(I feel like I should split my professional blog into two, so the librarians don't need to read about the scholarship and the scholars don't need to read about the librarianship. If anyone who reads this is finding the alternating posts distracting, I'd be happy to take suggestions.)
I've been contemplating a post on why I think pure literary analysis of fan fiction is a worthwhile project, because there aren't many people who are looking at fan fiction as text per se. Most scholars looking at fan fiction (and developing some very rich and fascinating scholarship, by the way, which I have no intention of denigrating) are looking at it in its context and as a part of its context. Fan fiction within fandom, within the community of readers and writers, and fan fiction as an unauthorized reworking of professionally produced media. All of the scholarship is important and interesting, but my focus is on fan fiction texts as texts
Before I talk about why I find this important, however, I realized that I might need to start with a post on why pure literary analysis is a worthwhile project, period. I think many people come out of their schooling with the vague idea that there is a canon of worthwhile literature, and that the worthwhile literature reveals great truths under a critical lens. Maybe the canon is the Western Canon of Dead White Males, or maybe it's the postcolonial canon, or the feminist revisionist canon, or the queer canon. But no matter what list of texts is used, there is still something unique about those texts that makes further examination of them fruitful and educational, or so the thought goes.
There are plenty of schools of literary theory that aren't about exploring texts in a vacuum. In those schools, non-canonical texts can reveal plenty about the cultures in which they are created and consumed. But I do
explore texts in a vacuum. It's what I love doing. I'm fascinated by other scholarship about texts in context, but it is not my thing. (After a conversation with Kristina Busse
, I realized this statement can be misconstrued. I do examine cultural constructs when I do literary analysis. I will look at the workings of food or gender or sexuality or labor as I read. If I were going to identify the schools of literary theory which provides my analytical lenses, I'd end up calling myself a reader response deconstructionist who is strongly influenced by gender theory, queer theory, and Marxist theory. You know, a dilettante of a postmodernist. But I look at those cultural constructs within the text
, look at how they work to create meaning internally, and I don't tend to look at the production or consumption of the texts. Of course I understand that my analysis of the cultural constructs within the text comes from my external social and cultural context; I'm not a New Critic, and I don't believe in a Platonic interpretation that exists outside of socially constructed reality. But given my limitations as a theorist who lives in the world, I remain text-focused.)
So why do I do what I do? I could come up with some great critical and scholarly justifications for looking at non-canonical texts in this way. I could talk about how learning to be a close reader makes us better citizens of the world, better able to interpret the bombardment of information that exists in our world. But I'm not going to make those justifications. There's only one real reason my scholarship is what it is.
I love close reading. Love love love. Love like a much loved thing.
I love finding new tricks in a text, new ways to influence towards a specific interpretation. I love finding self-deconstructing moments in which the text works against its own project. I love the poetry of the subtle ways in which words create layers and layers of meaning, and I love peeling back those layers to see the artistry. I love that artistry both when it was probably created by authorial intent (I recently noticed the extremely subtle Odyssey
parallel running through Julia Quinn's Romancing Mister Bridgerton
), and I love it when it was almost certainly not created by authorial intent (the feminist and anarchist interpretations of Paradise Lost
which are so powerful) -- and this is one of the core reasons why I find author intent irrelevant, because the text provides such a multitude of beautiful and rich interpretations regardless of the author's conscious or unconscious goals. (I remember in undergrad I almost couldn't write my paper on Woman Warrior
because the textual artistry in that book overwhelmed me, and I felt like I was lessening to it by explaining it to people.)
I could say that I love what it teaches me about the text, about myself, about language, and that's all true. I do love the educational aspect, I do love what I learn about the world. But that's not why I do it. I do it because it's fun
. I do it for joy. This is what I wrote in "Read All Over: Postmodern Resolution in Macaulay's Black and White
." (Children's Literature Association Quarterly 28 (2003))
-- how a self deconstructing picture book can provide the reader with pleasure in the exercise.
I think it's time to come out of the closet about this. I don't do this to make the world a better place, even though that's something I'd like to do. I don't do this to support a queer, feminist, Marxist, or postcolonialist project, even though that, also, is something I would like to do. I do this for joy. I read closely for joy, and a study the close readings of others because that, too, brings me joy.
And I think that's enough of a reason, don't you?