Kristina Busse

Abstract for Original Genius and Transformative Repetition

IP/Gender: Mapping the Connections (April 2009)

Aesthetic theorists often posit the creative process as interplay between the familiar and the new, between repetition and difference. However, different periods of literary and philosophical thought place emphasis more strongly on either continuity or authenticity. Thinkers of modernity often privileged originality and artistic genius, as they laid the groundwork for /a value system that still affects the landscape of contemporary popular culture. In contrast, countering this ascribed modernist valuation of originality, postmodern theorists and artists have emphasized pastiche, appropriation, and intertextuality. In so doing, they revalue repetition as a central mode of creative production.

Fan writers and artists can be understood in this aesthetic framework of challenging themselves to create within firmly established boundaries: as they rework and reshape popular texts, emphasizing and foregrounding their intertextuality, fan texts can be understood as postmodern creations par excellence. Fan authorship thus offers a cultural counterbalance to ideologies of originality. With their emphasis on (often voluntarily) enforced restrictions to restage common narratives or character portraits, fan productions revels in the inspirations borne of intertextuality and repeated cultural reference points.

Such valorization of aesthetic value judgments, however, can often be at odds with legal arguments, many of which require some form of originality to counter copyright infringement accusations. Legal arguments that base themselves on transformativity require an aesthetic model where originality is central. The relationship between aesthetic and legal theory becomes even more complicated when introducing the ways in which potential literary interpretations can play a role in copyright cases, such as literary interpretations used to support the defendant’s case in The Wind Done Gone lawsuit. Indeed, fan activists often follow legal trendsetters in their emphasis on originality and authenticity, thus harking back to more modernist ideals of originality and individual creation.

For example, the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), a nonprofit fan advocacy organization exemplifies this tension: although OTW is dedicated to archiving fan works in all of their repetition and multiplicity, the name itself suggests a valorization of the transformative aspect of fan creative works. OTW’s emphasis on the transformative properties of fan authorship is clearly strategic: its valuation of transformation (and implicitly originality) reflects a legal culture that upholds values of originality, linking originality with ideas of ownership. But no matter how strategic the rationale, this turn to language of transformation suggests that even in its cultural embrace of repetition, fandom still remains at least tenuously invested in more traditional notions of originality, transformation, and uniqueness.

In contrast to such a model of artistic genius, originality, and ownership of individual creativity, I’d like to reemphasize the fan community as a collective creative culture that values sharing, allusion, and repetition as aesthetic (and affective) choice. While the community often addresses the collective nature of their interpretations and even creations, external models of intellectual ownership remain prevalent when it comes to individual fan works. Focusing on the intertextuality that suffuses and often defines fan communities and characterizes their fan works, I thus want to emphasize a fannish model that advocates repetition and not difference as a potentially driving aesthetic principle.