On books and callout culture

One interesting thing to me about purity culture on tumblr- I know the impulse has been there for a lot of us as we grow, for something that is simple and clearly delineated and clean. But the idea of crusading for that in fandom spaces is baffling to me (oh, I know it’s because it’s where people can feel heard and feel like they have control, but still) because to me fiction is inherently going to be problematic, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Fiction has been shown to improve empathy. But if the fiction you’re used to consuming tends overwhelmingly to portray things in one way and to not challenge empathy – if it’s a series of neverending unproblematic AUs where everyone is Super Woke and never challenged by the behavior of people they hold dear – does that still hold true? It doesn’t challenge a paradigm.

When I was a kid, I read dealing with panic attacks: the series (in Italian, once, because the library was out of English and French), God is dead (with hella underage sex), war crimes with children: series 1war crimes with children: series 2child slavery and business ethics, and this is why we have the FDA, amongst many others. I grew up reading books with age gaps and neglect and abuse. The things I read were frequently upsetting, and challenging, and there was no one to really complain to even if I’d been so inclined because they already existed in indelible physical form and no one had forced me to read them. I just kind of accepted that bad things would happen and people grew through overcoming them. I think that was good for me. I know that what I read encouraged my to be significantly more empathetic than I would have been otherwise.

I don’t want to be one of those people who says ‘fiction was better in my day.’ Because there’s so much diverse, amazing literature being produced these days. I think maybe what I want to say is that, next time you get the impulse to tell the author of a fanwork that they’re disgusting for writing something uncomfortable to you, maybe go read something from a banned books list instead.

Feels

There are words like saudade that refer to explicit emotional states, and convey a wealth of meanings. In English, we have many and varied words for nearly everything, but we don’t have anything that means the same thing as saudade. The closest we can get is nostalgia, or love for something that has gone and can never be again. They convey nearly the same thing, but not as precisely or neatly.

We have a lot of emotional vocabulary, because language is about communication, and nuance of feeling can be difficult to convey. A great deal is conveyed by facial expressions and body language.

Usually more than this. Art by http://darcybing.deviantart.com/.

Part of the emergent vocabulary Tumblr exposes me to includes the word ‘feels’ as a noun. Usage includes such phrases as ‘all of the feels’ and ‘right in the feels.’ A literal definition would be something like ‘heart,’ but this carries more of a connotation of addictive heartbreak. Something that hits one right in the feels might make one cry every time one reads it, but one revisits it often anyway. 

In which I talk about memetic density

This entire post is going to be a deconstruction of the title.

‘In which’ is not merely an informative phrase to indicate the contents of the post: it is a reference to the way Diane Wynne Jones, amongst others, starts chapters in her books. Each chapter title doubles as a summary of the chapter, and adds amusing context, such as “In which Sophie talks to hats” and “In which Howl expresses his feelings with green slime.”

By the way, I love my roommates. I wrote this while still in Victoria, sitting in Starbucks. It had been a couple of years since I read Howl’s Moving Castle, and I’d forgotten whether the introductions to the chapters were the chapter titles or separate headings. Google searches and Google Books and Amazon and Kobo were all turning up blanks: all I wanted was the first page.

Both of my roommates are bibliophiles who don’t get rid of their books, so I just got on Skype and asked out of the blue whether they had a copy and asked them to check for me. Only one of them had a copy, but between them they both had a copy and knew what I was looking for and were able to answer without checking, and then able to link me to the TVTropes page discussing the wider use of the convention.

It is stylistically striking enough to stick with a reader, and allusion to it both establishes formal context and informal social context: by title this post in this way I am affirming that I read, that I read for fun, and that I retain it and consider it important to the way I interact with the world. Using descriptive titles, particularly with the ‘In which’ format, is language that establishes personal context as well as the explicit context inherent in a descriptive title.

Seem like a lot to try to communicate with two words?

Yeah. And I’m not done!

