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Thinking about [livejournal.com profile] anitaray's post about the ridiculous holes in the plot of DH and another comment in reaction to it saying it comes as no surprise to 'regular readers' 'cause plot isn't JKR's strong-point, I got to thinking about just how true it is that we all evaluate and form responses to books on quite different axes, generally without spelling out or even realizing what those are.


I mean, even saying 'I value complex/believable characterization over plot', it's quite likely I may value different aspects of it than someone else. In any case, it would be most correct to say that I vary what qualities I look for depending on the strengths of a given work. If a book is really strong in original or complex plotting or world-building, I'll probably enjoy that. If it's strong in magic or science fictional ideas, that's what I focus on. If it's got a central character I love, that's it for me, and of course if it's got a unique and beautiful style or flow, that gives me a lot of pleasure.

I probably have a more rigid/fixed list of pet peeves than any central focus in what I look for in fiction, based on the sorts of things my own mind is naturally drawn to and excels at noticing. Like, I always naturally note details of style, so I can empathize with a criticism of DH like 'I sat there and marked up her sentences with an imaginary red pen', because I've made a conscious decision to not do that with JKR's work. But I just breeze by most plot holes because my mind isn't naturally analytical in quite that way, I guess. Even if you tell me, I don't really care because it doesn't affect my personal reading experience. Just as I may very well leave threads hanging in my own writing, it would take something really blatant to bother me in a story, and it'd probably have to be directly related to characterization (like, 'omg why didn't Harry grieve/fixate on Sirius' death more??!' and 'how did he just overlook casting the Sectumsempra so quickly?' and so on). There are probably great numbers of people whose response to those issues would be a heartfelt, 'so what?' And, y'know, that's a valid response too, I think, as far as it goes.

I think this sort of thinking goes a long way towards explaining why critically panned works can be so popular in the mainstream and why crappy Harry/Draco fanfic gets so many raving fangirl reviews.

Usually, when people write actual essays defending this, they say stuff that gets on my tits before it gets up my nose, like 'ICness doesn't matter' and 'writing believably is for sissies and Mudbloods, so leave my wankfic alone you meanies!' (...or... not. you know, artistic license is important). It's not that it's not important, it's that we all read what are effectively different stories, such is the difference a change in focus makes.

Often enough, I find I cannot recognize the HP I love in people's critical responses, even though I don't actually think they're wrong in the particulars, for instance. It's like... we all see the same trees on some level, but the nature of human perception is such that this isn't as important as the subjective 'forest' we make by noticing some trees as 'foreground' and the rest as 'background shrubbery'.

A lot of it's that I think there are different truths; and in some ways, I value the way someone sees something with the eyes of love more than the way someone deconstructs that same things rationally, though this is a subjective preference for equally subjective response. I still think realizing the halfway objective 'true outline' prevents any writer or critic from putting their foot in their mouth and being completely stupid (mmm, yummy foot), but this, to me, is in service to the ultimately personal nature of reader's response. I think knowing why people love something can be as enlightening as knowing why that something doesn't work on a rational level, though these two things are useful for different purposes. I wish people were more aware of and specific about what their purposes were, too, futile as that may be.

There's a danger to taking either 'side' too seriously; the rationalist readers have a way of acting like the objective analysis is 'superior' and 'the only truth' by implication even at best, and the emotive readers have a way of getting defensive and proprietary about their idea of-- or more accurately, feeling about the text, as if it is 'theirs' and any cold/prickly analysis or deconstruction is an assault not only on it, but on them personally. And while I am most naturally of the second type, I've been on the former type's side often enough to know it's no fun beating your head against either part of the brick wall. :>

I think you can't really understand the whole of a text (canon or fanfic), especially in the fannish context, without bringing the readers' emotional responses and context into it. If you're a rationalist, without understanding the emotional impact of and intuitive reasoning behind the stuff you're critiquing, you're going to talk past most of the actual fans and only reach the part of fandom that's disenfranchised and not emotionally invested in the fandom/canon to begin with, so just like with [livejournal.com profile] anitaray's post, a bunch of people 'me too' with no real discussion or new meaning generated in fandom. It becomes a bit ridiculous, to the point where it's like, 'if it's this bad, why are we here? what the hell is going on? are all these fangirls just complete idiots?' And in fact I do think the fangirls think that's the implied message-- that they're idiots as much as JKR, for being drawn in, right, for caring.

Conversely, just as I said in the recent post about how if you're not a canon!whore to some extent, or at least if you don't care about the nitty-gritty believability issues in relation to actual canon, your fic is going to suck. This sort of statement on my part is mostly addressed at the second type of fan, the emotive reader; this is because that's the reasoning I use on myself. "Reena," I said to myself once. "Reena, if you don't actually read the books, no one is going to take anything you say seriously. You realize this, right. Just checking." And lo, a lightbulb went on in my head. :P

It's fun to coast along, doing whatever the fuck you want and 'to hell with canon', until you crash-land on an alien planet filled with purple spotted wildebeests raping Harry's mom while eating cotton candy, and you ask yourself-- you ask yourself, 'what have I done? who the fuck are these people? and where, oh where are my PANTS??!' and so on. It's just not good for one's sense of sanity & grasp on reality, you know. It's good to have a few logical boundaries act as a filter both to one's writerly desires and even one's imagination. Otherwise, no one will know what you're talking about, basically, unless they too dream of purple wildebeests on Mars raping Harry's mum.

