Collaboratory #4: Queering Digitality – a mini-symposium with Megan Milks and Oliver Bendorf at the intersection of creative writing, digital studies, and queer theory – was a generative experience! Twenty-five people attended throughout the day, spanning disciplines from Art History, Communication Arts, and French & Italian to Public Affairs, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Design Studies, as well as local artists and community members. Each workshop approached queer space and temporality with experimental techniques, uniting form and concept in a focused exploration in practices of becoming, slashing, transitioning, and deconstructing. With a dynamic integration of theory and practice, both workshops explored particular aesthetic and formal dimensions of “queering digitality” as an expansive process through which form — slashfic, flipbook — performs queer affects and genders.
Megan Milks’ workshop, “Open Channels: Slash Aesthetics and Queer Affect,” introduced participants to the genre of slashfic and invited us to make our own slashfic compositions. Megan, a fiction writer and cultural critic, situated slashfic at the nexus of narrative, sexuality, appropriation, and pop culture. She explained that slash is a queer dimension of fan fiction, and the title “slash” indicates the “/” in the pairing, e.g. Kirk/Spock. Slashfic, mainly composed by women, at first focused upon male/male fantasies but increasingly features woman/woman pairings; the genre is grounded in shame (of desiring someone you’re not supposed to desire) and angst. Megan then invited us to compose our own slashfic drabble (1,000 words or less) about two fictional characters, such as Peta and Gale from The Hunger Games. She explained that the academic discourse on slashfic has largely focused upon fan culture and fan communities, without much analysis of the form and aesthetics of the texts themselves. Addressing this lack of attention to slash aesthetics, Megan linked slash with drag, camp, and innovative and appropriative writing practices such as avant-pop to theorize slash as a queer aesthetic mode. She led us in discussing the slash aesthetics of Michael du Plessis’s The Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker and its investment in subjectivity, voice, and embodiment, and of Sarah Dowling’s Down and its “minoritarian inhabitation of pop culture texts, identifying, disidentifying, misappropriating, and performing queer vulnerability.” Next Megan created three “Feel Stations” for us to move among, experimenting with slash aesthetics. The first station, “‘I want to come over,’ after Dowling,” invited us to collage two texts — William James’ “What is an Emotion?” and Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window” — to create a prose poem. The second station, “Feel Extraction,” invited us to scan a Pretty Little Liars or One Direction slashfic text and find every appearance of a phrase containing “feel,” and then build a poem with this inventory of phrases. The third station, “Desiring Machine,” invited us to write a letter in a character persona to another character you’re not supposed to desire. For an hour we cut and taped texts, collected all the feels, and played with voice, the generative prompts facilitating a flurry of creative and deconstructive activity.
Oliver Bendorf’s workshop, “Gender as a Moving Image,” introduced participants to animation as a way to practice queer theory. Oliver, a poet and visual artist, invited us to explore the formal techniques of stop-motion animation, which moves a narrative from panel to panel and relies upon the reader/viewer to bridge the spaces between the frames. He theorized this practice of moving across the spaces as a form of trans*itioning. He first introduced the ways in which film, which produces the illusion of continuity with a series of frames, can “animate the temporality of gender — the transition not located in a single frame, but in the movement between frames.” We looked at a few examples of gender transition time-lapse videos, which document the very gradual bodily changes that occur. The temporality of the videos’ sequence of photographs is sped up or slowed down to produce a sense of the subject’s durational becoming, “trans” signifying both transgender identity and movement as a formal process. Queering the continuity of gender through the formal mechanism of the flipbook, Oliver asked, what happens between the still frames? And how does your gender move? With Oliver’s generative prompts for the individual frames (“The beginning of your gender. The end of your gender. Your gender early this morning. Your gender at lunchtime. Your gender in your childhood house…”) and materials for flipbook-making, we got to work animating our genders. At the end of the workshop each of us had made our very own Gender Flipbook, and we had fun flipping through each other’s creations. Oliver made digital animations of the workshop using Vine, which you can view here and here.
View more photos here.