I’m batting cleanup on the Mary Sue roundtable with a bunt: I can’t get my head around it. “Mary Sue” as a critical term seems so particular to a certain practice, or at least so loose, as to elude me.

My critical proclivities tilt to the formal and textural over narrative, but still. I mean, I look in my toolbox, I got pomo, pron, meta, I-novel, Quijote, Pale Fire, Dante settling scores, artist-n-model, Godard in King Lear, Vito Acconci being really annoying. They’re not helping. I even got Wikis and whatnot, which tip me to:

Author surrogacy is a frequently observed phenomenon in hobbyist and amateur writing, so much that fan fiction critics have evolved the term Mary Sue… thought to evoke the cliché of the adolescent author who uses writing as a vehicle for the indulgence of self-idealization rather than entertaining others.

So it’s about amateurs and hobbyists, who want not for love, just control? Hackish pros dismiss the term so they don’t look like naked royalty? Okay.

My failing? I don’t read fanfiction or linger near.

Maybe I should. God only knows the scene’s apotheosis is Comiket, the fanmade comics festival in Tokyo (motto: “We outnumber Cleveland”). Fans don costumes, line up, engage in raw commerce. I’ve been to Tsukiji, the daily Comiket of fish. I imagine Comiket’s the same with less blood on the floor.

The spectacle’s candy for anthropologists. The works being bought and sold? I’m not so sure. What’s the breakout masterpiece? Which one will make me a fan of fanfic? I’ve never been convinced to take a look. In my experience, the activity trumps its product. I imagine it’s similar for participants, enjoying the community, the shared codes, the privacy, even. It’s why I like sports, naked tribalism for the primordial in us all. The characters, or players, become shorthand with other people who know the code. And they don’t make a lot of sense to people not clued in.

Which is why seeing my favorite piece of writing on the Net this year get its nits picked in the comments is such a pain:

How about agreeing on one definition of the concept you’re discussing at the start (the one the rest of the world uses too, preferably)?

Ah, the heartfelt meets the graceful tact of Phillipe Starck. As a term of literary criticism, “Mary Sue” has seemed an occasion, not an case study in precision. Besides, it’s very obscure. I had never encountered it prior to the roundtable, unlike “metonymy,” “inclusio” and “praeteritio,” and I suspect the rest of the world knows the latter three over the former. Perhaps using the term loosely marks one as outside the small group that birthed it, which on the Internet’s a mortal sin. So, since I can’t match Stephen Daedalus, Jeeves or Lewis Trondheim’s bald eagle with the term, I’ll bunt. Thrown out at first.

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