500,000 Kilowatts of Stardust

Still from Warner Brothers Ident showing adjacent soundstages. (Image Source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QW3zcF_CQ6w)

Kathy:              Why, it’s just an empty stage.

 Don:               At first glance, yes. But wait a second. A beautiful sunset. Mist from the distant mountains. Coloured lights in a garden. Flooded with moonlight. We add 500,000 kilowatts of stardust. A soft summer breeze…[1]

 The empty sound stage is an empty world, a vacuum ready to be populated by sets, props and characters that constitute a universe – like the sets of Artaud and Trecartin whose surrealist vibrancy is designed to provoke production, the sets of Hollywood consist of a vacuum, an immersive emptiness that is the pre-condition of production. Hollywood operates as meta-universe, within which all other worlds can co-exist in spatio-temporal adjacency, and a model for a post-digital relational space of production.

The formation of the film studio lot offers a diagram for a physical shared universe. Parallel sound stages act as host voids for the construction of immersive set-worlds. Often in the case of contemporary film production, the set is also mostly a void of chroma key green screen, the immersive world building taking place on the shared desktop of Adobe After Effects. Still, the physical studio formation persists, of sound stages side-by-side hosting parallel worlds and bodies, mirrored in the multiplex cinema with its corridor of screens, each a door leading to a different world, and the streaming platform in which content is positioned more-or-less horizontally. These worlds intersect as characters, actors, props and crew members interchange between stages. Proximity begets contingency, and thus Hollywood constitutes a meta-universe, occasionally crossing over to become the subject of film in itself. 

An early example of the meta-universe as fictional world is Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which takes the techniques and technologies of filmmaking as its subject matter, specifically the transition from silent film to talking pictures in the late 1920’s, and the tribulations for the studio system that this shift engendered. Whilst the characters and productions the film focuses on are fictional, it makes reference to real-life releases including Warner Brothers’ The Jazz Singer (1927), thus positioning itself on the periphery of the Real. The character of Lina Lamont is a nod toward silent film actress Clara Bow, who, with the advent of ‘talkies’ surprised audiences with her thick Brooklyn accent: “I hate talkies … they’re stiff and limiting. You lose a lot of your cuteness, because there’s no chance for action, and action is the most important thing to me.”[2]

Singin’ therefore charts the same moment of transition outlined by Deleuze’s Cinema I (1983) and Cinema II (1985): from the pre-war movement-image to the post-war time-image, in which Bow’s call for ‘action’ (i.e. movement) is superseded by the time-binding effects of language and sound. Deleuze identifies Gene Kelly’s movement and dancing in Singin’ as a response to the ‘sensory-motor situation’[3] (the rain-drenched street) that calls for a ‘movement of world that the dance will outline’[4], in the case of the iconic titular routine this is described as a ‘dance which seems to have its origin in the unevenness of the pavement.’[5] The sensory-motor situation, then has much to do with Artaud’s idea of the setting as the ‘starting point for theatrical creation’, but what of the empty stage, the empty world?

Still from Singin’ in the Rain (You Were Meant for Me sequence) Singin’ in the Rain, Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donan, Beverly Hills: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952.

On a number of occasions, Singin’ utilises the soundstages and equipment of filmmaking as a location whose very emptiness provides the sensory-motor stimulus for these ‘movements of world’. Protagonist Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) uses a vacant stage to woo his love interest Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) through the song ‘You Were Meant For Me’. The emptiness of the stage becomes Lockwood’s material with which to produce the required affect of romance as he manipulates light, smoke and wind, (along with ‘500,000 kilowatts of stardust’) to produce a simulacra of the natural world before launching into song. The empty stage is an exemplification of Marc Augé’s ‘Non-Place’, and its adaptation by Deleuze as the ‘any-space-whatever’: a ‘space of virtual conjunction, grasped as pure locus of the possible,’[6] in which song and dance routines might spontaneously erupt at any given moment in a flow of continuity that is at odds with the Brechtian use of song as an alienating interruption.

Still from Singin’ in the Rain, (Make ‘em Laugh sequence), Singin’ in the Rain, Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donan, Beverly Hills: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952

The effect is replicated in the sequence for the song ‘Make em Laugh’, which begins with Lockwood and Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) walking across a soundstage, moving between a series of adjacent set-worlds and their film crews; a jungle scene, a western, a sports stadium, a hotel lobby. The latter becomes the setting for Brown’s acrobatic dance routine which utilises the half-constructed set to comic effect, opening a door that leads onto a brick wall, running up leaning planks in a series of gravity-defying stunts. Meanwhile set dressers and stage hands continue their work in the background seemingly oblivious or indifferent to Brown’s moment of pure motor-sensory abandon.

By being a film about film-making, also a mise-en-abyme (‘Singin’ in the Rain’ becomes the title of the film they are making, as well as the film we are watching) the film somewhat dissolves the fourth wall of the Hollywood studio, but only to a degree that will enhance the immersion and entertainment of its audience. Rather than the alienating provocation of Brecht, Singin’s dissolutions serve to enhance immersion through a contract of understanding with the post-war audience, in which recognition of their pre-war selves and the sound stage sites of production positions the film adjacent to lived reality. The film addresses its audience knowing them to be Fans, privy to a knowledge of Hollywood stars of a previous era. The character of Kathy Seldon is also a Fan, her avid readership of the ‘fan magazines’ (such as Photoplay (1911-1980), Motion Picture Magazine (1911-1977) and Modern Screen (1930-1985)) is a source of embarrassment she seeks to conceal. Fandom here is not a productive force, it’s only outlet being enraptured spectatorship at a movie premiere or mobbing and tearing the clothing of stars encountered on the street.

Golden era Hollywood’s disregard for its fans perhaps rebounded in the form of Kenneth Anger’s ostensibly non-fiction account of the era Hollywood Babylon (1959), in which Anger took the gossip impulse of the fan magazine and its celebrity personae as characters for a series of libelous debauched episodes, the content of which was accessed by “mental telepathy, mostly,”[7] in keeping with his status as a practitioner of Thelemic magick. Anger’s merging of the Hollywood milieu and occult practice follows Artauld’s suspicion that ‘the cinema reveals a whole occult life with which it puts us directly into contact. But we must know how to divine this occult life.’[8] It is precisely the occluded aspects of the studio system, the sound stages and equipment, the processes and techniques of film-making, which if done correctly will remain occluded and serve only to enhance immersion.

Anger’s writing is the form of frustrated fan theory-fiction that Hollywood engendered, the literary equivalent of rending a star’s garments in the street. The same impulse is present in J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), in which Princess Margaret, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, become the cast of Ballard’s surgical-erotic vignettes. Ballard’s own specific locale in West London, surrounded by the film studios of Shepperton and Pinewood offers a twin, more prosaic milieu to that of Anger’s Hollywood. Where Ballard’s writing is clearly a neurologically admixed version of the mid-1960’s mediascape, Anger positions his writing within the real by claiming the work is non-fiction, the apparatus of a Hollywood non-place providing the motor-sensory impetus for his visions. Anger closes the book with a description of the emptiness of the Columbia studios soundstages rendered permanently vacant by the increasing popularity of on-location filming in that era, invoking an image of ancient Egyptian tombs: ‘hulking, obsolete sound stages like secretive mastabas.’[9] For Anger the emptiness of the sound stage is the emptiness of Hollywood, a vessel ready to contain whatever worlds can be conjured from its immersive vacuity.

Pre and post-production images, Game of Thrones, (Image Source:https://digitalsynopsis.com/design/movies-before-after-green-screen-cgi/)

With the increasing dominance of chroma key (colloquially ‘green screen’, often blue screen) filming in mainstream cinema, Hollywood (particularly the cinema of genre fiction and superhero comic adaptation which is particularly reliant on such technologies), once again requires voids to produce its immersions, with actors expected to respond with the minimum of possible motor-sensory stimulus. The actor must perform within a vacuum, alienated from fictive imagination and deprived of motor-sensory stimulus, producing alongside flattened body-voids waiting to be populated by avatars. As jolting to the actor as the door that opens onto a brick wall, the chroma key screen becomes a zone of limitless possibility for the production of immersive images in digital space, the exemplification of Auge’s indifferent non-place. The alienations of the empty soundstage, the empty green screen, enable the building of new worlds; echoing Laboria Cuboniks once again, ‘Alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction.’[10]

[1] Singin’ in the Rain, Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donan, Beverly Hills: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952.

[2] Elisabeth Goldbeck “The Real Clara Bow,” Motion Picture Classic, September 1930. Quoted in Annabel Lagasse, “An Exploration Of The Creative Challenges In Representing Human Movement In Digital Animation” (PhD diss., Nottingham Trent and Southampton Solent University, 2015), 85.

[3] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema II:The Time Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Bloomsbury Revelations, 2013), 63.

[4] Deleuze, Cinema II, 62.

[5] Deleuze, Cinema II, 62.

[6] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I:The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London: Bloomsbury Revelations, 2013), 123.

[7] Kevin Brownlow, “Foreword,” in Laura Balogh, Karl Dane: A biography and filmography (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2009), 1.

[8] Antonin Artaud, “Witchcraft and the Cinema,” in Antonin Artaud Collected Works Volume Three, trans. Alastair Hamilton (London: Calder & Boyars, 1972), 66.

