Creative writing in the academy


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Unrefereed Conference paper for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, ANU Canberra 2009

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Creative writing in the academy

  1. 1. ASAL Canberra 2009 Presentation by Carol-Anne Croker PhD candidate and research assistantSwinburne University of Technology Faculty of Higher Education, Lilydale Saturday July 11th 2009
  2. 2. Creative Writing Courses in theAcademy: has this impacted onthe popularity of AustralianLiterature study in Universities orsales of Australian titles inbookstores?
  3. 3. Illustration: John SpoonerWriting off an industryMichael HeywardMarch 24, 2009Changes to territorial copyright dont add up for ourauthors and publishers.THERES a lot at stake in the world of books and writing andpublishing. Our industry is blossoming. Were selling greatbooks at home and exporting our writers in unprecedentednumbers. We have a superb retail environment, with adynamic independent sector, and a competitive printingindustry that generates significant numbers of skilled jobs.Theres never been a better time to be a writer or publisherin Australia.Much of this energy has been harnessed by our "use it orlose it" territorial copyright regime — the 30-day ruleintroduced in 1991 that keeps in balance the interests ofconsumers and producers by compelling local publishers topublish a book within a month of its appearance anywhere inthe world.
  4. 4. 1. The problem with UniversitiesThe Ghost and the machine: CreativeWriting and the Academic SystemAndrew TaylorTEXTVol 3 No 1 April 1999When relativity, diversity, plurality, internationality, multi-racialism and - lets breathe the dreaded word that wasonce always on our lips - multiculturalism, become tooprominent in the public domain, when they look likeinfluencing public policy, then there are those who willreach for their gun - even if (one hopes) onlymetaphorically...
  5. 5. 2. The problem with English DepartmentsEnglish Departments or their equivalents today havecome a long way from that. In their various ways, theyhave been in the forefront of changing attitudestowards a singular truth. If one believed everything onereads in the letters to the editor in some of ournewspapers, English Departments (or their equivalents)are guilty of everything from the inability of everyone inthe Australian community except the letter-writer toconstruct a grammatical sentence, to the currentalleged breakdown in moral order and the ensuingsocial chaos.
  6. 6. 3. The problem with Literary Studies... the Canon of Eng Lit was another example of alonging for the singular. Leaviss famous introductorysentence to The Great Tradition was just an extremeway of expressing it: "The great English novelists areJane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and JosephConrad…" Leavis [1954]
  7. 7. 4. The problem with Creative Arts inUniversities....The Machine referred to in my title is not - as some ofyou may be thinking - the University. But the Machineexists within the University...... By "The Machine" I mean an intensification of thatunitary mindset which has served Western society quitewell for so many centuries but which has had to bedefeated, subverted, overthrown or seduced intocomplicity whenever a significant advance has takenplace. And in this sense Universities in Australia todayare increasingly machine-orientated. In such acontext, the Ghost - largely in the shape of theHumanities but most pertinently in its protean guise asthe Creative Arts - has to be especially wary and wily ...
  8. 8. 5. The problem of Creative Writing disciplines...... Creative Writing is only one part of manyuniversities Writing programs... Creative Writing – likethe other Creative Arts generally - is a relativenewcomer to the university context and will not be soeasily assimilated to this growing sense of anti-complexity which I have called The Machine. By its verydiversity and plurality, by the way it draws its vitalityfrom the conflicting and the irresolvable, creativewriting is a profound challenge to it. Furthermore, itrefuses to fit into the job-oriented ethos of so muchcurrent university thinking about education - theMachine-made track to a job mentality.
