Fanboys and Scholars (and Twenty-sided dice)
Jeff at Quid Nomen Illius? has a really good post on the influence of Dungeons and Dragons on the current conquest of popular culture by fantasy (and props for Jeff on his excellent post titles: "Bree-yark" for this one, and a very obscure Jethro Tull reference on the next).
I was one of those kids influenced by D&D, and if I'd been a bit older or younger, I would probably have had a happy career as a game designer: I was too young to be really caught up in the first wave of paper-and-dice D&D (I was mostly interested in it in 6th-8th grade; I don't think I played at all in high school), but a little too old to really get into on-line gaming and high quality computer RPGs. But I wrote a lot of "modules" for D&D, always with a very Tolkienian aspect, plumbing Unfinished Tales for details, sketching out details of weaponry or costume, and making my own weathered-looking maps (I once got into huge trouble because I'd been using my mother's iron to heat lemon-juice-impregnated paper in order to age it: I didn't clear the iron afterwards, and thus some piece of clothing ended up with a large lemon-juice stain on it).
I think all of that give me at least a little fanboy cred when I use the term (despite a reader on The One Ring's amusement). I don't think fanboys are (any more) stalkers or hopelessly in love with movie characters (and I know not all self-identified fangirls are either), but they (we) are obsessive about aspects of our chosen afficion. I haven't had time to do the research, but I'm relatively certain that fanboy/girl are originally pejorative terms (which would fit Squire's interpretation of the word), but they have now been taken up by those inside a subculture as self-identifying labels (and "fanboy" is equivalent to Japanese "otaku," which seems to mean "person who still lives in his parents' house and is obsessed with gaming/anime/manga").
[I'm getting tired of typing fanboy/girl, so I'll use "otaku" from now on].
I think that being an otaku is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for being a good scholar. Scott Nokes here says much the same thing, arguing that scholarship starts in otaku-ish appreciation (I'd add, 'and obsession over detail') and then progresses, through the addition of theory (and I'd add, 'method') and formal communication, to scholarship. I'm not entirely comfortably with the way Scott treats 'theory' here, but I think he's basically right, and his point could be justified historically: literary studies, particularly medievalism, grew out of the practices of gentleman scholars and antiquaries who were collecting manuscripts and trying to understand them and, essentially, writing fan newsletters about Old English texts instead of computer games.
All kinds of scholarship (not just literary work) require the focus of the otaku, the obsessive ability to spend twenty years studying one genus of dragonfly or, like Darwin, work for hours just about every day for a decade dissecting and classifying barnacles.
From these obsessions we generate new insights into the natural and human worlds and, since we've seen the enormous payoff from 18th-century and Victorian gentleman scientists and their journals, we have, as a culture, tried to copy them in the humanities, with many great results (and probably a lot of wasted time as well).
But the social structures built by those early, gentleman otaku--the departments of English, the journals, the lecture circuits--provide real-life benefits (salaries, tenure, publicity, security) that people who are not otaku also covet. And thus, I think, the evolution of problems in scholarship that are usually put under the umbrella of "professionalization." People no longer publish strictly from love of the subject and a desire to inform (though obviously that's important) but also to get financial rewards, respect, power and influence (and it's not like the original Victorian gentlemen were immune to such temptations, either).
Well, if you are attracted to academia because you want to be free to pursue your obsession, you're going to have a very different focus than if you are attracted to academia because you want summers "off," job security, and some initials after your name. Academia is, for many (obviously for me) a very, very appealing life.
But (and here comes the unproveable assertion) if you didn't go into academia because you were an otaku about your subject, then you begin to resent the obsessive work required to be good at it. And you do things like continually re-publish your dissertation (my pet peeve right now) with minor variants ("The bleeding saint in Andreas," "The bleeding saint in Judith," "The bleeding saint in Elene," "The subtextual figure of the bleeding saint in Beowulf" ... you get the idea). Or you stop writing after you get tenure. Or you become bitter and miserable about your students.
But, thankfully, a fairly high percentage of the scholars I know are, in one way or another, otaku. I know a Hawthorne otaku, a Poe otaku, a Louisa May Alcott otaku, a Victorian ghost story otaku. They have (to switch cultures) enthusiasmos or (to switch again) afficion, and it shows in their teaching and their scholarship and their happiness.
I think attempts to bring too much "method" or "theory" to literature can interfere with enthusiasmos, and likewise literary scholars' ill-starred forays into political interpretations undercuts their own afficion (because once you move into politics, you are accepting the idea that there is something that is more important to you than your subject).
Being a fanboy/girl or otaku isn't quite socially mainstream, and being a literary scholar shouldn't be, either: you are doing something that is very weird, and to do it well, you have to be a little weird yourself. You have to get carried away, you have to have a little too much enthusiasm for your obsession than is completely normal.
"a little too much enthusiasm for your obsession than is completely normal" -- sound familiar?