My characters are making love, so it says

It is difficult to write this, so bear with me. I was scanning the feed on Academia.org, which lead to an article at the TWC Journal, which led to another article about (wtf???) Iron Man x Captain America slash (apparently a very big thing in the West and in China – who’d ‘ave thot..), which led to An Archive of Our Own and then the folder of Genshiken -urrrm- fanfiction. It is difficult to write this because what left of my honor as a middle-aged cis straight male compelled me to try to gouge my eyes out after a cursory reading.

So I exaggerate; it didn’t kill me.

I didn’t try to gouge my eyes out in a fit of ‘phobic guy hysteria. I didn’t even blush. I blame Genshiken and this blog. (I award myself two adult maturity points, take back one for the eye gouging intro gambit) I saw a lot of care and concern in the writing, even though it didn’t work for me. A few of the stories activated my clunky prose warning light, but that also made me recall the ancient and venerable words of slash-kami Alias Mary Jeanne Johnson about fanfiction, and what the heck, it keeps ’em out of the pool halls.

Oh heck, I over-quote this one in too many posts, so this time, more of it:

…And there’s a third detail that needs addressing here. Fantasies are nothing if not personal. The yaoi writer is writing what turns her on- what satisfies her – what consoles her. A reader isn’t really necessary. You didn’t want to hear that, did you? But it’s a fact. Yaoi is a personal fantasy, written primarily to satisfy the writer’s kinks and those who share those kinks. Like porn. Other people can come and read it, no doubt, but if they don’t share that kink, they might as well go away again. The story isn’t written for them.

Yaoi isn’t like other fictional writing. It’s a private vision written for personal satisfaction, and to apply the standards by which we judge ordinary literature to yaoi is to willfully ignore this private element. You can say ‘Male pregnancy stories don’t do it for me’ if you like, but to say ‘Male pregnancy stories are stupid and childish and people should stop writing them’ is not only arrogant, it’s dangerous. All fantasies are legitimate or none are, and to discredit the male pregnancy fantasy is automatically to discredit your own fantasy of mutual empowerment and non-penetrative sex. As for trashing a fanwriter’s style, it’s like shooting the piano player. Chances are she’s doing the best she can. The only way you get to play the piano better is by playing the piano more. And quite possibly she writes that way because she likes writing that way, typos and all, and belongs to that huge group of people (of whom Word’s Spell-check is one) who really believe that its should be written it’s on all occasions.”
– The Top Ten Things I Love About Yaoi , Oct, 2001 by M.J.Johnson,  Aestheticism.com (site archived at:)
http://web.archive.org/web/20080820030543/http://www.aestheticism.com/visitors/editor/jeanne/10_things/index.htm

Perhaps this is too reasoned and calm a defense of the personal for our troubled times. A bit more anger makes the point too:

“So they place unfair expectations on what you create. Tell you it’s too short, too ugly, too personal, ask you why it doesn’t resemble what already exists. And the answer is, why would we want it to?

They impart the subtle idea that a handful of geniuses are born and the rest clean up after them.

They want us to believe that our thoughts are not worth voicing.

How the fuck is life worth living if the brains we have right now aren’t good enough?

The audience/performer dynamic as it exists is built on capitalism, on academia, on a proper way of doing things defined by people who do not have our best interests at heart and indeed don’t care if we live or die.

Like I wrote here, “Under our capitalist system, to accept other ways of communicating is to devalue the cash value of the communication style learned in college.”

They don’t want your stories because the idea that someone can tell a story without going to college or someone can make a game for free is a betrayal of capitalism, it’s a betrayal of an industry that says creativity can only be imparted for money.

People are taught to believe they aren’t someone. Taught to believe they aren’t a Creator. Not an Artist, not an Intellectual. No one is taught that more than minorities.”

– Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution,  November 25, 2012 By Porpentine , a game creator.

I stand corrected, – scratch the pool hall comment.

web commenter dude

My clumsy compare and contrast exercise is presented only to drive home the point that if Kio Shimoku ever chooses to slam Hato-chan (or kun) and Madarame-sempai together, it should be an epic tale of comedic fail. Far more fraught than a late-night brush with Keiko’s charms. I now await the train wreck; it must at least measure up to fan attempts. What the few slash fics I sampled glossed over in their hurry to bring direct resolution to certain longstanding tensions in the Genshiken epic is how massively inept, hesitant and pathologically skilled at avoidance and self delusion both Madarame and Hato (kun, chan and fan posited josou-game otomeyaku variants) are. A steamy ending is by no means guaranteed

genshiken_nidaime_8.mkv_snapshot_15.59_[2013.09.03_13.03.02]

Faced with an emotionally uncomfortable moment Madarame would first try to run, then if cornered would start dissembling in planet Otaku-speak at 200 wpm. Hato meanwhile would turn beet red and start yammering on about pairings, though he may also instinctively take Mada’s enthusiastic waving gestures as a threat and shoulder-throw him.  It is inevitable. Poke armadillos and they roll up into a balls. They have been so constructed for a reason – which if tracked back far enough probably involves Kio Shimoku’s mortgage.

(Btw, don’t you think that Poke Armadillos would be a great name for a band?)

Sayonara fetish

…Or a band name

One Ao3 writer had an interesting, if under-developed angle. Madarame, if driven to fits of uncontrollable lust, would try to act out the ero bits of josou games. Hato would go from what he read about weirdly improbable yaoi lust techniques. Much clumsy pawing would ensue. Those little mentions were funny as heck and could have been dragged out for many, many more laughs. I advise Shimoku -sensei to start with at least a case of beer (no, not for him, for the nervous couple) and be aware of the comedic possibilities of classic pratfall slapstick.

genshiken_nidaime_8.mkv_snapshot_06.13_[2013.09.03_12.50.53]

As if he needs my advice.

I wonder if any Japanese fan-fiction writers are writing Genshiken fanfiction and how they are writing it. A few smutty dojin are scanlated but he imaginations of the fans for whom the work is written for remain tantalizingly obscured from our view. Ao3 works are all “diaspora” artifacts.

A question for the slash-writers: where are all the Heart of the Wind and Trees and Thomas high melodramatic declarations and emotionally bits? The Cliffs Notes say these are important to the genre. Perhaps less so for the Western variant?  I feel a bit let down. The chorus from Ao3 chides me that if I have ideas, I should put up or shut up, but I don’t want to start writing Genshiken slash, (Oy Veh!) so my opinion doesn’t count.

So I like the heroic mushy stuff, you got a problem with that?

So I like heroic mushy stuff, you got a problem with that? 

I will say that Usotsuki Lily does a fine job with fantasy cross-dressed characters without falling into josou game inspired otokonoko ecchi-ness. The mangaka Ayumi Komura went as far as to try some real-life 3D cross-play at some of her book signings – so while her critters are still complete fictions, she at least dipped her toes into it. Apparently her fans loved it. So what if Lily gets a bit preachy…

Wherein our hero begins to feel a bit overwhelmed

Usotsuki Lily’s cross-dressing hero begins to feel a bit overwhelmed

Stop straw-dogging the fan-fiction writers. Time to prod the mangaka.

Viewed in the light of fannish fun or teachable moment shoujo romances, Kio Shimoku is playing it very, very safe. Presumably the tastes of his readers reflect approval of this as well as some kind of climate-of-the-times effect. Genshiken has evolved from being a mildly transgressive comedic effort that skewered Otaku foibles to something closer to a comforting slice of life “safe space” for grown-up post-Otaku.

This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but I am wondering if this is a case of “not much is being done with it“, or something else?

The contrast between what Genshiken could do and is doing is not just pointed out be fannish fiction. Enthusiastic scanlator types have of late resurrected some mighty odd 1980’s and 1990’s examples of “non-traditional sexualities in domestic settings” comedies and slice-of-life potboilers. One would expect these to be clumsy and politically incorrect as all heck. Surprisingly enough, they are not too vicious. They often verge on the considerate. They are bitingly funny in parts. Someone so inclined might even be tempted to rehabilitate them as proto-queer fiction for some academic grist-mill, even as they remain rock steady in adopting a cisgendered straight male POV. Blah blah blah… Academic fads invariably slide so sideways that they end up in “I am the Eggman territory”

Set the Way-Back Sherman; we are going to visit some slightly transgressive historical manga:

Stop!!_Hibari-kun!

Stop! Hibari-Kun! is frightenly politically incorrect and with its 1980’s drawing style an even odder read. Hisashi Eguchi‘s Hibari-kun (note the lack of Butlerian “presenting” concerns here) is the only son of a proud, though somewhat inept yakuza family. He has hit upon a sure-fire way to avoid the responsibilities of taking over the family business. He likes being a girl a lot more than he likes the idea of being a proper young male thug and boss-in-training. When the orphaned son of Pop’s old flame comes to live with the family, Hibari Oozora decides that Kousaku Sakamoto is just too much fun to leave alone and that they both should attend high school together. Naturally, Hibari-chan insists on attending as a girl. Hijinks Ensue.

Hibari is probably a prototype for a slew of comedy- of- gender- identity manga (and anime) that followed and it remains enjoyable because it writes Hibari as having almost superhuman sang-froid, competence and good, though mischievous nature. Hibari-chans just wanna have fun. Most everyone else around who would threaten his hobby/ inclination are over-the-top idiots, except his adopted step brother, who gets to be the goat during most of the ensuing chaos. Hibari may aspire to femininity, but her ideal feminine is a younger and richer version of Fujiko Mine. Hibari is a slightly queer-er and slightly more criminal predecessor to Kuragehime‘s Kuranosuke Koibuchi. As the manga progresses, the characters who take a longing interest in Hibari-chan become odder and odder. When the slavering moron son of a rival yakuza clan becomes fixated (said creature being too developmentally challenged, in a nasty way of course to even be smitten) on Hibari and yakuza Dad proves unable to fend off its slimy father’s attempts to coerce compliance by threatening Kousaku, Hibari goes into full metal Mine mode

full metal_hibari-kun_v001_c016_014

When a very severe bifauxnen sports star heartthrob at high school suddenly develops uncomfortable feelings of longing for Hibari-chan… to play on her volleyball team, we even get some light yuri steam. A subsequent glimpse at the bifauxnen’s home life is over the top burlesque; too silly to even call out as insulting. Having Mom as a Taka otoko-yaku who insists on practicing her Rhett Butler routine at home is a stroke of genius. I should also mention the Village People dance line of brothers… Jeesh!

Jeesh Mom hibari-kun_v002_c021_005

Not at all shabby for a 1980’s effort. The whole thing was re-released to an anniversary edition a few years ago – I have a feeling that it must be some kind of minor cultural artifact.

Odder still is the 1990’s Family Composition/ Family Compo or F.Compo (1996-2000) by Tsukasa Hojo. This is the most earnest heteronormative gender-bent family slice of life story I have stumbled across since the last stories of R.A.Heinlein. Love (and an independent income gained through professional skill and hard work) conquers all. Tsukasa Hojo is also known for the long-running City Hunter, Angel Heart and Cat’s Eye (co authored with Rieko Fukuda) series.

Family-compo-manga

Oh heck, cue the TV tropes synopsis:

“Ordinary college student Masahiko goes to live with his aunt and uncle, Yukari and Sora Wakanae. While excited about meeting his relatives for the first time, he is surprised to discover that his lovely aunt Yukari is actually male and his handsome uncle Sora is physically female. Their plucky daughter, Shion, is revealed to be… whichever gender she feels like (Though for the time being she’s sticking with female).