[9] Kenneth Anger, Hollywood Babylon (New York: Dell Publishing, 1975), 418.

[10] Laboria Cuboniks, “Xenofeminism.”

Raw Supplies

Ryan Trecartin’s works are produced within a wide circle of co-producers, primarily the sculptor Lizzie Fitch, yet Trecartin keenly rejects any suggestion that the group of artists and performers involved are a collective, stating ‘The way Lizzie Fitch and I work with collaborators has grown out of a network culture perspective that sees authorship as a fluid space and collaboration as an inherent, connective reality.’[1] This ‘network culture’ approach can perhaps be best engendered as a nesting of practices, extending into the scripting process, in which the ‘sets, props, costumes, hair and makeup…constitute a type of script.’[2] In the final edit the whole created world becomes simply ‘raw supplies’,[3] with all possibilities of narrative, timeline and character achieving horizontal parity.

Where real-world settings are used, such as the semi-derelict L.A. masonic temple used for Temple Time (2016) the setting becomes directly implicated in the work, with Trecartin stating that ‘we were thinking of the building as the protagonist and the building itself was the main character of this piece.’[4] There are clear echoes here of Artaud’s orientation towards materiality as instigator and not simply backdrop to the dramatic, as his manifesto states: ‘Staging: This archetypal theatre language will be formed around staging not simply viewed as one degree of refraction of the script on stage, but as the starting point for theatrical creation.’[5] The closed-world constructed set shared by three of the Priority Innfield movies has an overbearing impetus upon the work; its low-ceilinged, wide rooms have an ominously awkward architecture, evoking reality TV studios, furniture showrooms or theme park facades.

The three movies filmed within this set go nowhere, both spatially and in terms of narrative, the zones, edges and boundaries of the set constituting their whole world. The interior is populated by the kind of disjointed amalgam of furniture and objects that might occur only within video games such as The Sims (Will Wright – 2000) a mixture reflecting the transient tastes, attention spans and spending habits of anhedonic millenial youth. Everything is incoherently positioned, and incompletely constructed, making it very hard to get a clear sense of the space’s organisation through the movies, which dart between locations, usually in constantly moving hand-held shots that defy the viewer a clear look at the background.

Priority Innfield set. Note: this image comes from one of the set builders involved in constructing the set, which is never this clearly legible is in any of the movies. (Accessed September 2, 2019, Image Source: https://jer.studio/brink-1)
Image from The Sims, 2000, Designer, Will Wright, EA Games, (Accessed September 2, 2019, Image Source https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/91/SimsSS.jpg)

The default material state in Priority Innfield is one of infinite admixture – there are recurrent moments of characters smashing cinder blocks with their bare hands and squeezing the red plastic cups synonymous with ‘frat parties’ until they shatter, ultimately becoming a texture of fragmented matter. Other objects appear stranded, such as the yacht that features prominently in Comma Boat pulled up on dry land. In Trecartin’s universe, to be a prop is to be solid, stable, linear, distinctly non-fluid and non-queer, devoid of the freedoms offered by the virtual space which his characters inhabit. It is to be available for use by another, unable to express one’s own agency – the state which all of Trecartin’s characters struggle towards. The characters’ irreverence toward the material extends to their lexicon, where ‘prop’ become a frequent insult or term of denigration, e.g; ‘if M-pegative productions makes a prop out of me again, I’ll erase everything you ever made, including the videotape of my birth’.[6]

The origins of this material ambivalence are traceable to the fourth part of the series Junior War, filmed in the year 2000 in Trecartin’s Ohio hometown, and which documents the misdeeds of his teenage peers during homecoming week as they smash mailboxes with baseball bats, throw televisions from moving cars and steal garden ornaments. The youngsters’ rallying cry is their desire to ‘Fuck Shit Up’, a phrase that is echoed throughout Trecartin’s films, and a process in which all matter is drawn entropically towards a state of ultimate abjection. This state of commingling calls to mind Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s conception of the contemporary mediascape as a ‘shitstorm’, which demands an altered state of neurological plasticity to navigate. Berardi borrows the term from Byung-Chul Han, who states that ‘Shit-storms…arise in a culture where respect is lacking and indiscretion prevails. The shit-storm represents an authentic phenomenon of digital communication.’[7] Berardi goes a step further, describing the shitstorm as not just a symptom of digital communication, but ‘the new discursive weapon of power…the mutation of the public discourse into war among a-signifiers…the goal of semiotic emission…is not to produce meaning but to compete and to win.’[8]

Where Berardi calls to counter the shitstorm with a future-enabling silence, Trecartin’s is the work of the digital shitstorm (or shitpost)-native, simulating a writerly neurological state – not to be unpicked or decoded, so much as sensed and enjoyed on a level of a-signification. His is an appropriation of the shitstorm affect, producing immersion that strips the viewer of body and leaves just an avatar. Whilst Trecartin may anticipate a point at which fans become directly implicated as authors and editors of works, the movies already provoke their audience in an immersive neurological labour process, of constituting timelines, sense and meaning. Cinema continues to operate on such a basis, with film presented as a complete artefact. In spite of such wholeness, the fan impulse still finds and creates a space for production and expansion. The techniques and motivations of Hollywood film-making remain a technology for the production of desire, with the film-maker an affect magician who seeks to produce immersion, if not quite ‘cruelty’.

Ryan Trecartin/Lizzie Fitch, Priority Innfield (Freestanding Sculptural Theatre – Fence), Install view at Andrea Rosen Gallery, 2013 (Accessed September 2, 2019, Image source: http://www.spruethmagers.com/artists/lizzie_fitch_ryan_trecartin@@viewq13)

[1] “Cindy Sherman Interviews Ryan Trecartin,” in Any Ever: Ryan Trecartin, ed. Kevin McGarry (New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2011), 144

[2] Ryan Trecartin, “When the time comes
you won’t understand
the battlefield,” interview by Kristina Lee Podesva, Fillip 13, Fillip, Spring 2011, https://fillip.ca/content/when-the-time-comes-you-wont-understand-the-battlefield?order=513fc90cbea11ecb09febe9757903ae7.

[3] Trecartin, “When the time comes
you won’t understand
the battlefield.”

[4] Trecartin, “The Safe Space of Movies.”

[5] Artaud, “The Theater of Cruelty (First Manifesto),” 97.

[6] Trecartin “I-Be Area.”

[7] Byung-Chul Han, In the Swarm, quoted in Franco Berardi, The Second Coming, (Cambridge: Theory Redux, 2019)

[8] Franco Berardi, The Second Coming.

Mesh

The hybrid moving image works and sculptural environments of Ryan Trecartin approximate the Artaudian conception of cruelty in their visual hypermontage and spectral narrative arcs, usually incorporating a cast of non-actors playing out semi-improvised scenarios that are chaotically edited and re-presented within immersive installation environments. Their stuttering of the textual in favour of the gestural, the overloading of the visual and linguistic facilitates an altered neurological state that uncompromisingly demands its viewer enter into a state of fan-being in relation to the work – pulled into and gifting over to the world on screen, and ultimately undergoing a form of bodily erosion. The 2013 Priority Innfield series, consists of four separate, interlinked moving image works (Junior War, CENTER JENNY, Item Falls and Comma Boat) and screening environments, whose discernible plot revolves around a post-apocalyptic scenario in which approximately-human beings struggle to gain agency within an institutional framework that is redolent of american college education and its accompanying social sphere.

Trecartin describes his characters as ‘avatars’, echoing the surrogates and stand-ins of social platforms, sometimes a prosaic profile pic, sometimes an idealised fantasy construction – often an opportunity to inhabit a body unlike one’s own. These avatars frequently refer to ‘the second big bang’ and speculate about life ‘back in the human era’, and we ultimately learn that they ‘evolved from animations, those are our ancestors…and these animations, actually evolved from humans.’[1] Whether the avatars we see are controlled by a secondary agent or ‘user’ never becomes apparent, their uncanny modes of speech and behaviour seeming to suggest they have become untethered as they giddily grasp towards agency.

Trecartin refuses a reading of his movies that would place them neatly within a tradition of post-modernist nonlinear fictions, preferring instead to frame them as ‘a mesh of linearities or like a multi-linear constellation.’[2] This mesh is formed out of the intersected, tangled threads of characters, locations, scripts and scenarios, which collide many times within single movies, as well as branching out adjacently to the other movies through repurposed clips, characters and lines of dialogue. Trecartin states that ‘every movie functions on its own but also functions as a sideways entry point to all the other movies,’[3] constituting an oeuvre that we might refer to as ‘The Ryan Trecartin Universe’. This state of being alongside extends into Trecartin’s notion of where the movies exist in relation to lived existence: ‘The movies are somewhat sci-fi but they’re more like adjacent sci-fi…a present-side rather than a future or past.’[4]

Much of this enmeshment comes about through the complex ways in which Trecartin treats characters and actors, with single actors sometimes playing multiple characters, and multiple actors sometimes inhabiting single characters. This is the logic of a copy-and-paste characterisation, with the avatar-body becoming a low value flattened vessel, easily replicated and just as easily discarded. Trecartin’s 2007 film I-Be Area follows a clone who ‘exist[s] because of command-V, copy and paste some dudes DNA,’[5] and proceeds to rapidly switch between a multitude of identities (‘skins’ as they might be called in-game). In CENTER JENNY, several sets of young women (all credited as ‘Jennys’) form distinct singular entities, acting and behaving as one person split across multiple bodies, like choruses in the sense of the ancient Greek theatre, designated by their shared costume and unified voice. Simon O’Sullivan describes these figures as inhabiting a ‘patchwork temporality,’[6] and whilst these collective characters may position themselves in an awkward semblance of communality, theirs is a texture of empty conviviality: they gather but do not connect. Such is the nature of online interaction, as cliques of distinct yet highly specific identities inhabit shared platforms whilst seldom entering into meaningful exchange.

