Homer’s Apparently Fallen Iliad
In a previous post, I shared one of my favorite websites. Aeon.co publishes excellent articles written by academics on a variety of subjects relating to science, philosophy, society and the arts. I have its news feed pumped into my email inbox every morning, as there’s invariably an article or two that get my analytical juices flowing. It was while perusing the site the other day that I discovered an excellent article by Anna Wilson, PhD, who lectures at the University of Toronto.
In it, Anna posits that one downside of being trained in the academic study of literature, is that students are not only encouraged, but required to strip away any kind of emotional attachment when analyzing a text. Professors tell their students time and time again that proper academic literary analysis leaves no room for how a particular text makes them feel.
I agree with her criticism. As a keen English Lit undergrad, I learned very quickly, in the form of ‘C’ and below grades, that what I felt about the text was irrelevant. Analyzing something from a Freudian perspective, or Structuralist perspective, or Moral perspective, or Formalist perspective (you see where I’m going here) always surpassed Reader-Response.
But, Reader-Response Perspective really is a thing! And my question is how on earth did it take until the 1960s to academically confirm that reader-response wasn’t only the new thing, it was everything! Screw the lenses university students may be using. Reader-response makes a work relevant.
And this, in my humble opinion, is why fan fiction will always have a place. Sure, for those of us who have been blessed with the time, financial resources and inclination, there are other ways to analyze. But we are few and far between.
For the majority of people in the world, academic analysis is a luxury. For most, there is never time to analyze whether people have pushed social mores or there’s some underlying message to a literary work. Ninety percent of the population of this planet have to resort to their basest human instincts simply to survive. Fan fiction; a-k-a fiction that connects us to something at a level that transcends our current physical plight, is as old as time, yet never gets old. Hollywood has mainstreamed it. Most modern movies are simply a futuristic interpretation of some previous work. Don’t believe me? I offer up Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Trolls, Jack Reacher II (because we didn’t get enough of Jack Reacher I) and Sully. And that’s just what’s playing this week!
We are what we read, but not on Facebook where anonymous tyrants espouse their superiority. We're the person who connects with a fictitious character so much they want him to continue living, or have sex (there’s a lot of that in fan fiction, so I’m told!), or give it to the “man”; all of which are universal conditions. So, who cares in what form they come to us?
I have never (knowingly) written fan-fiction. I’m not a pop-culture type of gal. Believe it or not, I really do find joy in reading Chaucer and Shakespeare, Byron and Keats, and Wilde and Yeats. Maybe that’s what made me the perfect English Lit undergrad. Yet, my story You Might As Well Live is not only an homage to my favorite writer Dorothy Parker, it’s my fantastical glimpse at what she may have been like when alive. So, I guess I’m a fan-fiction writer after all!
Who do you fantasize about meeting? I’m sure you’ve entertained the quintessential question, “Who would I invite to a dinner party, living or dead?” Who is that person, and how do you feel you connect with them? Do you think you’d be disappointed?