However, given Masahiko’s current fate: living alone in a fetid apartment that he can’t afford and with no family to return to: he decides to stay anyways. Eventually, Masahiko’s desire for a real home coincide with the Wakanaes’ surprising generosity to anyone who is willing to accept their family at face value, and he quickly becomes Happily Adopted into the household.

By the mangaka Tsukasa Hojo, Family Compo is a Slice of Life manga that, perhaps, is a more realistic than average depiction of trans* sexuality, and at the same time has a remarkably positive tone with tremendous emotional poignancy.”
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/FamilyCompo

The artwork is striking in a retro way; It verges towards comic book “realism”, or at least a more detailed style than is the norm today. Moe-free zone ahead! Once you get over the odd premise that a trans-man and a trans-woman (both pre-op, though both are hinted to have undergone hormone treatments, the transwoman mom, Yukari breast augmentation procedures) would settle down to maintain a boringly sweet and conventional household and raise an upright, high-achieving (most of the time, lately) daughter, you can read a story with plot lines would do Laura Ingalls Wilder proud.

The kid wanted us to dress according to our birth genders, We obliged

The kid wanted us to dress according to our birth genders, We obliged …

The daughter, Shion is the most interesting character in the whole story. Genderfluid, or verging on post-gendered at first, her final challenge to Masahiko is a reassuringly pure 1950’s man-up = get the girl challenge. Even as it is also gets the girl to decide to be a girl.

Because this is a 1990’s artifact there is a lot of blur between transfolk, crossdressers, gay folks of various stripes and gender dysphoria issues. Everybody so concerned ends up either at the Wakanae household or at a seedy crossdressing gay bars. Of note is that the nightlife is not portrayed as an evil in itself; only as an inadequate substitute for a fantasy “normal” (DAB inverted) domesticity. There is also plenty of crossdressing, both for identity and tourism reasons which mixes up transvestite, gay and transsexual identities, but the Wakanae household is so happily kumbaya supportive that it doesn’t really matter much. The second floor is also uncle Sora’s manga studio and the assistants are a comic-relief mob of bent DMAB gals, each with their own reasons for wearing dresses. They are the closest thing to an insulting stereotype in the story, but reserve their alcohol fueled “Surprise! It’s a Trap!” man-chasing forays for rude-boys who come on too strong towards “real” females. And Sora in manga-deadline mode is fearsomely serious. Disturb at your peril. Get back to work!

Sooner or later most characters get gender-bent a bit. Before long Masahiko is wheedled into crossdressing for his University film club and the next thing you know a yakuza boss smitten with him. Some plot turns later and the delinquent son of the same yakuza boss ends up living at the Wakanae house, but it turns out delinquent son started out life as a girl and is really over-compensating. He hates everyone; male and female and most of all himself. Yakuza dad tries to do right by the youth and means as well as a noble thug type can manage, but needs to ease off and give his now-son some space. The yakuza mom is a bitter piece of work, a classic scheming feminine betrayal engine but eventually even she shows a tiny shred of parental concern. Love conquers all. I should also add that the entire artifact is almost completely devoid of fanservice and that there are no sex scenes.

The only recurring motif appears to be that in a choice between your child’s needs for understanding, compassion and support and obeying the rules and strictures of society, one had best chose the child and damn the rest the to the fire.

Given some of the grim news in the real world of late, this is very good advice.

The only character who really gets short shrift is Masahiko’s long-suffering girlfriend. She is convinced that any straight male who sets foot in the Wakanae household is going to end up queered and bent either to crossdressing male gayness or an awakened trans* identity (which never seems to be same-sex attracted in the F-compo universe). The stuff must be contagious. Masahiko is too wishy-washy and is of course also attracted to Shion, but can never get up the nerve to ask and/ or directly confirm what genitalia Shion has, so he cannot acknowledge his feelings and/or break it off with girlfriend. Girlfriend finally dumps him for a more traditionally manly man childhood friend, leaving him to get over his little problem with whether Shion is or isn’t or if it even matters, or does any attraction feel a bit incestuous now that he’s living under their roof? Yikes!

Shion of course is there to shift the goalposts of the whole game – her parents encouraged her be whichever gender she wanted as she grew up, (and yes, it is pretty well intimated that Shion was deemed female at birth and remains biologically female-bodied) so the whole gender role thing is a bit of a needless complication for her. Towards the end, she begins to consider that it might be necessary though, in order to develop any romantic feelings for anyone. Mostly she doesn’t sweat too much about any of it. Besides, she, (at college he) wants to be a film director – so who has time? Shion’s radical indeterminacy is possibly the most interesting component of the series.

Moral of the story: Your gender identity is important, but so is developing a creative skill-set that will let you earn enough money to make your dreams possible – unless you aspire to become a perfect trans-woman housewife to a trans-man professional. Oh, and “inverts” (to use the dreaded archaic sociology term) make the best partners for each other.

Hmmph!

More Hmmph: While Compo looks like its author did a bit of research, the trans-folk portrayed within as well as all the other non-het characters were and remain cartoon creations; “fantasies of crossdressing” to borrow a term from Nagaike. They, like Hibari-kun were whomped up by straight guys for comedy, posing a few questions about gender and sexuality and advancing a few pleasing nostrums while selling manga. As imagined others/ imagined other sexualities, they fall prey to the same complaints leveled at fantasy yaoi puppets, fantasy yuri puppets and Kenjiro Hato, They pose far more questions than they purport to give easy answers for.

We are back to Chip Delany’s quip “if gay men and women didn’t exist, straight men and women would have had to invent us.” …And my previous rejoinder.

Aside from a tour of retro queer-ish Japanese manga, I bring these up in contrast to the current story-line in Genshiken. For now, Kenjiro Hato’s little problem (or enthusiasms) look bland when compared to the neighbours. So do Madarame’s. Yawn! On the other hand, no one in the Genshiken is having family problems and what Family Compo, and to a lesser extent Hibari-kun are about are families, so perhaps a compare and contrast exercise is a bit of off.

Facing dad after all those years web Fcompo_v3_ch21_174

The best moments of Family Compo are when Uncle Sora has to return home to face his angry patriarchal father with wife and children in tow. This stuff is of course a gender-bent variant on the classic Japanese theme of family duty, which is still a big seller in today’s Japan.

Watch this mini documentary [http://vimeo.com/114879061] on Japan’s second oldest onsen and note the daughter’s quiet plight. This is right out of the pages of Compo, mirroring the Girlfriend‘s situation (or perhaps the filmmaker can’t resist pinning a comic book plot on a real-life setting?).

yajima family

Only with Kuchiki (perhaps soon Yajima??? All things considering, Rika’s folks are saints) do we see any hint of family pressure in the Genshiken-verse. Hato’s family is a cypher; all the tension is so far limited to his brother and sister-in-law to be. How did they react to their son’s ostracism at high school? Do they know of his enthusiasms? Genshiken members’ families are the classic absent parents of late-modern Japan.

Another note: the fictional trans-continuum characters of these early comics are nothing like the even odder fantasy Josou/ otokonoko/ third sex creatures that sprung from ero games in the latter years of the ‘aughts. They were not built for male-gaze moe. The otokonoko character may well be a stealth retread of an older rotten-girl pairing archetype, introduced into the male pr0n fan community to wreak havoc on hetero-normality, but it bears little resemblance to its crossdressing manga predecessors that were more for comedy and gender tourism. Genshiken’s Hato X Mada X Hato dynamic is firmly set in the current 2007-2015 archetype-verse.

mada should try this web

Aside re: the “That’s a bit obscure” rejoinders by Madarame to Sue’s initial Bakemonogatari references. In Genshiken-time only the light novels were available. In the real-time of serialization, the anime was current. As a fan and a friend of the Bake cabal, a shout-out was irresistible, but Kio Shimoku used to worry about situating his universe in a coherent time-frame. Less so now.

One further small thread of analysis to be tugged at: the quick trip with the Wayback Machine seems to point to a profound shift in manga storytelling conventions that has been brought on by the parallel evolution of games and visual storytelling. I wish I was more of a game person, but even my cursory experience seems to suggest that the effect is powerful, almost inescapable. Especially from dating-sims, eroge, otome games and the like. The references are unavoidable, as are the shorthand posited by the conventions of these games for interactive behavior among characters.

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Often lampshaded for extra comedic effect, they turn every poignant, difficult moment between characters into a mechanistic, alienated exchange.

terminator_possible_response_600

More Symptom or Condition of The Fall than aid to the shy, tongue-tied character, they increase isolation while invalidating the communication that they propose to aid. Of course their ironic use has its moments of genius.

bucket of puding

.
“It is not up to you to determine who you are. It is up to the people around you..”

Since New Year’s eve at the public bath, the current Genshiken members plus Keiko, Angela and Kousaka have made it clear that they are aware of Hato’s tentative you-and-only-you feelings towards Madarame. Hato knows that they know. Madarame and Kuchiki are out of the loop; we can assume that Tanaka gets filled in later. Hato’s nadeshiko power-up after returning from home must be taken as a sign that he intended to follow up on the idea. Soon there are all the dinners for Mada, until… Hato finds a new thing to obsess over. Some crush. Seduced and abandoned! No Hato coming by means no Sue either, except for the one weird visit with the mask and handcuffs. I guess Mada’s virtue is once again safe!

How 2 Harem ichiban_ushiro_no_daimaou_600

Nine more years and Mada will get Wizard status! 

Here is an odd thought: Spotted flower is not only where Kio Shimoku plays Red Dwarf double-double universe, it is also where he turns off the liminality field that smothers and yet propels so much of the Genshiken tale. The last two omake out have older Hato and Yajima analogues as friends, working a winter and then a summer Comiket. The entire purpose of theses two two-page shorts seems to be to blatantly telegraph: “yes analogue-Hato went on the be a mangaka and live as a trans- person, yes she got breast augmentation surgery, but kept the boy bits below and yes she still hangs out with analogue-Yajima, who while supportive, will still chide analogue-Hato even more than she used to chide analogue-Rika.”

The uncertainty from the previous “meeting” chapter is reduced. Decisions have been made.

The new “safe-space” Genshiken seems to be more about not deciding if it hurts. After all, who says that a decision is mandatory? The fans? The mangaka-gami? Society? Religion? Manga Studies Departments syllabii? Tv Tropes? Some Blog?

“What happens to the daughters of these housebound women in the suburbs? Have they turned into the yaoi girls who are the consumers of the cute boy images and their erotic stories? The participants of the otaku debate unanimously agree that in this context gender difference is asymmetrical. The girls who do not want to repeat the Mothers’ life have two choices; to embody their time-frozen images as a little girl in order to get men’s attention, or to live in the liminal space between such images and their own bodily actuality.”

– Rio Otomo: A Girl with the Amoebic Body and her Writing Machine
https://web.archive.org/web/20120609085942/http://coombs.anu.edu.au/SpecialProj/ASAA/biennial-conference/2006/Otomo-Rio-ASAA2006.pdf

no more despair 600

In a time when real world conditions conspire to inexorably choke off and limit choices, perhaps the indeterminacy of the Genshiken was overlooked and undervalued, even by fans like me. It is ok, Genshiken critters; you don’t have to resolve if you don’t want to. There is comfort and support in that too.

