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unjapanologist ([personal profile] unjapanologist) wrote2010-03-07 12:42

[research] Thoughts after TE, part 2: Kristina Busse's keynote, gendered science, money in fandom

Quick recap: Kristina Busse's keynote "Affect and the individual fan" was given at the Textual Echoes conference and can be viewed in its entirety online.


Kristina talked about copyright-related issues, and the origins and implications of copyright legislation being probably my favourite topic right now, I was interested from the moment I read the abstract. I'm currently writing a paper based on a presentation in Kyoto last December on the influence of copyright on the position of fan manga in academia. While I'm focusing heavily on the history of copyright legislation, I hadn't yet paid much attention to the development of literary concepts in concert with this legislation, so Kristina's run-down of the birth of the 'myth of the author' idea was extremely interesting. The connection between developing economic and technological circumstances, copyright legislation, and new aesthetic ideas concerning authorial genius hadn't quite clicked for me until now.

In her talk, Kristina examines the "legal, cultural, economic, and aesthetic status" of fanworks by focusing on the way fans collectively appropriate and rework commercial media, within a contemporary aesthetic framework based on 'originality' -a concept whose importance is actually fairly recent. From the abstract:

Different periods of literary and philosophical thought place emphasis more strongly on either continuity or originality, and thinkers of modernity often privileged originality and artistic genius as they laid the groundwork for a value system that still affects the landscape of contemporary popular culture. Countering this ascribed modernist valuation of originality, postmodern theorists and artists have emphasized pastiche, appropriation, and intertextuality.

Kristina also points out how eighteenth-century developments in the concepts of the author and copyright were "heavily gendered". In brief, as the concept of authorial genius was constructed, women's writing was devalued and accorded 'amateur' status through several mechanisms, which are discussed at length in the very outspoken and readable 'How to suppress women's writing' by Joanna Russ. The book's arguments are brilliantly summarized here. (Thanks to [personal profile] calicokat for pointing that one out.)

By constructing women's writing as a domestic hobby lacking universality, men busily creating the concept of authorial genius for mainy economic reasons managed to construct female writing as diametrically opposed to the new aesthetics of the original author. According to Kristina, the eighteenth-century aesthetic theories foregrounding originality and authorial genius are still applied to contemporary culture in spite of their obvious "arbitrariness and constructedness". This appears to be in direct contrast with the aesthetics of repetition and constant use of well-known and well-loved tropes that lie at the basis of fannish enjoyment of fannish texts. It would appear that aesthetics always fluctuate between these two extremes, but that fanwork's emphasis on repetition causes it to be dismissed by critics and a general public trained to assume that the eighteenth-century idea of the original author is superior. Indeed, fans themselves tend to make this assumption as well.

This all sounds very plausible to me, and I'm eagerly reading through Kristina's references so I can integrate these ideas into the dojinshi-in-academia paper. I'd like to add that concepts of professionalism and amateurism, in art and in scholarship, seem to have developed along much the same lines and continue to reinforce the 'myth of the author' in the eyes of many. Here's a list of annotated references on the professional/amateur divide -I'm still writing out some coherent thoughts based on these.

(For more information on the early development of the ideal of authorial genius, see 'The Author, Art and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics' by Martha Woodsmansee, summarized in this review, which you may or may not be able to access because it's in a scholarly database and scholarly databases do not approve of non-professionals reading things that might confuse them. I couldn't find a good summary elsewhere.)


Is there such a thing as a gendered body of scientific knowledge?

This mention of a gendered edge to the development of literary and legal concepts got me thinking about how other concepts and constructs important to my research might be gendered without me being aware of it. One of the things I hope to gain by examining fic and dojinshi through a framework based on Eco's 'open work' concept is a better understanding of the influence of scientific thought on the system that appears to make fanwork thrive. According to Eco, a society's understanding of the scientific underpinnings of its world is a main influence on the media and language that society uses to express itself in art. So, in the view I'm adopting, our understanding of science is extremely relevant for fanwork research.

No matter the science in itself, our understanding of it is beyond doubt gendered. As a stroll through the Geek Feminism Wiki or relevant posts in Sociological Images will attest, science and tech are still heavily marketed as not a 'girl thing', and it's not easy for women to assert themselves in heavily science-based environments. The vast majority of 'hard' (heh) scientists are still identified as men, and even people like Richard Dawkins manage to believe that this is just the way things are. A few generations ago, when much of the science we adore today was created, finding a woman in a lab was even harder. Much of the science we're basing our worldview on, and which I count as very important for fanwork research, was shaped with input from women either absent or denied/rendered invisible.

