Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"Night collaborations w/ the infinite"

That's the name of the folder on my computer where I keep items related to my various bat-and-rat-related nocturnal activities. Even before things kicked into higher gear on the online front--back when it was just me and my imagination in the privacy of my own home--I thought of what I was doing while living out these kinky little fantasies of mine as a kind of ongoing conversation with the universe, and/or with my own subconscious. Here are two very different versions of what "collaboration" means to me in this context:

1. There's a literal collaboration going on over at my batslash blog right now. Lately readers have made suggestions about what they'd like to see happen in the story, and one in particular--I'll call him LycraMan--sketched out the current subplot in which Hugo Strange walks a (rather bloody) mile in Batman's boots. I've made some major changes to his outline for my own purposes and fleshed out the dialogue, but I owe most of what you see in chapters 143 through about 150 or so (I'm guessing that's about when it will end) to my perverse partner in crime.

I like writing this way sometimes. (Not all the time--I think there's also something to be said for a single writer plunging deep into his most personal fantasies, particularly in erotic writing.) After all, none of us owns these characters in the first place, and the comics and tv shows that inspired us are all the products of committees, too. Then there's the sheer power of finding the common ground between two or more people's private thoughts. (Even more than in conventional fiction, the readers of slash are collaborators in the sense that, if they didn't share the fetish on a deep level, they probably wouldn't be reading at all.) Shared hallucinations are often the most intense.

2. Then there's collaboration on a completely different plane. In a recent episode of the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge devoted to New Orleans, there's a fascinating segment on voodoo/vodou. The interview subject, author/researcher/store owner Sallie Ann Glassman (whose store site is here), clarifies what voodoo is all about--forget all those grade Z movies you've seen--and describes how spirit possession works, and even what it feels like. Her words really register for me in terms of what I call batplay. She talks, for instance, about how possession is less about shutting yourself down (as the popular stereotype has it) than about opening yourself up--which certainly resonates with my experiences of bottoming out at the hands of the Monk.

Glassman also points out how each spirit is easily recognizable when it manifests in any human body--practitioners can instantly recognize which deity is present because of its activities, speech patterns, and so on. Leaving aside any discussion of how "true" or "untrue" these claims are, or any skeptical explanations of what's really going on here, let me just draw a connection between spirit possession and online roleplay: when someone "becomes" a comic book character like Batman or Superman, certain traits have to appear in order for the performance to read for other people (or for the performer himself). Those of us who have devoted years of our fantasy lives to embodying a certain character--or several different ones--can slip in and out of those roles almost as easily as we "play" ourselves in the daylight world.

This also helps to explain how there can be multiple Batmen or Jokers in the world at the same time: the spirit of the character can manifest in many people at once. On other occasions I've talked about how Batman is a bit like Santa Claus: because he's not a real person in the conventional sense (only in the "Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus" sense), he can assume an infinite number of forms, can be at the North Pole and in a shopping mall in Duluth simultaneously. The voodoo metaphor provides a wonderful way to look at the same phenomenon.

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