Be safe and happy.

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Genshiken 104: The Fire Sermon

“Oh the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter and on her daughter. They wash their feet in soda water” – Slavoj Žižek

C104p4 no BL this time

Behold Hato-chan V2 as she decides to create a full manga narrative.

c104p14 discouraged

And then behold the setback. The look of disappointment on her face is shocking, verging on tragic even though we are diverted by the greater shock of finding out the Yajima can plot out very effectively funny 4-koma works. We are used to seeing Hato succeed effortlessly in pretty much everything he or she tries, so of course a lapse is telling.

Previous failures were always presented more in the manner of a two-sided quirky “super power”: he cannot draw well unless crossdressed, and then she can only draw steamy m/m clench scenes. This both bolsters the arguments for becoming Hato-chan within a fujoshi social and gives Hato something to exchange with the rest of the members.

Drawing work-safe manga stories is in no way central to fitting into the magic circle, so getting it perfect the first time does not push the usual compulsion buttons. Of course it is going to be a bit of a slog. It is almost as if Hato’s disappointment stems not from the failure, or from the failure to realise in advance that the manga she drew was a failure but from the fact that this failure that offers no tactical advantage. Perhaps this is too recursive but Hato is nothing if not immensely skilled at fooling his and her self into action. But there is shock on her face as well as disappointment. Could it be that the biggest surprise of the afternoon has been that Hato has just discovered how much she (and he) really, really wanted to be able to tell a story?

c104p22 blank look

Hato is failing at his (and her) first attempt as a mangaka/”auteur”. Hanging out with the fujoshi and exchanging odd smut was supposed to be the promised land. Oh sure, Hato-chan always wanted to be able to draw her (and Hato-kun’s suppressed) fantasies, but that was what the clench scenes were for. Now a new desire is stirring, and failure to easily snag it has left the Hato continuum deeply unsettled. “We did not know that we wanted it!”

What a set-up!

As the creation of a very successful mangaka/ auteur, one who has put in his time and paid his dues creating emotionally dense realistic, dramatic manga (Kagerou Nikki (陽炎日記?) (1995), Yonensei (四年生?) (1997), Gonensei (五年生?) (1998)) Hato is not going to get off easy.

The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Male Crossdressing BL Mangaka is still very much in its first chapters. We have yet to make it even to the church retreat chapter. We have Hato with a pop-post-Lacanian wound, when he learned of yaoi dojins and that they did something (not -for- but) to him. We have the reinforcing trauma of the high school Art club- his first disastrous attempt at infiltrating a fujoshi social. We have hir debut at the Genshiken as fujoshi and the display of hir tiny, limited super-power. Finally we have his stands urging him to ship himself with Madarame and the progression from the fantasy of a classic BL m/m seduction as Hato x Mada to the project of attempting a newer hybrid otokonoko/ otomeyaku Mada x Hato “something”. What mischief will our plucky hero(ine) get up to next?

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn…

The Lacanian-ish wound/ shock/ trauma idea is worth reviewing: In Saito Tamaki’s analysis, what defines the Otaku is the disconcerting libidinous charge or cathexis, the desire that a cartoon female character evokes in the male reader. This desire is traumatic because the poor guy knows that it is only a cartoon character and experiences all manner of dissonance and distress over finding himself so stimulated by a crude 2D fiction. I mean, what’s next? Getting a woody from a math equation? Surely this is the path to madness! (Don’t call me…) There is something wrong with my wiring! Must take steps to master and comprehend these unnatural urges! Danger Will Robinson! Danger!

Saito Tamaki’s moment of unresolvable Otaku desire is spun as an origin myth starring none other than a young Hayao Miyazaki:

“…Saito hypothesizes that the young Miyazaki was caught off guard by a sexual attraction to the film’s heroine. The girl (actually the spirit of a white serpent named Bai-Nang) was an impossible object, a fictional creature who therefore “contained already within her the occasion for loss” [emp. mine] – yet Miyazaki desired her. This experience of being made to experience pleasure against his will by a fictional construct” constituted a trauma for Miyazaki. Because unresolved traumas can only be repeated, for Miyazaki this meant the creation of a whole string of beautiful fighting girls in his own works. While Miyazaki tends to insist on the wholesomeness of his works and disavow any sexual component, in Saito’s analysis the appeal of Miyazaki’s beautiful fighting girls has everything to do with sexuality. Insofar as their repetition perpetuates a libidinal attachment to a fictional construct, they also challenge us to rethink our understanding of the ontological status of fiction in the visual register.”

-Making it Real: Fiction, Desire, and the Queerness of the Beautiful Fighting Girl by J. Keith Vincent, Introduction to his co-translation of Saito Tamaki’s ‘Beautiful Fighting Girl’ University of Minnesota Press, 2011
https://www.academia.edu/3682539/Making_it_Real_Fiction_Desire_and_the_Queerness_of_the_Beautiful_Fighting_Girl

Ch4 p13 stick figures

rethinking our understanding of the ontological status of fiction in the visual register – that’s what we are doing!

By the way, the Bard of Studio Ghibli has not even deigned to dignify Tamaki’s speculation with a response. His disdain for low otaku culture however is legendary.

Note as well the direct Tamaki quote: “contained already within her the occasion for loss” (!) If that doesn’t pretty well describe the way that Madarame looks at all 3D women. The inversion that the otaku performs on the weighted potentials for loss between 2D and 3D fixations is one of the great double-think sacraments of his tribe.

“No matter what you do, no matter what you say,
the only real perfect love is one that gets away”.

-The Residents

And so the Otaku becomes a connaisseur of the effect and the great range of possible character deployments that cause his trauma and in doing so endlessly repeats and encourages the replication, distribution and elaboration of this traumatic artifact. Yet like a flanneur on the streets of last century’s Paris, he is now a somewhat distanced expert observer of the spectacle of excess.

“Seriality is the difference in repetition”
Some pomo guy, was it Jimbo? Google draws a blank. If not, then – moi! (win!)
“Screw you Muda, If I didn’t say it, I said it now, so talk to my lawyers”
– Slavoj Žižek.
Ah! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” – Wash…

We now return to our regularly scheduled theory block-quotes:

“What seems different about otaku for Saito is that this formerly relatively private or even secret (if also widespread) practice has in the past few decades become an increasingly mass-mediated social role with an unprecedented amount of public visibility. Saito denies that the female partners of his (perverse) straight male otaku are in any sense “substitutes” for the heroines of anime that the otaku may (also?) adore and desire, and opines, “My personal impression is that marriage to another otaku of the opposite sex tends to be seen as the perfect ending to life as an otaku”. Vincent defends Saito from the charge of heteronormativity by arguing that while “Saito may describe the real-life sexuality of the otaku he knows as tending toward the heterosexual and the vanilla, . . . he never prescribes that it be so”. For Vincent, what gives Saito’s work its considerable interest to queer theorists is its theoretical tendency neither to privilege nor pathologize the otaku’s enjoyment of “the reality-producing charge [that] . . . the beautiful fighting girl sparks across the gap between” his outward performance of sexual “normality” (xx) and his sustained commitment to both his perverse imaginary pleasures and the media- saturated collective context that enables and sustains these pleasures.”

-Otaku for Queer Theory And Media Theory by Michael Moon
A review of Beautiful Fighting Girl by Saito Tamaki, translated by J. Keith Vincent and Dawn Lawson.
http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=16379&context=criticism

Wow, the word queer keeps popping up; scary, scary, scary. No big deal; we are talking the mechanics of desire here, not the specifics. Besides, it works across all boundaries (and none). You doubt that Kio Shimoku had heard of Tamaki and his original year 2000 Japanese treatise on the BFG? See Mada’s little lecture with the stick figure lines above…

To Carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest
burning

There is still the matter of fujoshi trauma:

“And what about those relatively understudied (at least in this book)
female otaku? Saito offers no substantive consideration of them and
their practices; in his introduction, Vincent informs us that the author
has written about female otaku elsewhere, and that what Saito
seems to mean by “female otaku” are female fans of yaoi, another
huge subset of manga that, in contrast with girl-warrior narratives,
features beautiful schoolboys falling in love and (in many cases) having sex with each other—narratives that are mostly written and drawn by women authors for a largely female audience. (gay men my age might have found yaoi disturbing but fascinating when we were adolescents, but made do with Archie comics instead.)[3] In one of his few direct references to female otaku, Saito mentions not only yaoi but also shotakon, a manga and anime genre that features prepubescent or pubescent boys in romantic and sometimes erotic contexts (29).”
Otaku for Queer Theory And Media Theory, Moon, Ibid

Fat chance! Tamaki ventures only a tiny bit of post- Lacanian fluff on fujoshi desire in his 2006 essay Otaku Sexuality. Then he drops in the shota stuff! Gehhhh! Oh well; that explains Risa.

The folks who took issue with the blatant libidinization of Otaku desire, Azuma et al, with their Foucault/ Kojève approach are even more blind to the lack of the desiring female. As they erase desire within male Otaku moe, they seem to feel no need to give mention to fen desire at all.

A Japanese cultural critic with a background in the fine arts weighs in:

“The biggest problem of the book by Azuma lies in the fact that he has no view on female Otaku.”Of these discontents, the former means that aesthetics of “Moe” is not a comprehensive nature but only one aspect of the Otaku culture, when the latter refers to the gender problem within the Otaku culture.

This latter is my own discontent, too.

Indeed, it’s known there are a lot of female Otaku – of course, in my classroom in Japan – , but they have not been fully discussed. What kind of differences are there between male and female Otaku, then? Briefly speaking,(1)the gaze of female Otaku sometimes involves moments of homosexuality whether her interest goes to boys or girls:(1-a)Female Otaku who fall into the former category, gazing at relationships between beautiful male characters, are sometimes called “Yaoi,” while(1-b)those who fall into the latter category, develop interest in relationships between she herself(=subject)and female characters(=object).
However, the most important difference, I think, is that(2)the female Otaku sometimes has a specific aspect of transforming the body of herself: i.e. through costume play. In this phase, she tries to transform herself from the motive of doubting her identity, when male Otaku gazes and fetishizes a female figure composed of his favorite parts according to his “needs.”

OTAKU AS QUEER?

If so, I much prefer this female Otaku to male one. Or, putting my preference aside, I cannot help thinking here about one word that suits this homo-sexual aspect of female Otaku: “queer.” In order to develop this association of ideas, it’s useful to quote another small remark by Okada. He says: “The reason why there is no movement of gay culture in Japan is the existence of the Otaku culture.” I must add an immediate note to this remark since there are some gay cultures in Japan too; especially in Tokyo. But, as Okada has suggested, there is no integral gay movement as in New York.

Okada’s observation is right since it’s an observation, but from a critical point of view, we should raise a question: Is Otaku a “substitute” – or even a “sublimation” – of the absence of gay culture? I don’t think so. In my opinion, it’s rather an “oppression.”

If so, I’d like to substitute the long-awaited word “queer” for the word “gay.” The original sense of the word “queer” is “to be strange,” but, as you know, it has transformed its meaning as to include homo-sexual implications and has gotten nowadays even the status of disciplinary term to criticize various cultural standards that oppress the minority’s way of life. From this point of view, a kind of female Otaku can probably be called queer, even if they are not fully but partially homo-sexual.

