Inspired to post today by the recent New York Times article on Joanna Russ, “Joanna Russ Showed Us the Future: Female, Queer but Far From Perfect,” which promotes an exciting new collection of her work by the Library of America. Joanna Russ was a fan and a fanfiction writer well as, arguably, the literal founder of the field of fan studies. While Russ has been referenced or namechecked many times in the Fanhackers blog over the years (here and here, for example), I don’t think we’ve ever specifically shouted out her field-founding 1985 essay “Pornography By Women For Women, With Love.” (Is there an important fan studies essay before this one? Perhaps Ien Ang’s 1985 work on Dallas fans? Janice Radway’s 1984 Reading the Romance? Lamb and Veith? Lichtenberg, Marshak, and Winstons’s 1975 landmark Star Trek Lives? Maybe that one. But Russ is pretty much the first to document and defend modern slash fandom as we know it (which is one of the reasons the NYT article links to the Archive of Our Own.)
Russ says a lot of things in this essay about Star Trek slash, what it is and how it works, and how slash serves as a sexual fantasy for women. (She also says some pretty fascinating things about not just female rape fantasy, but also about male rape fantasy: there’s a lot of sympathy here for men’s sexual fantasy and empathy for the way men are thwarted under patriarchy as well.) But I think my favorite thing in the essay is the way Russ is willing to own her feels:
I hope I haven’t offended anyone by calling K/S “sexual fantasy.” If it weren’t, I wouldn’t pay any attention to it. I love the stuff, I love the way it turns me on, and I love its attempt to establish a very radical androgyny in its characters. So many feminist creations of Amazons and Goddess-worshippers and so on simply don’t work-most are very thin–but K/S works, if you know and like Star Trek, and (as I mentioned) it is the only sexual fantasy by women for women that’s produced without the control or interposition of censorship by commercial booksellers or the interposition of political intent by writers or editors. It’s also a labor of love for the women involved, since it is (and must be, because of the possibility of lawsuit) non-profit. I find it raw, blatantly female, and very valuable and exciting.
She ends the essay preparing to go back to the story she is writing!
And now, if you will excuse me, I must go back to my ancient Vulcan castle with the carved bedposts where I have left my two characters, Guess Who and Guess Which, in a very dramatic and painful situation. In fact, I left Spock preparing to beat Kirk, whom he has bought as a slave in an alternate universe in which violent Vulcan (Spock’s planet) never reformed. Of course the point of the whole scene is that Spock can’t bear to do any such thing because he is madly in love with Kirk. So he smites his forehead with his hand (or some similar gesture) and rushes out to agonize.
Meanwhile Kirk (who’s of course in love with Spock) agonizes too, but in the opposite direction, so to speak.
They will do this for a long as I can contrive, and then they will make great music together, also as long as I can stretch the scene out.
And so on.
That “Yum,” in print, in 1985, is everything!