When Men Write Fanfiction, It Isn’t Fanfiction Because It’s “Academic”
Some of you might have spotted this week’s kerfuffle about how it if was written by a dude it can’t be fanfic, in the guise of an interview with author Lonely Christopher, who claims not to have written fan fiction of Stephen King’s The Shining. The Mary Sue article covers it pretty well (and has a link to the original interview, should you be that way inclined), but we thought we’d highlight some Fan Studies research that could help Christopher put his work in the wider fan fiction context.
Here are a couple of extracts from the interview to get us started:
“LC: The book can be read as a self-contained “novel,” but it’s more than that. I used another text conceptually, structurally, and materially to generate a resultant yet original work. That’s what I mean by “source.”
The text that I was utilizing was the novel The Shining by Stephen King and the subsequent media iterations and interpretations and its cultural ubiquity. So I wrote my story in relation to another, more specifically on top of it. I took the basic tropes of The Shining and replicated and subverted them, and I also took chunks of language and interwove material pieces of Stephen King’s novel.
Interviewer: You’ve described this book as “intertextual.” Tell us a little bit more about this book’s relationship to other literature.
LC: The book is a concerted rejection of the standards of any type of literature, so in that way it is reacting to the formal elements it eschews, and interacting with readerly expectations as well as the history of the medium.
I guess the reason why this isn’t “fan fiction” is because, first of all, it’s not enjoyable in the same way and then it’s vaguely academic. Aesthetically speaking, it owes much to Stein, Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, and Bernhard. Intellectually, it has a relationship to Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Debord, and especially Baudrillard. So it is having conversations with different texts in different ways.”
You may recall a couple of relevant articles, such as this one by Abigail Derecho on fan fiction as “archontic literature”. One of the really interesting points Derecho makes in it is how fan fiction writers will frequently repeat the same motif, explore the same scene, but with a difference. (For those interested in the “vaguely academic”, Derecho bases on Deleuze’s concept of “repetition with a difference”.) So we may look at something from a different character’s point of view, or take a group of characters and put them in a coffee shop AU, or try to work out what would be different if a character had made a slightly different choice. You know what that does? It plays with and challenges the reader’s expectations, and allows readers to make meanings from both the similarities and the differences between the two texts.
You may also remember this paper by Mafalda Stasi which looks at fan fiction as a “palimpsest” – the medieval practice of partially erasing and writing over past manuscripts, creating layers of text and meaning. Does that sound a bit like what Christopher is doung by writing his novel “on top of” The Shining? Maybe a bit.
Fan fiction and transformative work intellectual property law scholars like Rebecca Tushnet may also have something to say about Christopher’s taking “chunks of language” and “inter[weaving] material pieces” of King’s novel, and how ideas about this both among the fan fiction community and among rightholders of the commercial works we base our fan fiction on have evolved over time to a point where Lonely Christopher can do this.