For the ongoing research for my chapter on cosplay and memory, I have been reading a lot of different works in a lot of different fields. While I am primarily addressing rhetorical memory, memory also is studied in other fields and there was a stated desire/interest in a multiplicity of fields or interdisciplinary. Though this was probably for the book as a whole, I have continued to read in a variety of areas to ascertain what work has been done in those fields and, perforce, what has been done that is related to my chapter.
As I have forayed into new arenas of information, my grasp on the concepts each has offered has been strengthened. What I am working towards here, in this post, is a presentation of the process my studies have followed–attempting to create a narrative of my wrestling with new topics in new fields. Though the focus is and has been on expanding the knowledge I have to apply to the work within my chapter, one additional thing I hope to garner from this is an archive of the learning process from which I can speak to students. Feel free to read along or ignore this potential sideline exercise.
The Larger Text
Reading in Memory and Methodology edited by Susannah Radstone I have been introduced, reintroduced, and immersed in both psychological and psychoanalytical presentations of memory–sometimes within the same chapters. The problem of forgetting, politics and archiving, reinscriptions, and screening trauma were topics for the first section of the book. Memory and subjectivity, particularly in the female autobiography, children’s narratives and memory for identity, and women’s anxiety are in the next section.
Simply looking at those topics or chapter divisions alone gives me an interesting perspective on this. Public memory was almost all written by and about men. Private memory is almost all written by and about women. Do children count as women? Or are women children? I think, perhaps, the focus in the private memory section is on the people whose memories have been ignored in the past; certainly the chapter on children discusses the problems with previous studies of childhood–which have presented childhood as a move towards becoming an adult. Within the studies of private memory though, subjectivity–as opposed to the higher-valued objectivity, abandonment and rescue, anxiety or fear, and a metaphor of madness are being examined. Rhetorically this offers fertile ground for discussion, but it actually moves me away from the ideas I came to the text for. So, as diverting and potentially beneficial as the close examination of the private memory chapters as this ontologically focused rhetoric is, I temporarily at least recuse myself from this and realign my focus.
In this particular book I have taken a pencil (rather than a pen or highlighter) and underlined various sections of words, occasionally inscribing questions or markers for ease of later re-examination in the margins. I purposefully chose a pencil because this is not an area that I know well and pencil would allow me to remove my underlinings later, if it turned out that in ignorance I underlined too much or vapidly.
Because this book is outside my area and a quick perusal after purchase (done online and without benefit of exploring the contents) indicated it would be less applicable to the chapter than I had hoped, I created skimming notations–short notes in the top outside corners of the pages–to allow me to flip rapidly through the pages without having to re-read everything I underlined.
place of memory (39)
definition of memory (40)
generational identity–also sf? (45)
two kinds of memory (49)
genres re-inscribes (65)
visual memory–film cosplay? (81)
sf film (82)
memory as source–positive association (84)
memory = non-linear, related to fantasy (87)
implant or refunction memory (95)
related to sf cosplay (100)
modern novel, sf application (113)
Bahktin memory (115)
memory definition for cosplay (127)
definition of memory (129)
These skimming notations identify general areas of possible related information for my chapter and areas that I might refer to for classroom development (the latter was the point of the linguistics notation).
The last text I read, which was also for this chapter, and added skimming notations to was a text that applied fairly directly to my work and the skimming notations are all markers for other topics of interest to me that I might do research on at a later date.
In the present text, the skimming notations allow me to ignore the underlinings that were tangential or part of the process of building my knowledge of psychological and psychoanalytical understandings of memory. In the earlier text, they will in the future allow me to pick up the text for a different study and find the appropriate/relevant citations quickly.
They are, in effect, my own Search function. These are physical texts without ebook options and I have learned the value of Search (as well as its limitations) in my use of ebooks.
Perhaps I will come back to this point and develop it more as a part of the technology liaison position. It is certainly worth examining, even if it does not end up being as useful as I would like.
The beginning of the chapter, and my underlinings, focus on the different approaches to studying children/childhood in related fields and contrast them with the approach of this study.
“Cultural studies, social psychology and psychology…regard childhood as the raw material for later life” (133)
“we … attempt to reconceptualize childhood in its full specificity” (133)
“For psychology …. the subject is already formed” (135)
“psychoanalysis … questions the notion of a unitary, coherent individual who develops smoothly from one stage to the next” (135)
After the last quote I wrote would say we don’t. I am agreeing with the psychoanalytical conception here of a problematic earlier presentation of identity as a simplified trajectory. What I am also doing is setting the stage, in my own thoughts, for the possibility that this particular childhood study might apply to my chapter. After all, fantasy and pretending to be someone else is allowed and even encouraged in children, while discouraged and/or forbidden for adults, yet cosplay is adult use of alternate identities. Might there be, I am wondering, some rationale behind cosplay besides fun.
