Framing Fan Fiction: Literary and Social Practices in Fan Fiction Communities

Framing Fan Fiction: Literary and Social Practices in Fan Fiction Communities

by Kristina Busse


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Framing Fan Fiction: Literary and Social Practices in Fan Fiction Communities by Kristina Busse

Gathering some of Kristina Busse’s essential essays on fan fiction together with new work, Framing Fan Fiction argues that understanding media fandom requires combining literary theory with cultural studies because fan artifacts are both artistic works and cultural documents. Drawing examples from a multitude of fan communities and texts, Busse frames fan fiction in three key ways: as individual and collective erotic engagement; as a shared interpretive practice in which tropes constitute shared creative markers and illustrate the complexity of fan creations; and as a point of contention around which community conflicts over ethics play out. Moving between close readings of individual texts and fannish tropes on the one hand, and the highly intertextual embeddedness of these communal creations on the other, the book demonstrates that fan fiction is simultaneously a literary and a social practice.

Framing Fan Fiction deploys personal history and the interpretations of specific stories to contextualize fan fiction culture and its particular forms of intertextuality and performativity. In doing so, it highlights the way fans use fan fiction’s reimagining of the source material to explore issues of identities and peformativities, gender and sexualities, within a community of like-minded people. In contrast to the celebration of originality in many other areas of artistic endeavor, fan fiction celebrates repetition, especially the collective creation and circulation of tropes.

An essential resource for scholars, Framing Fan Fiction is also an ideal starting point for those new to the study of fan fiction and its communities of writers. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609385149
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Publication date: 10/01/2017
Edition description: 1
Pages: 258
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Kristina Busse teaches at the University of South Alabama. She is the cofounder and editor of Transformative Works and Culture. Her work has appeared in Cinema Journal, Camera Obscura, and Popular Communication, and she is the coeditor of Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom, and The Fan Fiction Studies Reader (Iowa, 2014). 

Read an Excerpt


The Return of the Author

Ethos and Identity Politics

What matter who's speaking?

— Samuel Beckett, Stories and Texts for Nothing (1967)


Within literary theory, the late 1960s experienced a paradigm shift in regard to the role of the author. Whereas before authors and the texts they created were at the center of literary analysis, (post)structuralist philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes began to focus on the process of interpretive reading. This shift from authorial intent to readerly interpretation was often hailed as "the death of the author," after Barthes's influential 1968 essay by the same name (Barthes [1968] 1977a), even as Michel Foucault ([1969] 1977) reconceptualized the author as person by focusing on the "author function." Yet while the death of the author has remained a theoretical truism for the past forty years, the practice of reading fiction often looks very different: from author interviews, where their intent quite clearly has remained a focus, to literary scandals that tie aesthetic qualities to authorial identities, the author is far from dismissed in conversations about art and its meanings; moreover, the author becomes central when these issues move into ethical territories. In this essay I suggest that the academy may indeed protest too much, for authors and their intents have indeed been reincorporated and become central to various modes of discourse. The old question of "What does the author mean?," however, has been replaced with an identity question as to "Who is this author?" In other words, a focus on authorial intention and how thoughts and beliefs create meaning has shifted to a focus on authorial identity and how cultural situatedness shapes meaning. From discussions of hipster racism in contemporary shows to appropriate (and effective) use of irony, from authorial false identity scandals to fannish social justice debates, the role of the author as not only a textual construct but also a social subject remains embattled.

In the following, I will bring together not only several centuries of concepts of the author but also a range of disciplinary approaches in order to trace the conflicted position of authorial responsibilities and privileges, writerly authority and identity, changing modes of literary interpretations and meaning production, as well as the role of the reader and the contextual surroundings in all of these questions. Beginning with the construction of the author as a legal, social, and ideological construct in the eighteenth century and the embattled role of authorial intentionality in literary criticism through large parts of the twentieth century, I suggest that today's idea of the author is a contested site where poststructuralist author functions meet reader-driven need for authorial ethos.

