[FANTEXT AS ARCHIVE] I found media fandom in the nineties, when I looked for more of my favorite show and stumbled onto a fan fiction site. It was the days of mailing lists and Like any anthropological recovery, the artistic products may need to be studied as artistic artifact and as testimony to the social event and community where it originated. Fannish artifacts that are removed from their initial setting require us to be aware of the fact that we may only see traces rather than the entire textual and community engagement.

José Esteban Muñoz’s articulation of the “ephemeral trace” offers a useful concept that acknowledges both the artistic as well as the social aspect of most fan products. Ephemeral traces are that which is left behind a performative event, both hinting at and hiding the originating social engagements. Applying this notion to fannish artifacts helps us remain aware that much of the text’s meaning can be tied in with a specific place, time, and community in ways that make it difficult to read (let alone judge) these artifacts.

[COLLABORATIVE PARATEXTS] Not only are the fan texts themselves important archives of the communities which create, disseminate, and read them, most texts are embedded in a complex network of accompanying paratextual information that serve interpretive and evaluative functions but that may change depending on the place where the story is placed. Paratexts have become an important academic concept in fan and media studies as Jonathan Gray’s recent book, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and other Media Paratexts.

Gérard Genette, who originally coined the term paratext, restricts it to those textual traces where “the author or one of his associates accepts responsibility for it.” In contrast, I suggest that within fan studies a more inclusive understanding is necessary. Media fandom’s intertextuality with its varying degrees of collaboration invites an expansion of the paratextual concept: fannish reading practices contribute to the paratextual apparatus insofar as they produce and direct consequent readings of the source text.

As these paratexts shape and affect reading experiences of fan stories, they effectively form a shared, complex interpretive architectural frame for the fan fiction they accompany. These paratexts are a central aspect of the overall fannish response, which shapes how people engage with the television show they’re invested in. Indeed, paratexts play central roles in fan fiction communities, as these communities develop around shared readings and interpretations of television texts. These collective analyses, the debates surrounding them, and the fan-created texts responding to them create a dense textual network that forms a backdrop for fannish readings and writings.

More generally, expanding the notion of paratexts to include surrounding textual materials complicates the clear lines drawn between readers and writers, between creative and analytic writing, between aesthetic and affective responses. Understanding reader comments, textual debates, recommendations, and reviews as paratextual material broadens the scope of the interpretive frame and thus more accurately depicts the way in which fan texts are read. It also reflects the constantly shifting roles of readers and writers within creative fan communities and acknowledges the fact that many fan works are co-inspired if not actually co-created.

[RHIZOMATIC STRUCTURES] LiveJournal and its complex interlinking is a prime example of how the architectural design of archival online spaces affects paratextual material. Whereas archives and mailing lists developed formal guidelines and etiquette surrounding paratextual material, social networking and blogging sites complicate the architecture of autonomous fannish spaces as they merge multiple discourses, such as the personal and the fannish. The rhizomatic structure of Livejournal, for example, often spreads conversations out over various communities and journals, some restricted to only some users, and, at times, other off-LJ web sites. In the aftermath of a story, private emails and IM conversations merge with public feedback and reviews, some of them analytic, others emotionally responsive; some theoretical, others fictional. At its best, then, the rhizomatic structure of fannish interaction decenters meaning production through multi-authored paratextual intertexts.

Different archiving platforms thus can have very different requirements and social norms regarding paratexts, both for author-created paratextual information, such as fandom, rating, pairing, thank yous, or warnings, and reader-created paratextual information, such as comments or recommendations. Thus if we look at paratexts as an important part of the fannish engagement, an archiving platform’s ability to include various forms of paratexts may be needed to replicate the social component of fannish engagement. On the other hand, many archives are created purposefully as long-term repository of the textual artifacts themselves. And yet, it is the ephemerality, the conversations and connections and contextual thoughts that are most in danger of getting lost.

[CONCLUSION] In the end, given the ephemerality of online sites, redundant archiving is important, and central archives that strive for permanence may be a crucial way to archive fandom exchanges—even if all that remains is the ephemeral trace of the fan artifact without the accompanying paratexts. When fans are debating the advantages and disadvantages of dedicated archives as opposed to social networking platforms, the central arguments often tend to revolve around control and accessibility: can the fan delete her stories easily; can she control access; can fans who enter a fandom later on still access stories; will a fan’s departure mean her stories disappear as well; and related concerns.

One issue that rarely gets addressed, however, is the way fan stories may be more paratextual and their understanding more contextually dependent. And while safeguarding the artifacts is an important task and allows fan culture to create an archive of its own artistic history, what may indeed often disappear are the specific contextual circumstances, the paratexts co-created by writers and readers, leaving behind the story itself as an ephemeral trace of the fannish moment which created it and which, in turn, it commemorates.

