From novel to network: digital intertextuality in twenty-first-century fiction and fanfiction
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Black, Suzanne Rattray
Literature has never existed in isolation, from other texts, from the circumstances of its creation or from effecting change. While the prominence of the novel form is partly responsible for the idea that works of literature exist as discrete literary objects, the emergence of networked digital literatures, such as fanfiction, belie this falsehood. This thesis examines a range of literatures – fanfiction, epistolary fiction and twenty-first-century novels – that depict and rely upon the networked properties made possible by digital telecommunication networks to renegotiate understandings of the ability of fiction to both represent and construct understandings of the world. I bring into conversation the long-established theoretical frameworks of intertextuality, poststructuralism and epistolary scholarship with recent work in fan studies, new media theory and queer theory.Chapter One introduces fanfiction as a networked literature that is created in response to existing media properties and proliferates in massive digital archives where it sits adjacent to and has the ability to critique popular cultural forms. Looking at examples of fanfiction created in response to Marvel’s Captain America films that circulate ideas of history, archivalness and queering, I argue for an understanding of fanfiction as a tool for building alternative imaginaries using the theoretical frameworks of intertextuality, the archive and queer theory. As a form of literature that could not exist in the same way without the architecture of the internet, fanfiction makes visible to us how the web is changing both literature and literary theory. Chapter Two locates in the epistolary genre an existing literature and criticism that attends to networked texts. Here I examine twenty-first-century epistolary works – both novels and fanfiction texts – that extend the traditional epistolary focus on the letter to depict networked communication technologies and thereby dramatize cultural anxieties over the prevalence of digital media. I explore the relationship between textuality, subjectivity and literary form in these digital epistolary works and, in doing so, nuance existing epistolary theories to respond to digital media. The question of the novel form is taken up again in Chapter Three which looks at how novels ‘speak back’ to networked literatures by resisting or incorporating their characteristics. Through extended readings of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, which remediate aspects of fanfiction and comic books respectively, I argue that the novel at the beginning of the twenty-first century reasserts itself as a prominent and valuable literary form.By putting into conversation various networked literatures that rely upon and exploit the connectivity, intertextuality and textuality enabled by the internet, it is the burden of this thesis to show that the textual and intertextual nature of lived realities in the early twenty-first century lend themselves to theories that have been circulating in literary studies for many decades. Theories of intertextuality try to account for the high degree of connectivity between texts while theories with narrower remits, such as remediation, try to account for specific textual relationships. However, the current textual terrain, which comprises multiple specific relationships amid a wider intertextuality, requires the rethinking of these concepts. As part of this conceptual reworking, I turn to the networked literatures of fanfiction and epistolary fiction and use theoretical methods that approach texts as multiplicities to renegotiate our understandings of textuality, authorship, fictionality and subjectivity through their networked properties and discern their effects on the novel.