Which. I don't know, it gets a bit lonely out there, really, spewing stuff that no one understands 'cause it's too self-referential, too divorced from its 'actual' context, too stylized, too convoluted and just too damn weird. Ahem. But maybe that's just me.

~~

ETA: I regret my misguided terminology. All I can say is that it depends on you just 'knowing what I mean'. -.- I'll try to never generalize about people thoughtlessly in the future.

Date: 2007-09-16 06:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] discordiana.livejournal.com
Eh, I can't speak for other NT types, but what sticks in mine is the tendency to support reader response in the sense that they feel entitled to their view of the source regardless of what creators or such and such say (which is fine), but at the same time tend to be the most vehement denouncers of OTHER PEOPLE'S subjective responses. Or, as I was saying to Rae the other day, so many people claim to champion subjectivity but in actuality are championing the idea that there IS a One Truth, and they have it but no one else does.

Hi, this caught my eyes! I'm on the reader response end of the reading spectrum and don't think that all readings are created equal, so I'm going to try to explain. Emotional responses are all valid simply because they are, they're all emotionally true, and they're all interesting. At any given point what someone is experiencing when reading is true to them. But doing a reading isn't the same as sharing the emotional response: it's an attempt to explain what's going on in the text. Not by an "everything goes" standard either, but by using the text as standard. Saying "when Harry met Draco Malfoy the first time and Draco told him "I want to be your friend but I can't because my father is evil" we identify him as the anti-hero of the story" is an inaccurate reading because Draco never said it, but saying "I like him and cheer for him" is true, because it's an emotion and not a statement. Reader response is not irrational, but it's anti-authority and anti-norm. The truth of the text is in the dialogue between various reading and not determined by external authorities. When you criticise someone else's reading and do your own, supposedly they then will do the same to yours.

That said I agree that reader response gets appropriated the way you're describing, much like feminism gets appropriated to both shield specific female characters from criticism and to encourage bashing because the characters are poor representations of womanhood. But that doesn't mean that all feminism critique is in bad-faith, and reader response being appropriated doesn't mean reader response is in bad faith itself.

I think in a way this could be discussed in the context of the rational/emotional distinction, because I feel that reader response is based in the kind of (chaotic? post-modern?) rationality that gets dismissed as irrational by hardcore rationalists.

Date: 2007-09-16 06:45 pm (UTC)
theredwepainted: (Default)
From: [personal profile] theredwepainted
I get that, and that's probably why whenever I actually read the texts of the people cited by reader response types, I am far less annoyed at the theorists than I am at the people in fandom quoting them, HAHA. I'm pretty much pro-external authority all the way, but I do recognize the validity of other ways of thinking even though I'll probably never understand the attraction of them. Which is fair enough, as reader response advocates are routinely confounded by why anyone cares what the author has to say so I guess we're all even in our mutual confusion.

So yes, it's less the theory than the place it often goes, which I think has to do with fandom's investment tendency? Which is to say, the more emotionally invested in one reading or another a person is the more likely they are to go batshit when people disagree, at least in my experience. I don't think reader response is necessarily linked to emotive thinking (because we have intellectual and experiential POV leanings as much as we have like/dislike biases, etc) but I do think it often gets used to avoid admitting they just got it wrong.

Which is probably how this conversation has gotten muddled? Because there's a mixing of different variables at work: authorial intent vs. reader response, emotional reactions vs. intellectual observations, emotional investment vs. emotional detachment and emotional expression vs. rationalized expression, and you can't really equate any of them with another.

And as for the second reply, I generally have issues with anyone claiming their reading is absolute, even people like myself who basically bow to the author's word, just because even authorial intent adherents can't know exactly what the author was doing - all they can really do is try to get as close as they can. But I admit to being considerably harsher on people who claim they know the Absolute Truth while also claiming the right to disagree with the author because they perceived the work differently than intended. Just because it's kind of ridiculous to claim on one hand that their reactions/perceptions are valid regardless of whether anyone else agrees and on the other hand also claim that everyone else's perceptions/reactions are only valid insomuch as they agree.

Date: 2007-09-17 08:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] discordiana.livejournal.com
Yeah, I think to an extent everyone's appropriating ideas to support their own agenda, and in a highly politicized (politicized about interpretations of the text, because of investment) place like fandom it's normalized... which is probably why I have doubts a conversation about rationality of fandom, in fandom, about fandom would go on smoothly without being hijacked & derailed... but maybe I'm just be paranoid. Maybe picking a minuscule obscure fandom as your example would fit. Actually imagining one would be even better. And it would be fun to build it.

authorial intent vs. reader response, emotional reactions vs. intellectual observations, emotional investment vs. emotional detachment and emotional expression vs. rationalized expression

That's a good breakdown! We just need to see what happens when the variables align. I would be on a spectrum on most of these depending on another variable, except for always being for reader response. I'm never completely emotionally detached unless I'm completely uninterested... which is not likely? Because then I'd find a way to relate it to something I care about.

You're v. right about the mutual confusion between reader response people and authorial intent people. I actually am interested not so much in the debate but in hearing the reasons without value judgment attached, from both ends. I think for me the starting point is that when I read a story or watched a movie as a kid, I actually didn't think someone had written it.

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