ext_841: (eliot)
[identity profile] cathexys.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] the_comfy_chair
I've been very interested in the general response to [livejournal.com profile] synecdochic's Freedom, and I wanted to collect my thoughts and hopefully hear some different/opposing interpretations. Some of these ideas are influenced by the comments I read (esp. the author's interchange with [livejournal.com profile] luthien and [livejournal.com profile] cesperanza), some are from comments [livejournal.com profile] synecdochic made directly. I have decided to focus on two (among the myriad of things) that interested me in the story, and I hope it's OK to post them together.

trauma as structural conceit
Many fan stories employ a particular narrative conceit in that they work around a secret, a traumatic memory or loss, which, through the course of the story, gets revealed to the reader. It's an almost mystery-like approach, and, when done well, can be very successful in keeping our suspense and making us decipher the clues along the way. Sometimes, the characters themselves are not aware of the horrific secret (i.e., they have repressed the memory of their childhood abuse, for example, or the horrible things they did while on drugs [[livejournal.com profile] wickedwords's recent story Locusts and Wild Honey would be an example of that] and thus the readers and protagonist share a position of ignorance; sometimes the reader knows more than the characters (I can only think of watching Mysterious Skin last week, but I'm sure there are plenty of fannish examples); other times, the characters know, but the reader is kept in the dark (and somehow I think death stories are the typical example here, where we are shown a loss but cannot figure out where a character is or what happened to him/her, until the story reveals the details; or abuse recovery stories, like [livejournal.com profile] mmmchelle's A Better Fate where confronting the trauma eventually allows us to learn what has been treated with silence before or [livejournal.com profile] auburnnothenna's Legion the Things where the narrative moves back and forth clearly suggesting the central trauma yet not revealing it to us, the reader, until later).

Part of this method of evasion, of circling the trauma without mentioning it is explained both by psychoanalysis and trauma theory. In fact, a lot of trauma studies emphasizes how narrative rarely ever is able to confront the traumatic memory directly but needs to circumscribe the events,sealing them off and approaching them asymptotically at the same time. At times, then, we are given glimpses of knowledge as clues, like in [livejournal.com profile] mmmchelle's Looking Glass, where the first lines put us in Rodney's consciousness and experience, yet for the rest of the story we remain firmly in John's point of view, not knowing what Rodney experienced. We thus are put in the position of the trauma victim, with glimpses of memories and truths without being able to properly contextualize them.

Freedom is really not that kind of story. And yet it is. In fact, I'd argue that we're given two traumatic memories that mirror one another, are interdependent, and that the story offers us visible clues for one when, in fact, much of Rodney's reactions are about the other. The very first lines offer a clear suggestion that John may be dead, and while his name is never mentioned, thus providing the traumatic loss/lack around which the story seems to center, it is made almost certain to the reader that he is indeed dead, that Rodney wears his dogtags and commemorates him with so many of the touching rituals described throughout the story (and their physicality [the shooting, the workouts] stands in interesting juxtaposition to the academic and intellectual work to which Rodney has returned). Except that he hasn't returned to it. Clearly he can publish as we later learn in the story, but he chooses not to. He is hiding on a second rate campus, punishing himself for something that, to me, is the actual secret of the story.

It's not that John's loss isn't visible and permeates the story; it's that it isn't the secret the story centers around; it isn't the driving motivation to Rodney's behavior and the trauma from which he needs to be rescued/which he needs to confront. That trauma is his killing of Atlantis, his using his ability to intersect (like John) to kill someone he respects and is professionally bound to honor (like John in Rising). John thus doubles both for the Atlantis that died and Rodney who killed it, thus connecting the two traumatic events (which clearly are not too far apart temporally either, it seems). As such, I don't want to necessarily suggest that one is more or worse than the other, but that Rodney is dealing with the John portion of it in ways he isn't, at the beginning of the story, dealing with the Atlantis one.