For Trecartin the editing of footage is the attempt to constitute a form of timeline within this mesh that is inherently unlike the conventions of narrative cinema, and perhaps more akin to an unfiltered, extra-anthropomorphic perspective in which all timelines unfold simultaneously. Recalling Derrida’s comment on the Theatre of Cruelty as ‘life itself, in the extent to which life is unrepresentable,’ such a mesh also recalls the Tommy Westphall-type shared universe diagram, with its tangled contingency knots. Trecartin finds the currently available technology of video only partially satisfactory for embodying the mesh, and calls forward to a point when this time-editing function of the filmmaking process will become more intuitive and placed in the hands of its viewer, with the ‘initial movie [just] an area of data, and people will participate in articulating all of the potential lineages and narratives and plots by creating structures…There’s potential for movies that expand in all directions with how they’re experienced,’[7]

Such a regard for the viewer in constituting the work perhaps stems from the ways that Trecartin’s mode of production resembles that of the fan-producer. Trecartin insists that his moving image works be referred to as ‘movies’, not videos or films, an attribution that positions the artist in the place of the viewer, the domestic quotidien consumer, for whom film equates to Hollywood, consumed and enjoyed at the multiplex or in the home through a TV or laptop screen. Trecartin frequently emphasises the fact that his background is in video production, not as a visual artist, and that he never considered his films belonging within the gallery environment.[8] Early works were distributed by posting DVDs to strangers he met through the now-defunct social media site Friendster,[9] and latterly are uploaded freely to YouTube and Vimeo, giving them a parity as ‘content’ alongside the chaotic plethora of moving image that these platforms host.

[1] Ryan Trecartin, Center Jenny, 2013, Digital Video, 53:15, Accessed August 3 2019 at https://vimeo.com/75735816.

[2] Ryan Trecartin, “Ryan Trecartin Interview: The Safe Space of Movies,” interview with Kasper Bech Dyg, Louisiana Channel, May 1, 2018, digital video, 29:20, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdmItKVe2rU.

[3] Trecartin, “The Safe Space of Movies.”

[4] Trecartin, “The Safe Space of Movies.”

[5] Ryan Trecartin, I-Be Area, 2007, Digital Video, 1:47:50, Accessed August 3 2019 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V27rH6b5ub4.

[6] Simon O’Sullivan “From Financial Fictions to Mythotechnesis,” in Futures and Fictions, eds. Henriette Gunkel et al (London: Repeater Books, 2017), 331.

[7] Trecartin, “The Safe Space of Movies.”

[8] Calvin Tomkins, “Experimental People: The exuberant world of a video-art visionary,” The New Yorker, last modified March 17, 2004, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/03/24/experimental-people.

[9] Tomkins, “Experimental People.”

Wrong Side Out

Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty is a vision for a parallel yet alternate avante-garde of the modernist theatre to that of the Brechtian Epic. The theatre of cruelty also seeks to do away with the intellectualism of the Renaissance theatre, yet unlike Brecht, Artaud seeks the pre-textual enchantment and magic of the Dionysiac festivity, inspired by the Balinese dancers he had witnessed at the 1931 Exposition Coloniale.[1] Artaud’s ‘Cruelty’ builds upon his history as a fringe member of the surrealists, whose cause he foreswore after they oriented themselves towards the communist party in 1926. Considering himself the only true surrealist, a movement which he believed to have been “never anything else but a new type of magic,”[2] Artuad’s magic was to be made manifest through theatre, which could not function ‘without an element of cruelty at the root of every spectacle.’[3] This cruelty is not that of ‘bloodshed, martyred flesh, crucified enemies,’[4] but ‘a cosmic rigor and implacable necessity…a living whirlwind that devours the darkness.’[5]

In his First Manifesto for a Theatre of Cruelty (1932), Artaud outlines the programme and nature of such a theatre, which will ‘put an end to the subjugation of the theater to the text, and…recover the notion of a kind of unique language half­way between gesture and thought.’[6] Its architecture will ‘do away with stage and auditorium, replacing them by a kind of single, undivided locale without any partitions of any kind and this will become the very scene of the action.’[7] Whilst Artaud calls for ‘No décor,’ this is not the minimalism of the Brechtian stage, but rather a call for a different form of designed space altogether, for which ‘objects of unknown form and purpose are enough to fulfil this function.’[8]

The audience member would be on the receiving end of a sensory overload, of ‘fiery projection of all the objective results of gestures, words, sounds, music or their combinations.’[9] Where Brecht had rejected the Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk, in whose synthesis and admixture ‘the three sister-arts unite their forces in one collective operation, in which the highest faculty of each comes to its highest unfolding,’[10] Artaud embraces such a vision, with all of the elements of staging becoming one encompassing whole – constituting a world and a universe. If the immersive shared universe fiction encourages it’s fans to fling themselves into the plot-river, it perhaps does so in the mode of just such a cruelty.

Whilst Artaud was not able to fully realise the proposal for the theatre of cruelty in his lifetime, achieving only one production that approximated the tenets of the manifesto (the 1935 staging of Les Cenci), its intentions echo down through the deconstructive impulses of the 20th century avant-garde. Artaud anticipates the psychedelic mode of multimedia events such as Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and the gestural bodily extremism of Carolee Schneemann’s performance works.[11] The sensory overload of cruelty supersedes the textual to reach an aesthetics of pure encounter, with Derrida commenting that ‘The theater of cruelty is not a representation. It is life itself, in the extent to which life is unrepresentable.’[12]

Rather than Brecht’s proletarian viewer who is inspired upon leaving the theatre to upend the world, Artaud instead expects ‘the spectator to give himself up, once outside the theater, to ideas of war, riot, and blatant murder.’[13] Instead of the didacticism of Brecht, such a surrender to immersion could perhaps be the key to another form of active engagement by an audience, one in which consciousness is raised and razed, leaving the fan stripped of their shell and open to the production of new possibilities. Such a state of possibility is akin to the Deleuzian body without organs (BwO), and it is from Artaud’s play To Have Done with the Judgment of God (1947) that Deleuze first takes the concept:

Man is sick because he is badly constructed.
We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to
scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally,

God,
and with god
his organs.
For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.            

When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.

Then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out
as in the frenzy of dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.[14]

It is Artaud’s abeyance of the linguistic in favour of the guttural wail, the ‘breath-words’ and ‘howl-words’ that Deleuze positions as calling forth ‘a glorious body…a new dimension of the schizophrenic body, an organism without parts which operates entirely by insufflation, respiration, evaporation, and fluid transmission.’[15] To Deleuze the nature of the schizophrenic is ‘less a question of recovering meaning than of destroying the word, of conjuring up the affect, and of transforming the painful passion of the body into a triumphant action, obedience into command, always in this depth beneath the fissured surface.’[16] The fan destroys the world through the supplanting of ontic reality with the fictional. They too plumb the depths, to seek the esoteric, the deletia and the appended, and furthermore to inflate, to gouge new spaces that deny fixity of meaning or canon. The fan surrenders at least a portion of their subjectivity, to become both the object of obsession and stand apart from it as admirer.

Despite Artaud’s distancing from the surrealists, his theatre of cruelty retains many elements of their approach, in particular his prioritisation of the gestural over the linguistic script. Barthes identifies how the surrealists sought to erode the primacy of language – ‘language being system and the aim of the movement being, romantically, a direct subversion of codes’[17] leading to ‘the desacrilization of the image of the Author…accepting the principle and the experience of several people writing together.’[18] The surrealists practiced this desacralization in collective exercises such as the exquisite corpse, whose assemblages often become literal bodies without organs, populated instead by a comingling of enmeshed lines of thought, disjunctured propositions.

Breton describes how the exquisite corpse ‘tend[ed] inevitably to raise anthropomorphism to its highest pitch and to accentuate vividly the continuing relationship uniting the exterior world with the interior world,’[19] indicating the ways in which conception of the bodily might have very little to do with the substance of flesh. The body depopulated of organs becomes a world wrong side out, a universe, just as the fan’s conception of the extra-bodily universe retains the anthropomorphic schema of a paranoid’s ‘influencing machine’. The collectively executed fan work becomes a discursively authored exquisite corpse, composed of myopic occluded contributions. Denied the absolute knowledge that the paranoiac might seek, one must act nonetheless, to leave a mark upon the page, small accretions that form the bodily whole.

