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June 11, 2008

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Fiction With An API

Per Henry Jenkins, fiction is best understood as a platform: a system to build on. The thing you build can be as narrow as your own interpretation, or as expansive as fan fiction, fan art, movies, video games, or even physically-realized artifacts from the fictional world.

So one way to judge the success of a story is to look at how much additional creativity it inspires. By this measure, Harry Potter is a modern masterpiece, and Shakespeare is the king of all time. Seems about right to me.

Fun new example: For “The Mayor’s Tongue,” people are designing book covers for the works of (the fictional writer) Constance Deakins. (Here’s the Flickr gallery.)

P.S. No, I have never actually finished one of Henry Jenkins’ blog posts, either. But the first three to four paragraphs are always super-smart.

Posted June 11, 2008 at 12:28 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Briefly Noted


I wouldn't be so quick to pigeonhole interpretation as "narrow" -- some interpretation is as or more fertile than "derivative works." Think of all of the different interpretations of Hamlet, Sophocles, the Gospels. Think of books that march through culture and become a kind of collective memory: Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Catcher in the Rye, The Wizard of Oz.

Yeah, actually, narrow/expansive are totally, 100% the wrong words... I think I meant personal/public? In any case, yes, exactly: Those are all systems that have been massively built upon. Even literary reference & allusion sort of plugs into that API.

I think you were thinking more of a very narrow (ha!) sense of interpretation, which maybe does correspond to a private/public distinction. The ideas or affects that you have in your head or talk about with friends in response to a literary work -- the "All those people on Lost are dead" or "Sweeney Todd is awesome" -- are a different magnitude than, say, this analysis of the end of The Sopranos.

I think the fiction-as-platform notion suggests that what matters is the strength, quality, and quantity of the discourse incited by the text, not necessarily its specific genre. In fact, here more than anywhere, these distinctions break down. Fan fiction necessarily involves interpretation, and interpretation is an addition to, a creation built upon, the initial/inciting (I won't say "original") text.

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