don't believe that patriarchal structures and systemic sexism (racism, heterosexism, etc.) are embedded in our society, then I'm sure that we feminists come off looking like self-righteous, wanton hypocrites, wanting a ridiculous double standard.

But then you come off looking willfully blind, so I suppose we're even.
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 )


Feb. 3rd, 2007 08:16 pm
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
This post from [ profile] metafandom is making me feel very, very young.


The problem with lumping both femslash and m/m slash under the same "slash" label isn't only that somehow femslash always seems to end up dropping out of the discussion altogether (no matter how much some might protest that they really do mean both brands of slash), but that the grouping just plain doesn't make much sense. In addition to the gender of the objects of desire (a not insignificant difference, obviously!), the tropes, the communities, the ethoses (ethoi?), and the dynamics of the fic are all so incredibly different that one can't help but ignore one or the other when using the term "slash"--the two types of fic are just too disparate to fit comfortably under one label. A generalization about "slash" is hardly ever going to speak in any meaningful way to the situation in femslash. The differences between the two genres are legion. (This may vary from fandom to fandom, but in my experience femslash has never been as OTP-oriented, for example, as either m/m slash or het.)

The only thing we're left with is that both types of slash involve same-sex encounters. And while at one point in fandom, the "ooh!" of same-sex sex might have been important enough to link these two within a same genre, I don't think that's the case anymore. We categorize fics now based on the genders of the objects of our desire more than on the dynamics of the relationships involved, I think, and so femslash and m/m slash end up becoming more diametric opposites than anything else.

Of course, there's also still the "saying 'femslash' is like saying 'female doctor'" problem, which is why I try to make a habit of never using the term "slash" unmodified at all.
alixtii: Player from <i>Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?</i> playing the game. (Default)
[ profile] languagelog is always awesome (even if they sometimes lean a bit heavily to the positivistic side), but today's two most recent posts are particularly noteworthy and worthy of recommendation: a long, wonderfully detailed piece on who/m, and a more rambling piece on the descriptivism/prescriptivism battle that somehow ends up discussing Star Trek.

I strongly reccommend you head over and check them out.
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.

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