So I woke up this morning to a bit of an explosion on my Twitter feed. I’m not going to link to the various instigating posts and comment threads, where the discussion leaned toward outright hostility on many sides as internet discussions are wont to do. The crux of the matter involves author involvement and interaction with fans, judging what spaces and acceptable to enter, and where and how those lines are drawn.
The interesting bit to me is why we’re drawing those lines at all.
The idea that authors should not ever enter fan spaces unless specifically invited has a few faulty premises, I think.
First and foremost: authors are also fans.
Authors are also people, not some magical amalgamation of literary weight that they bring into discussions just to throw around and silence people of differing opinions.
People have brought up “The Death of the Author,” which is its own can of worms and one literary theorists can gleefully argue about forever.
Authorial intentions and results do not always match, of course. Milton can say “I’m writing to justify the ways of God to Man” all he wants, but he’s never going to convince me that Satan isn’t the hero of Paradise Lost, whether he meant for him to be or not, because of what’s in the text. I’m willing to believe that Milton didn’t consider Satan the hero, but my interpretation does not have to match his stated intentions.
I err on the side of not talking about authorial intentionality, because I can’t know what the author intended — I can talk about how ideas read to me and what I can conclude from those inferences, and I can ground my interpretation in the text. This is the fundamental skill of basic essay writing, at least as I learned in English class: you can make any argument you want, as long as you can support it.
But if you’re going to bring authorial intentionality into the discussion, you are, in my opinion, inviting the author to weigh in on their intentions. Because the author is the only one that knows.
Likewise, an author’s personal views and an author’s work are not the same. I can enjoy Ender’s Game without supporting Orson Scott Card’s political views. That is one of the reasons when we review work, we review the work; we have no business judging the author, the person behind it. Can we make some logical leaps? Sure, but if that’s the route you want to go, again I think it’s ludicrous to believe that if you make comments against a person in public that they are not invited to respond.
Reviewers comment on authors’ work, and so it seems silly to me that authors cannot also comment on reviewers’ work. This work exists in the public. I operate on the assumption that an author can and will call me out if I get something egregiously wrong. They won’t always, but they can, and they should be able to.
More to the point, though, I think the mentality I’m seeing recently of “us against them” in regards to fans and creators is preposterous. We are not different species; our concerns and interests overlap; why should we be excluding interested and invested parties from relevant conversation?
Even if an author is not explicitly invited, I think it’s cool if they show up to talk and interact. Authors and fans both like to talk about shared interests. I think everyone can get a lot out of those discussions. Honestly, if a discussion is not open to the author under discussion, I’d be suspicious of whether the intention (there’s that word again!) is truly to consider works with civility, and not just slam the author where they can’t defend themselves.
We’ve all seen those examples of “how not to behave as an author” when someone goes off the deep end in reaction to a courteous, if not glowing, review. I would like to think those fiascos are the exception rather than the rule, but that is going to happen from time to time, unless you specify clearly that authors are not welcome.
For some people that seems to be the assumption, but I don’t think it should be. I think the default should be that no one is excluded unless they’re behaving badly, and authors showing up at all doesn’t qualify as poor behavior. If you want your blog to be a space to slam work and authors without consequences, then it should be a closed space.
Personally, I would much rather have open discussions. I think fandom as a whole benefits from them — authors and reviewers included. Am I in the minority here?