Because it is his killing of Atlantis that remains the central narrative conceit, only to ultimately be fully revealed to us and confronted by the protagonist in his meeting with Zelenka. Before that, he hides his intellectual work, hides himself, punishes himself by not taking comfort in his Atlantis family as punishment for what he must see as a kind of betrayal of what bonds them together,i.e., their love for Atlantis (since they all call her she, after all). The narrative arc thus parallels Rodney's intellectual return, his ability to connect with his students and mentor them, and his ultimate ability to admit to Zelenka what he had done and ask for the forgiveness that isn't needed.

Atlantis is not more important to Rodney as much as it more guilt inducing, of course, but also less inevitable. The last lines (if read in earnest and not as Rodney's denial) where Rodney explains how he went into the relationship with John knowing that John very likely would not reach old age, clearly juxtapose with an Atlantis that survives and waited for thousands of years only for Rodney to destroy its potential for good. Since it is Atlantis that allowed him to finally connect with people and become part of a group (if not on the show all the way yet, most certainly in the extended years that are remembered here), it clearly had to be his connection to people he severs; if Atlantis is the apex of his intellectual curiosity and achievement, it had to be his publications he refused himself.

In fact, I first looked at the story as Rodney returning to the life he might have had/would have had without John. Hiding in the familiar environment of his youth, the clearly delineated lines of academia that somehow exist outside of a real world in their self-referentiality (which, of course, he realizes is an illusion, because the real world can and does intrude), seemed like he ended up living the loveless life he would have had. Except that he has John's memory and he doesn't have the intellectual satisfaction, i.e., his refuge is both more and less than it would have been: knowing and loving John adds the knowledge of love and trust and cameradry at the same time as it makes its absence all the harsher; knowing life outside of the ivory tower makes publishing less crucial at the same time as he begins to realize how central teaching is.

[And I'm just starting to think about this as I'm writing it, but as someone who constantly tries to decide whether she teaches to be able to publish or publishes to be able to teach, this story might have spoken to me in the way it did, because it does confront that dilemma. Whereas old Rodney would never have bothered with students except as a necessary evil, this Rodney has learned (and is (re)learning throughout the story) the importance of teaching, of sharing one's work for others to continue it. And, in turn, his students give him back the desire to publish.]

Not publishing is Rodney's intellectual retreat in a way that not emailing his friends is his emotional retreat. [And it is telling, i think, that the only thing he does publish is John's, an In Memoriam so to speak.] And to me both circle around Atlantis. So, to beat the already dead horse: while both John and Atlantis, doubling one another, are at the center of the narrative, I think for us readers one trauma is almost hiding the other in a weird moment of Deckerinnerung, of screen memory. And this doubling, this simultaneous presence/absence of John is what might give us such varied responses as to Rodney's state of mind. I started off thinking he was scared and shoring what little fragments he had left against the ruins of his memories. I read him as surviving because he had to, as living a life that might at one point have been enough but after loving and being loved couldn't ever be.

But the more I thought about it, I began to realize that this was a slightly melodramatic, a slashy reading where lovers are always already soulmates and only true love can fulfill our lives. As I thought more about Atlantis rather than John being at the center of Rodney's trauma, I started realizing that he was not in mourning for John as much as living with the lack of John [as both living and also with, i.e., he had already mourned him (maybe already before his actual death if the last lines are any indication) and was indeed living and more so than he would have had he never known John].


fannish tropes
Throughout the story, there were moments, sentences, scenes that broke my heart, little throwaway lines that told entire stories. One such line was John's shape behind Rodney helping him hold his gun, another were the dogtags. And then there was the musical instrument that Rodney played in secrecy and John's mathematical article and the hinted at John/Atlantis intersection as well as Rodney's almost getting lost in it. And suddenly I realized that these were all fannish tropes, moments in one or several other stories. Now, fanon is an evil word in the circles I travel, but I am very interested in what I instead call shared interpretations of a given interpretive community. In fact, I've done some work on the way fan stories are always not only intertextual with the source text and culture at large but also with the fantext (i.e., the collective intellectual and artistic creation of a fandom) itself.

