The Genre of Suck

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I’m struggling to revise an academic essay right now, a fanwank-y piece about the American TV show Supernatural [what else?]. However, unlike my usual SPN stuff, this essay centers not on feminist readings of fan practice but on the narrative tic-tock of the show itself.

That is, I’m struggling to say something useful (gods please) or even interesting about the canon side of things; specifically, about the angel Castiel’s shenanigans in season six and brief foray into godhood–via a postmodern critical lens, no less.

Sigh. And it sounded so cool as an abstract.

But man! do I suck at it, this kind of writing.

It’s not the mechanics of revision that are troubling me now. To the contrary, the editors of the maybe-collection in which said essay would appear have been kind, providing very thoughtful comments, suggestions, exhortations on the first drafty-as-fuck draft. So I know how to hack the thing into some kind of shape.

Exactly.

But re-reading [foundational rhetorical critic] Carolyn Miller this week has helped me to nail this sucker down, the thing that’s driven my confusion about the essay from the get-go: I don’t understand what the thing is supposed to do, in the end.

Miller argues that a genre is defined in large part by the “action it is used [by writers and readers] to accomplish” (151). So, ok, who cares if I can talk about a fictional avenging angel in terms of contemporary rhetorical theory and a Foucaultian analysis of power? Fundamentally, what action might such an essay be used to accomplish? And by whom?

Right! I don’t know!

That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, that there’s no action in play here. No. I just have no fucking clue what it might be because–when you get down to it–canon-centered fandom essays are not a genre I tend to hang out with, frankly.

Here’s Miller again:

A genre [she asserts] is a rhetorical means for mediating private intentions and social exigence; it motivates by connecting the private with the public, the singular with the recurrent (163).

That is, a genre offers a socially acceptable way for a writer/speaker to publicly express an individual intention in a manner that can be recognized by others.

So slash fic, for example–you know, just for instance–offers a genre through which writers can express a private intention to revel in, uh–

–within a generic form that’s socially acceptable [at least within particular communities of readers]. And the genre also provides sufficient constraints as to make an individual writer’s public expression recognizable to an audience, to someone other than the writer herself.

I suppose what I’ve discovered, then, in the process of battling with this essay is that I’m lacking a goddamn private intention here: I’m crafting a public expression that’s not grounded in me, necessarily, in a burning recognition of exigence to which I feel my scholarship must speak.

Maybe it’s the rhetorician in me talking [duh], but this experience has reminded me that I’m much more interested in what texts do, or what we do with texts, than in the content of the texts themselves. I mean, the content matters, dude; indeed, it was the content of one particular SPN episode [that I will be hatefucking in perpetuity, as my ex puts it] that put me on the road to fandom-centered scholarship.

Which is all well and good. But given that I agreed to play in a generic sandbox of another color, it might have behooved me to get a little dirty first.