Yes, I know I reblogged it before; I’m reblogging it again.
This image epitomises the delight I get from transformative works, and it’s a beautifully eloquent response to Robin Hobb’s misguided rant about fanfiction:
“The intent of the author is ignored. A writer puts a great deal of thought into what goes into the story and what doesn’t. If a particular scene doesn’t happen ‘on stage’ before the reader’s eyes, there is probably a reason for it. If something is left nebulous, it is because the author intends for it to be nebulous. To use an analogy, we look at the Mona Lisa and wonder. Each of us draws his own conclusions about her elusive smile. We don’t draw eyebrows on her to make her look surprised, or put a balloon caption over her head. Yet much fan fiction does just that. Fan fiction closes up the space that I have engineered into the story, and the reader is told what he must think rather than being allowed to observe the characters and draw his own conclusions.” Robin Hobb on fanfiction
And she’s wrong, she’s SO wrong. Granted, drawing a mustache onto the Mona Lisa would be a bad thing, a final thing, a change-the-source thing, but there are COUNTLESS images that mess with the Mona Lisa without ever actually damaging the source image, without ever preventing a viewer from engaging with the pristine source image and interpreting it as they see fit. The Mona Lisa remains inviolate, regardless of weed-smoking iterations or The Da Vinci Code, and the audience are free to interpret her as they will. Transformative works based upon her are examples of people sharing one possible interpretation, or addressing problems they perceive, or bringing a marxist/feminist/whateverist reading to the fore, or just making their friends giggle.
This, though, this is so much better than anything I’ve seen that transforms the Mona Lisa. This takes that gorgeous, familiar image of Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring (an image that the book and movie of the same name have made familiar to people outwith Art History students [who might know it as the ‘Mona Lisa of the North’]) and reworks it with brilliant and elegant simplicity.
Manet’s painting ‘Olympia’ does something similar with Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ (which is itself a reworking of Giorgione’s ‘Sleeping Venus’); Georgione dresses up his objectifying & titillating high class porn as an image of a goddess, and has her eyes closed - she doesn’t know we’re ogling her. She’s helpless before our (male) voyeuristic gaze. Titian’s nude knows we’re ogling her, but she’s still putatively a goddess, and despite that she’s glancing coyly away as she consciously provokes the viewer, offering herself up to him. Manet’s nude, however, is unambiguously presented as a human and a prostitute, and she looks straight out at the viewer, her hand on her thigh making it clear that she alone chooses who gets access to her sex. The painting was received with shock and disgust and had to be protected from those who wanted to destroy it for its obscenity - not for showing naked flesh, but for making the naked woman into a subject, rather than an object.
God, I’m rambling. Anyway, point being - transformative work, intratextual work, is most emphatically not a new thing, nor a creatively barren thing. It’s awesome. And this image here is delicious, because it takes that lovely painting, in which the model is mysterious, alluring, her parted lips gleaming and her eyes wide as she looks out at the viewer, objectified - and it drags it straight into the 21st century by adding the camera, making it into that recognisable MySpace pose, making her the CREATOR of the image not just the object. She is looking at herself, not at us, and this careful composition becomes an ephemeral snapshot, a fleeting moment in her day.
Okay, okay these are ALL EXCELLENT POINTS, all right? I love you to death, fanfic forever, but every time I hear this part where Robin Hobb gets up on her high horse and tries to tell us writing fic is like defacing the Mona Lisa I just fall down laughing. PEOPLE DEFACE THE MONA LISA ALL THE TIME! Famously! With mustaches and word balloons and phonetic initials that spell out “She’s got a hot ass.” Has she even heard of Marcel DuChamp?
FAM—wait for iiiiitttt—OUS. FAMOUS GRAFFITI’D PAINTING. Like, you don’t want to read fic, you don’t have to, but the art world is mostly laughing at your choice of an ‘inviolable source.’
And the idea that a reader must never posit a theory concerning an ambiguous textual moment and then write it down is not merely startling, but a ridiculous and asinine refutation of, oh, centuries of literary theory, an academic discipline built upon, apparently, the sheer effrontery to take an author’s text and squeeze its grey areas until truth comes out. This is what people do with texts, they internalize them and gnaw at them, and shake them over the floor for loose change to come out. They analyze characters and debate philosophies. They list psychological traits in order to create profiles. They applaud successes, and sometimes they call out the aspects of a work where the author failed. And libraries are full of their ideas, their forewords, and annotations. Entire colleges rise and fall on the reputations of these academics, all scribbling not merely mustaches, but their own names across these texts in big, bold print.
That work still counts, it still makes sense of ambiguity—indeed, if someone decided to say ‘you can’t form this hypothesis! The author left it blank for a purpose!’ then that too is a valid argument. And they’ll write a forest of pages defending that ambiguity, explaining its placement and what that murky textual shadow means. So not even your blank spot is safe, my dear author, and that work matters as well. We’re all sharing your space, from Jane Eyre to The Wide Sargasso Sea. Stories do not exist in a vacuum unless they live wholly in their author’s mind.
You guys, I can’t even formulate sentences that’s so much I love transformative works. It’s such a wonderful part of literary culture - from Chaucer and beyond - that I just. I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS.
And sometimes that means writing dub-con Iron Man porn and that’s okay.
Writing dub-con Iron Man porn is better than OK. :D
Which is to say that I’m jumping onto this to vent about the fact that two years later, my ass is still chapped about my favorite childhood author turning out to be such a goddamn moron. YOU WRITE DUNGEONS-AND-DRAGONS TYPE, SWORD AND SORCERY NOVELS. YOU EDIT VOLUMES OF SHAKESPEARE PASTICHES. YOUR LATEST NOVEL IS “URBAN FANTASY” WITH A DOES OF “PARANORMAL ROMANCE”. WHAT PART OF YOU THINKS YOU ARE NOT RIGHT THERE WITH THE WRITERS OF 300,000 WORD MULTICHAPTER LOGAN/ROGUE TREATISES?
AS IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH, YOU WROTE A SCENE IN ONE BOOK IN WHICH A SUPERNATURAL SHAPECHANGING ASSUMES THE SHAPE OF A DUDE THAT RHODRY HAD THE HOTS FOR BACK IN THE DAY, BUT DIDN’T SLEEP WITH BECAUSE RHODDO WAS THE EQUIVALENT OF A DUKE AND HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT OK IN THIS SOCIETY
LET ME REPEAT THIS: YOU WROTE SLASH FIXIT FIC. FOR YOUR OWN FIC.
NEVER FORGET KERRGATE 2010.
All of this thread is a great Saturday morning read. :)
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