At its worst, that means that fanon runs wild, nicknames and one stop characterization and plotting by numbers. At its best, it means an active engagement with fannish tropes, means taking a cliche and twisting it, repeating with a difference and making something entirely new and original out of it. After all, art is always about talking to the past; even outside of fanfic intertextuality is at the core of it, most especially in postmodernism, which I think has a lot in common with fanfiction. At its best, fanfic references the fannish debates and other fan stories and yet doesn't make us feel like we've seen this before or scream because we cannot see that particular scenario (however endearing it may have been at first) ever again.

Case in point: as a former mathematician and married to one, I have quite personal issues with math wizard John. I cringe at the conflation of idiot savantish number abilities with mathematical intuition and ability. And yet when presented in a good enough story with sufficient surrounding supporting characterization, I love me some math!John. Reading Freedom, I immediately flashed back to [livejournal.com profile] astolat's Time in a Bottle where I didn't so much as blink seeing John being taught higher math by Rodney. Likewise (and maybe because this was the story I instinctually plucked in) it didn't bother me in Freedom either. Maybe it was because every one of these references called up a story I really liked, that really worked for me. So [livejournal.com profile] synecdochic's work became hommage rather than fanon use, it evoked other stories, almost effortlessly including them into her narrative.

In so doing, it became canonical fanfic to the fantext as far as I'm concerned, consistent with a variety of stories, so that I could see her Rodney be the Rodney who rescues John from merging with Atlantis and be the Rodney who finds the organ and starts playing again and be the Rodney whom John gives his spare dogtags instead of a more visible symbol and be the Rodney who grows closer to John as they practice again and again until Rodney can hit every single time...and on the one hand, I can name very particular stories, but then there are often more than one (thus the trope :-) and as such it references them all simultaneously, I think.

Now, clearly the concept of the fantext is theoretical only, since we haven't all read the same stories and you may not have read even the ones I reference earlier on let alone the ones I'm thinking of just now. But just like there's mynon which is slightly different but usually overlaps a great deal with a given interpretive community's fanon, so, I think, we can think of a mytext, which overlaps with a give community's fantext. In fact, one may not even have read certain stories to have them make it into their mytext [OK, not word coinage at its best *g* Any better contenders?], because as others talk about it, we pick up certain ideas and interpretations and controversies.

One of the things Freedom does for me and does really well, is acknowledging the fantext, acknowledging that we have created hundreds and thousands of stories about John and Rodney and Atlantis. Freedom builds on these stories and relishes them, commemorates them even as they are mostly absent, because they reference a time of John and Rodney together. One of the biggest fanon offenders are writers who are so certain of their OTP that they don't give us any indication of how they got from snark (or even outright hatred in some pairings and fandoms) to soulmatey love. And the reason the writers have a difficult time not doing so, is that in their minds all this stuff has already been dealt with, i.e., in their interpretive shipper community, all these things are clearly already covered, because aren't their hundreds of stories that have done that? [livejournal.com profile] synecdochic quite consciously employs this method by referencing stories as collective memory for us: Rodney recalls John the same way she makes us recall other stories. Not to shorthand and skip the necessary steps but because this story is clearly not about *that*.

In fact, someone suggested to me yesterday that the story could be read as gen. I found that interesting and as I'm pondering my personal fantext (which is very John/Rodney heavy) and think of the stories I come up with, I could imagine a similar set of stories (maybe not the dogtags and, as [livejournal.com profile] monanotlisa reminds me, Rodney does mention his status as being widowed to a partner of 5 years) that are simply emphasizing their bond, that are about Rodney being part of a team and having a good friend...and that could be enough to change him in the ways we see in Freedom. In other words, maybe the way we read the story is very much dependent on what we fill in for those years in Atlantis. But then again, every story we read is ultimately affected by what we bring to the text, our reading of the source text, our knowledge of Hugh Latimer, as well as what other stories in the fandom we read and write, what discussions we've taken part in, and, of course, our own writing or those who write...not all of us do :-)
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Date: 2006-03-13 10:12 pm (UTC)
ext_1637: (rodney opinions by 'chelle)
From: [identity profile] wickedwords.livejournal.com
I love the ideas of mycanon and mytext, and how they are influenced by the scores of stories we generate, and to extend it, I think that those constructs then influence our reading of the shows themselves.

