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Jennie Osborn, 'The Magic Words'


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Tale, who was never quite in the real world and who aspired to panache, brought a storybook, filled with devices, fancies and imaginings, ‘Whosoever lives these stories shall have the fairest prose of all. I give you the gift of academic writing.’

Preliminary activity for workshop, 'Lacunae of enchantments: unfolding spaces ‘in which it is once more possible to think’…and act', presented at 'Re-enchanting the Academy' conference, Canterbury, 25-27 September 2015.

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Jennie Osborn, 'The Magic Words'

  1. 1. For the ‘Re-enchanting the academy’ conference Abstract Lacunae of enchantments: unfolding spaces ‘in which it is once more possible to think’…and act “The most important part of a story is the piece of it you don't know.” ― Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna When outlining the rationale for focusing on the relationships between discourse, power and knowledge Foucault (1970) emphasises the need to excavate spaces where we can move beyond a rationalist approach to what we think we know to generate spaces ‘in which it is once more possible to think’. Our workshop focuses on this notion of spaces, but we will constitute these spaces as lacunae, gaps which are full of potential not emptiness. Kingsolver’s lacuna explores the gap between what is reported and what is – a place we can ‘sing into being’. We invite our delegates to ‘sing into being’ new forms of learning and teaching – poetic, narrative, experiential and somatic. We suspend the rational world of enhancement and embark upon a journey to a fairy tale realm of enchantment. “Once upon a time a long time ago the king and queen had a beautiful daughter. One day a wicked fairy cast a spell on the lovely princess, cursing her to never learn. The alarmed King locked the princess far away from the world in a high ivory tower. In time the princess was granted 3 A’ levels and set out for university. But one day, quite unexpectedly, the princess fell into a deep intellectual stupor. Her teachers lectured and talked, and talked and lectured, but the princess never seemed to learn. Each term she sat an exam, and each term she passed her exam, but at the beginning of the next term she had forgotten everything that she had known. The King and Queen despaired. One day four benevolent fairies appeared and endeavoured to lift the hateful curse which blighted the princess’s university life: Poésie, who spoke in many tongues and was the most charming fairy of all, offered a linguistic charm, ‘Whosoever reads these words shall feel be at ease with the whole world, and will never feel doubt or shame even though their tongue may stumble over unfamiliar sounds and concepts. I give you the gift of confidence.’ Tale, who was never quite in the real world and who aspired to panache, brought a storybook, filled with devices, fancies and imaginings, ‘Whosoever lives these stories shall have the fairest prose of all. I give you the gift of academic writing.’ Sentio, who was a very practical fairy who applied herself to every task, brought a puzzle, ‘Whosoever puzzles this puzzle will grow wiser and wiser as each day passes. I give you the gift of reflection.’ Mind, an unassuming fairy who thought about everything a lot, brought nothing and said nothing, but offered the rarest gift of all: silence. Quieting the noise of the world, Mind gave the gift of concentration.” In our workshop delegates will have the opportunity to explore four approaches to learning and teaching: poetic, narrative, experiential and somatic. This activity-based session will prompt delegates to author different stories of and through their practice. We hope that they will find the ‘piece we don’t know’ in order to create ‘a happily ever after’. Foucault, M. (1970), The Order of Things, London, Tavistock. Kingsolver, B. (2009), The Lacuna, New York: Harper. 1
  2. 2. Stories and storytelling are powerful pedagogic tools, which are rapidly gaining currency in contemporary higher education. Learning through storytelling featured in Innovating Pedagogy 2014, an annual report published by the Open University listing ten new pedagogies which have ‘the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice’. The authors highlight the use of narrative in meaning-making, as it provides a structure which enables learners to embed and assimilate diverse experiences. Story creates meaning by creating dialogues between our existing assumptions and our new encounters and experiences. As Jenny Moon suggests “[W]e make sense of the world in relation to what we know already” and stories bring new unity and coherence, reshaping our inner world and enabling us to re-interpret the world in which we exist (Moon and Fowler 2008, p.233). This is one reason why story has found a home in reflective learning techniques. Personal story is widely used in vocational and professional development, particularly in nurse education. One of the strengths of using story in reflection is that story enables us involve the affective dimension of learning. Stories engage our emotional as well as our rational and critical capacity, unearthing our unspoken and perhaps subconscious feelings, fostering empathy, and offering a holistic experience of our learning. This affective dimension, the ability of stories to speak to our emotional landscape as well as our rational disciplinary landscape is the element of story that I wish to harness in these activities. 2