Which makes me think I should read in fun. Is there a specific discipline that examines fun?
“child’s knowledge becomes both greater and better organized, and second s/he develops strategies or methods of remembering” (136)
When I underlined this, though it is really about how cognitive psychology looks at children, I was thinking that a new fan in fandom might have similar growth patterns and cosplay might also be impacted by this. A new fan, in my ideas, is one who is new to fandom, not necessarily new to actually being a fan of science fiction and fantasy. (Horror usually has different fandoms and conventions.) My definition of a new fan developed from the fact that I was a huge sf fan long before I ever heard of conventions as something I might actually attend (a twenty year difference) and the idea of fandom as a culture that inducts and inculcates.
Fandom and cosplay are social and I am arguing that memory–and the development of memory–is involved with cosplay specifically. Cosplay as topoi?
“for psychoanalysis, memory can never be viewed as unproblematically unfolding” (137)
Fandom and cosplay are problematic in that they are not the norm and are unique, though less looked down upon than in other (recent) times.
“memory and fantasy work together to deal with loss, absence and frustration, a continual dynamic” (137)
“memory and fantasy are in play in relation to unacceptable wishes and desires” (137)
“There can never be remembering or forgetting without fantasy” (137)
Cosplay is a physical performance of fantasy and likely to some extent responds to loss/absence/frustration through the desire (and action) to be/play someone (or some part of someone) else. However, cosplay is not necessarily dealing with (unmet) hopes and aspirations which are unacceptable or unapproved, though they may be.
Certainly a monster or menace (since monsters have been described as created mostly by young men and I created a cosplay of the Weeping Angels [WA]–big bads of Doctor Who) would be unacceptable or unapproved as a way of life–by me the cosplayer as well as by the rest of society, but I don’t actually want to be evil and controlling, nor do I want to only live within the control of other people’s eyelids (as the WA cannot move unless/until there is no one watching them who has been watching them before).
So why, if not because of an actual desire to be dangerous and evil, did I create the Weeping Angel costume and wear it, even though it was limiting physically (size of wings, weight of costume, etc)? When I made it, I did it because I thought I could. I saw a WA on someone else, selling for a very high price, and thought that I could do that as well as they could and for a much lower monetary outlay. In fact, parts of the costume were much better than the high priced online version I saw, though other parts were more limited. However, when I wore it, when I think of wearing it, what I liked, what I want, is the attention. Yes, many people are afraid of the WA–a reaction I personally did/could not imagine as being transferred/applied to a WA cosplayer–but most often people react and respond in a “big way.”
Cosplay enjoyment is partially the cosplayer’s playing out of a character but it is also the community involvement and response to the cosplay. More people know/recognize Velma Dinkley of Scooby Doo than know Leela of Futurama. I personally enjoy playing Leela more, because it is a more involved and “interesting” costume; it took more work to build and I have more parts that can be shared or used to draw others in. However, when I think about cosplaying at a con, I am more likely to wear Velma because she is more likely to be recognized and cosplaying when people don’t know who/what you are takes part of the fun out of it.
Literary cons would not have many people recognize Leela because the show is newer and not a children’s show, while Velma is recognizable to most people who grew up in the United States, even if they weren’t avid television viewers. On the other hand, ComicCon, where I first wore Velma (interesting rhetoric on my part) would recognize Leela. The positive responses from others I have had to Velma was at ComicCon, not the literary cons, perhaps because the cosplay wasn’t elaborate enough to be recognized as cosplay? Or because literary cons have tended to eschew cosplay and only the very bold costumes draw response? Think about this some more.
“struggling to make sense of their own and others’ worlds and attempting to locate themselves and others within the social and cultural spheres” (138)
The authors specifically are talking about children but also say “like adults.” Even if they didn’t, I would have marked this because I think there is an element of this “struggle” to cosplay. Perhaps not make sense… Perhaps organize (or is that making sense?) or expand/extend?
Certainly cosplay is a means of locating self very specifically within a social/cultural sphere and, depending on the elaborateness/recognizability of the costume (though I dislike the word for this and thought fashion/clothing/other), might also be a means of simultaneously fitting in and standing out.
Cosplayers fit in because they understand/know enough about the culture to recognize legitimate characters to create/re-create and stand out because they created something particularly unique. –My steampunk cosplay is mostly unelaborated and fairly simple to overlook, but my boots are amazing and I often have people stop me and ask to take pictures of them and not the whole of my costume. That is part of the reason I continue to look for pieces I could wear as steampunk while not often doing steampunk. (Notice the rhetorical idea of doing versus playing. We don’t play these genres, we do them. What does that mean?)