Now, about the gen thing... *g*

I am one of the people that can read this story as gen. The issue here is that the dog tags themselves could easily be a symbol of deep-and-true friendship, and that no sexual aspect is implied in that. If we are reading into this story from the other stories that have gone before, then that includes gen stories as well. And I admit, the dog tag symbol could just as easily imply blood brothers in my mind as it could wedding rings, as I have read enough stories that have taken that kind of tack to illustrating the depth of the friendship between the two guys. The widdowed comment carried wonderful emotional ressonance, but no more so than any other conversation about the death of a beloved gen partner: Illya, Blair, Starsky and so on could have had that intense of feeling about their non-romantic partner and friend. They wouldn't have used the term widdowed, just as they would not use the term lover, but the depth of emotion would be the same.

Date: 2006-03-13 10:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rosesandrue.livejournal.com
Wow, this is really thoughtful.

Although I never thought about it as systematically as you do here, looking back I think I considered the other 'unstated fact' at the heart of the story to be not Rodney's silencing of Atlantis (which is eventually described as narrative) but the threat to Atlantis that triggered Rodney's actions. Unless I am missing it, there's never an exact explanation given of what the Earth governments planned to do with Atlantis that was repugnant enough to justify shutting Atlantis down forever. That threat of violence toward the idea of Atlantis (or what it ought to have been) is the actual secret, it seemed to me. Rodney's actions as described are evidence of the unstated horror that sent him into hiding/mourning, but I think they are not the horror itself. He is not ashamed of what he did, but he is afraid of what might have happened (which is never stated) if he had not done it. That lack of active regret would mirror what you describe as Rodney's acceptance of John's death: there is justification for both deaths, and ultimately that acceptance allows the story to point toward the future and Rodney's 'children' with hope.

I'd really like to hear what others think about what the actual impetus was for Rodney's actions.

Date: 2006-03-13 11:02 pm (UTC)
ext_21:   (Default)
From: [identity profile] zvi-likes-tv.livejournal.com
I have a lot of thoughts, but I don't really have any time, so I'm going to write this quick and dirty.

I don't think that John's death is presented as a trauma or a secret. It is, instead, presented as a fannish trope, as something that anybody reading the story would immediately know and understand, in the same way that they would know and understand who Ronon and Elizabeth are when they show up on Rodney's doorstep uninvited. And, when I say it's not presented as a trauma, I mean it's not presented as something that Rodney needs to still get over. Yes, he had the relationship with John, and John died, and Rodney grieved and was sad, but he appears to have moved on from that by the time we get to the beginning of the story. I mean, no, Rodney doesn't get romantically involved again, but Rodney doesn't like people, although he can be friends with the occasional individual person; I don't see his not getting romantically involved again as a sign that something is broken for him on a social scale, it's really more par for the course. He is cordial to his colleagues, except the stupid ones, and given what we see on SGA? That's way improved social functioning from when he went to Atlantis.

All of the signs of restored functioning we see have to do with, how do I integrate having been to Atlantis and participated in/facilitated morally reprehensible things with my decision to a) stop the governments of Earth from using what I learned to do morally reprehensible things and b) continue to work in physics at all? I mean, he could have come back and been a housepainter. He might have been able to not work at all, for a limited period anyway, on the basis of his completely untapped earnings for that 7 year period. He could have become a piano teacher or an auto mechanic or gone back to school to learn about the Romantics. But he chose to come back to a field where he, eventually, was not going to be able to unknow what he knows. So, it's about Rodney, and responsibility, and leaving a legacy, and destroying and preserving knowledge, not about his dead boyfriend.

That is also why I think that the story is gen, because Rodney's relationship with John isn't a central component of the story. To me, a story is slash or het if it is about the relationship between two or more people, at least one of whom has sexual or romantic feelings for the other. This story was so clearly not about Rodney's relationship with John that I would have been disappointed if it had been presented to me as slash, because there wouldn't have been enough of that relationship to sustain the genre designation, to my mind.

