Wednesday, June 25, 2014

More on Russ, Kirk and Spock

Whew. I'm back from the special collections room and another round of Joanna Russ essays.  This time I looked at rough, first, and second drafts of "Ravings of a K/S Addict," written thirty years ago, about, I think,1982 or 1984.

Russ is exuberant at her discovery of Kirk/Spock slash fiction.  After listing about eight attributes of Spock's which are also the attributes of non-traditional women in a male-centered and dominated culture, Russ hails slash fiction it as an exiting new structure enabling women to tell stories in women's language about women's ways of loving and romance.

Russ's essay drafts have energized me.  She breaks down the elements of romance fiction in order to show how they work in slash fiction written by women for women.  She makes astute observations about the differences between male and female writers.  Every other page examines a foundation of fiction's voice, construction, or social impact.  I keep asking myself how each page can be applied to my own writing voice.  It's exhausting.

Near the end of "Ravings", Russ writes that Kirk/Spock slash fiction allows women writers to not have to write on the slant (Emily Dickinson) or against male literature (Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf).  She writes that slash fiction has gotten away from the the process of writing fiction being an "unpleasant awareness of being different or marginal."  And later that Kirk/Spock slash is a Rosetta Stone because "[the authors of it] make their art from the same wishes, fears, knowledge, background experiences and desires as their audience.

The difficulty I have with "Ravings" is the essentialism in it.  For her, Kirk/Spock slash is romance and adventure fiction exploring the notion, what do romantic relationships look like in a universe where one gender is not undervalued nor exploited?  This necessitates a linkage of lists of gender traits which can feel a little quaint, as one woman asked me, "Spock is the woman? Do people still think [in gender binary] like that?"

What's interesting to me is her confession that, as a non-traditional girl who was smart, she could identify as the half-human, half-alien Spock, who was part of both worlds and belonged in neither.  This is exactly the same reason he appealed to me, a non-traditional boy who was smart.  I guess the language of women (and gay men) in the seventies early eighties was the language of alienation.  

I'm not sure that's still as true in 2014.  Back in the 80's, there was a lot of emphasis on "women's ways of knowing," or on exploring gay men as "anandros" (Harry Hay's term for "not-men") or gay men's "lunar masculinity."  My sense is that in the 70's and 80's the identity politics of gender and orientation equality was more about describing what a perfect society would look and feel like, whereas in 2014, there's more of an emphasis on the journey to and the dialog about equality.  Also, this was before e-mail was commonly used; web pages wouldn't exist for about fifteen more years:  the Internet in the United States was a collection of DARPAnet and other fledgling networks.  People were much more isolated from communities, and Kirk/Spock slash fiction was one way to share in a community.  (Russ reports that her phone conversations with another woman about literary theory, women's voices and slash fiction resulted in astronomical phone bills.)

While oppression based on gender, orientation, and perceived gender still exists in the forms outright harassment, and  of wage and marriage inequalities, it seems like mainstream American has assimilated the more palatable aspects of "non-traditional women" and the homosexual community (e.g. "Will and Grace," "Queer Eye," Ellen DeGeneres).  And it seems like LGBTTQ identity has become less about an either/or matrix of qualities and more a continuous space along the axes of social gender, biological gender, and orientation, with a person's expressions a fuzzy cloud instead of a discrete point.  Additionally, the internet has provided virtual community for far-flung folks (there's an essay, "How the Internet Dissolves Perceptions of Regional Difference, or 'Yes, We're All Individuals. / I'm not!'")

Still -- Wishes, Fears, Knowledge, Experiences, and Desires -- sounds like like a useful lens for crafting stories to me.  (Looks over list again...) And I'm pretty sure this is a tarot card spread, too.

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