Statement of Purpose

Word Count: 767
Summary: In which I opine over the similarities and differences between composing new music (“classical,” if that word means anything anymore) and writing fanfic and their respective fandoms.
Warnings: Non-fiction, mention made to various academics in music and critical theory. This one isn’t fiction, unless it’s some strange Borgesian sense of the word.
Rating: All ages
Characters: a composer, a fanfic writer, and their fandoms.
Genre: Gen, meta
Author’s note: This is what happens when I’m short on sleep and long on worry.
Disclaimer: Did I mention I haven’t slept much the past few days?

My dirty little secret is out. I write fanfic, primarily for my own enjoyment. There could be some loose end in an episode that I want to explore or something I’d do differently. (Like bringing the Time Lords back.) There could be some scene-behind-the-scenes that needs poking into. And I could just need a Doctor Who fix.

Milton Babbitt, a composer, wrote a fairly famous essay that’s been often misconstrued and misread. Originally published in 1958, it had the unfortunate title of “Who Cares if You Listen?” (It was an editorial choice made for him, not the one he wanted…or so I’ve been told by a couple of people who know the guy. Babbitt’s on my short list of people I’d like to have a beer with.) But the upshot of his article is that the public isn’t always the best judge of what a given work of art should be. In a sense, the composer needs some sort of solitude in which to work, otherwise he/she just winds up aping what’s popular. Babbitt’s article is much more nuanced and specific to composition than I’m summarizing. (It’s well worth a read, just to see what he wrote, not what other people think he wrote.) Other theorists/composers I admire have elucidated other opinions. (Like Benjamin Boretz and friends talking about how composers write out of some deep need.) See also: Fredric Jameson’s discussion on the parable of the oarsmen in his book on late Marxism.

I’m a fairly postmodernist girl, though, and I recognize that there’s a place for pop. If that’s your thing, cool, and I’ll support you 100%. I most certainly wouldn’t put my fic in the same creative output as I’d put my compositions, for instance. The two genres don’t remotely occupy the same space in my brain or the same need. But I’d definitely argue that my fic does fill some sort of need. It’s fun, for one. It’s also a good way to relax, because I’m not concerned with my writing or creative output as I am with academic writing or with my compositions. Writing fic is a good way to cure creative constipation, of which, I’ve had quite a bit this summer.

And then you get fandoms. Doctor Who fic writers have their fans, and so do composers. Both fandoms get quite nasty. They’ll spew a whole lot of vitriol in the guise of “concrit,” which has very little to do with your work and everything to do with their own personal vision of your work. Now, I think personal visions are important–that’s what keeps us writing, whether it’s fic or music. But personal visions can conflict with others. What we learn in composition classes is how to either put that personal vision aside, or how to let it inform how we see other people’s works. In theory. Fanbois and Fangirls in composition can be just as nasty–if not nastier–than in fanfic.

Now, note that I used the term “concrit.” I’m not talking about constructive criticism. Good constructive criticism (paraphrased from a former composition teacher of mine, who was quoting Morton Feldman) answers two questions: Did the author know what he/she wanted? Did the author get it? Concrit’s question, however, is: How does this diverge from my fanon? If it does in the slightest, then it’s wrong. (Fanon, for the non-fic writers out there, is “fan canon,” or canon that’s created to fill gaps in the original canon. It’s arguable if Doctor Who has a canon, at all. Not to be confused with the postcolonial writer.)

And a word about technique. It’s one of the tangible ways of judging whether or not a piece achieves what it sets out to do and whether or not it’s consistent with its own rules. (Then again, a piece of music could be about rule-breaking. In that case, it’s important to judge how well the piece breaks its own rules.) Then again, a person might get good fanfic reviews for inventive craft in writing. Particularly deplorable grammar will most probably get mentioned in reviews, unless the author’s fanon matches the reviewer’s. In the same manner, composers will often get blasted for poor craft.

But good craft, alone, isn’t the key to writing good music or good fic. There are a host of composers with good craft that never see the light of day. Writing good prose isn’t the secret to writing good fiction, either. (I’m still figuring out what it is to write good fiction. Likewise, I’m still learning about writing good music. Both are life-long processes.)


~ by Jen on September 8, 2008.

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