To amend the above definition

Date: 2006-03-13 11:10 pm (UTC)
ext_21:   (Default)
From: [identity profile] zvi-likes-tv.livejournal.com
To me, a story is slash or het if it is about the relationship between two or more people, at least one of whom has sexual or romantic feelings for the other.

A story is also slash/het if the romantic grouping (pairing/trio, etc.) as a unit is a main character of the story, even if their relationship isn't a big part of the story. Hard pressed to think of a fanfic example off the top of my head, but in the Elizabeth Peters' Peabody mysteries, although most of the time they're not about the relationship between Peabody and Emerson, Peabody and Emerson as a unit function as a main character, so if they were fanfic, I would call them het.

Rodney's motivation

Date: 2006-03-13 11:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] millefiori.livejournal.com
I also read this as Rodney 'killing' Atlantis in order to keep her from becoming used for evil. If I read it correctly, Atlantis was able to understand from their connection what it was that Rodney feared would happen and agreed with him that shutting down forever was the best/right thing to do. I interpreted his caution as self-protection rather than shame -- if the government knew he was responsible for Atlantis shutting down, they could force him to try to get her up and running again (and by force, I mean torture, disappearing people, etc. since the implication is that the current powers that be are nasty bunch).

The only problem I have with that reading is that there is no reason to not have that secret be *collective* rather than private, i.e,., why would Rodney shun his friends who share that knowledge?

Again, I might be misreading, but I thought that he was the only one who knew what he'd done. He's avoiding his friends because he doesn't think he can lie well enough to keep it a secret, and spilling the secret both puts them in danger and opens Rodney up to their judgment, rejection, etc. (since they all loved Atlantis, too). I got the feeling that Elizabeth suspects *something* but doesn't want to know, and Radek has guessed, but for the same reasons as Rodney, would never say anything out loud to anyone. (After all, the government bugging Rodney's office is in hope that he'll say something to give them a clue about what happened and what they can do about it, don't you think? What other reason could there be?)

Date: 2006-03-13 11:21 pm (UTC)
ext_1637: (Default)
From: [identity profile] wickedwords.livejournal.com
I don't think the story loses if read gen.

I am in totally agreement with you about that. Nothing is lost with reading the story as gen, and it sets a level of expectation for me that the story isn't going to have a single central relationship -- in this case, it's about Rodney's adapatation to life post-Atlantis rather than his relationship with John.

but the very definition of an interpretive community is that we do share readings and as a cause and result of that texts

I think so. I think that in some ways authors who stop reading fanfic because they influence too much, so that the author doesn't feel like they are presenting their own vision anymore, are not necessarily wrong. We talk about the 'story reset', where the next story down the line, the guys are alive and happy and together again, and yet, it is impossible to unread a story. Those images, thoughts and ideas are carried around and put in the hopper, just like canon is; it becomes (as you say) a part of our shared community. It's fascinating.

Re: Rodney's motivation

Date: 2006-03-13 11:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marythefan.livejournal.com
I've got a lot more thinking I need to do about this story, but having just given it an intial read over lunch today, this:

I also read this as Rodney 'killing' Atlantis in order to keep her from becoming used for evil.

Struck me as well. I even paused in the reading of it to turn over the idea in my head that it was a mercy killing, a type of euthanasia. Maybe assisted suicide. And I also interpreted his caution as self-protection and continued protection for Atlantis - if the SGC knew how she had been "turned off," what would they do to try to turn her back on? If they knew how she was turned off, that knowledge, in itself, takes them one step closer to knowing what to do to turn her back on - and then do the exact things Rodney and other Atlantis expedition members feared they would do in the first place.

I thought that he was the only one who knew what he'd done. He's avoiding his friends because he doesn't think he can lie well enough to keep it a secret, and spilling the secret both puts them in danger and opens Rodney up to their judgment, rejection, etc.

Yes. This. And even if not their rejection, to having them know that he's the one who exiled them all from their home - even if he was killing that home in order to save it from something worse.

