Kristina Busse

Abstract for Paratextual Commentary as Writer Response Theory

SCMS (March 2008)

In this paper I focus on the paratextual apparatus that commonly accompanies online fan fiction, ranging from header information and story notes to fan-created DVD commentaries and reader comments and feedback. I look at the way paratexts shape and affect reading experiences of fan stories, in effect forming a shared, complex interpretive architectural frame with and against the fanfiction they accompany. These paratexts are a central aspect of overall fannish responses, all of which shape and affect how people engage with and the television show they're invested in. Indeed, paratexts play central roles in fan fiction communities, as these communities develop around shared readings and interpretations of respective mass media texts. These collective analyses, the debates surrounding them, and the fan-created texts responding to them create a dense textual network that forms a backdrop for fannish readings and writings of television shows. Thus, paratexts are written either by the story’s readers, as in the case of comments and feedback, or with readers’ needs and desires clearly in mind, as in the case of header information and story notes.

Redefining authorship as a more collective endeavor invites an expansion of Gerard Genette’s notion of the paratext. We can usefully reconfigure Genette’s definition, which restricts paratextual production to authors, to encompass writings within fan communities where authorship and origins of ideas often are not so easily distinguishable. The fannish interaction that surrounds story production affects not only the stories themselves but also the content and form of the paratextual framework; this allows us to look at the relationship between readers and writers within the particular context of online fannish interaction.

I suggest that the architectual design of online spaces is central to the creation and the function of digital media within the context of fannish engagements with televisual texts. Archives and mailing lists develop formal guidelines and etiquettes surrounding paratextual material. Social networking and blogging sites like complicate the architecture of autonomous fannish spaces, merging multiple discourses, such as the personal and the fannish. The space allows more freedom and individualization as writers are subject to less rigorous rules than they would be when posting in archives or on mailing lists. At the same time, the rhizomatic structure of blogging sites decenters meaning production through multi-authored paratextual commentaries. Comments, recommendations, and reviews function as paratexts that are central to the overall reception and interpretation of a given fan story, affecting interpretations of the mass media text. Both these aspects of paratexts shape the changing processes of fan engagement with television.