Or rather, if male Otaku is the only Otaku as Karasawa observes concerning Azuma’s book, we should, instead of allowing it to be simply “not queer,” put on it a seal of “seemingly-queerbut-with-no-queerness-as-its-essence.

INTELECTUALS’ RESPONSIBILITY

In any case, I really think it’s anachronistic that such alleged (sub)culture of Otaku is promoted even by a governmental project. Otaku Culture and Its Discontents Or, why on earth do feminists in Japan hesitate to criticize such a male-centered movement?  By the similar argument, Azuma’s book is not only useless, but also harmful. Of course it would be like asking for the moon, if Azuma’s book dealt with the specific aspects of our age. But the subtitle of the book reads “Japanese Society from the View Point of Otaku.” Moreover the catch copy by the publisher reads “We cannot discuss Japan in 2000s without this book.” These remarks announce that the book presents a general theory.

The responsibility for this unhappy situation should be laid on the intellectuals who have not blamed such anachronistic male Otaku on the ground that they don’t know the Otaku well. Critique of Otaku culture can and should be made even by the people who have little or a little knowledge about Otaku culture even from Kantian transcendental point of view.
Of course, modernist must assume this responsibility, too. And that’s why I called today’s talk a little tentative.”

-Otaku Culture and Its Discontents: A Record of Talk Delivered at “The Colloquium in Visual and Cultural Studies” by Takahiro Ueda, (October 17, 2007, University of Rochester)
http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/acd/cg/lt/rb/623/623PDF/ueda.pdf

Wow, it is either all queer theory all the way down, or (sometimes somewhat feminist) post-Lacanian stuff (or both). Cue Rio Otomo, who has recently published a fine essay on “Fantasy, Pornography, and Boys Love”:

“Viewed as irony, a seemingly monological pornographic text turns into a dialogical space, in which, as a reader, I extract, through a negotiation of distance, a pleasure of my own. This act of reading is an expression of my personal sexual fantasy, and I perform it in my own private space. Although it is my private practice, it is not a simple reflection of my private desire. I purchase the material to read, participating in public consumption, and at the same time my choice is to a large extent formed by the selection available to me in the market. Thus, what I believe to be my taste may not be truly mine, or rather, I may have been directed to prefer one thing to another by the socially constructed notions of what is desirable. Indeed, it can be said that the way I dress, the way I walk, and the way I speak, all are my learned choice, and that my desire itself is largely what I learned to want. And yet, once I am aware that I embody and act out socially constructed desire through my reading, I can choose to be a critical and creative participant. A reader is, in this context, a public performer. In the following sections I look into different modes of reading in attempt to clarify particularities of BL reading.
[…]
When I read BL texts, I first identify different bodies, which are codes for different positions in the networks of human relations. The recognition of their differences provokes desire in multiple directions. I then re-enact the difference playing multiple roles in my single body—and, thus, reading (and writing) BL I am able to play with gender itself—a point also discussed by Fujimoto Yukari in her chapter in this volume. I am, thus, autoerotic, but my (female) body is erased in this process. Fantasy in its broad sense tells me a story in which I am everywhere. In BL texts I am simultaneously the character’s downcast eyes; the texture of the velvet couch he lounges on; the windows that fling open; and the wind that blows his curly locks. When his lover enters the room, I am also that lover who looks at him with heated desire. In reading like this, no single identification takes place, since the “I” is multiplied to govern each detail of the scene. The subject “I” as the unified centre no longer exists in this activity. Unlike Mishima’s narrator, I do not consolidate the subject “I” but instead lose sight of it in the landscape.
[…]
The distance that I thought existed between fantasy and myself does not seem reliable any more because I am now becoming my fantasy, writing the script, acting the roles, and capturing the scenes. I am efficient in creating pictures and narratives since my focus is on acquiring the utmost pleasure through the fantasy I am making. In the process, however, the “I” who is making disappears, a consequence that Mishima’s narrator could not afford   despite the happiness he knew it was offering. The disappearance of the “I” is the ultimate goal of fantasy making; I forget where I am and what I am. I do not remember whether I have even existed, when I am in a phantasmatic space. At that very moment of happiness I do not care how I appear to others; I am back in my childlike innocence. I have forgotten my gendered body. The reading subject is not born there, but disappears, as my autoerotic pleasure peculiarly excludes myself along with my body.
[…]
In the mid-1990s Nakajima Azusa made her feminist position clear, describing what she calls the “world of JUNE”:
{{The standing position for these girls has already been removed from the world they create… there is no “opposite” sex as the object of love. Turning themselves into shadow, the girls can play to their hearts content with materials unfamiliar to them, connecting one person to another, or making someone fall in love with another, without fear of being made to enter the “ring” where she is on display to be purchased by men.}}
[22 – JUNE magazine (1978–1979, 1981–1996), a popular BL-focused periodical, was during its time the hub for BL enthusiasts.]”

-The Politics of Utopia: Fantasy, Pornography, and Boys Love by Rio Otomo http://rio-otomo.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/2013.11.3FantasyPornographyBoyslove.pdf

Note that Otomo follows a fairly orthodox post-Lacanian script herein, when dealing with female desire as free-floating and un-fettered by a limiting phallic subjectivity.

And of course, once again from Saito Tamaki himself:

“Enomoto explains that “male fans cannot experience moe until they have fixed their own position”— an observation that may well have validity beyond otaku and yaoi fans. In general a man fears the undermining of his own subject position, and he must establish that position firmly before he can desire an object. This is probably the fate of all who possess a phallus (as distinct from a penis): if the position and orientation of the phallus is not defined, the male cannot face even the object of his own desire.

The word moe is used by male otaku to locate the agent of that desire. On the other hand, in women that fear for one’s subject position is less acute. When a woman desires something, her own position is not important: she immerses herself completely in the object, and by emptying herself, she is able to take it in. The versatility of this subject position is clear when we consider how she identifies with the object. In the gay sex depicted by yaoi texts, a reader or creator can identify with both the seme (“active”) and uke (“passive”) characters.14 This is why her attraction to a text surpasses that of the male otaku.””

Otaku Sexuality by Saitō Tamaki , in “Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams : Japanese science fiction from origins to anime” – Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., and Takayuki Tatsumi, editors. Ch 11 pps 222-249.

It appears that Tamaki and those with rejoinders to his brief mention of the fujoshi experience gloss over the initiatial Lacanian trauma/ shock/ wound of discovering yaoish desires (“Holy Shit !!! Are you serious ??? Where can I get… ?” – as one real life correspondent once exclaimed to me) in favor of the vertiginous pleasures of the shifting POV’s within these dangerous texts. Recall that Tamaki glosses over the fine details of the male experience of the “trauma” as well; which lead me in an earlier review to suggest a rude and simple flowchart.

Only Kio Shimoko, through Kanako Ohno makes any direct mention of the grotty details of any direct erotic use of the material, and what does he know? There is no law that requires that all erotic material must be consumed in “one hand play mode” either for guys or girls and any taxonomy of “appreciation” would probably be both pointless and corporatist-fascist; mega-corporations, as well as the state have no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Academic researchers should consult ethics boards and then ask very, very politely.

The initial question however remains and seems to be only fleetingly addressed in materials available to the English-language-limited researcher. Mizoguchi (Akiko) mentions an initial discovery of early 49’er -style shoujo manga (fantasy European) boys romance tales as support and inspiration to her, as her lesbian identity awakened  –  This effect seems far more important than any fleeting erotic charge these texts may or may not have provoked. Only Kazumi Nagaike in her doctoral thesis- “Japanese women writers watch a boy being beaten by his father: Male homosexual fantasies, female sexuality and desire” [https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/16962] and her later (unfortunately titled) expanded work on the subject- “Fantasies of Cross-Dressing: Japanese Women Write Male-Male Erotica” [ http://www.amazon.ca/Fantasies-Cross-Dressing-Japanese-Male-Male-Erotica/dp/9004216952] gets down and dirty on early and mid-twentieth century Japanese literature that serves as the direct ancestor to the genre. I have previously reviewed these; the source material, which Nagaike translates in some length is not for the squeamish but is more than sufficient to provoke a Lacanian “trauma” and subsequent cathexis – if that kind of stuff turns your crank.

The disconnect, or asymmetry of the experience of libidinised popular visual cultural material between the boys and the girls seems to grow the more one examines it and yet if the differences cannot be laid at the foot of some crude biological determinism, they must then be ascribed to societally gendered codes of behaviour and consumption.

No wonder the entire gender-sexuality-queer-theory-whatnot theory brigades are swarming all over the crash scene! (Be grateful they are; good work is being done there!)

I made no comment.
What should I resent?”
“On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing.”

Perhaps a simpler solution would be for someone to swipe a time machine, go back to France after the war, feed Lacan some mind-altering pharmaceuticals and drag him to a whole lot of movie theatres.

As critical-theory inclined film essayists have long pointed out, a floating, decentered subjectivity is not merely a matter of who has a delusion between their legs. The camera can do all kinds of tricky things, even if the majority of film makers stick to simple tried and true omniscient “male gaze” visual narrative conventions. Remember the multiple/split screen effects in the Woodstock music documentary were breathtakingly avant-garde and daring for 1970. Such innocent days… We have better cameras and computers now, so we can go crazy in the head and perhaps vicariously enjoy the perspective of the -gasp- Lacanian autre (read: female inscribed by lack) with special effects.

Or Lacan was a bit full of it and we can trash the whole line of inquiry…

Whatever the case, Kio Shimoku’s character mechanics tack quite close to post Lacanian shores. Note the scene in which a sworn-off BL Hato-kun experiences the classic shock that Tamaki has grounded his approach on:

Ch88p17 still works

Of course Hato’s big trauma/ shock/ wound was meant to lie in wait for unsuspecting young women. The Beautiful Bonking Bishie(s) is supposed to be the female counterpart to the Beautiful Fighting Girl. I have probably burnt too much powder on this one already, but a few other fine distinctions can be teased out of the tangle of 2D desire. Tamaki’s BFG in her purest state is a thinly drawn character, a nominally female cypher that lives to fight, requiring little or no back story or motivation and possessed of a sexuality that is sublimated toward battle. She is the phallic, or non-female female, There is a world of difference between such a character –almost a one person clench scene– and a fully written fictional female, heroic or not. Similarly, the Bonking Bishies of a BL tableau are far removed from even the minimal characterizations of parody yaoi dojins. You still need to do author-thing work to get a working story. And reports have it that the rotten girls seem to want more story/ situation/ relationshippy characterization than the Otaku guys do for their critters.

And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;

So Hato is suddenly realizing that his grand “fujoshi desire” project must now include becoming the improbable “male crossdressing BL mangaka”.

“How can I win if they keep moving the goalposts???”

Something about Carnegie Hall…

Since the first moment Hato’s (first) Stand appeared, Kio Shimolu has been hiding this card up his sleeve. Hato mirrors (in a distorted form) the original problem faced by Shimoku – how to properly pull off an ensemble manga full of fujoshi charas when you are a guy. The Stand (and later Stands) were all about making Hato act out classic BL scripts. Whether Hato puts on a dress and gets all hot ‘n bothered with yaoi pr0n or whether the mere knowledge that such creatures as fujoshi and such narratives of desire as BL and yoai exist is enough of a trauma to set him on his course, is immaterial. The only real desire he has ever really shown is towards his project and his project involves authorship – whether he knows and/or admits it or not.