Exquisite corpse by André Breton, Valentine Hugo, Paul and Nusch Éluard, source: https://poulwebb.blogspot.com/2019/11/cadavre-exquis-exquiste-corpses.html

[1] Patricia A. Clancy, “Artaud and the Balinese Theatre,” Modern Drama 28, no.3 (Fall 1985): 397, http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/md.28.3.397.

[2] Antonin Artaud, “Letter to Louis Jouvet, 27 August 1931,” quoted in Bettina Knapp, “Artaud: A New Type of Magic,” Yale French Studies 31, Surrealism (1964): 98, http://dx.doi.org/ 10.2307/2929726.

[3] Antonin Artaud, “The Theater of Cruelty (First Manifesto),” in The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 99.

[4] Antonin Artaud, “Letters on Cruelty,” in The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 102.

[5] Artaud, “Letters on Cruelty,”102.

[6] Artaud, “The Theater of Cruelty (First Manifesto),” 89.

[7] Artaud, “The Theater of Cruelty (First Manifesto),” 73.

[8] Artaud, “The Theater of Cruelty (First Manifesto),” 75.

[9] Antonin Artaud, “Oriental and Western Theatre,” in Antonin Artaud Collected Works Volume Four, trans. Victor Corti (London: Calder & Boyars, 1974), 55.

[10] Richard Wagner, The Art-Work of the Future, trans. William Ashton Ellis (Leipzig: Wigand, 1849), 78, http://users.skynet.be/johndeere/wlpdf/wlpr0062.pdf.

 

[11] Carolee Schneemann, Imaging Her Erotics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), 230.

[12] Jacques Derrida, “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 234.

[13] Antonin Artaud, “No More Masterpieces,” in The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 82.

[14] Antonin Artaud, “To Have Done with the Judgment of God” in Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 571.

[15] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (London: Continuum, 1990), 88.

[16] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 88.

[17] Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, ed. and trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Press,1977), 144.

[18] Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” 144.

[19] André Breton, “The Exquisite Corpse, Its Exaltation (1948),” in André Breton, Surrealism and Painting, trans. Simon Watson Taylor (Boston: MFA Publications, 2002), 89.

A-Effects

Despite the focus on Verfremdungseffekts/Alienation-effects/A-Effects, Brecht maintains that this theatre must remain enjoyable, and transcend enjoyment, becoming ‘an instrument of instruction, and to convert certain amusement establishments into organs of mass communication…i.e. to emigrate from the realm of the merely enjoyable.’ Fan-being transcends enjoyment also, not into the realm of instruction, but into one of over-enjoyment, a sublimation that rejects capital’s curtailments that would prefer the labour of the fan to be directed toward more economically fruitful causes.

The strive to incorporate the will of the audience calls forward to Platt’s Quantum Fiction, also in the designation that each scene should operate as a play-within-a-play, similar to platts ‘quanta’, enabling random access. Benjamin likens this structure to the modern cinema in which ‘the audience should be able to ‘come in’ at any point, that complicated plot developments should be avoided and that each part…possess its own episodic value.’[1] As with the hyperfictions produced in Platt’s wake, I would argue that approaches dependent upon audience interactivity can only remain as novelty, where viewer responses invested with conviction are more likely to arise without invitation, as a result of uninterrupted immersive flows of enjoyment.

Brecht follows in the footsteps of Marx, for whom alienation was the force by which workers were separated from the products of their labour, the labour process, their fellow man and their species-being.[2] To Marx, alienation went hand-in-hand with commodity fetishism, with the products of capital akin to relics and idols formed in ‘the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life.’[3] The fan’s object of obsession (the fiction itself, but also the objects and products which it supports) is certainly a fetish, with many works of genre fiction taking on just such a mythical, transcendental dimension to their fans. However what is perhaps unique in the fan’s response to an alienating, transcendental object is their willingness to resist its orthodoxy, and read its alienations as an invitation to immersion.

This is the metric of alienated enjoyment that accelerationist thought seeks to enhance and exacerbate, in which capital does not care about its subjects or their opinion of it, in fact thriving upon the energy of resistant subjects, whose folk-political approaches are simply detournéed by capital into marketing strategies. To the accelerationist, such an inflation of alienation is not carried out that one might ‘turn society upside down’ in response, but that such an alienation might in itself be transformative, speeding passage through to an inevitable post-human future. It is that to which Sadie Plant and Nick Land refer when they state that ‘we are all foreigners now, no longer alienated but alien…If the schizoid children of modernity are alienated, it is not as survivors from a pastoral past, but as explorers of an impending post-humanity.’[4]

Somewhat less dystopian is the ‘politics for alienation’ of Laboria Cuboniks’ (LC) Xenofeminism, which seeks to seize ‘alienation as an impetus to generate new worlds…The construction of freedom involves not less but more alienation; alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction.’[5] Whilst LC distance themselves somewhat from the work of Marx, stating ‘Marx…ignored gender and the types of labour (specifically care and reproductive labour) associated with a binary gender structure to which females have historically been subject,’[6] their conception of alienation has something in common, particularly in the notion of alienation from one’s species-being and fellow humans. It is the relationship to alienation that varies, with LC rejecting an essentialist biological species-being and embracing artificiality and bio-hacking, enacted through the slogan ‘If nature is unjust, change nature!’[7] Where Marx sees alienation as the product of work, LC see freedom as the product of alienation.

Following Marx’s four modalities we can enumerate the ways in which the fan’s alienation from the indifferent franchise does not mitigate their immersion; the fan willingly alienates themself from the product of their labour, which is offered as a gift to the fictional universe, rejecting traditional notions of authorship or the demand for credit. While fan sociality might curtail alienation from one’s fellow man (at least virtually), the social bond comes second to that between the fan and their obsession. The fan might go so far as to feel more alike to the products of imagination than the reality of their human species-being, for example occupying the space of the franchise-object, not the author when they choose to write fan fiction.

In their nested, embedded position the fan can be at once immersed in alienations and alienated by immersion, an action via compulsion that echoes the CCRU’s claim to be ‘Alienated and Loving it.’[8] The intractable complication between multiple shared universe fictions and lived existence can never be fully grasped or mapped – a painfully enjoyable alienation in which the sheer speed and volume of cultural production is experienced as sublimated overload. Rather than the alienation-as-provocation of Brecht, we might try to find the political applications of works of art and culture that seek to accelerate such an overload. If the subject of contemporary techno-capital does not turn the world upside down in response to alienation, but rather seeks to make it the core of their subjectivity, the visual culture of such times must be implicated in a more fatal immersion, must fling the fan-being more fully into the river, enacting a form of cruelty that is pre-linguistic, gestural and utilises the unresolved residues of the surreal.

[1] Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, 6.

[2] Judy Cox, “An Introduction to Marx’s Theory of Alienation”, International Socialism, Issue 79, (July, 1988), accessed at http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj79/cox.htm.

[3] Judy Cox, “An Introduction to Marx’s Theory of Alienation.”

[4] Sadie Plant and Nick Land, Cyberpositive, accessed August 9, 2019 at http://www.sterneck.net/cyber/plant-land-cyber/.

[5] Laboria Cuboniks, “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation,” accessed August 9, 2019 at
https://www.laboriacuboniks.net/.

[6] Laboria Cuboniks, “Revisiting the future with Laboria Cuboniks | A conversation,” interview by Cornelia Sollfrank and Rachel Baker, Furtherfield, July 27, 2016, http://www.furtherfield.org/revisiting-the-future-with-laboria-cuboniks-a-conversation/.

[7] Laboria Cuboniks, “Xenofeminism.”

[8] CCRU, Swarmachines, accessed August 9, 2019 at https://web.archive.org/web/20130621022804/http://www.ccru.net/swarm1/1_swarm.htm.

Flung into the River

The immersed subjectivity capable of producing diagrams like the Tommy Westphall universe is the unintended side-effect of a flow designed simply to produce loyal viewers and customers, accidentally resulting in a cargo-cult of immersed fan-acolytes, for whom the world of TV becomes their transcendental realm. Fan-being requires a spirit of unmitigated naive enjoyment, blind to both the machinations of postmodernism and the realities of the studio production system. It is to follow the Deleuzian spirit of encounter-over-representation, whereby ‘Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter’[1] – the kind of encounter that can only take place when a fiction is approached not as a representation of an author’s will but as a new, cogent formation with which one might become immanent, entering into a relation of becoming.

Such a spirit of encounter goes hand in hand with the search for meaning that so much fan theory is predicated upon. Simon O’Sullivan positions this meaning in the Deleuzian terms of that which is produced through the encounter between a viewer and an artwork: ‘Meaning’ might then be thought as this productive ‘event’, this ‘moment’ of meeting, ungraspable in its moment of occurrence, but real in its effects.[2] Brian Massumi states that in such an encounter of becoming ‘a set of affects, a portion of the object’s essential dynamism, is drawn in, transferred into the substance of the thinking-perceiving body.’[3] The fan’s relation to their object of obsession is not just one of drawing-in, but of gifting-over – seeking to place a portion of themselves, via their productive labour and their credulity, to be nested inside the fictional universe.