  9. 9. 6. The problem of equivalency.The OECD definition of research reads as follows:Research and experimental development comprisescreative work undertaken on a systematic basis in orderto increase the stock of knowledge, including theknowledge of man, culture and society, and the use ofthis stock to devise new applications. (32)The adoption of the notion of research equivalencedoes not require…any re-definition of research as it iscommonly understood by the universities, the ARC[etc]…Rather it extends the definition to accommodatethe work of artists/researchers… whose research andresearch equivalent activity currently receives limitedrecognition, or no recognition at all. (46)
  10. 10. 7. The problem of university research...Paul DawsonWriting Programmes in Australian Universities: Creative Art orLiterary Research?TEXTVol 3 No 1 April 1999There are three ways in which the term research is definedand used in the university. The first is research as thepreliminary gathering of material; through libraries andarchives, interviews, lab tests, empiricalobservation, statistical and data collection, etc.This is the most common understanding of the term. Nowof course this sort of research is carried out by writers. Wecan all recognise a well-researched book, or a criticallyinformed book.
  11. 11. 8. The problem of creative product as researchThe problem here, of course, is that this sort ofresearch is not presented in the same way asscientific discoveries, or even the scholarly literaryreview. It is not verifiable by reference to sourcesbecause the material is put to fictive rather thanscholarly ends. It is not an appeal to fact, but aselective aesthetic deployment of fact.Nonetheless, there are ways in which the finalproduct not only uses, but actively interrogates andtherefore bears back upon the initial research.
  12. 12. 9. The problem of Creative Writing and ‘elite’ readershipRegardless of whether writing programmes are housedin departments of English, schools of Creative Art, orcommunications degrees, the specific discourses whichform knowledge in the discipline of Creative Writingbelong to literary studies. One always writes from withinan unconscious or intuitive theory of literature, even ifthat is a theory of the divine muse or the inner voice.And the work produced will always relate to existingtraditions or genres, even, or especially, if it is in violentreaction to them.
  13. 13. 10. The problem of ‘common’ readershipA work of literature does not mimetically representthe world or a fictional world. It is constructed outof, and bears the linguistic traces of, discourses whichoperate within and organise social relations. Thesediscourses are formed in the fictive text by beingpressed into tension with a second layer of languagegoverned by the formal conventions of craft.At the level of content the fictive work that studentsproduce has the potential for unlimitedinterdisciplinary exploration and culturalcommentary. A novel about sexual harassment, forinstance, can not only engage with, but contribute tofeminist theory and an understanding of genderrelations.
  14. 14. The devil in the detail – dualism and dichotomiesThere is a long tradition of writer-critics, from BenJonson to T.S. Eliot, providing a theoretical defence fortheir literary creations, or a pre-emptive critique oftheir work. George Watson calls this prefatorialcriticism, exemplified by John Dryden, the "father ofEnglish criticism" in Dr. Johnsons words.This tradition was not just a matter of writers creatingthe taste by which they were to be enjoyed, however;it was also the formation of an intellectual inquiryalongside their writing, and, as many commentatorshave pointed out, it is the base from which Englishliterary criticism developed.
  15. 15. Marcelle Freiman: What do students learn when they docreative writing? Perceived conflicts between creative arts and academic research have focused on a distinction between creativity – ‘organic’ and difficult-to measure or assess – and ‘research’, as a model of rational, measurable scientific understandings. This conflict is based on the devaluing of creativity within existing academic structures; the denial of the ‘circuitous path of creative and critical research across all disciplines’, which links creativity with critical, if not with ‘factual, scientific’ thinking (Brophy 1998)
  16. 16. What is our raison d’être ? How can we justify our positions in the Academy?TEXT Editorial TEXTVol 11 No 1 April 2007“...the following letter to the editor appeared in the Your View column ofthe Weekend Australian Review:Laurie Hergenhans column on Australian literature (Review, March 10-11)was thoughtful and accurate. However, I believe some blame must rest onwriters. Recently a friend gave me a bundle of Ozlit magazines, which Istacked by my bedside table, dipping into them over the midnight watches.The self-conscious cleverness, coupled with the arrogance of inaccessibility(certainly with the poetry) was palpable. As far as Im concerned, the Ozlitproblem is twofold. On the one hand, profit-driven publishing has meantno time to notice, let alone nurture, new talent, and on the other there aretoo many wannabes who couldnt give a stuff about a readership beyondtheir mates. I know there are good Australian writers out there. Theproblem has more to do with creative writing courses encouraging a cult ofauthorship fuelled by ego rather than talent. Ian McFarlane Beauty Point, Wallaga Lake, NSW (Weekend Australian Review March 24-25, 2007: 2)
  17. 17. Phillip Edmonds: Interrogating creative writing outcomes:Wet Ink as a new model.TEXT Vol 11. No. 1. April 2007Creative writing teachers and researchers are not typicalacademics in that many of us publish for widerreaderships than peer-reviewed journals. We are engagedin a new humanities, according to Paul Dawson (2005).We are also involved in varying degrees as publicintellectuals in a climate where well- known authors arecelebrities participating in a growing range of writersfestivals and public performances...It also needs to be said that our courses arent necessarilydesigned to produce published writers. We are producingbetter readers, contributing to the education of goodteachers and so forth, as well as facilitating the work ofnew writers.