Dammit! We cannot completely scrap the Lacanian approach. Implicit in Tamaki’s trauma scheme is Lacan’s idea that all experience is mediated in the imaginary, that the “real” is something that would drive mere mortals crazy, and that in the moment that mad desire is sparked by the seemingly innocuous or ridiculous cartoon image “Sex is broken down within the framework of fiction and then put back together again“.

A Later Aside: Don’t look or listen to closely to the Lacanian ‘real” or you might find that it is a re-tread of Euroethnic Judeo-Christian mysticism. Alanis Morisette explains:

Ok, so reality, the cave, shadows, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Otaku hysteria born out of the trauma is fundamentally a narrative, creative act and therefore in becoming-otaku (or fujoshi) one must inevitably undertake creative acts of secondary production. One must learn to ride the waves of mass mediated images- of- the- imaginary or be swept away to drown in the torrent. You have to hack the spew.

She smoothes her hair with automatic hand
And puts a record on the gramophone.

Genshiken might well be a mutant josei manga with a few hold-over shoujo components: shouldn’t we at least get to see Hato ache for Mada? …Or even ache for an idealised phantasm of Mada? Kio Shimoku is great at the timid hesitation of Otaku courtship, and damn fine at the in-relationship and/or in-well-married couple frictions and their minor (sometimes major) discontents but he seldom deploys full-throttle romantic mush. Ohno & Tanaka came the closest when Ohno got hammered at the cosplay shoot, but Shimoku-sensei doesn’t do over-the-top melodramatic longing. Saki had a tiny bit, but it was quickly dealt with. The happy couple kisses and we move on to in-relationship comedy situations. Shimoku’s works appear more realistic or slice-of-life because he plays all his romance-ish notes in a restrained, pragmatic, somewhat disillusioned key. It is the old chestnut about the Japanese courting couple, with the guy who cannot ask the girl to marry him –  so he asks her to be the one to make breakfast miso soup for him for the rest of his life.  Ooooooh! That sets the heart a’ flutter!

Hato-as-chan acting out BL tropes, should be doing the full, overblown shoujo-esue Heart of the Song of the Wind and Trees & Thomas ” I am yours until the earth claims my body vow of undywing trew ruv at a perplexed Madarame. And where are the full-page floral background portraits (dammit!)? Instead Hato is following the timid courtship rules of the Genshiken: potential partners are approached slowly, tentatively, and with a wearying deliberation that recalls the purchase of a major appliance or a used car. This might be funny, but it is not very big on the desire thing. If Hato has gone quasi you-and-only-you gay for Madarame (even if it shocks the hold-over mainstream male Japanese fan-base, as well as the legions of followers across the grey alleys of the world-wide interwebs) there has been scant evidence of friendship, no evidence of love (even one-sided) no evidence of lust (beyond drawn 2D Hato-works) and no evidence of desire. One outburst of loneliness is all that we have seen. That, the prodding of the Stands and a lot of leveling up in Hato’s femme-ish presentation.

Hato you cad !!! You are just toying with Mada for material for your damn comic.

Meanwhile Sue has “had” in one moment, more of Hato – chan and kun, than Mada ever will.

You break it, you buy it

You break it, you buy it

I wonder what she is threatening Mada about in Chapter 105 (the raws are out!), and why the handcuffs ????

(Handcuffs?? masks?? WTF ??)

I am fanning out here, but I am also speculating about what i have long suspected as one of the over-arching plot engines of the whole fujoshi-with-Hato Genshiken. It’s not that you have to do the Anti-Oedipus becoming-woman/ becoming-monster thing to be a successful auteur. Nor is the consideration of decentered subjective multiplicities a feminist (or not) post-Lacanian or queer theory monopoly – though one can understand their interest in the idea. (Hegemony not good!) It’s just that the ability to load and process multiple subjectivities is helpful to the creative process in this day and age. Hato is being used as a slapstick allegory on this theme, as he edges towards being able to tell his stories. He will try all kinds of odd approaches. Like a certain cartoon penguin, He will not fail!

C’mon Hato, as an aspiring mangaka, you need a muse – being your own just isn’t cutting it lately. Sue or Yajimachi: pick one! (Sue best girl!) You can be a male crossdressing virtual lesbian BL mangaka and surpass all your sempais!

Hato-Lily for great dojinshi creating justice!

In thy orisons be all my sins remembered

On Mary Sue, her origins, popularity and the ubiquity of simple wish-fulfillment narratives in melodramatic manga..

Walker, Cynthia W. 2011. “A Conversation with Paula Smith.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 6. doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0243.
http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/243/205

“It isn’t every fan who rates a Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_sue) and a mention on Salon.com (http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2010/04/21/mary_sue) for a term she invented, but Paula Smith will be forever known as the person who coined the phrase “Mary Sue.”

EnsignSue_869

In case you have never run into Ms. Sue before, here is her home page: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue

To stumble upon the Paula Smith interview left me momentarily stunned and then struck by a violent bout of nostalgia; not for the invention of the Mary Sue trope, but for the odd coincidence that I was at some of the very same early conventions she mentions, at the times mentioned, and probably ran into many of the same folks mentioned in her interview. I may have met her in passing but I can’t remember doing so. I did some table manning volunteering at Tri-con. How’s this for a secret handshake to prove I was there: I was privy to the not-so secret insider gossip that one of the celebs needed a quick prescription due to… la la la

Hold on tight, this one is going to be messy!

past kill me wannamotei

Oh misspent youth! I was playing hooky from high school and sneaking off to sci-fi conventions (…and Patti Smith concerts, which together warped both my sense of the future, and my ideas of female sexual agency).

Why would you want to read a blog post where I get all nostalgic about my misspent youth? I promise useful theory-ish insights! I swear! Something has been banging around in the idea bucket since my last post on prof. Saito Tamaki, and it involves Mary Sue, Shojo (or Shoujo) manga, professor Tamaki, Adrian Piper and why the new and improved yuri V2 is a lot closer to yaoi than everyone first thought.

On the construction of an imaginary other / an imagined other sex:

First Dr Saito Tamaki and his friend again…

“”Enomoto explains that “male fans cannot experience moe until they have fixed their own position”— an observation that may well have validity beyond otaku and yaoi fans. In general a man fears the undermining of his own subject position, and he must establish that position firmly before he can desire an object. This is probably the fate of all who possess a phallus (as distinct from a penis): if the position and orientation of the phallus is not defined, the male cannot face even the object of his own desire.””
(Otaku Sexuality, see prev post for the full citation)

The wimmens are supposed to lack the constraining need for the phallic signifier and therefore can better play with yaoi puppets and enjoy seme, uke and god-narrator-author points of view all at the same time. Taken to insulting extremes, this kind of psycho-babble suggests that women don’t even possess a conventional “identity” as unified subject, except as a reflection of a lack, so they can identify with and partake in desire with rocks, rivers, Hello Kitty, jet airplane turbines, living room furniture and days of the week.

The assumption here again is of a certain vulgar essentialist view of gendered behaviour that fits with the Freudian “original sin” mythology of the development of the modernist “subject”. Blah blah blah. This is as close to the core of the whole mess as one can get, and it presents a weak spot for critics to sink their hooks into it. Suffice it to say that once the wimmins theorists got hold of this little gem, they found a big internal contradiction in it: what is usually now refered to as “male hysteria”.

This is a theory in-joke, because the word hysteria derives from old greek or old latin or old middle earth dwarvish and means something like “womb madness” and therefore should be a relative of PMS – a girl thing. But instead of some 1950’s Betty screaming madly until Cary Grant slaps her upside, “male hysteria” is now far more common in pop culture overacting.

Some guy “breaks” under pressure and goes all violent/ fearful/ batshit psycho/ suicidal because he cannot live up to his internal standards of guy-ness. So Ms. Enomoto’s quip and Dr. Tamaki’s elaboration of it above is just orthodox Western psych canon, used in an interesting way. On the surface male-hysteria boy is just snapping under the pressure of defending his subject position. But If the subject position is so easily broken, was it, and all the high theatre of male-ness all there, and so fixed in the first place?

Whoooooohooooo Scary! Careful you don’t lose it buddy, or you will turn into a woman – which is even worse than being a gay man!

The best short-form version of this kind of thing that I have found so far is Rio Otomo’s work on how Mishima overdoes this kind of pop Freudian view of female-ness (http://rio-otomo.net/academic-papers/mishima-yukios-sex-which-is-not-one)

“Following the first coup attempt, Isao is arrested. During one of his long nights in prison, Isao dreams of turning into a woman. Although this episode functions as a prophecy of the next reincarnation, a young Thai princess, the description of Isao’s becoming a woman conveys more messages than is necessary for a lead into the following volume.

[Isao] felt as if the world had been turned inside out … his flesh had lost definite form, turned into flesh that was soft and swaying. He was filled with a mist of soft, languid flesh. Everything became vague. Wherever he searched, he could find no order or structure. There was no supporting pillar… Comfort and discomfort, joy and sorrow – all alike slid over his skin like soap. Entranced, he soaked in a warm bath of flesh. The bath by no means imprisoned him. He could step out whenever he liked, but the languid pleasure kept him from abandoning it, so that staying there forever, not choosing to go, had become his ‘freedom.’ Thus there was nothing to define him, to keep him under strict control. What had once wound itself tightly round and round him like a rope of platinum had slipped loose. (Mishima, 1985: 449-50)[9]

While Isao is determined to banish the memory of the dream, he cannot deny the fact that the sensation he felt was not thoroughly disagreeable. The feminine is defined here as freedom from the restrictions not only of body but also of mind:

Everything he had so firmly believed in was meaningless. Justice was like a fly that had tumbled into a box of face powder and smothered; beliefs for which he had meant to offer up his life were sprayed with perfume and melted. All glory dissolved in the mild warmth of mud… Sparkling snow had melted away entirely. He felt the uncertain warmth of spring mud within him. Slowly something took form from that spring mud, a womb. Isao shuddered as the thought came to him that he would soon give birth. His strength had always spurred him with violent impatience towards action, had always responded to a distant voice that conjured up the image of a vast wilderness. But now, that strength had left him. The voice was silent. The outer world, which no longer called to him, now, rather, was drawing closer to him, was touching him. (Mishima, 1985: 450)

A womb-like zone – comfort and pleasure ‘inside’ the skin – is within him. The body has now lost its contour, and a smell of ‘decaying seaweed,’ ‘an entirely organic odour’ has permeated this body. But whose voice are we hearing in this passage? Is there a speaking agent in this formless body? Judith Butler contends that there is no pre-existing agent behind performance, and that rather, the agent is an effect of performance (Butler 1993:30). [10] The voice of Mishima’s text speaks from the no-man’s land that lies between man and woman, and the owner of that voice is what Butler calls a ‘linguistic effect’, the image projected on the surface of the body in the bath. Through this transgender narrative Mishima destabilises the authority of a speaking subject, first and foremost that of male sex.

Let us read further the carnivalesque space which Mishima produces in this passage, in which the realm of the feminine undermines the said order. The woman-like being in the bath is overwhelmed by the sense of eternal pleasure, jouissance, and a division between subject and object disappears in her. There seems no scope of binaries conceived in her realm.

