A .pdf of the schedule for the conference can be found here.
Practice-Based Priorities: The Creative-Critical Divide in the Future of UK Higher Education
This paper will examine structures in higher education that contribute to practical and ideological divisions between ‘critical’ and ‘creative’ writing, and will consider the risk that such binaries may be re-entrenched by proposed changes to sector policy. First, I will briefly trace the historical premise behind Kim Lasky’s suggestion that ‘Somehow, conceptually, the creative and critical processes have become falsely separated’ (2013), considering the legacy of disciplinary separations between criticism and creativity. This will include a survey of current provision for ‘practice-based research’ and the changing relationship between the study of literature and creative writing from the twentieth-century onwards. Here, I’m particularly interested in the means by which funding regulations and methods of assessment have both promoted and discouraged movement between literary and critical modes within institutional contexts.
While the recent emergence of the more critically-oriented field of ‘creative writing studies’ and the development of more research-friendly modes of practice-based pedagogy are encouraging, I’ll argue that the trajectory of consumer-driven, instrumentalised models in UK higher education poses a direct threat to such fluidity. Taking the short, sad life of the Creative Writing A-level as a case in point, I’ll turn to language in the government’s white paper for a new Teaching Excellence Framework from May this year and to the Stern review of the Research Excellence Framework that followed in July, considering the impact these proposals might have on the future of hybrid writing pedagogy. While scholars and wider readerships are perhaps more open than ever to hybrid texts, there may be tensions between the promotion of market choice for students and the choice among forms of writing that a changing sector will be able to accommodate.
And What If We Were All Allowed to Separate and Come Together
“She is a writer. She wants to write in the way she wants to write, but is not sure the academy will find it correct, rigorous. She is now part of the academy, temporarily, pursuing doctoral studies, finishing her doctoral studies. But the subject area is creative writing and this is the way she wants to write: she wants (mostly) no “I”; she wants no extremely long words, just for the sake of them. She wants not to tangle with theory except in her own tangled approaches when it is necessary to illustrate the tangled nature of her subject. Her book is a hybrid, intended to provoke uneasiness, to slip between. And also: she might be funny. Why not?”
She is me. I am the writer and this is an excerpt from Chapter 0 of the “contextualising research” part of my practice-led creative writing PhD, which I am submitting at the beginning of October. Writing the document in the third person allowed me to do things I never imagined academia would “allow”. And, more importantly, I enjoyed myself. Immensely.
I didn’t know this was called fictocriticism until later. It suited not just my writing style, but the subject of my PhD, which was about hybrids, about writing-between – poetry & prose, fiction & non-fiction, texts & not-texts. Knowing this unclassifiable classification had at least one name gave me permission and, I hope, a rigorous academic justification, to do it. To have fun with it. Fun! I know. She thinks this is funny too.
In my presentation I will read from both this document and from my hybrid PhD book, which is inspired by particle physics. I will just have had my viva a few days before this conference so I may also cry. Which she thinks will be embarrassing. But authentic.
‘I Hope to Show’, or the Last Thing Out of Pandora’s Box
The oft-used phrase ‘hope to show’ — as in ‘this article hopes to show’, ‘in this paper I hope to show’, ‘this argument hopes to show’, etc — demonstrates a relatively active instantiation of hoping: ‘to hope to’ as opposed to ‘to hope that’. Why do we have these shades of activity within the verbal constructions of ‘hope’ and what can we learn from them that might tell us something about the forms of creative and critical writings?
Elpis, the Greek personification of hope and the last thing remaining in Pandora’s box, bears cryptic representation in Hesiod’s Theogony and Work and Days and has herself given rise to diverse accounts of religious, secular, social and political hope. Part essay, part story, my paper will ‘hope to’ account for the role of hope in the context of academic writing through a retelling of the story of the Greek figure of Elpis in order to creatively consider how ‘hopefulness’ and ‘hoping’ might provide new and helpful models for thinking about the shared and the distinct purposes of creative, critical and creative-critical writings.
Fictional sources in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
Bruce Beasley notes that in Autobiography of Red Carson’s ‘“projects pink” include concealing her red meat as Stesichoros’s’ (Beasley, 77). He is referring here to the fact that of the sixteen short poems presented under the title ‘Red Meat: Fragments of Stesichoros’ only two have any recognisable relationship to the actual surviving fragments of Stesichoros’ Geryoneis, and even then are expanded to include whole new sets of connotation. Additionally, Carson uses other devices (a mock interview and an essay for example) to invent an idea of Stesichoros which is then deviated from in her narrative. While most would accept that Autobiography of Red performs a radically creative rewriting of the Geryoneis, there appears little examination of how Carson’s supposedly critical appendices to the book must first establish in the mind of the reader some coherent sense of Stesichoros’ work in order for her rewriting not to appear as just writing.
Similarly, in Troilus and Criseyde Chaucer makes repeated mention of a writer named Lollius who represents the primary analogue for Chaucer’s composition. There is, however, no such writer and the text which Chaucer appears to be paraphrasing is Boccaccio’s Philostrato. The many liberties Chaucer takes with this source and the occasionally resentful attitude with which he reproduces elements of the narrative suggests that Lollius becomes a kind of representation of the weight of tradition of writing about Troy.
This paper will examine these two texts together with regard to how Carson and Chaucer use their poetry to simultaneously create and criticise their source material. By doing so I hope to call into question the divide between creative and critical writing.