The title of this post is first-person. Normally, descriptive titles are presented third-person. Using first person here does a couple of things:

  • Establishes that this is a meta-contextual post examining the linguistics involved in addition to participating.
  • Avoids referring to myself in the third person, which is awkward at best and impenetrable and pretentious at worst.
  • Let’s me avoid choosing which name to refer to myself as: I go by Eileen because it is my name and using anything else in an even semi-professional setting would feel really weird. But I also answer to Chiomi, which is a nickname I’ve had since high school and still go by among close friends. I am also called PK in some writing contexts, as an abbreviation of phantomkitsune, the username I win stuff under in Adam’s contest. On the website where I am known as PK, I’ve made several contacts with people who’ve become good friends and with whom I discuss writing a great deal. Using first person lets me bypass that issue completely.
Now to the verb. I used ‘talk’ as opposed to ‘discuss’ or ‘write’ because, given the dearth of comments here and the fact that I’m mostly unpacking a sentence, discussion does not seem a sure thing. ‘Write’ I discarded because the tone I use in my blog is a lot closer to the tone I use in casual speech than what I would use in an essay. Pontificate, which would have served just as well, was discarded because of reasons.
The preposition, I feel, is reasonably straightforward and does not require exposition.
Memetic density has to be addressed as a compound to make sense. A meme is a unit of culture. For example, I have an extremely pedantic coworker, through whose influence all of us who work with him have become more linguistically precise. I have on more than one occasion called him a memetic disease because of this effect. So memetic density is how many ideas are communicated by a word or phrase. Memetic density and the effectiveness thereof is, fairly obviously, culture-dependent. I was able to understand a fair number of the references in Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music because my dad introduced me to classic rock. If I didn’t have that context, I would be missing a lot of the references in the book. The memetic density would be lost. Knowyourmeme.com is one of the best resources for making sure that modern references aren’t lost, because it catalogs widespread memes.
As this entire post suggests, a lot of meaning can be conveyed in a few context-specific words. It’s just a matter of knowing the context.
Note: thoughts like this are why it takes me forever to finish many of my writing projects.

Fandom part something

One of the interesting things that has stemmed from the corner of Homestuck fandom to which I pay attention is the surge of literary criticism.

Casual, lengthy, in depth literary criticism that examines motifs and characters and mines them for all they are worth. It’s generally referred to as ‘meta,’ since it is discussion of the story that does not directly relate to speculation about future events. It does not typically make negative statements about the original work, either, which may be a reason the word ‘criticism’ is shied away from.

To illustrate:

  • Take your high school English class around the time you had to read The Yellow Wallpaper
  • Take the worksheet or quiz with questions on it like “Who was Jennie? What was her relationship to the narrator?”*
    • Burn it.
  • Instead
    • At least one group of people is hotly debating it as a feminist critique of late-19th century treatment of post-partum depression.
    • Someone is writing a story from the perspective of Jennie.
    • Someone is writing about it as reflective of the social unrest in England throughout that time period.
    • Someone is writing about it as reflective of the untenability of separate sphere ideology in an industrialized country.
    • At least six people are writing commentary on it that I can’t even fathom.
  • Now make the source text all about teenagers kissing in space and you have the part of the Homestuck fandom that I follow.
    • It is like having a huge fantastic book club that only ever discusses one book.
This has been incredibly inspirational to bear witness to, to say the least. I think the Homestuck fandom has contributed more to me being a critical reader than most of the rationalist stuff I read, largely because it is explicitly about examining literature.
So I’m going to start an exercise: on Sunday, I’m going to post a short story. On Monday, I’m going to post about the thought process that went into it and what certain aspects of it are derived from. I will repeat as needed.
This serves a whole bunch of purposes: I will have a place to put fiction too short to submit to other places, or that I have no interest in submitting, or that have been submitted to contests and they don’t mind me reposting. I will have a log of the thought process that went in to it. And, down the road, when I have perspective on them, I will be able to read the pieces with fresh eyes and read the though process and judge how successful I was at incorporating the ideas I wanted to incorporate and what subtext I might have included unknowingly.
*To be fair, my high school English class did discuss its historical context as well, in terms of how women were treated for ‘hysteria.’