Authorial identity has become a central focus through which we analyze texts and interpret meaning, both fictional and critical. Drawing from politics, popular culture, and fan works, I offer examples that show how contemporary readers may dismiss authorial intentions but nevertheless rely on authorial identity in their readings of public utterances. This collectively demanded and constructed ethos exists even when the identity of the author remains hidden, as is the case for many online pseudonymous creators. I conclude by looking at the specific case of fan authorship. At once the most postmodern of nameless writerly readers and the most personally accountable of authors, fan creators embody the dilemma of the author and the way authority, ownership of ideas, and accountability converge. Fan communities, in fact, present an exemplar of the way meaning production is negotiated among readers and writers, and the way authorial ethos remains central to textual interpretations. By concluding this essay on authorship with fan authorship, I do not want to suggest that fandom has replaced traditional creative outlets but rather that many of the rifts and contradictions inherent in discourses of authorship are most evident and play themselves out especially clearly in fan authorship. As a result, fans, with their often dual role of reader and writer and their particular awareness of the interpretive communities in which their texts are written, read, and interpreted, can demonstrate how our understanding of the author has shifted from a seemingly unified entity to a more complex and shifting entity. Moreover, the often pseudonymous nature of both authors and readers within fan communities offers insight into the complicated role of authorial ethos within the public sphere.


Even though the eighteenth century is conventionally accepted as the historical moment when the Western author became a legal, social, and ideological entity (Pease 1990; Woodmansee 1994; Bennett 2005), convincing arguments have been made for earlier dates: some critics situate the birth of the author with Sidney (Fleck 2010), Shakespeare (Dutton 2000), or Milton (Dobranski 2005), while others see it as a consequence of the printing press (Eisenstein 1979) or as a result of the loss of authority of the auctor and the rise of the individual, especially in the face of new discoveries in the late Middle Ages (Minnis 2009). The reason I follow Woodmansee and others in situating the author as fully developing in the eighteenth century is the particular coming together of legal, economic, and cultural circumstances that needed and thus created a myth of originality. In fact, building on a popularized version of Wordsworth and the Romantics, most aesthetic theories of modernity have been vested in the myth of originality, and it is from this mind-set that we have inherited the popular belief that continues to value originality even as we have long entered an age of mechanical reproduction where creativity often takes quite different guises.

Certainly not all writing before the eighteenth century was collective or anonymous, but the particular relationship between an author and his work underwent substantial changes during that time. Much of this is directly correlated to the shifting economic situation of artists and a need to legally protect one's creations. In a world of patronage, artists were supported by their patron, and in turn could create and share their creations. In literature especially, the origins of the words were not directly correlated to patronage. Support was more general and not an essay-by-essay, word-by-word reimbursement. However, with changing market economies and a rapidly rising middle-class readership, the eighteenth-century writer increasingly started living off his works and thus demanded legal protection of his writing. Meanwhile, the idea of copyright, which had started to come into being in the early eighteenth century, offered writers a way to establish ownership over their words and the possibility for a livelihood. Before, copyright simply did not exist; or, where it did, it lay with the printers rather than the authors. The 1710 Statute of Anne (the first authorial copyright law in the Anglo-American context), with its fourteen-year exclusive ownership rights, clearly reconceptualized the role of the creator of a work of art. Here lay the beginnings of a copyright theory that regarded the author as the sole owner of his work (Bentley, Suthersanen, and Torremans 2010).

It is not surprising, then, that copyright embraced, and in a way needed, an aesthetic theory that emphasized the individual creation. Nor is it surprising that in an era that foregrounded the individual and his rights and abilities, these two ideas — original genius and intellectual copyright — came to the fore. In order to theoretically justify the ownership of his literary creations, this new concept of the author made him the sole creator and owner of the words in his book and established the law of author's rights as a natural law. Martha Woodmansee, in her central work on this topic, The Author, Art, and the Market (1994), describes how moments of inspiration at this point are "increasingly credited to the writer's own genius" and thus "transform the writer into a unique individual" (38). This is indeed a great shift from the medieval auctor, whose central role was not innovation but preservation and who "established the founding rules and principles for these different disciplines and sanctioned the moral and political authority of medieval culture more generally" (Pease 1990, 106). The new author was considered not only autonomous from higher powers but also from his sociopolitical environment and, specifically, his readers: art proper relied and depended on nothing and no one in the creative process.

