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Never mix academics and the Fens: all you get are Tabs - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Never mix academics and the Fens: all you get are Tabs


I turn to a matter not a million miles removed from those addressed in my immediately preceding post (which is of no real relevance to ‘meta’, I hasten to add, and is by no means something you want to look out before reading this).


I see that a debate – or at least a contention – has (evidently ‘once again’, from what I am reading) broken out regarding academics acting academically in fandom.  The academics, to the surprise of absolutely no one, protest that they are a valuable influence upon fandom.  Other fans, as everyone might well have expected, insist that academic readings of canon and of fannish responses, are ruining fandom.


This is all very odd.


Insofar as fandom exists, it is the creation of, if not academics, at least the intellectually inclined.  It’s all very well to make Star Trek and fanzines the founding myth of fandom, as I have seen done to the point of staleness, but it is I think inaccurate.  What we recognise as fandom may well have very ancient roots (the Æneid comes to mind), but is more accurately seen as beginning with the Irregulars (and their followers in the detective genre, such as Martin Gardner for Fr Brown and Scott-Giles for the Wimsey family).


My own experience is in the Potter fandom.  I’ve the privilege of maintaining the Britpickery community and being a member of the Potterpast community.  I have never encountered this quarrel in my fandom.


To the contrary.  I have encountered a gratifying willingness to share knowledge and a remarkable appetite for knowledge in my fandom.  From Ethelred to today’s parliament, from blacksmithing to rivers to geography and geomorphology, from the Queen’s English and how it is different to (not ‘from’) the American language, from ceremonial magic to cricket, the fandom is dominated by ‘’satiable curtiosity’ on the one hand and reservoirs of specialised learning and specialised knowledge on the other.


And this is very like what the Irregulars did and yet do.  The past, famously, is another country; and when, for example, Beth Sutton-Ramspeck and Nicole B. Meller set out to publish a new and definitive critical edition of Mrs Humphry Ward, they were able to call upon the dispersed expertise of the VICTORIA listserv.  The Irregulars are forever annotating and explaining Victorian London to those first making the acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Hamish Watson.  Well, for many Potterfen, even the current era in the Potterverse is set quite literally in another country; and they are avid to learn of its ways, recognising that even the Wizarding world is a funfair mirror of Britain.  Historians, archæologists, geographers, Old Boys who can stammer out an explanation of the mysterious ethos of the public schools, cricketers, solicitors, sociologists, anthropologists, Latinists, curates, growers of prize vegetable marrows, and heralds, all contribute to the dissemination of knowledge in the Potter fandom and are eagerly sought after.  To the extent that the Potterverse includes the Continent (Viktor Krum; Durmstrang School; Gellert Grindelwald; Beauxbatons), those with some special knowledge of All Those Places East of Calais and of the odd languages there quaintly spoken by the unfortunate natives who have no English, are regarded with awe and wonder, and fans sit at their feet as at the feet of Gamaliel.


As far as one can make out from the current squabble in other fandoms, it is not academics as such who are disregarded or disdained by other fen.  It is, almost exclusively, the Faculty of English Language and Literature who have made themselves unwelcome.  This seems to me significant.  It seems to me more significant still that it is, so far as I can determine, primarily American dons of Frenchified theoretical leanings who are making themselves unpopular with the mass of fandom.  I mean, if the academic fen in question were, say, Womersley of St Catz, Shrimpton of LMH, or Turner of Jesus, let alone Jenkyns of LMH, I shouldn’t expect the same quarrel to have arisen.


My primary point is simply that this seems not to be a case in other fandoms of something I’ve never seen and don’t anticipate seeing in mine: of ‘the revolting peasants rising against their intellectual superiors’ or of ‘all academics sucking the soul out of fandom like so many Dementors’, which appear to be the two rallying cries here.  One simply doesn’t observe this sort of anger’s attaching to historians or those who read Law at university or even to wild-eyed, Balliol-Wadham-and-Grauniadista sociologists and anthropologists, at least not in my fandom.  Therefore, I submit that it is misleading and contrary to resolution of the quarrel to cast it in terms of all fen in all fandoms against all academics of all schools of thought.