  18. 18. So does either Literary studies or Creative Writing disciplines increase the interest in and sales of Australian books?Perhaps by looking at the Australia Council’s final report:Economic Analysis of Literary Publishing in Australia(September 2008), we can identify that the Australian literaryindustry is reasonably healthy or at least economicallyvaluable.However, can we assume that literary publishing correlateswith the genre of Literature as proposed by Australian Literarystudies?It is my contention that by writing and reading Australian textsin either Oz Lit courses or CW courses, supports the publishingindustry in this country.However, can we reflect on how many Australian texts need tobe read to pass a Literature major in our Humanities/Arts/Creative Writing degrees? (Look within your own courses).
  19. 19. The unification principle.And as has been pointed out in several presentations at thisConference should we be devaluing the idea that ‘common’reading, (which could be considered as reading primarily forpleasure rather than intellectual play of ideas as in ‘elite’reading) is/ should be less privileged?Can revaluing this broader reading imperative create a spacefor ‘non-literary texts in the Academy and more broadlywithin the broader Australian reading communities? Mycontention is “yes”.Is this reflected in the popularity of genre texts within theAustralian “publication market”? Jason Ensor and KatherineBode have identified precisely this through theirinterrogation of the AusLit database, in the current specialissue of JASAL.
  20. 20. If genre reading (and writing) is on the increase in Australia, have Creative Writing programs been responsible for an increase in these sales?More research needs to be done to answer this question.At this stage I know several Industry insiders (commercialpublishers and Writers’ Centre manuscript assessors) whohave spoken of a better quality manuscript making it “offthe slush pile”.For this we can thank the ‘unpaid labour of publishing’; theDoctoral and Masters supervisors, for doing the ‘grunt’work of structural and line editing before the manuscriptsare even submitted.After all our artefacts must be deemed publishable as onemeasure of academic competency in our discipline.
  21. 21. And does it matter if our ‘common’ readers arereading genre and literary fiction from otherNations?For example is the current buzz surrounding StephanieMeyers ‘Twilight series; a ‘bad’ thing that it is selling wellin our stores?Can we seriously answer “yes” if it is American and “no” ifit is produced elsewhere in the world? Is this not reversecultural cringe?Does it take away sales from Australian texts in the samegenre, or does it draw readers to experiment with similarjacketed books?Is it not possible that these O/S titles build readership forour own writing? I contend that the popularity of Writer’sFestivals and the careful programming that situates ourwriters alongside overseas writers creates a space forproximal reading or parataxis of both texts?
  22. 22. ‘A mix of fiction and not-so-traditional AustralianVampire mythology, this tale follows their dangeroustrail throughout Melbourne, showing us that we mightknow nothing about vampires after all!!’ – HellenManiatis (HEART Book group).
  23. 23. The final version of this paper will be available as achapter in the forthcoming publication Banking onCreativity: Thoughts on Creativity, Innovation andthe Economic Discourse in the Creative Industries.(Current working title)Edited by Dominique Hecq and Carol-Anne CrokerDue for publication early