Justice, zeal, patriotism, aspirations for which to hazard one’s life – all had vanished. In their place came an indescribable intimacy with the things around him… Things clung to [Isao] like paste, and, at the same time, lost all their transcendental significance. Trying to arrive at some goal was no longer a problem. Everything was arriving here from elsewhere. Thus there was no longer a horizon, no longer any islands. And with no perspective at all evident, voyages were out of the question. There was only the endless sea. (Mishima, 1985: 450)

This new imagery of woman as a formless, all-inclusive existence like the endless sea is a considerable shift from the way in which Mishima depicts women in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The central character of that text, Mizoguchi, finds women’s corporeality incongruous to the spiritual value embodied in the beauty of the Golden Temple, which was handed down to him by his late father. All women – his mother; the woman who rejects him; the prostitute who accepts him; the pan-pan girl who accuses him – stir anger and hostility in him. The world of the Mother and that of the Father are clearly marked in black and white; there is no room for negotiation or switching positions between the two. Mizoguchi’s narrative indeed takes place within a strictly Oedipalised and regulated space. In contrast Isao’s dream scene presents a different narrativisation of the feminine, the one that posits a powerful antithesis to the ruling regime of the Symbolic order. The she-man, Isao, is without skin or body contour, and thus no longer demarcating himself as an autonomous and unified subject. He instead feels being part of the endless sea. This passage is one of the rare occasions in which Mishima makes a reference to the title of the tetralogy. He sexes the sea, as it were, and makes it fertile.”

Overwrought Mishima is overwrought!

What a classic Freud/ Lacan male mash-up fantasy of female-ness. Here is male hysteria creating an imagined (and rather silly) feminine other, just like the hegemonic “ruling regime of the Symbolic order” theory-verse does. If the female narrator is such an amorphous blob-monster, why are so many of her daughters creating Mary Sue avatars – which are pure naked agency, devoid of any polite restraint?

Sarcasm aside, Mishima is one of the big high lit novelists of 20th century Japan: If he wants to construct a pop-psychology cliche of “the female” built in the solitary mind of a male protaganist who is “breaking up” and bang it violently against his other fave cliche of masculinity the Shonen Jump-ish  Koha, then he is playing with extremes for novelistic effect. Fair ball – you can’t do that kind of thing in an essay. Just don’t get carried away and try to stage a real-life coup, then disembowel yourself.

“What is kōha? … youth, violence, naivety, straightforwardness, anti-social behaviour, small-group hierarchy, or ethnocentrism. If one looks closely, one will find that emotions in kōha mentality are represented by politics rather than romantic love. Politics in the Orient is the ideal of machismo and the relationship amongst men. Although both politics and romantic love are naturally saturated in emotionalism …what makes the former distinct from the latter is that while the latter strives for individualism, the former is the urge to mould oneself into an ideal shape [as part of the whole]. Therefore, [kōha affiliates] have no danger of self-mortification…their desperate attempt to preserve their power begins in conservatism and racial fundamentalism. Since action is considered to be the embodiment of their power that blindly aims at justice, kōha will never suffer from a guilty conscience for their own action. (Mishima, 1989: 1015)

Despite its often violent and anti-social behaviour, the men who were called kōha [the school of the solid] occupied the place of legitimate masculinity, while nanpa [the school of the soft] was not necessarily excluded from the patriarchal order, receiving a certain respect from kōha affiliates. As Japan rapidly evolved into the post-industrial society, in which kōha values were regarded as excessive and therefore redundant, nanpa became the norm. The hidden agenda of the article above are: Mishima’s denunciation of the modern novel, which he now calls ‘nanpa-style literature’ which has dominated the Japanese literary scene since the post-Meiji era; and his call for ‘kōha-style writing’ that represents Japan in its pristine state. The article also expresses Mishima’s yearning for a life that is steadfast, fleeting, emotional and devoid of psychological complexity, in other words, his longing for a story-telling that predates the modern novel. Kōha, according to Mishima, defies things logical and intellectual, demonstrating a Japanese native characteristic – distrust in logocentricism. Mishima is here re-defining the concept of masculinity (and the kōha-style that represents it) to be emotional and non-verbal, taking over the properties of the feminine. It is an ironical twist given by Mishima who started his writing career as an emblematic nanpa writer and is now steadfastly transforming himself into a boxer, a sport-reporter, a swordsman and an army officer. The politics that Mishima takes up is a natio nalism without logic and words; for him kōha literature – the story of Japanese masculinity – is a counter-discourse to the masculinity foregrounded by Western imagination.”

Yikes!

The project of imagining the other gender seems to be fraught with what i can only call “category slip”. Are we speaking of real-world behaviour here? Is it public or private behaviour? Or is it confined to the real of “play” or imagination? Does it stay in the safe space of “the simulated”, in recreational fiction, or in the imaginary that is built when the subject takes parts of the the imaginary world, performs a personal bricolage on the components and creates a personal “fantasy”. Are these fantasies best left private, or are they the stuff of the gift, of symbolic exchange? Should the exchange be limited to experts, or can anyone play?

We are already three or four layers deep in category slip here: public identity, to private life, to gendered categories of desire in recreational narratives. Things get messy really fast. One could easily start off trying to figure out why poorly socialized males obsess over certain types of stories and fall into speculation on the “desires of the beautiful fighting girl”? (yup, prof. Saito does it on occasion) Excuse me – she’s a one-dimensional category of fictional character, she can have any “desires” any particular writer cares to give her, or none at all. Myself, I think she wants to hijack a time machine and become Mishima’s mom. She should ask Dr. Doom; I hear he lets Squirrel Girl use it.

I bet Rio Otomo thinks she wants an account at fanfiction.net and a laptop.

Professor Saito Tamaki has a bigger problem than the limits of Freud-zoku concepts of gendered subjectivity. Either he has to go full blown Mishima and acknowledge that the subject is not only formed in relation to the other, but that the subject expends a ridiculous amount of energy first constructing the imaginary other out of all kinds of bat-shit crazy cultural detritus that is found lying around, or he can just  stick to the useful stuff, like the quasi-libinous kick that comes from being a second-order or third order producer of ephemera that surrounds the consumption of a cultural artifact. That has traction. Whooooeee! Its time for a big potlatch party! Make friends, hang out, play with your fave fan-stuff, do some mash-ups, put out a dojin – hey wait: sounds a bit like the idealized space of the Genshiken. Myself, I would drop the Freud-speak, or at least view it as one among many convenient “scripts” that can be rummaged out of the dumpster.

Bad method acting school time: “What’s my character’s motivation?”

I won’t hold my breath.

OR: Prof Saito Tamaki knows all this, but Japan has lousy disability pension laws and regulations and he is trying to symptom-ize the condition so that Hikis and really withdrawn otaku – types get coverage and do not starve to death ????

Query: Is hikikomori in the DSMV ? prof Saito pioneered the study of the condition! That’s a pretty high honour  Remember, no DSM listing, no insurance coverage, at least in the USA, Canada, etc.. I can find no mention that it is in the DSMV yet. Perhaps one has to dress the condition up in Freud drag to make it “real” within the clerisy. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/12/169

On presenting the public self:

Shift POV back to memory lane:

Way back then I swear I bought some of those early Mary Sue Star Trek fanzines! No one warned me they were gendered artifacts. I was soooooooo crushed when I was told by someone who I lent them to that they were nothing but horribly written girly wish-fulfillment fantasies. Sure they were, but they had steamy hawt (and rather odd) secks scenes in them! No slash thankfully. Whew! Only original heterosexual characters bonking, so it wasn’t too weird; no Kirk/ Spock/ Mary Sue threesomes.

Let me say that again. They were written by female fans and they had hawt secks scenes in them, and I was rather young at the time, and by the way this was in the early Pleistocene era and they used mimeograph machines to print the things! (Damn, I am still putting off that honking big theory post I promised 2 months ago!). Those fan-women/ fen were -gasp- sexual creatures, as much as Patti Smith was, and incidentally equally unconcerned with being embarrassed about  publicly taking their desires for reality.

Oh brave new world that hath such creatures in it!

Did I mention my high school was very catholic? And that all this took place in the early Pleistocene era? Dinosaurs and Playboy bunnies walked the earth. Skinny, nearsighted geek boys who couldn’t do sports were supposed to have absolutely no chance for romance and misbehaviour – at least until we finished University. And yet I already knew a terrible secret…

Hijinx ensued.

This January I saw a 68-year-old Patti Smith perform at a concert hall in Shibuya. She still can’t play guitar to save her life, and routinely makes an ass of herself on stage and gets Japanese culture and mythos dead stupid wrong, and has a Mishima fixation, and none of it matters, because she is a rock and roll goddess and at 68 years of age she can wank out on stage all she wants. She is still hawt! She doesn’t look a day over 50…

And her soul sisters in the Mary Sue brigades have taken over the world.

What I am trying to say is that a certain moment in time, with just the right mix of technology, and weirdness, mass culture suddenly allowed a lot of folks who previously had stuff to say, but couldn’t bear the hassle and expense, who were shut out of the commercial channels, to get up on stage and “act out”. Fanwriters didn’t have word processors yet, let alone the interwebs (no gopher, pine, email and usenet groups, not even fidonet!  – that would all have to wait until the 1990’s) but they did have slightly more available IBM Selectric typewriters and Gestetner (screen cut mimeograph machines go back to the 1920’s or earlier) machines that were fairly easy to borrow or appropriate. And they had an expanding fan convention culture, no longer centered on traditional “hard” sci-fi.

Meanwhile over in rock and roll land, “at the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating…”

Perhaps it would be best to ask Lenny Kaye, garage band historian, pop music anthropologist, producer, meddler and lead guitar to the Patti Smith Group (still after all those years and yup, he was holding it together in Tokyo that night..) what changed. Or go read the liner notes to Nuggets. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenny_Kaye

Whatever the reason, something had slipped in the control rooms of the big record companies some 30 years before mp3’s would destroy them and plenty of people like Patti Smith got up on stage to bring their own messy, raw and painfully, embarrassingly naive idea of how rock’n’roll should be done to anyone who would listen.

And yeah we look the same
Both pumpin steel, both sweatin
But you know she got nothin to hide
And I got something to hide here called desire
I got something to hide here called desire
And I will get out of here–
You know the fiery potion is just about to come
In my nose is the taste of sugar
And I got nothin to hide here save desire
And I’m gonna go, I’m gonna get out of here
I’m gonna get out of here, I’m gonna get on that train,
I’m gonna go on that train and go to New York City
I’m gonna be somebody, I’m gonna get on that train, go to New York City,
I’m gonna be so big, I’m gonna be a big star and I will never return,
Never return, no, never return, to burn at this Piss Factory
And I will travel light.
Oh, watch me now.

Patti Smith, Piss Factory (1974)

Bloody amateurs! Mary Sues all of them!