The fan’s gifted love is one-sided, in keeping with Sedgewick’s conception of the paranoiac’s devotion: ‘of all forms of love, paranoia is the most ascetic, the love that demands least from its object.’[4] Confined within the flow-consumption of paranoid enjoyment, inspired to productive labour furnished in tribute without reciprocation – whilst demanding little, the fan gives much over in the totality of their immersions. This is the process to which Barthes refers: ‘writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.’[5] If the relationship of reader and work is to be productive, if credulity might lead toward a radical politics rather than gullible passivity, the fan must throw themself fully into the fictional universe, navigating its alienating and immersive qualities and ultimately undergoing a shift in conception of the bodily self.

The ideal fan is also the ideal customer, unfalteringly loyal, their habitual consumption not simply a hobby but an identity-defining lifestyle. In this surrender of subjectivity, does the fan not risk losing all? In performing a radical credulity do they not become blind to the modes of production, the machinations of capital and ultimately the alienations which the studio system and its products serve to enhance? The danger is perhaps that the fan becomes too pliable a consumer, too willing or too distracted by their enjoyment to see the ideologies and hegemonies that hold them in place. Perhaps instead popular culture ought to function to highlight the alienations at play in capital, rather than as a distraction from the crises of our time. The fan ‘fling[s] itself into the story as if it were a river,’[6] in just the manner of the passive audience member whom Bertolt Brecht decried in his A Short Organum for the Theatre (1948), and once ‘carried vaguely hither and thither’ cannot focus on the ideological and hegemonic currents at play, let alone overcome the political impasses of the present.

Premier of Brecht’s musical, The Threepenny Opera, at the Theatre am Schiffbauerdamm, Berlin, 1928 (Accessed September 2, 2019, Image Source: https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/bertolt-brecht-and-epic-theatre-v-is-for-verfremdungseffekt)

Brecht’s proposal for an Epic theatre sought to resist the illusionistic plot-river of popular drama and distance itself from its audience, throwing the spotlight upon the alienating tendencies at the heart of capital’s relations with its workers. Through the agitprop of plays including The Threepenny Opera (1928), Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), The Good Person of Szechwan (1941), Brecht utilised the realities of staging to distance the audience from the stage by use of Verfremdungseffekts (Alienation-Effects): ‘a representation that alienates is one which allows us to recognize its subject, but at the same time makes it seem unfamiliar.’[7] Brecht’s catalogue of ‘A-effects’ included breaking the fourth wall through direct address, turning the bright white lights of the auditorium onto the audience, the action being interrupted by the inclusion of musical numbers, the stage stripped as bare of props and scenery as possible – all in an attempt to provoke the audience into realising its political reality and potential.

Walter Benjamin, in his text What is Epic Theatre? writes of how: ‘In one who is astonished, interest is born: interest in its primordial form,’ and that Epic theatre attempts to ‘transform this primordial interest directly into a technical, expert one.’[8] Brecht’s ideal technically-minded proletarian audience member is a ‘child of the scientific age’, who cannot help but react productively and critically when presented with the realities of their time: ‘faced with a river, it consists in regulating the river…faced with society, in turning society upside down.’ The hope is that after experiencing the alienation of the Epic theatre, the audience will seek to produce its opposite in the political and social world around them.

[1] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press), 139.

[2] Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) 22.

[3] Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992) 36, quoted in Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari.

[4] Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading,” 132.

[5] Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” 142.

[6] Brecht, “A Short Organum for the Theatre (1948).”

[7] Brecht, “A Short Organum for the Theatre (1948).”

[8] Walter Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, trans. Anna Bostock (London: Verso Books, 1998), 4.

Same Universe?

The form of fandom that is obsessed with the question “could X and Y exist in the same universe?” expresses its labour not through fanfiction or fan art but through the production of Fan Theory, as a form of creative discursive practice. Often these theories are presented under the aegis that one has uncovered the ‘true meaning’ or ‘hidden truth’ behind an otherwise ambiguous detail, as seen in the proliferation of ‘ending explained’ videos on youtube that attempt to unpick the final sequences of Hollywood films. Whilst much of this theorising is being undertaken tongue-in-cheek, or for no productive reason other than the joy of speculation, it points towards a more general indication that contemporary fandom is about attempting to map the available territory, draw connections between canons and find contingencies and links between disparate worlds.

Tommy Westphall Universe (2016 update) Source: https://tommywestphall.fandom.com/wiki/Tommy_Westphall_Hypothesis

This tendency is taken to perhaps its most extreme degree in the fan theory/meme ‘the Tommy Westphall Universe’ (Keith Gow and Ash Crowe, 1999-), which theorises that most of the fictions of American television have taken place in the mind of an autistic boy named Tommy Westphall, a character in the TV series St. Elsewhere – the final episode of which implied the whole series had taken place in Tommy’s mind. Through St. Elsewhere’s crossovers and spin-offs with other dramas and sitcoms a web of interconnections is formed that, at its most recent update in 2016, included 419 shows[1] all taking place within the mind of Tommy Westphall. Some of these connections are the result of official crossovers and spin-offs instigated by television networks’ desire to migrate existing audiences to new shows, such as Cheers’ (1982-93) spinoff into Frasier (1993-2004) and the less successful The Tortellis (1987). Others are based upon ‘Easter Egg’ type details and production bleedthroughs, such as the inclusion of ‘Morley’ brand cigarettes – a copyright-free approximation of the Marlborough brand produced by American prop manufacturer The Earl Hays Press[2] and used frequently on-screen (for example by X-Files ‘Smoking Man’).[3]

Source: https://www.radiotimes.com/news/2017-01-18/morley-the-cigarette-brand-that-doesnt-exist-even-though-its-in-every-tv-show/
Source: http://www.theearlhayspress.com/tobacco.html

Such diagrams could be posited as paranoiac works – a tendency that Hal Foster also identifies in the archival impulse of contemporary art-making. Foster states ‘what is paranoia if not a practice of forced connections, of my own private archive, of my own notes from the underground, put on display?’[4] Foster points towards the Freudian paranoid, who ‘projects his meanings onto the world precisely because it appears ominously drained of all significance.’[5] To some extent, the fan is also a structuralist, and the structuralist is also a paranoiac – as Freud remarked, ‘the delusions of paranoiacs have an unpalatable external similarity and internal kinship to the systems of our philosophers,’[6] (what then, would the Post-structuralist be? Not the optimist Pronoiac, rather the Denialist perhaps?) The schematism of the Tommy Westphall diagram could be thought of akin to the Victor Tausk’s influencing machines, with their ‘boxes, cranks, levers, wheels, buttons, wires, batteries, and the like’[7]replaced by plot twists and character arcs, alongside an overarching belief that someone (or something – a universalising logic?) is pulling the levers. Eve Sedgewick states that the epistemophilia of the paranoiac is not just the simple drive towards ‘unique access to true knowledge’ but also offers a way of ‘seeking, finding, and organizing knowledge. Paranoia knows some things well and others poorly.’[8] The fan is perhaps happy to know fiction better than reality.

Canonical example of an Influencing Machine – James Tilly Matthew’s “air-loom,” source: http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/14/turner.php/cabinet-the-influencing-machine?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+thehugeentity+%28MachineMachine.net+%2Fstream%29

The form of fan-being that is able to draw such sprawling webs of connection is reliant upon a certain suspension of scepticism, supplanted instead by a radical credulity, a willingness to encounter at face value and undertake an enhanced immersion into the world of TV. Whilst Sedgewick states that ‘in a world where no one need be delusional to find evidence of systemic oppression, to theorize out of anything but a paranoid critical stance has come to seem naïve, pious, or complaisant,’[9] the radically credulous fan is both naïve and paranoid in their theorisations, eager to seek the ‘truth’ of worlds they know to be fictional. The radicality of such a position is in the fact that the fan-as-producer does not see the fictional canon as sacred or fixed, and could perhaps be compelled to view the political realities of Earth Prime through the same lens. The fan’s sense of devotion and accumulated knowledge grants them a degree of authority to expand the canon of a shared universe, a refusal of orthodoxy that echoes Barthes’ assertion that ‘refusing to assign a ‘secret’, an ultimate meaning, to the text [is] an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases – reason, science, law.’[10]

Such an indiscernibility between the real and fictitious, and the perceived contingencies of the two are formed by long hours of continuous consumption, in which the shared platform (i.e. same channel/same hardware) implies the same universe. Media theorist Raymond Williams framed such a relationship in terms of flow in his work Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974) where he states that ‘planned flow, is…the defining characteristic of broadcasting, simultaneously as a technology and as a cultural form’[11] and that in such a flow could be found the ‘meanings and values of a specific culture.’ The contemporary mediascape is split between the fixed immersive flows of streaming platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime, with their autoplay technology and predictive algorithms designed to lead viewers down binge watch cul-de-sacs, and the scattergun admixture of YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, in which attention is fleeting and transient, always accompanied by the spectre of infinite choice.

[1] “The Master List : The Tommy Westphall Universe,” accessed August 9, 2019
https://thetommywestphall.wordpress.com/the-master-list/.

[2] “Earl Hays Home Page,” Eral Hays Press, accessed August 9, 2019, http://theearlhayspress.com/tobacco.html.

[3] “Morley: Tommy Westphall Universe” FANDOM powered by Wikia, accessed August 9, 2019,
https://tommywestphall.fandom.com/wiki/Morley#Red_box_Morley.