Re: Rodney's motivation

Date: 2006-03-13 11:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marythefan.livejournal.com
Although, to clarify, I do think there's at least regret about what he did and some sense of ... I don't know what I want to call it, although not exactly shame. I think it's telling that "what if it was your mother, would you still?" is the question that finally breaks Carroll down in the ethics seminar and that the breakdown happens after Carroll's already answered that yes, he would still. I think that parallels what Rodney did to Atlantis, and I wonder if Carroll's intense physical reaction isn't supposed to give us some insight into how Rodney feels about what he did. He may feel it was the right decision, or the better decision, but that doesn't mean there's no psychological and emotional backlash involved.

Date: 2006-03-14 12:14 am (UTC)
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)
From: [personal profile] cofax7
Ah, good points. I had mentioned to someone else that I thought the relationship of this story to the fantext was very similar to the relationship of any fannish story to the source product: but you parse it out much more clearly and completely.

I also agree that the Atlantis issue is the fulcrum, not the death of John. Although I wonder--how Syn describes what Rodney did, doesn't read to me as "killing Atlantis" so much as "talking her into going to sleep". Because I suspect that if Rodney came back--and only Rodney, given that he was the one who talked her into it--Atlantis would function again.

Date: 2006-03-14 12:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rosesandrue.livejournal.com
Maybe the fear and guilt is indeed internal, if he also fears his own desire to stay in Atlantis and keep the city alive despite the moral implications of what would be done with his work. He's killing his desire for scientific life and his connection to his surrogate family when he shuts down Atlantis, so there's the incredible conflict in that (completely offstage) dilemma.

I think it's completely understandable that Rodney retreats so completely from his friends. There's no way the Atlanteans could have lived as they did before, in daily contact with each other, on Earth with the (necessary) death of Atlantis still hanging over them. Part of it is an emotional reaction to the loss of this whole community (science, discovery, connection, love, family, etc.) and the fact that he had to make this choice... well, now I'm writing myself back around to your original idea.

It's like killing friends before they can be tortured to death-- their deaths are not his fault, but the choice still haunts him. (kind of reminds me of John and Sumner!)

I think there's probably not a one-to-one analogy between all the circumstances of the two secrets, which is part of what makes this such a resonant story. It gives so many possibilities for discussion either way.

Date: 2006-03-14 02:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marythefan.livejournal.com
I was just talking with Zoe and was trying to explain how I think it may read as gen for the very reasons Rodney's OK with John's death on some level, i.e., the slash tropes kind of require the story to be all about the John rather than about the fact that most of us have lives above and beyond one other person...

And yet, I think this is one of my strongest reasons for liking the story - this is a slash scenario I have a fascination with and yet rarely get to see in fic, one member of an OTP after the other dies, functioning and going on, never the same but dealing with the loss and moving on with life. So in that sense, I'm resistant to reading it as gen.

Re: Rodney's motivation

Date: 2006-03-14 02:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marythefan.livejournal.com
Yeah, I was mainly responding to [personal profile] millefiori's use of "shame" there, which is why I posted that clarification - I don't think it's ... I think guilt is a better word than shame for what he probably feels ... I don't think it's guilt that's kept him quiet, I think it's the possibility of what could happen to him, to others and to Atlantis if the military and government find out how he silenced Atlantis. But I suspect he still feels the guilt and that it drives some of his other decisions - running the ethics seminar in the first place, for example.

Date: 2006-03-14 02:56 am (UTC)
ext_1637: (Default)
From: [identity profile] wickedwords.livejournal.com
the slash tropes kind of require the story to be all about the John

Well, yes and no, in my mind. The slash trope requires that the sexual relationship be a central component of their lives. The way the story is structured, with the relationship in the past and showing how Rodney pieces his life together and moves on, it's...hmm. In the past? I know that sounds like a tautology, but that's more how it feels to me. The overwhelming grief happened in the past, off-screen, and he's creating a new life for himself, by himself; it's over and done.

the traces of the previous stories remain

Yes, and all of the conversations we've had too. *g*
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