The sins of Mary Sue are all sins of degree. Recall slash-kami “Mary Jean Johnson’s” admonition about yaoi fan-writing:

“Yaoi isn’t like other fictional writing. It’s a private vision written for personal satisfaction, and to apply the standards by which we judge ordinary literature to yaoi is to willfully ignore this private element. You can say ‘Male pregnancy stories don’t do it for me’ if you like, but to say ‘Male pregnancy stories are stupid and childish and people should stop writing them’ is not only arrogant, it’s dangerous. All fantasies are legitimate or none are, and to discredit the male pregnancy fantasy is automatically to discredit your own fantasy of mutual empowerment and non-penetrative sex. As for trashing a fanwriter’s style, it’s like shooting the piano player. Chances are she’s doing the best she can. The only way you get to play the piano better is by playing the piano more. And quite possibly she writes that way because she likes writing that way, typos and all, and belongs to that huge group of people (of whom Word’s Spell-check is one) who really believe that its should be written it’s on all occasions.””

It could also be that plotting standards have slipped precipitously, or that naive story telling is comfortably non-threatening to a modern mass audience (as is tone-deaf pop singing), but ms. Sue has found a permanent place as one of the zashi-warashi of contemporary Japanese Visual Culture. Blame Comike(t)  It doesn’t matter. She is wabi-sabi as all heck; a flawed guardian spirit/ meta-heroine. (we will leave aside Western women’s genre fiction, either young adult or the slightly older age bracket’s “spunky girl in the big city finds interesting well-paying job, brand name goodies and two competing good boy/ bad boy lovers”) At least ms. Sue gets written, a lot! You can’t keep a gal like her in the kitchen, or off the page.

Did I mention she is Legion?

Mary_Sue_Comprasion

Trick question: both are Mary Sue; one is just a bit more polite sneaky about it.

Ogiue is not a Mary Sue. Neither is Watamote (she might be the anti-sue), but Mary and her cousin Marty (sometimes Gary) Stu (AKA Die Wesley Crusher Die!) are damn hard to escape in manga land. Genshiken may be free of the both of them, but adolescent themed fiction is up to its ears in them and their ilk, so much so that their “meta”, Chuunibyou has been also rising in the popularity stats. Note how Chuuni is a “bit” different Western models of high-school “acting out”

chuuhibyou chart

No matter, we will still read the stuff, unbelievable main character with special powers and all – if the rest of the story does something for us.  Mary Sue and over-the-top wish-fulfillment charas have colonized throwaway shoujo Manga, while her cousin Marty has made a home for himself in any number of harem high-school grinders. One day he will grow up and become Walter Mitty, or Hunter Thompson, or some rap star or even Oscar Wilde.

I have NO IDEA what this means!” – Oscar Wilde

Back to misspent youth stories:

Somewhere in the attic is a box full of treasure crap from those days. After the labour day weekend worldcon in Toronto, our paths diverged. Star Trek fandom was getting too commercial and uncomfortably a-social (at least for me). Paula Smith’s sisterhood found the guy-verse of mainstream sci-fi fandom suffocating and used the lameness in early trekkie fandom to carve out a female fen-space. They went on to do “vidding” which I believe is a slash variant done with VCRs. For me, mainstream sci-fi had more wild, wonderful and risqué stuff to rot my impressionable male teen-age mind.

The costume balls at sci-fi conventions had semi-professional girl (yes, as in teen, yikes!) models in extremely skimpy outfits (who swooped in to bag the cash prizes), all-night movies (to nap through), real computer games (a terminal to U of Toronto mainframe playing something called “sumer“) and late night drinking parties that did not ask if you were of age. Of course I had to keep my enthusiasms to myself; bad trekkie behaviour had tarred the lot of us as the lowest form of annoying noob.

I might have been the over-enthusiastic motor-mouthed young fan who so pestered the venerable Isaac Asimov that he proposed to another senior writer that I should be strangled lest I grow up to become another ??? (was it Harlan Ellison?) (Then again, this might have been a running joke between senior writers at that convention, as there were at least a hundred overenthusiastic male youth running amok that weekend.)

You would think that I would have stayed with this life throughout my teen years – alas ugly mundane reality intervened and violently pulled me out of geek paradise soon thereafter.

Of course I still watched Star Trek reruns whenever I could, and read Analog, and all the used sci-fi paperbacks I could get at 3 for $1, but the worldcons were too far away, and there were no Genshikens at the universities I managed to later squeak into. (There were however university newspapers and someone left Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail 72 lying around.. Hijinx ensued… )

On the precarious nature of the subject:

Yipes! too much geek reminiscing. According to professor Saito and his posse, I and all my male brethren at the time were supposed to be fixing our own positions and our identities, developing our subjecthood vis-a-vis “the other” and male-hysterically defending it and phallic agency/ privilege etc., etc., etc. Or in the language of the day “To yourself be(ing) true”.

Right!

Good effing luck locating this “yourself” thing buddy…

Or we were supposed to be trying to score with Mrs Robinson…

Perhaps 40 years of economic decline and the interwebs changed all this. Liminality is now the buzzword for everyone under 40. As for over 40, again – good luck!

And we all are what we do. We have to change what we do a lot, and in life we all get to do what we are second best at…

I feel your pain..

I feel your pain..

The whole modernist subject/ other myth was never really even modernist – it was a romantic narrative born out the rupture of euroethnic peasant life caused by industrial urbanization. It was cobbled together by swiping ideals of semi-autonomous behaviour from tales of imaginary privileged nobility and shoe-horning them into a guild model of profession-derived identity so that the new city dwelling underclass didnt go stark raving mad once they left their villages. Dick Whittington meet Horatio Algier, and both of you make sure to stop demanding to be fed before your women-folk! (Strange how rates of tuberculosis tumbled once economics and social practice allowed that European females should get to eat meat protein too – note the the “subject” was a gendered concept even back then. women didn’t count.)

One doesn’t have to go all postmodern to realise how shaky the modern subject always was – modernism always knew this too: go read some T.S.Elliot or at least some Auden. Later you can have a bit of Ginsberg if you promise not to freak out at the gay bits. There is also a nasty analysis of WWI mass hysteria by Modris Eckstein called Rites of Spring The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age that riffs on what happened when it all went balls up.

Postmodern, database, grand narrative fail, total new thing, yup, right,

Meanwhile, I like to think that all the low-budget sci-fi I ingested, including many poorly written wish fulfilment fantasies (both fanzine and commercial pulp varieties) gave me something akin to the only true modern capital that does not depreciate: a taste for different points of view (and a self-reflective sense of humor).

You’ve probably got it too (or why are you here reading this?), but only a certain vintage of graybeard nerd will grasp all the shades of truly embarrassing horror in Futurama’s Zap Brannigan. Want more? Try Spinrad’s vicious parody “The Iron Dream”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Spinrad#The_Iron_Dream) You have been warned. Adolf as Marty Stu done viciously!

In my first year of university, I struggled with my paper on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, frustrated beyond reason at my inability to wrap my head around a 400 year old fable, while the tiny, tinny TV speaker interrupted me with Shatner’s Kirk over-acting out his passion for Flint’s daughter Miranda.

(Miranda! Huh! Ker-Ching! Enlightenment! Good marks!) Who said all that sci-fi crap was useless? Oh Gawd! Forbidden Planet too! WTF is it with all The Tempest rip-offs in sci-fi? Is The Tempest the penultimate Marty Stu vehicle for an ageing male playwright? That’s why I like Greenway’s Prospero’s Books so much; multiple Arials take over writing his tale of vengeance in his magic book and stir him to mercy and humanity.

Cue Adrian Piper:

“Here the aim of appropriation would not be to exploit deliberately the Other’s aesthetic language, but to confound oneself by incorporating into works of art an aesthetic language one recognizes as largely opaque; as having a significance one recognizes as beyond one’s comprehension. Viewed in this way, exploitation is an unintended side-effect – the consequence of ignorance and insensitivity – of a project whose main intention is to escape those very cognitive limitations.
[. . .]
The appropriative character and formalism of Euroethnic art is, then,intrinsically connected with its self-awareness (or self-consciousness). To recognize an alien cultural practice as different from one’s own, and as inaccessible to understanding with respect to content, is implicitly to recognize one’s own cultural practice as a cultural practice, with its own rules and constraints. This just is the awareness that one’s own cultural practice is merely one among many. And the recognition that alternative cultural practices are cognitively inaccessible just is the awareness that one’s own furnish the only available conduit for interpretation of formal anomaly. So the cross-cultural appropriation of alien formal devices is a reminder of one’s own subjectivity. Self-consciousness of this kind is a necessary condition of innovation. “

Adrian Piper is not the only modernist theory wizard to riff on this. Charles Taylor does a very good job at explaining how what we think of as “identity” differs radically from what our self-reproducing farm equipment forebears thought about the matter. We would struggle to get their idea of it, and ours might drive them mad. Baudrillard’s gem “The Mirror of Production“, which alienated him from French Marxian orthodoxy gleefully takes a similar insight and lays into the historical myth of dialectical materialism with it. (but succumbs to the old trap of an edenic “legend of the fall”)

I even recall an anthropological sci-fi story that riffed on the “bicameral mind” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Jaynes) theory and located its “subject” (or ur-subject) in a hero that didn’t hear the voices of his tribe as group proto-unconscious, and as such was able to lie about what “god” told him to do to save his tribe. Even as it gave our hero powerful headaches.

Think outside the box! One could argue that the truly modernist subject is the one that can “load” alternative, multiple, contradictory modes of processing reality. Whoops! we just fell into Deleuze and Guattari land! Or Eliot’s Wasteland. (hint: try reading it as a screenplay)

How to fool yourself for fun:

Back to clumsy wish fulfillment stories and “bent” libidinous manga:

Just because we guys are supposed to “fear the undermining of (our) own subject position” in public, (“A real man speaks only with his fists!” declares the shonen manga hero.) doesn’t mean that we cannot be tempted by the illusion of forbidden knowledge in private. Especially if we can rationalise the excursion as an intelligence gathering mission with bonus naughty bits. What we (and the gals too) read in the easy chair, or watch on the monitor, or load on the console is a private matter carried out under the sign of “play”. It is the epitome of personal space. That the reading material would drift into pr0n land is not surprising. What surprises me is how fast it has drifted out again.

Plenty of correspondents have followed up on observations that yaoi and BL are offshoots of shoujo manga. What is even more surprising is how yuri – traditional home of fake lesbo orgy smut has of late been re-situating itself within shoujo manga conventions.

Yuri’s new cover story is that it tells tales of girls love and therefore it is “really” for girls investigating that forbidden longing, like the melodramatic Japanese S-class lesbian-ish short stories of the 1920’s. There may be more than a few women in Japan who read and are stirred by the stuff, but what Erica-sensei calls “the creepy male gaze” present in much of it complicates the issue.

What is inescapable is that the majority of current yuri and shoujo-ai is nothing more or less than shoujo manga for male readers. (referred to by some as Loser Fan Boys – I use the term ironically, re-appropriating it with a certain mock-embarrassed grin. “Why are men broken?” indeed…  ) There still is plenty of girl-on-girl-on-girl smut out there, but it is slowly being edged out by this new curious hybrid form that might be for women who like women, but not quite.

The consensus is that guys reading this stuff is an excusable quirk and still guy-like as long as there is still -some- smut in the story. (We can always delude ourselves into thinking we are picking up a few rezbian ruv techniques when looking for the naughty bits – the shoujo-ai stuff is in many ways creepier because it is often just an excuse for lolicon. Hi Madarame!) As the flip-side of yaoi for rotten girls, the illusion that those yuri- stories- which- are- not- total- smut- fests are somehow more “authentically lesbian” plays both to an urge towards affected political correctness and the thrill of peeking into the girl’s (completely fake, staged) changing room. Wow! there are even female mangakas writing it, so the newer stuff must be “real-er”.