“emotion effects profoundly what is thought and perceived” (138)
This is why the WA cosplay has garnered so strong a response. Fear/terror, whether real or remembered, is a strong emotion and as a WA, people jump, squeak, scream, and “participate” in the play.
Also, unlike other characters, WA have very specific and limited actions, so I can quickly and easily recreate them (and thus cosplay my character, act out my character) even in a large, crowded con.
“For psychoanalysis, children’s play involves unconscious processes… and the achievement of a new relation to external reality. … working-through is also achieved through play” (139)
“working-through … clinical term to describe the endeavour … to make insight more effective and change possible” (151)
Though the working-through mentioned here is destruction, I think it might possibly be related to cosplay as well. Certainly cosplay has been an approved (by the social community of fandom) means of adopting different sexualities and/or genders; one of the first cosplayers I ever saw was a young male adolescent cosplaying Sailor Moon and one of the most recent was a major English female cosplayer who had adopted two standard personae–Lando Mollari of Babylon 5 and a Musketeer.
Quite possibly the new relation to reality is an integration of a characteristic that the cosplayer desires and may or may not have already. At least, when I underlined the quote that was what I was thinking of. So how might a cosplay create a new characteristic in a cosplayer? Certainly it is a means of “trying on” a new identity, something more acceptable and expected of adolescents than adults. Also many long-term cosplayers begin to adopt cosplay in their mundane life (mundane = word from the fandom to mean not fandom).
“Fantasy and memory come together to create a poignant narrative” (144).
This is what I am wondering about for cosplay. Do they come together so that the cosplay is a narrative/story? There is a story behind them, both for the character and for the cosplayer. There is story in them. Is this relevant to what I am working on?
“‘unconscious phantasies underlie every mental process, and accompany all mental activity’ (Hinshelwood 1991: 32).” (145)
Does cosplay make the fantasies more evident? Are they part of mental activities and mental processes that may themselves be unconscious, but the fantasies are more visible/known?
“we need memories to define ourselves” (147)
Are the memories we use and evoke in cosplay part of defining ourselves? Definitely. Are they meant to do that? Yes. Can I develop this in a way that embraces the psychoanalytical approach to memory as well as the rhetorical aspects of memory?
The article talks about “Byng-Hall’s study of family myths and legends (1995)” and says that “scripts and myths are used within the family to construct the identity of the family and its members” (147) and I wonder if this is part of how stories are used in cons to create an identity of insiders? I think it must be. The stories of people who have died who were important to the fandom are included in the con and con literature, at least for the first year after their death. These stories tell “who we are” just as much as, but perhaps in a different way, our presence at the con does.
“Most of the children in the pilot study struggled with locating themselves in their families and wider communities, with knowing and tolerating good and bad aspects of themselves and others–in short, with developing a solid sense of self and others” (148).
I wrote next to this “true of adults, too? fandom?” Most adults do have a solid sense of self, but we also don’t like all of ourselves and feel ourselves to be missing things. Fandom can help add dimensions to us that we did not have before and cosplay adds even others. One does not have to be personally sewing or building a costume to be a creative cosplayer. Remixing and piecing things together also counts as creativity and is very visible to those around the cosplayer, if the costume is clearly costume.
“…’human dream of leaving, a dream at least as powerful as its countervailing dream of roots’ (Rushdie 1992:23)” (149)
These dreams of leaving and having roots–of being part of but being different from–seems to be something that fandom creates space for and encourages. We are a part of fandom, but we are different from others in fandom by our personal interests (seen in tracks to participate in) and our cosplaying, whether hall or masquerade costumes. Plus, simply being part of fandom makes you part of a community that is different from your normal workaday world, since most of us don’t live in fandom. I say most, because there are people who make their living and do, in fact, live in fandom. I was amazed/shocked at the number of people at FenCon last month who do the con circuit all across the middle of the US.
The author talks of a child whose family story of his grandfather’s journey to England has been so much a part of his life that the child “introjected it that he had taken the journey in fantasy and it had become utterly real to him–in the retelling it became his journey, his life was being told” (149).
This, too, is part of cosplay. You take the story of a character, either one of your own creation or of another’s creation, and you literally place yourself into the story as cosplayer and become part of the story and it becomes your story.
I don’t think this is always necessary or even desired; I do not want to be a Weeping Angel in real life at all. However, the power of the WA to bring attention, to engage others, to draw them into the fantasy, I do want that in my life and by cosplaying a WA, not just dressing up as one, I gain a lot of that.
“memories evoked and the internal place they provided. They used the narratives to link themselves to others” (150).
This is, ultimately, what cosplay is doing. We are linking ourselves to others, those who see and recognize our character, those who understand it and respond to it, those who interact with and build off of our cosplay. We are taking part in a bigger cosplay, that of fandom, and both linking to and differentiating ourselves from the rest of the people in fandom by cosplaying.