Considering the implications of this is a bit of a mindfuck, for me at least. Objectivity is such a strong ideal in the natural sciences. In an academic context, the concept of objectivity is so often bandied about to discredit scholarship by non-privileged groups that it can only be called laughable. I instantly distrust any humanities scholar who claims to be 'objective'. In the case of the natural sciences, though, it's clear that pieces of objective value can indeed be identified and/or are pretty bloody obvious. E = mc² (yeah, I had to look it up) or the value of pi just are correct, and even if I don't understand all of it, I'll generally take natural scientists at their word when they present data seemingly supported by others' findings. That may not always be wise of me, given the faults of peer review and other supposedly rational and effective academic processes. Regardless, many tenets of science just are true, no matter the very real problems in the system that produced them. Some pieces of science that we assume to be legitimate today will no doubt turn out to be bogus at some point in the future, but its ability to correct itself is one of the most beautiful sides of science.

But you don't need bogus science to create a science-based worldview that's inadequate. The academic system is pretty much designed to allow or even encourage lying through omission. I find it extremely hard to believe that fields so heavily male-dominated as the natural sciences could manage to produce a balanced set of scientific facts that are not gendered in any way, at all. And if I take the position that scientific thought heavily influences the development of media such as fanworks, this is something I need to be able to think about. I just don't know enough about the culture natural science research is conducted in to make any pronouncements about this. Hell, I can barely articulate what it is I'm suspecting, for lack of a better word, and don't know where to find info on it. The position of women in science, sure, there is a lot of interesting research and discussion on that. The influence of an all-male cast on the shaping of scientific fact, though? Anybody have an idea where I could begin to look for information/research/musings on this?


Fandom as a 'gift economy' -not quite

Anyway, to wrap up part deux before I tie myself in knots beyond all hope of untangling, an unrelated observation about the role of money in fandom. During the conference, Kristina was not alone in mentioning the 'gift culture' of fandom. This is a concept that I believe needs some re-thinking, given the very real and substantial exchange of cash that occurs in some parts of English-language fandom, and definitely in the Japanese dojinshi community. While the gift economy concept certainly holds true and is relevant to many parts of fandom, inserting money (and everything associated with it) into the equation certainly doesn't seem to harm 'fandom' as a community in, for instance, Japan. Casting the way fandom operates as somehow the opposite of the way a money-based interaction system works seems simply incorrect. 

This should probably be examined further by someone with a solid grasp of econonomics (-> not me). In any case, outright rejection or denial of all things money-related may not be the way to go for fandom research, or even fandom in general. Presenting fandom as completely divorced from $$$ is not only inaccurate, it also opens the door for critics who can easily cast aspersions on the entirety of fandom by pointing out that it does actually involve money. Non-fans who tend to look askance at fandom to begin with act as though fans have defied their own religious tenets and forfeited their moral high round when they involve money in their interactions. This was clearly demonstrated by the ugly flap about fan artists selling art at conventions that grew out of the Nick Simmons plagiarism incident. (Some of the same people who lambasted these (presumably American) fan artists who sell their work went on to say that dojinshi in Japan are a different case, because the Japanese 'system' is 'different' (quotes in that same post, a bit down the page). Such statements are stupidly orientalist as well as simply uninformed.)

In the section called 'How Fanfiction Makes Us Poor' in the review of Joanna Russ' book linked at the start of this post, [personal profile] cupidsbow said:

It seems to me that part of why fanfiction can so easily be written off is because we so carefully police it, keeping our work in the unpaid ghetto along with other women's crafts. Up until now, I've had no problems with the not-for-profit aspect, but in light of Russ's argument, I find I'm having to rethink that too. Not just because of the "silencing" issue, but because of the female poverty issue.

This post from 2007 engendered an enormous amount of discussion that I'm still working through and trying to form opinions on, but the above quote keeps coming back to me whenever I hear mention of the 'gift economy'. I tend to automatically contrast English-language fandom with the economic system surrounding dojinshi, in which a staggering amount of money can openly exchange hands during conventions such as Comiket and after conventions through the resale of dojinshi in specialized on- and offline stores such as Toranoana.

Really stopping now. Part three will be on affect (still Kristina's keynote) and cute little kittens! (Edited for major html fail)