In English letters, one of the most notorious representatives of the exceptional status of the author is Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Egotistically sublime (as his colleague John Keats called him), Wordsworth created a Romantic aesthetic theory that focused on imagination and originality. Even where he acknowledges external stimuli and inspiration, the poetic genius remains central in creating and shaping the artistic work. M. H. Abrams describes this shift in dominant aesthetics in The Mirror and the Lamp (1953), where he opposes the mirror held up to nature favored by pre-Romantics with the lamp lit from the genius of Romantic writers. In the 1815 supplement to his seminal preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth defines genius as "the introduction of a new element into the intellectual universe" ([1815] 1911, 104). As such, he defines as most valuable a thinking and writing that is radically new and different, that is original rather than transformative of older ideas. He clearly needs such a definition in order to establish authors as owners of ideas — ideas as commodities that can be owned and sold.

In a strange alliance, Wordsworth had actually worked with member of Parliament Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd in the early 1800s to extend copyright protection after the author's death. Talfourd used Wordsworth as a prime example of "true original genius" (quoted in Swartz 1992, 482). Meanwhile, Wordsworth supported Talfourd's attempts to provide authors with lasting copyright protection, all the while assuring himself increased monetary security. Wordsworth as copyright extension advocate thus interestingly welded together a legal concern with a particular aesthetic approach often connected to the concepts of the true artist as original genius. More generally, this shift in aesthetic and legal status of the individual work was also undoubtedly tied in with the "circulation of works of art as commodities rather than as displays of aristocratic magnificence" (Rose 2003, 76). Juxtaposing Romantic ideology with earlier artistic practices where material was more readily repurposed, Frankfurt School philosopher Theodor W. Adorno ([1970] 1984) emphasizes the historical element of the concept of originality and its socioeconomic connections insofar as originality is "enmeshed in historical injustices, in the predominance of bourgeois commodities that must touch up the ever-same as the ever-new in order to win customers" (226). Here the concept of the new is intricately bound up with economic concerns in the same way copyright laws establish aesthetic criteria for the purposes of settling economically relevant issues. In fact, there are clear parallels between the public commons that were moved into private ownership with the enclosure movements of the eighteenth century and an intellectual commons that suddenly ascribed ownership to ideas previously commonly shared. Law professor and Creative Commons advocate James Boyle (2008) describes current copyright expansions as a second enclosure movement. In so doing, he supports a view wherein shared intellectual thought creates and supports a public commons that is threatened by legal protection of individual ownership.


Literary criticism throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries continued to question, discuss, and evaluate this newly established author concept and closely tied questions of interpretation and aesthetic values to the named and specific creator of the work of art: the author. So while the legal and economic position of authorial rights increased with the continuing extension of copyright laws (Lessig 2004; Boyle 2008; Biagioli, Woodmansee, and Jaszi 2011), theoretical models of authorship became contested throughout twentieth-century literary theory: most critical approaches — Russian formalism, New Criticism, poststructuralism, deconstruction, reception aesthetics, and cultural studies — focused on texts and readers, on contexts of production and reception, but rarely on the identity of the author, on his intended meaning or purpose in writing. Trying to establish more objective interpretations through formalist frameworks, the New Critics shifted primary meaning production from author and/or reader to close readings of the text itself, even as the meaning continued to reside in the text rather than in the interpretive process. An early formulation can be found in T. S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent," where he describes the poet as a catalyst and aims to "divert interest from the poet to the poetry" ([1910] 1975, 44). Nevertheless, he also quite clearly regards poetry as existing in an abstract sphere and always already containing all its possible meanings; in fact, he claims an abstract aesthetic order among all existing poetry when he describes how the "existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves" (38).