[4] Hal Foster, Bad New Days, (New York: Verso Books), 59.

[5] Foster, Bad New Days, 59.

[6] Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey, trans. James Stracehy et al. (London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74), vol,17, 261.

[7] Victor Tausk “On the Origin of the “Influencing Machine” in Schizophrenia,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly Vol 2 (1933):, 519-556, accessed September 2, 2019 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330285/pdf/184.pdf.

[8] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re so Paranoid, you Probably Think This Essay is About You,” in Touching Feeling (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 130.

[9] Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading,” 126.

[10] Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, ed and trans. Stephen Heath
(London: Fontana Press,1977), 147.

[11] Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and cultural form (London: Routledge Classics, 2003), 86.

Single Fictions, Multiple Authors

In 1990, Sci-Fi magazine New Worlds’ sometimes-editor Charles Platt coined the term ‘Quantum Fiction’[1] as a call for fiction to follow quantum theory in physics towards a form that ‘acknowledges the observer…as an active participant…presents a narrative as short bites, or quanta…and rejects the concept of a single objective view of reality’. Complaining that ‘Science fiction writers are in the ironic position of depicting the future using techniques derived entirely from the past’ Platt points towards Gibson’s Neuromancer and the two-column passages in Delaney’s Dhalgren as approaching quantum fiction, and called for authors to facilitate a process of selection and flow on the part of readers – ‘The appeal of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, for instance, was largely a function of its mood, shifting perspectives, and fragmentary images.’

Platt cites his inspiration as the analytic cubism of Picasso, Braque and latterly David Hockney, calling for a fiction which will similarly allow the capture of essence and allow ‘the vicarious experience of moving freely through the scene,’ which he feels to have been achieved by Ballard, whose 1960s novels ‘contained multiple segmented perspectives very much like cubist paintings, sampling not only space but time and human psychology.’ He stated: ‘this kind of experience, in which we are free to sample fragments of artistically rendered reality, is random access,’ highlighting experiments in the production of hyperfictions that utilised web architecture to allow stratified forms of storytelling, turning the reader into a pathfinder. Three prominent examples of Hyperfiction from Platt’s era, all of which are still running online in archived form (although I can’t get portal or afternoon to work properly on chrome or safari):

Stuart Moulthrop, Victory Garden
http://www.eastgate.com/VG/VGStart.html

Rob Swigart, Portal
https://archive.org/details/msdos_Portal_1986

Michael joyce ‘afternoon’
https://wwnorton.com/college/english/pmaf/hypertext/aft/

Platt and his interlocutors in the article also point towards some example of the hypertext or quantum approach in more conventional literary formats including Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, John Brunner Stand on Zanzibar, Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, Milorad Pavić The Dictionary of the Khazars, and experiments undertaken by the the Oulipo movement in france, for example Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual and the lipogram A Void. More widely we could see elements of the hyperficitonal in the epistolary form or choose-your-own-adventure (Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch as the most prominent recent outing). Platt’s contention is that these attempts to innovate the literary form have failed because ‘they were not easily accessible to the mass audience, were extremely difficult for the writer to control successfully, and therefore never led to an enduring school or tradition.’

Whilst Platt’s proposal might have once seemed a logical route for the progression of modernist popular culture, the linear, discrete mode has remained the dominant form of production, with hosting platforms rather than the works themselves enabling random access between an admixture of worlds. Platt’s predictions belong to a different world infused with the optimism of web 1.0. Although he anticipates the hyperactive attention economy of the present-day web, he still assumes a great degree of patience on the part of his reader – truly engaging with these hyperfictions can become very tedious when much of their value rests on the novelty of the technology in a pre-google/pre-wikipedia world where the internet barely existed. To the contemporary reader, any text hosted online is inherently hyperlinked to the whole rest of the internet, the equivalent of the temptation to stare out the window or simply move on is too great.

Hyperfictions of these kinds are constructed in the mind of internet users, for whom the admixture of the timeline and infinite scroll begins to take on this kind of assemblage effect, the headlines of shared news stories never read are intermingled with photos of the children of acquaintances. The affectual rollercoaster of the twitter feed swings instantly between outrage and hilarity, with no buffer zone producing mixed emotions and mixed affects. How do you feel when you put your phone down? You’re not sure. Good and Bad – goodbad, badgood. Maybe the timeline is a hyperfiction or at least a hyperspace, or a quantum space? Maybe all of those attributions are too grand.

Mark Fisher covered these ideas in his piece ‘Time Wars’, lamenting the intermixing of work and non-work time that contemporary communicative capitalism has engendered:

Cyberspatial urgencies – the smartphone’s flashing red light, the siren call of its alert – function like trance-inhibitors or alarm clocks that keep waking us out of collective dreaming. In these conditions, intellectual work can only be undertaken on a short-term basis. Only prisoners have time to read, and if you want to engage in a twenty-year long research project funded by the state, you will have to kill someone.[2]

 

Against this background of timeline admixture fans will become active participants in a work when it feels complete and compelling in it’s verisimilitude, and express that participation through production whether invited to do so or not – in fact preferring to play within fictional universes that appear more complete and aesthetically congruent such as the highly detailed universes of Star Trek and Star Wars, and allow the authorial status of these productions to be inherently collective.

In Foucault’s text What is an Author? (1969), he calls towards a notion of literature in which the status of the author becomes increasingly irrelevant, signalling the ways that the writer of the modernist work has historically been upheld as a heroic individual, with the meaning and value of a text dependent upon proper attribution and cases of ‘Literary anonymity…of interest only as a puzzle to be solved as, in our day, literary works are totally dominated by the sovereignty of the author.’[3] Barthes echoes these concerns in The Death of the Author, stating ‘when the Author has been found, the text is ‘explained’ – victory to the critic.’ (two examples that spring to mind, the speculation around the attribution of Pauline Réage’s Story of O and Bataille’s Story of the Eye published under the psuedonym Lord Auch – in both cases the sexual transgressions detailed within build a greater power when authorial attribution is removed, or at least that the notion of the mortal author can be held at arms distance).

Instead Foucault indicates that the future cultural work might take the form of discursive practice, following the example of those who choose to work within the oeuvre of Marx and Freud, who ‘made possible a certain number of analogies that could be adopted by future texts, but…also made possible a certain number of differences.’[4] Foucault draws attention to these differences as a vital component to any significant work, for which the originators of such fields simply ‘cleared a space’. If, as the epithet goes, nothing ever died of its contradictions, might we infer the reverse, that contradictions are what anything healthy needs to live?

Foucault predicts a future in which ‘We can easily imagine a culture where discourse would circulate without any need for an author. Discourses, whatever their status, form, or value, and regardless of our manner of handling them, would unfold in a pervasive anonymity.’[5] The meme is probably the truest incarnation of this tendency, and by extension ideas of theoretical discourse that hold a memetic, hyperstitional charge – accelerationism most notably, with the notion of originary authorship impossible to locate within a group voice such as that of the CCRU (or latterly cave twitter) and irrelevant to a practice emerging via a process of hyperstition (i.e. we can never reliably attribute the author of an idea that arrives from our future). This is authorship arriving via the logic of the mob.

The shared universe work also constitutes a discursive practice, that of a single fiction inhabited by multiple authors. Sometimes literally, as in the case of posthumous sequels by a ghost writer or named author working in another’s milieu, a tendency found mainly in popular fiction, (i.e. Eric Van Lustbader’s Jason Bourne novels which now greatly outnumber those by series initiator Robert Ludlum, with the later books bearing both writers’ names in a confusion of authorship). In most cases of the canon or fan work, the notion of authorship ultimately recedes into obscurity, with the world produced by an author coming to act as a stand-in for authorial sovereignty. This is particularly present in the realms of film, television and comic books which are usually ensemble productions from their outset. Barthes alludes to such a form in his conception of texts that are ‘not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the AuthorGod) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.’[6] Such an admixture as this is the dominant form for fiction in the postmodernist mode, and yet the patchwork, ‘writers room’ nature of composition does not diminish any of its power for the fan, for whom hero worship of an author or creator is something removed from their appreciation for the work itself.

To Barthes, this multidimensional space is reliant upon the reader, whose cultural awareness and intertextual lack of orthodoxy allows such a commingling:

there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author. The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.[7]

At the most basic level Barthes sees such instances as polysemous works, containing ‘a “floating chain” of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others.’[8] More ideally, such works would become ‘writerly’, not simply constituting a choice to read or ignore, but to ‘make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text,’[9] with the opposite (and majority) of texts ‘read, but not written: the readerly. We call any readerly text a classic text.’[10] The writerly text does not rely on the novelty of Quantum Fiction-style ‘random access’, but is that which offers ‘several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one’[11] and in its multiplicity constitutes a universe, or in Barthes’ terms ‘a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds,’[12] presenting plural polysemous images and formations that invite the reader to become active and participant.