Saito’s asymmetry is rapidly being levelled out. Note the change from old yuri to new yuri: the newer stuff bows to romantic convention and avoids threesomes and moresomes.

On the interwebz no one knows you are a...

On the interwebz no one knows you are a…

The overwrought romantic dialogue (little more than what Erica-sensei calls “story A”) is extra spice and offers forbidden insight into the mind of that most enigmatic of all creatures; the female, portrayed in its “purest” state (no guy in the way). Wasn’t it Amis again who quipped that romantic love was a lesbian invention? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sappho) Contemporary smut-lite- might- be- lesbian- approved- yuri exudes concentrated female emotional truth-iness! (even when penned by male mangakas.. Yeah right…)

Can any guy actually think that real women emote like this? That a real-life woman will get hostile towards you because she cannot express her deepest feelings or melt when one deploys some affected “sensitivity”. Bakka! Emotional awareness is suspect in males; one is either a dangerous “player”, an emo or worse – Richard III. Snap out of it!

Perhaps the allure of the illusion of forbidden lore is too strong. The rotten girls keep insisting that their contrived boys-ruv is “purer” because the unequal power relations in a male-female relationship are snuck past in their stuff, and they don’t need lesbian love stories because they already know how this romance stuff works on females. It is us blockheads who are incomprehensible. Where is Dr. Zizek when we need him? I keep ringing his office and all I get is some Tireseus jerk!

Smut- lite- contemporary- yuri (shoujo-ai V2 ???) shares many of the characteristics of yaoi for rotten girls as it provides a risk-free simulation space for playing with elaborate and overdone narratives of emotional “relationship-y” courtship behaviour and romance – much as yaoi-space gives rotten girls a chance to simulate what it would be like if fuckmad predatory male behaviour could somehow accommodate all the same relationship-y emotional stuff that the wimmens crave, but recognise as a blind spot in traditional guy behaviour and a dangerous liability to themselves in the real world.

And the girls like to see crude representations of bishie guys getting it on, while we guys are only reading yuri because we are waiting for the hawt girl-on-girl action. DURR HERP DUR DERP!

A spectre is haunting the modern subject:

And then the melodrama starts to bleed all over the place…

You doubt me? Why then do Otaku characterise their moe blobs in terms of tropes of courtship behaviour? Tsundere might be stupidly simplistic but it is still an exponential leap from slut or frigid. Did the tendency of male otaku to characterise their fave charas in such a manner carry over form rotten girls’ elaborate typologies of semes and ukes? (recall female to male ratios at early comikets) Or was it the other way around? Or were both tribes caught in the inexorable pull of Azuma Hiroki’s database?

“What’s my motivation?” Who cares. It still is all about emotional relationship-y melodrama and fluff. Add a horrible tortured past for the main character and both tribes can get all emo and angsty while waiting for the resolving secks scene. (If it was shonen manga it would be a fight scene.. no wonder the rotten girls have such fun)

Aoi Hanna and Sasameke Koto have no hawt secks scenes, but still have plenty of LFB fans. As mentioned previously, much angsty chaste longing ensues. Maybe just a happy ending is enough. Looks like we won’t get one with Aoi Hanna: the MC will be lucky to make it out of high school sure of herself as an autonomous lesbian subject, but radically disenchanted from the magical world of young high-school love. Odysseus slumps over spent, still tied to the mast as his ships slip by the Sirens’ rocks; Kristeva’s German burgher contemplates Holbein’s “Dead Christ” and realises that he is completely and terribly alone in the world and the Enterprise warps out of the system seconds before its sun goes nova…

Disenchantment is the sacrament of modernism ™

Call it a win and cue theme music.

Hanna is of course “better literature” than Koto, precisely because of the unresolved ending. The real love story here is the love that Fumi Manjōme might be finally able to develop as a full person, for herself.

Not satisfied? Plenty of other “creepy” bits of contemporary visual culture have all the emotional angst, the over-powerful hero (/heroine) the hawt secks and the just-so story happy ending anyone could want. As for the bleed-over, what is with all the weird emotional stuff coexisting with violent rape-y behaviour in manga like Tsukehime and Melty Blood ? It does not fit! It should not be there; then we recall that both are derived from modified eroge games where the goal is to clear all the females in the harem.. And kill some vampires too..

I think you have to get all the females to feel for you, and not  piss off/ break any hearts in order to get them all to help you kill the last boss. Ok! A mechanistic reason for having to pay attention to the emotional interpersonal messy stuff, we can process that, no problememo!

“Muwwhahhaha! See how easily these fan-boys can be tricked!”

At least this approach is a bit more direct than building a complicated theory edifice of otaku and fujoshi libidinal shift to the realms of imaginary. The rotten girls and Loser Fan Boys are just processing allegorical narratives, looking for stuff they can use, trying to work out puzzling contradictions by running scenarios (wow, just like the CIA) and indulging in a bit of “wouldn’t it be nice (or really hawt) if…” all while reading trashy stories.

Have another chocolate!

I think the whole 2D-only fixation phenom is pure learned affectation and subculture trope. It is a device for mangaka to shatter characters like Mada with, and look how easy that was.  It is too close to other recent fashionable male misbehaviour, like “herbivore men”.

Here’s a further weird thought: In trying to get a handle on faux-feminine emotionalism, aren’t guys finally implicitly recognizing full autonomous subject-hood in the elusive feminine narrative? Wow, that’s one up on the Freud-zoku.

And while we are at it, when a gendered “ruling regime of the symbolic order” recognizes rotten girl practice, does it miss a very very old sci-fi trope?

Analogy time: a bunch of nekkid humans get abducted by alien zoo-keepers – how to prove sentience? The “cage” is too damp for fire and 3.1415 banged on the walls is not getting through. All seems lost until one person weaves a wicker cage for a cricket-like pet. Release and apologies from the aliens ensues.

Only intelligent beings put other critters in cages. And only fully autonomous modernist “subjects” make silly porn of “others”. Could all the Freud -zoku hysterical theory around rotten girl practice be an elaborate denial mechanism?

Methinks you doth protest too much.

All this could well be a lot more dangerous to “hegemonic narratives of gender roles and desire” then wanting to shack up with your Nintendo DS Lite. There is no prohibition in the West against guys reading Harlequin romances, but neither does Harlequin offer faux-lesbian romance series for Loser Fan Boys to peep at. Once again Japan ichiban no cultural innovator!

Once Mary Sue gets lose in fan fiction, she so distorts the genre with her quick and dirty emotional payoff that the effect soon bleeds over into related, then all genre fiction – just as fan-fiction and/or dojin practice and tropes bleed over into commercial products. This ensures that elite “taste”, which was always a good cover story for more complicated gate-keeping is blown aside.

Whoops! I Might have gone too fast on that last one! Lets try that again in a nice orderly sequence:

1) Mary Sue gets lose.
2) Mary Sue evinces a desire for wish-fulfillment, melodrama and easy emotional payoff in fan-lit.
3) Commercial genre fiction takes the piles of it as market research and  cranks out variations.
4) The cheap thrill spreads throughout mass culture.
5) Loser fan boys and rotten girls start peeking over the fences when looking for smutty stories.
6) Entropy sets in and all plots and tropes start to converge.

Profit!

As for  “fantasy is fantasy (or simulation space) and reality is reality”, we can assume that everyone is scared shitless of their fave hobby narratives getting loose in the real world. Fortunately keeping a public face and a private life is what adults are supposed to do in Japan, and the rest of the world too.

Here’s the western version of the shop manual – feel free to tinker. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Presentation_of_Self_in_Everyday_Life)
Note how later sociologists expanded the concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_Trouble

Poorly written, formulaic, wish-fulfilment fiction has always been with us (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion) as has tone-deaf singing. What is so odd about Mary Sue is how she serves as a symptom of global mass culture’s ability to democratise her violence. She is the (originally) wimmens’ AK47 of narrative, if not the 3D printable gun. And the freedom is intoxicating for both girls and boys. We will not be rid of her for a while, so we might as well offer her a glass of barley tea and recognize her naive charms, and the deep longings that she embodies – desires which may be somewhat like our own as well.

scape_god_AN OATH v001_c001_036 web

Awwwwwww, (careful, don’t get carried away!)

Hold the presses! I just heard that Prof Saito has an article on fujoshi in Mechademia 6! Perhaps he has had to shave off some of the sharper corners of his theories in order to accommodate fujoshi practice. I’m sure I can pick up a copy for $12 used on eBay (plus $48 shipping, because the stupid bookstore will only send it super expensive overnight registered) Anyone care to lend me their MUSE login fo Jstor? Dammit! Mechademia used to be openly downloadable to all. -sulk-

One more time in unison please: Academic journal paywalls suck!

Next time: So many ideas about Genshiken 87 and 88, but can I trust those Bulgarian scanlation scripts and Google xlate? And what of the whole messy epic digression on technology and fan “productive consumption” and those mimeograph stencils? How about D+G’s Temporary Autonomous Zones and Fujoshi/ Otaku space? This one writes itself, wonder why we are not already up to our eyeballs in it?

Must get organized!

Random endnotes:

For more information on the rise and fall of the mimeographed (and later xeroxed fanzane, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factsheet_Five

http://www.factsheet5.org/  and http://www.alternativepressreview.org/
both seem to have stopped mid 2010

From the Wiki:

The magazine was originally published in 1982 by Mike Gunderloy on a spirit duplicator in his bedroom while he lived in an Alhambra, California slanshack. The original focus was science fiction fanzines (the title comes from a short story by science fiction author John Brunner), but it included other reviews. Bob Grumman contributed a regular column on avant-garde poetry from 1987 to 1992.

Gunderloy later moved to Rensselaer, New York, where he continued to publish. By 1987, he was running a zine BBS, one of the first associated with an underground publication.[3]In 1990, Cari Goldberg Janice and (briefly) Jacob Rabinowitz joined as co-editors.[4]Gunderloy quit publishing Factsheet Five following the completion of Issue #44 in 1991.[2]

Hudson Luce purchased the rights to Factsheet Five and published a single issue, Issue #45, with the help of BBS enthusiast Bill Paulouskas, cartoonist Ben Gordon, writer Jim Knipfel, and artist Mark Bloch, who had authored a mail art-related column called “Net Works” during the Gunderloy years.[5]

R. Seth Friedman then published the magazine for five years in San Francisco, with the help of Christopher Becker and Jerod Pore, until Issue #64 in 1998. Circulation grew to 16,000 during that time.[6]

Gunderloy currently works as a computer programmer and farmer. He co-authored the book SQL Server 7 in Record Time ISBN 0-7821-2155-1.

Mike Gunderloy’s Factsheet Five Collection of over 10,000 zines and mail art is now held at the New York State Library in Albany, New York, where it occupies 300 cubic feet (8.5 m3).[7] However, only about 4000 zines in the collection have been cataloged.[8] About 1/4 of the zines in the collection are listed on Excelsior, the New York State Library’s electronic catalog; staff of the Manuscripts & Special Collection can help locate other items.[9] Two hundred and forty zines that R. Seth Friedman donated are in the collection of the San Francisco Public Library.[10]