old percolations on affect and fandom

I haven’t been the best of bloggers, have I? It’s so long since I posted, WordPress has changed its interface.

The conference went very well, anyway. Tavia Nyong’o gave a wonderful talk about The Wire, lots of people talked very intelligently about obsession, and we finished off with an evening of creativity and the scholarly performance of critical karaoke. I didn’t do a critical karaoke piece, but I very much want to some day. I’d be torn between the Manic Street Preachers’ “Faster” and Belle and Sebastian’s “Mary Jo.”

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I am buried in deadlines and I lack the energy for actual blogging, at least that’s what the still-unfinished post on Kara Thrace’s tragic heterosexuality is telling me. But when working on my conference paper for Console-ing Passions this week, I ran across this file on my hard drive. I wrote it a year ago in response to a friend‘s question about my thoughts on affect and politics, and even though I’ve read a lot more books since then so that it all feels rather obvious, I still think it’s interesting enough to be worth throwing out there.

Notes on affect and fandom

I think it’s really important to pay attention to affect, to our emotional and visceral reactions to texts, culture, theory – to our love, and to our hate. We can’t hide behind the illusion of objective quality, whether in the texts that we might academically study or in the reasons we give for why we watch our favourite shows over and over again. Exploring the processes behind affective reactions and tracing the work that affect does are really important projects.

But I don’t think it’s enough to stop there, either. Exploring affect in and of itself strikes me as moving too close to pretending that our loves and hates are any more innocent of implication in social and political structures than our perceptions of ‘quality’ are. If you’re interested in doing theoretical work that has a political aspect, that reflects commitments to feminism or critical race studies or Marxism or Queer or whatever else, the political questions and contradictions that cluster around affect become really important. My joy in a novel with revolutionary politics, in a queer character appearing on my favourite TV show, in a woman of color kicking ass in a movie, are one thing; my pleasurable tears at romantic melodrama that lauds everything I try to strive against in daily life, my excitement at a rousing portrayal of war, are quite another. And thinking about affective reactions on their own elides that distinction; glosses over the fact that our emotions often contradict our opinions, that affect lies.

So what do you do about that, if you continue to value the affective and you don’t believe in dismissing everything non-ideologically-sound as false consciousness? Maybe communal articulations of affect, where reactions are shared and discussed, are locations where the political implications of affect can get hashed out. In queer communities where the attraction of The L-Word is understood in terms of the general lack of representation of dykes on TV as well as the lack of representativeness of the cast; and in fan communities where whole subcultures built around love for a source text engage in projects of rewriting and critiquing. Not all fans, all of the time; but the critical, feminist, queer parts of fandom I’ve engaged with taught me to revalue my own affective reactions, to own up to them even when they don’t line up with my politics.

If fandom is a subculture (or more properly a set of subcultures), it’s a subculture organised around affect. And as such, it takes the affective out of the realm of the entirely individual, which means that the contradictions of personal taste don’t necessarily function as pure idiosyncrasy any more. Communal readings and rewritings can repurpose the dynamics of TV shows (slash) and maybe even the gender performance of fans (since many of those who let their inner teenage girl out to play in fandom had stridently disavowed such emotional behaviour as a trapping of steretypical femininity they refuse); they can carry out blistering critiques while still finding something to love, as many fans of color and white antiracist ally fans do with regard to the unfortunate racial politics of much science fiction. So I wonder whether communal articulations of affect, discussions of the political contradictions and implications of what we are and are not drawn to as individuals and as groups, could be a starting point for one affective theory that pays attention to politics?

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Of course, this blog is the least communal of my soapboxes, and the one where readers are least likely to mean the same thing I mean when they say “fandom.”

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One thought on “old percolations on affect and fandom

  1. Katie

    Lovely post…just came across this in my research. I have a much better understanding of this topic after reading your dissertation.

    [Reply]

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