_

As a side note, returning to Charles Platt, this blog post interview about his time as editor and occasional art director of New Worlds, (including ballard layouts etc,) its a good read if just to learn about how magazines were put together before word processing.

https://pedromarquesdg.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/the-new-worlds-of-charles-platt/

[1] Charles Platt, “Quantum Fiction, a blueprint for avoiding literary obsolescence,” in The New York Review of Science Fiction, (April 1990), accessed at August 31 2019 at https://archive.org/details/The_New_York_Review_Of_Science_Fiction_020_1990-04/page/n15/mode/2up

[2] https://www.gonzocircus.com/exclusive-essay-time-wars-towards-an-alternative-for-the-neo-capitalist-era/

[3] Michel Foucault “What is an Author?” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard, Sherry Simon (New York: Cornell University Press,1977), 126.

[4] Foucault “What is an Author?” 132.

[5] Foucault “What is an Author?” 138.

[6] Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, ed and trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Press,1977), 146.

[7] Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” 148.

[8] Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image,” in Image Music Text, ed and trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Press,1977), 39.

[9] Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (Malden: Blackwell, 2002), 4.

[10] Roland Barthes, S/Z, 4.

[11] Roland Barthes, S/Z, 5.

[12] Roland Barthes, S/Z, 5.

Towards a Radical Fandom pt.3

Where the early sci-fi fandoms used the form of the fanzine as a means to an end (to enable communication and the formation of community, bypassing mainstream print media), contemporary fanzines, at least in the guise seen at zine fairs and zine libraries, are perhaps more concerned with the media of the fanzine as an end in and of itself. Hardcopy is cherished as novelty, for the physicality of laser printed or risographed pages, the print equivalent of vinyl fetishists going on about crackles and warmth. Some part of the contemporary urge to make zines must come from a place of nostalgia and anachronism – a rejection of mass methods of communication and yearning for a simpler pre-internet age. It inherits its DIY spirit and Lo-Fi cut and paste aesthetic via the Situationists, Punk (Sniffin’ Glue) and Grunge (Sub-pop) and feeds into (or has been co-opted by) a lifestyle consumerism focused on discern and connoisseurship (the handmade/artisanal/locally-sourced) rather than maximal ingestion.

I don’t mean to be a miserablist – I am far from an austere corporeality-rejecting cyber-rationalist. I too would choose a book on paper or an album on vinyl any day of the week. Some things worth keeping need to be made-tangible, made-real (not to mention the risk of cultural wipeout via electromagnetic pulse). Sometimes the handmade and DIY is still the fastest and easiest way to publish, beneath the formalism of the ISBN. For some marginalised communities the fanzine has remained a vital avenue of production – to bypass censorship, overcome disenfranchisement, or avoid jumping through the gatekeeper hoops of academic and commercial publishing. The zine-qua-zine also facilitates a community of producers who swap copies by post and in person. Physical publications retain a possibility of real world stumble-across that is increasingly difficult to replicate via social media platforms whose primary instinct is to centralise and ghettoise.

For the purposes of this project, I am more concerned with the impulse to produce on the part of fans, over and above a fixation with the media forms that these productions take. Trying to trace the beginnings of the fan-production mode is another rabbit hole of conjecture (Greek and Roman myths/The Bible/The Canterbury Tales/the complete works of Shakespeare/Jane Austen fanfics/Gulliver’s travels fanfics all get a mention) – suffice to say the impulse to make work using characters and worlds produced by others has been around a long time, and arguably has constituted the primary mode of cultural production for much of human history, counter to the modernist myth of authorial genius.

The truest contemporary equivalents of the fanzine impulse are now in the online communities hosted by platforms such as fanfiction repository AO3 (Archive of Our Own), and on more general platforms like reddit and Tumblr. Shifting these communities online has accelerated the speed and quantity of production, with AO3 hosting over 5 million works produced by fans since 2009.[1] Fan art can be traditional works of devotion and tribute such as drawings, slash fiction by singular fans, or at its most ambitious collaborative film works that come close to studio productions in scale and ambition, if not quite in execution.

These fan produced films and TV shows constitute a genre in their own right, flavoured by an aesthetic of optimistic ambition. For example the unofficial Star Trek series Hidden Frontier, of which 50 full-length episodes were produced between 2000-2007[2]

Unofficial straight-to-VHS Doctor Who spinoffs produced by Reeltime Pictures, carefully skirting copyright and licensing issues.

Star Wars has inspired a huge number of fan produced films, that since 2002 have been recognised by The Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards.[3] (Lucasfilm retains some antagonism towards fan productions, originally forbidding any fanfiction-type entries that were set in-universe or sought to expand the canon, with Jim Ward, former vice president of marketing stating “We love our fans…But if in fact someone is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that’s not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is.”[4])

For the most part, these fan produced films originate from a period in the 90s and early 2000s slightly before the regurgitation and reboot mode of hollywood kicked in (the franchise mentality which seeks to keep audiences topped up with regular doses of their preferred cinematic universe). They speak of a fan’s desire to fill a gap, to continue storylines, a genuine need and hunger for content before the overload of youtube, when there hadn’t been any new Doctor Who episodes for ten years, and Star Wars was just three films. While not matching the production values of commercial film and television (recent Star Wars fan films come close) these works are perhaps closest in form to those made by contemporary video artists, with similar budgets and techniques, using DSLR cameras, thrifty costumes and a reliance on greenscreen (I’m thinking of someone like Rachel Maclean). The accessibility of editing and effects software to amateurs has closed the gap between ‘industry’ and laymen. The main thing that sticks out in most fan films is the languorous pace of editing, as though every shot is miraculous and precious to the amateur film-maker – slow editing pace being a notorious characteristic of artist film.

On occasion, methods originating in the world of fan art are explicitly co-opted by artists as low cost and effective approaches to image production, such as the ‘machinima’ technique that uses in-game video editors to produce moving image works. Artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy utilise the technique in their Finding Fanon (2015-18) series of moving image works, that use the Grand Theft Auto V (2013) in-game video editor. In the series, avatars of the artists search through the eerie desolate edgelands of San Andreas at dusk, beneath a poetic voiceover that occasionally alludes to the work of postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon, at one point speculating “What if Fanon’s message was not simply one of love, but a warning of the impending reality that we are asleep to? Wake up my friend, let us search for the answer.”[5] (Probably in reference to Fanon: “Today, I believe in the possibility of love; that is why I endeavour to trace its imperfections, its perversions” – thinking back to the earlier thought that the form of love expressed by the fan is the perverted, unrequited love of the onanist).

Whilst to most artist filmmakers using the constraints of a video game to produce footage might become a barrier to freeform image-making, Achiampong and Blandy allow the limitations of the fan mode to become their conceptual material, stating: ‘The baggage that comes with [using GTA v] is equally exciting, the fact that you are forced into certain stereotypes, certain types of landscapes, it’s a bit like working with found object sculpture but in a virtual form.’[6] In instances such as these, it is the devotion drive of the fan that has inspired and allowed the pushing and adaptation of image production technologies to find new, economically viable routes that are free from the profit motive, and thus allow for the uncovering of new possibilities within the existing media.

The status of the contemporary fan-as-producer has become increasingly legitimised under the advocacy of the not-for-profit Organisation for Transformative Works, (transformative in the sense of utilising pre-existing authored works) of which AO3 is a part. The OTW aims ‘to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms.’[7] There has been a proliferation of academic research on the subject of the fan in the past decade that has grown around the peer-reviewed journal of the OTW – Transformative Works and Cultures (2008-), and has instigated a turn away from the typical view of fan activity as simply a hobby or pastime and towards the positioning of fan output as a form of labour that generates value for both the audiences and parent companies of media franchises.

In a 2014 issue of the journal focusing on ‘Fandom and/as labor’, Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis describe how ‘this disjuncture [between fan labour and work] partially comes from the fact that fan activity is by all appearances both freely chosen and understood as pleasure, neither of which is typically associated with work.’[8] Such attitudes to labour deepen the affinity between the subjectivity of the fan and the artist, with the pleasurable, immaterial labour of both being somewhat incompatible with traditional economic models. Both also stand to make a specific contribution to contemporary dialogues around the shifting status of labour and the spectre of new forms of cultural production that might be engendered by an automated post-work society.

[1] “Home : Archive of Our Own,” AO3, Accessed August 3, 2019, https://archiveofourown.org/.

[2] “Star Trek : Hidden Frontier,” Hidden Frontier Productions, Accessed August 3, 2019, http://www.hiddenfrontier.net/productions/hf/.

[3] “Star Wars Fan Awards 2018 : StarWars.com,” Accessed August 9, 2019,
https://www.starwars.com/star-wars-fan-awards/long-video-winners.

[4] https://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/385/260

[5] Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, Finding Fanon 2, 2015, Digital Video, 09:13, Accessed August 3 2019 at https://vimeo.com/138951543.

[6]  “Interview: Larry Achiampong And David Blandy,” Gamescenes, Last modified May 29, 2016,
https://www.gamescenes.org/2016/05/interview-larry-achiampong-and-david-blandy.html.

[7] “What We Believe : Organization for Transformative Works,” Organization for Transformative Works, Accessed August 3, 2019, https://www.transformativeworks.org/what_we_believe/.

[8] Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis, “Fandom and/as Labor,” Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol.15, (March 2014):, https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0593.