My subsidiary point is that, when one accepts it is largely those fen within the Faculty of English, and whose thinking is informed by certain schools of thought, who are at odds with certain non-academic fen in certain fandoms, a remedy may be proposed.  Without here joining either camp (although I know where I stand), I confide that the academic fen must concede either that the intellectual underpinnings of their approach are understood and rejected by the non-academic fen, or that they are not understood, or indeed, it may be, recognised.  In the first instance, more effective argument is the remedy; in the second, basic explanation.  At the same time, non-academic fans may well decide, on balance, that the theoretical position of the academic fen is, simply, balls, utter rubbish; but they must – as a matter of intellectual honesty – reach that conclusion and that rejection only having once understood the theory.  Such principles will not, I am certain, end the debate; but they are the only way in which it can be expected to generate rather light than heat.

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43 comments or Leave a comment
ellie_nor From: ellie_nor Date: October 26th, 2008 10:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
It is, almost exclusively, the Faculty of English Language and Literature who have made themselves unwelcome. This seems to me significant.

::howls with laughter::

I myself am a Grammar school-Girton-exGrauniadista social anthropologist and Jenny-come-lately human geographer. I do enjoy a bit of critical theory, but really, some academics are so far up their own fundaments they can examine their own tonsils from the light entering their ever-open mouths.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 27th, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)


'Tis pity they're ... well, you know the drill.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: October 26th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure what the background to this is, but I am amused - and I agree, broadly.

I'm sure there ought to be the possibility of a browser related joke about closing Tabs, but my own intellectual powers are currently at a low ebb, probably due to spending too much time in hall....
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 27th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC) (Link)


(Deleted comment)
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 26th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: In defence of English language studies

...because there are forensic linguists who study threatening letters and ransom notes to see who really wrote them, when technology renders the arcane art of handwriting analysis quaint and useless.
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From: (Anonymous) Date: October 28th, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Speak English, dammit! I don't speak tl;dr.

Or maybe you're parodying this type of thing? I can't tell anymore.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 29th, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

I rather thought I had done.

Wd you prefer it translated into American?

Odd. The policy of thorough is 'too much'; yet one tries, say, to explain Classical economics through Wurzels lyrics, and it's too little. Serpents, there's no pleasing them....
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
emily_shore From: emily_shore Date: October 28th, 2008 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

(so says a Balliol Grauniadista historian...)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 29th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, thank you.

You're far kinder than I doubtless deserve.
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wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 29th, 2008 01:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thankee, lass.

You're very kind to say so.
dharma_slut From: dharma_slut Date: October 29th, 2008 12:47 am (UTC) (Link)

here from metafandom

I shmoosh you with many squees for your last paragraph!

I do want to say that the acafen I've been reading are mostly saying that critique and taking-it-apart and, um, other intellectual pursuits which I cannot remember the terms for with aphasia right now-- anyway, lots of acafen have been saying that's just the way they have their fun.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 29th, 2008 01:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Dons just wanna have fu-un?

I quite understand. Very early on, I was engaged in some Irregular-ities in the Potterfandom - it may have been trying to track down the site of Godric's Hollow, or it may have been determining whence the Founders came; I know it was before my proposal that Spinner's End was in Todmorden - and an anonymous commenter suggested that children's books neither wanted nor benefit from such analysis, and were simply to be enjoyed. My only possible response was that one of the ways in which I derived enjoyment from them was to engage in just such mock-scholarship.

The fact is, we're all of us, in fandom, utter anoraks. Trainspotters. Some us are trainspotters tout court. Others play with toy trains and build elaborate layouts of vanished railways. Some even become involved in industrial archaeology. I think the current complaints are, in effect, that cozy discussions of, say, Telford and Brunel and the Stockton & Darlington and the Great Western - discussions that are in themselves of no mean intellectual calibre - are being (it is felt by the objectors) perpetually interrupted by persons obsessed with the Freudian image of trains going into tunnels (and finding great import in the fact that the inventor of a patent tunnelling borer was surnamed 'Greathead'). I do not say this is altogether fair; I do say it seems to be the complaint raised.

Thank you for your very kind words.