  3. 3. I intend to step away from the serious and thoughtful business of reflection, to indulge in a more playful engagement with story. Stories help us think differently about our world, reading and writing stories is a means through which we can re-shape and re-interpret, constructing new frameworks of belief, and challenging existing monopolies. Conversely, stories are imbued with all we know, and embody our culture and society. Through fiction stories can connect us with the facts of the ‘real’ world – offering a world more real than the real we perceive and inhabit. Stories are part of being human. Stories are who we are. People think in stories. Human beings uniquely configured to respond to narrative. David Lodge has written: ‘narrative is one of the fundamental sense-making operations of the mind’ – peculiar and universal to human beings (Lodge 1990, p.4) For A.S. Byatt ‘Narration is as much a part of human nature as breath and the circulation of blood’ – part of the anatomy of being human, physiological, part of our instinct and drive, ‘ . . . storytelling is intrinsic to biological time, which we cannot escape’. Barthes: ‘it is simply there, like life itself’ (1977, p.79) But, of course, as well as being human we are also academics. We inhabit high towers of learning – and we endeavour to cloister our students, cutting them off from the everyday corruptions of everyday life. As we train them to become academics, built in our own image we force strange concepts into their heads, and strange sounds and composite-structures into their language. As Helen Sword has so eloquently argued - too often, these are the language of the ‘living dead’ inhabited by zombie nouns – bent on eating our brains (Beware of nominalizations (AKA zombie nouns) - Helen Sword). As academics we don’t even know that we’re dead – that the sounds we utter are heard as nothing more than guttural roars and groans. So, to re-enchant the academy, and to transfigure our academic writing, I am going to use the power of fairy stories to enable a re-telling of our academic tales. So I’m casting myself as the handsome prince coaxing you to let go, to let down your hair, to liberate yourselves from the wicked confinement of your academic tower. 3
  4. 4. So, as handsome prince my first task is to captivate you, to seduce you into throwing down your hair – to convince you that there is a more rewarding ‘real life’ of self- expression awaiting you. I am going to sing you into being by creating a space away from the received rationality of academic prose. I am your fairy godmother – and I’m going to help you transfigure the workaday into the delightful. This is where I propose to harness the affective power of stories, creating a breadcrumb trail away from academic convention and towards the stylistic and stylish devices of storytelling. Using the structures of story, metaphors inspired by the staples of fairy tales, laws of linguistic enchantment which endow inert academic constructions with active power, we will transform our worlds one word at a time. Storytelling in higher education has long been associated with creating, holding and transmitting knowledge. “Narrative might be considered a solution to . . . the problem of how to translate knowing into telling” (White, 1991:1) It is primarily a means of communication, a way to present learning material in engaging way. The construction of a story not only develops our communication skills but is a useful way to represent thought and clarify complex and difficult thought, and consequently construct new knowledge as well as disseminating it. 4
  5. 5. Storytelling is a useful way to think about academic writing – the boundaries between fact and fiction are already blurry. We are hardwired to pay attention to stories. So stories offer an effective mechanism to transform practice – to facilitate learning and to scaffold new ways of doing, thinking and being. The principles and structures of good storytelling can help us write more compelling narratives of our research. It keeps us grounded – we are not so much of a real princess that we are bruised and battered by the appearance of ‘real life’ communication – active verbs, concrete language, using the first person and speaking directly to our readers. So, this workshop will mash-up Helen Swords’ work on Stylish Academic Writing with some of our most familiar stories to enable you to tell ‘The most important piece of the story’, that is ‘the bit you don’t know’. (Kingsolver) 5
  6. 6. References All quotations taken from: Zipes, J. (ed) (2014) The Complete First Edition The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. Barthes, R. (1977) ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’ in: Image- Music-Text , London: Fontana. Byatt, A.S. ‘Narrate or Die: Why Scheherazade keeps on talking’, New York Times Magazine, accessed 23 September 2015 Lodge, D. (1990) After Bahktin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism, London: Routledge. Moon, J. and Fowler, J. (2008) ‘“There is a story to be told”; A framework for the conception of story in higher education and professional development’ Nurse Education Today , 28, 232-239. Sword, H. (2012) Stylish Academic Writing, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press. 6