Towards a Radical Fandom pt.2

 

Issue 1 of ‘The Comet’, May 1930. Source: https://amazingstories.com/2015/06/clubhouse-fanzine-reviews-mr-ackermans-fervent-ebullient-denunciation-stories/

As well as defining one form of the genre cul-de-sac of Sci-Fi, Amazing Stories, shortly followed by the arguably more influential Astounding Science Fiction (Still running as Analog) and other fiction magazines of its ilk also spawned the community of Sci-Fi fanclubs and the secondary media of the fanzine. The history of early fandom and the fanzine and the question of the ‘original’ fanzine is a very contested area and a pretty deep internet rabbit hole to fall into – most of the secondary research is happy to repeat the claim that The Comet was the first fanzine, but delving a bit deeper makes tracing the beginnings of fan activity and production (i.e. the point at which these publications became more than just newsletters or bulletin boards) very complex. Alot of this information is scattered across different very comprehensive sites run by fan communities, and I have spent more time than I probably should have done trying to tie together threads that are not concisely compiled elsewhere in one place.

 The Comet sprang from the vibrant letters page of Amazing, which began to constitute communities of its own including Chicago’s Science Correspondence Club.[1] The SCC bypassed the letters page of Amazing into its own amateur publication, whose first issue appeared in May 1930 – the copy that is usually credited as the first fanzine. A full scan of that issue is available at http://fanac.org/fanzines/Comet/ and shows that the contents were mostly concerned with the election of officials for the newly formed club, castigation of members who had yet to pay their dues, and a single piece of science content – a short essay on ‘Trends in Psychology’ by Lilith Lorraine (who would become a frequent contributor and editor of SF zines of the period[2]). Original editor of the Comet, Raymond Arthur Palmer would also go on to edit SF prozines including Amazing Stories, overseeing the publication of the Shaver Mysteries in the mid 1940s. The Comet quickly changed its name to Cosmology, and ended in 1933 after 17 issues (quite a long run for a ‘zine of the time).

The publication of the Bronx-based Scienceers club, The Planet (first issue July 1930) is also regularly mentioned as an early prominent (possibly first ‘proper’) fanzine title. One of the primary distinctions of the Scienceers over the SCC is the fact that they were the first club to meet in person (rather than by post) and again, names associated with The Planet would become involved in professional Sci-Fi and comicbook publishing. Associate editor Mort Weisinger became a prominent editor at DC comics, overseeing Silver age superman throughout the 50s and 60s, alongside fellow Scienceer Julius Schwartz. Schwartz and Weisinger led a partial splinter group of the Scienceers, publishing their own fanzine The Time Traveller,[3] sometimes credited as the first Sci-Fi fanzine that was primarily concerned with Fiction more than Science. These connections are sometimes tied together with the fact that the Scienceers logo bears something of a passing resemblance to Superman’s[4].

Scienceers Logo in ‘The Planet’ fanzine, with possible resemblance to Superman shield, source: https://www.cbr.com/superman-logo-s-shield-planet-scienceers-mort-weisinger/

Delving into this early first fandom history, a picture emerges in which Superman was a joint product of the context and milieu of fanzines and their fan-producers. Time Traveller subscriber[5] and Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s 1929 fanzine Cosmic Stories is another often-cited contender for ‘first fanzine’, which sounds like it may have been more along the lines of a fanzine as outlet for fan-produced fictions, containing Siegel’s rejected submissions to professional SF magazines.[6] The distribution is reported to have been in very low numbers and localised, so its impact or claim as ‘first fanzine’ is probably negligible – unfortunately if there are any still existing copies they don’t seem to have made it online in scanned form. Within a few years Siegel would team up with school friend Joe Shuster to produce another fan fiction-zine, titled Science Fiction, the January 1933 issue of which contained the story ‘Reign of the Superman’ – the beginnings of Siegel and Shuster’s many attempts to bring the Superman character we now know into fruition.[7]

The Comet and Planet as two examples of first era ‘zines are definitely oriented towards facilitating community exchange between fans, rather than publishing new fiction produced by fans, or even much writing about the fiction of others. Where there is original written contributions these are mostly small articles of around 100 words on the subject of new scientific discoveries – the first two issues of the Planet contain pieces entitled ‘Shall We Eat in 2030?’, ‘The Sea as a Source of Power’, ‘Space Flying As News’, ‘The Internal Heat of the Earth’. The editors are clearly working in the mold of Amazing’s Hugo Gernsback and his view that Sci-Fi should be science first and fiction second. Where the early zines concern fiction their orientation is definitely as fans of the pulp magazines – a list of the best ‘Scientific-Fantasy’ stories of 1930 in issue 6 of The Planet pulls its entries from pulp titles The Blue Book, The Argosy, Astounding Stories, Wonder Stories and Weird Tales (Astounding accounts for 9 of the 15 entries).

Another sense that emerges from my admittedly fleeting browse of the first wave SF fanzines is that while there is a definite community and particular humour that forms on the pages, they are also marked by quite fractious exchanges between individual fans and rival Sci-Fi clubs. Non-Payment of subscription dues seems to be a long-running irritation (admittedly running something like this by postal subscription must have been an administrative nightmare). The front cover of Detours from October 1940, (the issue in which Russ Chauvenet coined the term ‘fanzine’) details a disagreement between rival clubs about the date of a proposed conference (as a side note, the names of the early sci-fi clubs are really great – The Solaroids and The Sunspots both have big Thomas Pynchon vibes). Rivalries between and schisms within clubs constitute a fanlore of their own such as the split between the Futurians and the New Futurians that was important in the birth of the New Wave.

‘Detours’ fanzine, October 1940 Source: https://jimdoran.art/joie-de-vivre/zine-scene

A large part of this early fandom’s regard is towards itself, as evinced by the nuanced lexicon of positions within the fan ecology that revere dedication and shun the outside world (admittedly with self deprecation). Examples include the ‘Trufan’ (one who is particularly dedicated and active[8]), the ‘Actifan’ (an active fan[9]), the B.N.F (Big name fan – one who has achieved a level of fame within their particular fandom), and the Faan (‘One whose interests lie in fans and their activities rather than science fiction.’)[10] The world outside of Fandom is Mundania, where fans go when they Gafiate (Get Away From It All). This fan lexicon is another example of the kind of linguistic complexity used to shut out/shut in or dis/enfranchise that I talked about in the recent post On Complexity and its Opposite,  and while the price of acceptance may have been a high degree of dedication on the part of fans, this is understandable for a community as removed from ‘real life’ and therefore open to derision and ridicule as that around Science Fiction.

Alongside the US based first fandom outlined above, a parallel scene of UK fandom was emerging in tandem, documented in great detail in Rob Hansen’s comprehensive Then, Then Again and Home Front. One of the fanzine titles emerging from this UK scene, Novae Terrae (1936-39) the magazine of the Nuneaton Science Fiction League,[11] was the predecessor to long-running pro-magazine title New Worlds, which pioneered the ‘new-wave’ of literary science fiction including the early work of J.G. Ballard. Many of the stories that would ultimately be compiled as chapters in the Atrocity Exhibition first appeared in New Worlds. Two great sites that catalogue which of Ballard’s stories first appeared through magazines such as New Worlds:
https://www.jgballard.ca/terminal_collection/1968_73.html
http://www.holli.co.uk/JGB/new_worlds.htm

Where the US fan and ‘zine community turned most substantially into the pop culture of comic books, UK fanzines beget the darker world of New Wave sci-fi (although maybe this is a selective view.) In both instances, these fan scenes resulted in an opening up of the New, in the terms also referred to in the ‘on complexity’ post, after technologies such as the mimeograph and photocopier are passed down for misuse into the hands of amateurs.

Sci-Fi fandom’s high degree of self regard and self-historicisation is probably why there is so much contention and importance placed on the idea of what was first. In truth the beginnings of the fanzine and the pop culture it spawned are not works of individual genius but a product of zeitgeist. The techniques and technology were already existent: distribution lists of knowledge exchange such as amateur press associations were already popular in the late 19th century, including the United Amateur Press run by a young H.P. Lovecraft. The fanzine and its antecedents were the product of a communal, societal need and mode of behaviour, vitally born out of fan devotion toward speculative fictioning, and the particular moment of 1930s high modernism for which Sci-Fi held such resonance. These things just had to be made weird before they could beget new territory.

Cover of ‘The Science Fiction Fan’ fanzine, c.1940 Source: https://library.umbc.edu/speccoll/scifi/images/science_fiction_fan_fanzine.jpg Some scanned issues available at: http://fanac.org/fanzines/ScienceFictionFan/

[1] http://fancyclopedia.org/ISA

[2] http://zinewiki.com/Lilith_Lorraine

[3] http://fanac.org/fanzines/Time_Traveller/index.html?

[4] https://www.cbr.com/superman-logo-s-shield-planet-scienceers-mort-weisinger/

[5] http://zinewiki.com/Science_Fiction

[6] http://www.greatkrypton.com/siegelshuster/2012/11/16/amazing-stories-august-1929/

[7] http://www.thecomicbooks.com/old/super.html

[8] Jeff Prucher “trufan” in Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 251

[9] Bruce Southard, “The Language of Science-Fiction Fan Magazines,” American Speech Vol. 57, Issue 1 (Spring 1982):, 23, https://www.jstor.org/stable/455177

[10] Ibid, p.25

[11] Teal Triggs, Fanzines, (London: Thames and Hudson, 2010), 24.