The central text giving this theoretical approach its name, however, comes in William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Bearsdley's 1946 "The Intentional Fallacy," which removed the author from poetic analysis entirely by arguing that "the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art" (468). The theory remains an enticing one: authors may be readers of their own texts, but in the power struggle over meaning, they tend to lose ground somewhere between releasing control over their creation and the introduction of cultural and psychological influences. Within literature departments, this truism of the authorial fallacy not only has continued through various text-focused literary theories but remains thoroughly embedded in secondary and postsecondary literary curricula, in turn teaching every new generation of readers that authors and their intentions are all but irrelevant when interpreting their textual artifacts.

Ironically, then, the great postmodern dismissals of the author by Roland Barthes, and to a degree Michel Foucault, were in fact preceded by the dominant literary theory in Anglo-American criticism. On another level, however, the so-called death of the author as proclaimed by Barthes and challenged yet continued by Foucault has indeed become the touchstone of all authorial debates, and as such must figure centrally in any discussion of the role of the author in the humanities. Barthes's tone-setting and name-giving essay "The Death of the Author" ([1968] 1977a) describes and declares a new form of writing that creates texts that are authorless in the way they continually resituate and redefine themselves. He celebrates these open texts as the writing of the future that is not contained by singular author-gods declaring their intention but a rather more democratic, reader-oriented texts whose meaning is multiple and gets reinscribed with every new reader. He says, "Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing" (147).

Likewise, in "From Work to Text" ([1971] 1977b), Barthes distinguishes between readerly and writerly texts, the former describing works that are closed and only need to be interpreted by readers as opposed to the latter texts, which are constructed with every reading process. In a similar vein, Julia Kristeva (1980) distinguishes bounded from unbounded texts, again making this quality not a function of the critic or reader but one of the text itself. In other words, unlike reader-response criticism or audience studies, which foregrounded the process of reading and viewing regardless of the text, these theories were ultimately textual theories where the role of the author was inscribed into the texts themselves.


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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 The Return of the Author: Ethos and Identity Politics 19

Part I Slash as Identificatory Practices

2 "I'm jealous of the fake me": Postmodern Subjectivity and Identity Construction in Boy Band Fan Fiction 41

3 Bending Gender: Feminist and (Trans)Gender Discourses in the Changing Bodies of Slash Fan Fiction, with Alexis Lothian 57

4 Affective Imagination: Fan Representation in Media Fan Fiction 78

Part II Canon, Context, and Consensus

5 May the Force Be With You: Fan Negotiations of Authority 99

6 Limit Play: Fan Authorship between Source Text, Intertext, and Context, with Louisa Ellen Stein 121

7 Fandom's Ephemeral Traces: Intertextuality, Performativity, and Intimacy in Fan Fiction Communities 140

Part III Community and its Discontents

8 "My life is a WIP on my LJ": Slashing the Slasher and the Reality of Celebrity and Internet Performances 159

9 Geek Hierarchies, Boundary Policing, and the Gendering of the Good Fan 177

10 Fictional Consents and the Ethical Enjoyment of Dark Desires 197

Afterword 218

Acknowledgments 221

Works Cited 223

Index 243

What People are Saying About This

Constance Penley

Framing Fan Fiction is a landmark book not only in the subfield of fan culture studies but in a wide variety of disciplines ranging from feminist studies, film and media studies, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, and psychology. It is a definitive study that is both original and synthetic—in true fan culture style, original in the ingenuity of its syntheses. Framing Fan Fiction is an encomium to the collective creative process from which all writers can take inspiration.”

Henry Jenkins

Framing Fan Fiction brings together the best of Kristina Busse’s published writings, as well as a number of original essays, for the first time. This book demonstrates, conclusively, that there is still much fertile territory to explore, as the writer circles around fan fiction from a wide array of different angles and brings the existing literature up to date in terms of the most contemporary practices.”

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