Edited at 2008-10-30 01:05 pm (UTC)
unjapanologist From: unjapanologist Date: October 29th, 2008 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
...primarily American dons of Frenchified theoretical leanings who are making themselves unpopular with the mass of fandom. I mean, if the academic fen in question were, say, Womersley of St Catz, Shrimpton of LMH, or Turner of Jesus, let alone Jenkyns of LMH, I shouldn’t expect the same quarrel to have arisen.

Fairly new to this topic. I've been reading the various threads on this fans-versus-academics topic for a few days now, and I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out exactly who has offended who. May I ask if this whole storm is a backlash against big-name academic 'authorities' like Jenkins or Hills researching/talking about fandom, or against fans who happen to be academics being snotty and beating down other fans with their supposedly 'superior' analytical capabilities? Or both? When you say 'American dons of Frenchified theoretical leanings', do you have any particular names in mind?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 29th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm not certain I can be of much assistance.

So far as I understand the quarrel - which, like you, I have followed primarily through metafandom - I gather that the squabbling is between fen who are academics and fen who are not. It also appears - again with the reservations above made - that the academic fen in question are in the main American; primarily in the Faculty of English; largely interested in interdisciplinary or nontraditional readings; and generally self-identified as 'post-modernist'.
losyark From: losyark Date: October 29th, 2008 04:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'll drink to that. It seems a fair remedy. And also: a decision to let everyone have fun their own way, and not try to cram your way down the other faction's throat.

I find the debates I've read are mostly the academics saying "but you must understand this text via these theories" and the non-academics saying "don't ruin my fun by making it work-like". If each camp could stop telling the others what to do - stop telling people to analyze things and stop telling people to STOP analyzing things - things would be happier.

What matters most is that both camps stop trying to tell each other how they ought to think and behave and engage; to agree to disagree about how to engage in fandom, and enjoy paddling in their own sides of the fandom lake. It's quite okay to visit the other shore, or occupy yourself in playing in between, but people must remember to be polite guests when their on each other's beaches, without causing hurt and without trying to force dogma. We're all fans; we just get our jollies different ways and that's what has to be accepted, respected, and understood. Just because it's Not My Kink doesn't mean I have to berate the person whose it is, and because it Is My Kink doesn't mean I have to indoctrinate everyone who isn't.

And then to recognize that doing what they do is what makes the other camp HAPPY and it's their chosen way of engaging in fandom, and that in no way threatens the way that you in your camp makes you happy or the way you personally engage in fandom.

I see this as a worry about a threat to one's personal method of engaging with a text, and I think that's silly; my writing a book about the Colonialist leanings of "Doctor Who" doesn't threaten how a non-academic Whovian engages with the text. If they choose not to engage with my book, then they do not have to; if they choose to read it and, like you said, after thorough understanding of my theories and opinions, reject it, then it does not bother me any. I've had my say and if the reader does not agree, then that is their right and perogative. And their choice to disagree or ignore me completely does not threaten the way I choose to engage with "Doctor Who"; I will still watch it, still engage, and still analyze, because that is what makes me happy.

It is a matter of realizing that we're all paddling about in the same lake, though our interests might lie on opposite shore. It is okay to visit back and forth, as long as you don't offend your hosts or try to tell your guests how they ought to think and act. We must agree to disagree and stop trying to change the other faction, and when we meet in the middle, to respect their choices and opinions and meet as mutual fans.

Edited at 2008-10-29 04:11 pm (UTC)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 29th, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

I rather agree.

And of course I find it exceptionally curious that a group of academics who are mostly of a school of thought that insists that there is no one truth or one reading, should be so insistent on theirs.

Yet - and this is my proviso - I also understand the urge to evangelise in fandom: not only in the sudden impulse to share a new rec or writer or pairing or fandom, but also the overmastering urge to go out and preach one's own new revelation or pet theory, out of sheer effervescent excitement. Thus, so long as it is politely done, I do encourage argument (in the formal sense) and attempts to sway a few hearts and minds (or harts and hinds) to one's way of thinking.

With you, I also maintain that the overriding imperative is never to forget that we are all of us here to have fun, whether that be as intellectualisers or as cosumers of fic.

Thank you for your kind and incisive comment.
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