Kink response theory
Not sure where this thought comes from today, but it’s pleasingly inconsequential.
The work I did along the road to an aborted PhD in some ways boils down to advocating for the importance of a reader model in any system of automatic story generation. Forced to compress my ideas into a ten minute conference talk a few years ago, that’s what was left: it’s pointless talking about what might make a story work without considering who the reader might be, and having a formal model of how such a reader might process a story. That’s the completely fatal flaw in all of the more or less elaborate models of story structure as a grammar. The analogy which forms the basis of any story grammar is that there’s some sort of congruence between sentence structure and story structure. It’s hooey, because, though they both have structure, of course, they work in such different ways. Sentences are about meaning; stories are about emotional affect, and the moment affect is introduced, you’re talking about the necessity to have a reader model, whether you’re aware of it or not. It was dispiriting to see story grammars alive and well at that conference, and also dispiriting to see how novel my stuff seemed to most — though an acolyte of Wolfgang Iser was there to exhort me to keep on fighting the good fight. Yeah, right.
Anyway, here’s an analogy that does appeal to me. The complex of author and reader, both of which need to be taken into account when examining the worth of a story, strikes me as very much like the complex of top and bottom, dom and sub, pitcher and catcher, in a kink partnership. Not merely that one gives (for some definition of giving), while the other receives (for some definition of receiving); also, in just the same way that it’s necessary to consider both author and reader — or perhaps more properly from my perspective story and reader — when assessing a story, it seems necessary to consider both top and bottom, dom and sub, pitcher and catcher, when assessing the orientation of either. Just as a story isn’t in any objective sense effective when separated from its processor, a top isn’t in any objective sense a top apart from a partner. I’ve always been fonder of seeing top and bottom and such as verbs, rather than nouns, and that’s consistent here. If top is what you do, rather than what you are, then a partner is an integral part of the whole process. You’re not a top without them.
Partly what I’m arguing for here is (as usual) a resistance towards using restrictive labels. It seems far more helpful, and also far more interesting, to speak, for example, of some kinky person K as a top with respect to person A, a sadist with respect to person B, maybe a ‘parent’ with respect to person C, and perhaps also a bottom with respect to person D, rather than merely as a switch. What matters — what’s interesting — are the dynamics with individual others, rather than any attempt to somehow squish all of those variations into the smallest possible linguistic representation. It seems to encourage an openness towards stretching one’s own kink boundaries, and perhaps also an openness towards other people’s kink flavours.
So, yeah, I guess I’m a switch, but it’s an empty umbrella term that I’m bored with. Kink is all about connection with others, and I think we’re far better off using terms which capture the rich possibility and individuality of those connections.