[META] Archiving and Its Vicissitudes: Social Networks, Central Archives, and Media Fandom
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8 thoughts on “[META] Archiving and Its Vicissitudes: Social Networks, Central Archives, and Media Fandom

  • 28/07/2010 at 21:16

    The idea of how deeply fanworks are embedded inside their communities, and how complicated their intertwinings are, is such a big part of fandom! If you’re used to thinking of One Author, the idea of a work being in conversation with other works with itself, with an entire genre, is kind of amazing.

    I’ve heard fans say that they actually prefer reading a story in an archive because they feel less obliged to interact with the author, and others say they don’t like archives and prefer LJ or DW or IJ because they MISS the interaction with the author — they miss the conversation.


    • 28/07/2010 at 21:36

      I have had fandoms where I preferred reading that way for these exact reasons. It’s all in one place, and it’s a more removed reading, i.e., you don’t get the in-jokes and the timely references, but you also don’t have to dig through LJs and delicious links, half of whom have been changed/locked/deleted since then…

      I think my main focus as a researcher is that we can’t forget that aspect. Like, of course Joyce was in conversation with Irish culture and history and you can’t read Woolf without understanding her relationship and communication with her Bloomsbury circle. But the depth and centrality of intertextuality seems to be much more prominent in much fanfic, and it strikes me as wrong to ignore that. (This, of course, is also my argument as to why Wide Sargasso Sea ISN’T fan fiction–among other things…but that’s for another post : )

      • 29/07/2010 at 18:09

        Hey, I’ll bite — what’s the comment word limit here, LOL? ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ isn’t fan fiction by your definition because it’s purely a booklength response/critique to ‘Jane Eyre,’ full stop? It isn’t directed at a specific community? Only to Gentle Reader, whomever that is?

        Of course, one has to have read Jane Eyre to “get” WSS, right? (I haven’t read the second book myself but I’ve heard of it.) So in that way it’s kind of like fan fiction because it’s a response to or reworking of an existing text?

        • 30/07/2010 at 01:34

          Oh yes, it very much employs fan fictional methods (as do many pomo texts) insofar as it is the story of the mad woman in the attic. You can totally read WSS without knowing JE (and it’s an amazing text and I’d highly recommend it), but you gain immense insights in BOTH texts if knowing them both.

          However, all you have as intertext is the source text. The danger of my interpretation, of course, is that drawer fic by solitary fans might indeed not be termed fanfic by that definition. Which is why I like adding the commercial one as well 🙂

          So it’s not as much the intended reader as much as the shared interpretive community that is more clearly specified among Jack/Daniel or Buffy/Angel shippers or even Bronze visitors than all people who have read JE 🙂 [And again, this isn’t a clearly delineated taxonomy as much as a general tendency I think that helps make not everything from the Odyssey onward fanfic]

      • 30/07/2010 at 19:09

        Kristina, I hope that you will make the Rhys post someday. I have been struggling with similar questions about this series (http://www.elderscrossing.com/) that looks and smells like Harry Potter fanfiction, but was originally written by a father for his kids. It isn’t clear what it’s in conversation with culturally other than Rowling’s books.

  • 29/07/2010 at 03:37

    Not only are the fan texts themselves important archives of the communities which create, disseminate, and read them, most texts are embedded in a complex network of accompanying paratextual information that serve interpretive and evaluative functions but that may change depending on the place where the story is placed.

    I think Ito has a very good discussion of this in her recent First Monday article on the anime music video community, especially in her focus on how the way the community is organized specifically influences what it produces. Another example in the same community is the idea that to compete for an award, an AMV must declare itself to fall exclusively within a particular genre; presumably, the awards and recognitioni are given to the fan text that most closely matches the implicit or explicit requirements of the specific genre. An analysis of how these genre criteria have developed and evolved would be extremely interesting.

    • 29/07/2010 at 04:22

      Indeed. I’ve talked elsewhere (with Louisa Stein in Popular Communications) about the way fans not only are restricted by the source text but also by unconscious and often quite conscious purposeful limitations–challenges that limit anything imaginable, including lengths (drabbles), writing time (SGA had a 38 min challenge alluding to the time a star gate can remain open), and random words or objects (the above mentioned eggbeater challenge for example).

      The difficulties in studying its history, I think, are the the constant synchronic and diachronic variations, i.e., at any point there are vast differences in attitudes, expectations, and regulations among fandoms (or even between different spaces or ships), but there are also tremendous changes through time that can happen quite quickly. I remember, for example, comment fic and drabble trees being extremely popular a few years go at the beginning of LJ, whereas now i see a lot of shorter immediate fic responses via anon kink memes and the like…

      But yes, a fascinating topic indeed, and I was pleased to see Mimi describe similar community contextual interpretations within AMVs.

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