Earlier this week, I read Michel Foucault in chorus with slash, literally flipping back and forth between his 1969 essay “What is an Author?” and my own slash production practices, between French intellectualism and the inner workings of a drunken, fictional angel. I was reading Foucault as I was navigating through the authoring of my own slash fic, not just the writing (that’s the easy part), but navigating my text-only relationship with some of my readers.
In the essay, Foucault talks about the function of the author, how even though deconstruction established that the author was dead, the function that the notion of “author” performs has persisted: the author as an organizing force in terms of context, quality, time, and the search for THE definitive meaning of the text. He also cracks open the notion of the author(ial function) as unified, a singular, homogenized entity to which criticism can return.
And this is where he ran head on into my slash fic.
The collision occurred when one of my regular (and very encouraging, supportive) readers began a very kind comment thus:
“I’m overwhelmed CC that was beautiful.”
My reaction: What in the hell is “CC”? I had no clue as to what the reader was referring. And I had this nagging feeling that I should–but I didn’t.
It wasn’t until another reader began her comment with:
that my feeble brain clicked the pieces into place:
CC = Catchclaw.
Catchclaw = my pseud.
My pseud = me.
So Foucault’s discussion of the multiplicity of an author’s selves became immediately relevant.
At some level, I was conscious of the negotiation that I do between “me” and my pseud-self, between the me(s) who move around in the everyday world and the pseud who writes. But–but. Somehow I had left that mental distance between these two (or more) selves–shall we say between the performative space of the everyday and the online space in which my pseud performs–firmly intact.
What I had not consciously realized was that I am engaged in a kind of electronic self-construction, of a process of constructing a writerly self using only my pseud and my textual responses to my readers [ETA: and my profiles both here and on various archives. Forgot about those.]. Of course a reader would call me “CC,” a logical nickname for my pseud. But at first, I did not recognize “CC” as a signifier of me, as a referent that pointed back to the one who writes my stuff.
It was a strange moment. Foucault, meet Castiel.
I’ve realized that the commenting system on one of the archives where I post has become the space in which these negotiations between pseud and self(ves) are regularly playing out. On one hand, the comment system on the site appears restrictive: the kind of conversation that you can have in this space is: Comment. Full stop. Response. Full stop. Comment. etc. It’s like it’s designed so that each exchange has two steps that always occur in the same linear fashion: comment then response. The reader always gets the first word, and, in theory, the writer can always have the last–or can negate the reader’s speech entirely. We can delete comments, you see.
Even the structure of the electronic space in which these exchanges occur reinforces this dynamic: any response I leave to a reader’s comment appears within the same color-delinated block on the screen and appears below the reader’s text. My responses always appear in italics–the archive’s choice–and so can be easily visually distinguished from the reader’s text.
What’s happened for me–and other writers in this archive space, I imagine–is that the comment space on some of my stories has evolved into a conversation, rather than a call and response, a dialogue between reader(s) and writer. The first moves of each discussion remain the same: comment and response, but sometimes readers post additional “comments” that are responses to MY responses to their earlier comments. We end up talking, I would say, rather than simply exchanging text in a linear, predetermined fashion. In such a space, the reader can have the last word–if I choose to allow it, choose not to leave the last response.
As a writer, I find this to be awesome–potentially intimidating, perhaps, but very cool in its potential. I firmly believe that, as an author, I have no control over a text once it’s outside of me, once it’s in a space where it can be read by someone else. So the responses that I receive from my readers are often fascinating to me: they often see things in my stories that I did not, or recognize patterns in a text of which I was not conscious. I love Roland Barthes’ notion that a writer is born simultaneously with a text, and that it is the reader, not the writer, who makes the text live, who imbues it with life. This is the relationship that I see between myself and my own texts, between the texts that I post and those who read them.
My readers’ input makes me [allows me to] read my own texts in a different way; that is, when I go back and re-read a text that I’ve posted with their feedback in mind, I’m often able to see the text differently. Not to see their reading–not possible–but to have my own reading redirected, refocused. One of my readers compared a move I made [ETA: no, a move the TEXT made, not moi] in a recent story to a “kaleidoscope”–which is so lovely–and I think it’s a fine metaphor for what my readers give back to me: they turn the kaleidoscope of my perspective on a story and point out elements that often I could not see, before.
As a writer–as someone who teaches writing–I see these kinds of exchanges as such a tremendous gift. I feel fortunate that texts that began as “mine”–a funny thing to say when you’re writing fan fic, eh?–have found readers under whose gaze they’ve been able to become something more.