Thinking Through Art Writing: Gertrude Stein and Michael Simpson
The duo at the core of this paper will be modernist writer, Gertrude Stein, and recent winner of the John Moores painting prize, Michael Simpson. By exploring the associative interface between Stein’s particular words and Simpson’s particular images, further confluences will surface in my own presentation, or better, assimilation of the material.
Through my work I pair writers and artists whose work suggests itself to me as manifesting a certain confluence (of spirit, method or process, for example). I experiment with the potential and limits of these analogies, forever mindful of the important difficulty in articulating their relationship in words. By bringing the work of these figures into orbit my writing and thinking is allowed the space to shift between the performative and the reflective. These, inherently hybrid, ‘stagings’ enact a series of real and imagined art-historical, art-critical and poetic or abstract encounters with artworks, weaving in and out and between art history, criticism and writing as practice, and art history, criticism and writing as theory.
The pairing will provide a means for introducing my larger project, ‘Art Writing and Subjectivity’, which is concerned with Art History as a performance of thoughts in process, or what Stein might term the ‘continuous present’, rather than as a vehicle for presenting information. There are a number of distinct qualities at stake in this approach; it foregrounds at once the materiality of the artwork, the scholars’ physical or emotional encounter and the materiality of her verbal assimilation of the artwork. But it is also conceived as practice-as-research, envisaged as an enactment of the relationship between art history, writing and subjectivity. Here art writing itself becomes a means to generate ideas; it becomes an exploratory performance of research in which anachronic and associational arrangements of words, images, works and ideas emerge.
Grandest Inquisition: David Foster Wallace, James Wood and the Shadow of Dostoevsky
The criticism of David Foster Wallace and James Wood appeared prominently in magazines and journals throughout the 90s and 00s (Wood ongoing). While the two writers are often seen as polarities in the literary world – Wallace as an experimental writer, Wood as an exponent of a more classical tradition – their criticism overlaps and interrelates in many ways.
This paper focusses one aspect of this overlapping: their reactions to – and engagement with – the writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Wallace and Wood, in their criticism, have openly discussed the impact Dostoevsky’s work has made, both on their own work and also in their personal lives. This paper will function as a hybrid piece that contrasts the critical interpretations of both writers on one hand, while juxtaposing this conventional approach with a semi-fictionalised biography of the two men.
The overlapping of criticism and biography is partly in homage to the three writers under consideration, but is also an attempt to show the extent to which each writer pushes against the blurred line between objectivity and subjectivity in their literary criticism and identify the moments where it impossible to make distinction.
‘A poet is a mirror, a transcriber’: creative criticism in Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson
This conference paper is specifically borne out of research in poet/critic Susan Howe’s archive at UC San Diego. Howe’s poetry is marked by a wide-ranging, astonishing historical imagination. I argue her pioneering work of Dickinson criticism not only dissolves genre boundaries, but also offers a new mode of literary criticism that has been followed by works such as My Poets by Maureen N. McLane (2012), Heroines by Kate Zambreno (2012), and The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (2015), amongst others. This particular kind of hybrid text not only bridges the paradoxical split between the affective and critical forms of literary criticism as described in Rita Felski’s recent Limits of Critique (2015), but also rebuts what Gilbert and Gubar fail to come to terms with in The Madwoman in the Attic, according to Howe: a “feminine penchant for linguistic de
constructioncreation and re- constructioncreation.”
The purpose of this examination is to steer away from hybrid writing as an isolated instance of creative output or private reading and toward its social conception as a form of ‘embodied reading’ that fully realizes the intimate relationship between historical reader and author; author and historical subject (in this case, readers of My Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe, and the subjects of her historical-literary imagination—as well as hybrid writers more generally). I will present findings from several years’ worth of manuscript-drafts of My Emily Dickinson along with details of Howe’s personal correspondence related to hybrid writing, demonstrating how the physical assemblage and accumulation of the hybrid work’s fragments mirrors its purpose as a literary artefact. This has implications not only for those who have read and loved My Emily Dickinson and its hybrid descendants, but anyone interested in literary creation by quotation, interpretation, and orchestration of found books and acts of reading.
Otto Dov Kulka: The Historian as Witness
Otto Dov Kulka’s text’s Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death (2014) self-consciously refuses to classify itself as a memoir, testimony or autobiography. Recalling Kulka’s experience of being a child at the family camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau in a fragmentary structure it is itself a sustained search for a form of representation: prose, poetry, photographs, musical scores and historical essays are all used to represent the reality of the past. It is, arguably, this array of medias that led Hayden White (2014) to declare, perhaps hyperbolically, that Kulka’s text represents a new form of writing, one which breaks down previous genre boundaries, particularly between literary (taken to be associated with fiction by White) and factual writing. Taking this position as its starting point, this paper will argue that Kulka’s text is a form of hybrid writing that may achieve what White claims for it, but more importantly through an extended and continuous reference to the work of Franz Kafka is a return to the lost art of storytelling, whose loss was lamented by Walter Benjamin. This does not render the account fictitious but demonstrates the difference between the showing and the telling of history. This theme will be explored in relation to Kulka’s use of various media and his apparent changing attitude towards memory and history as book progresses, all of which aid the production of a hybrid text.
Heralding Hybrid Writing: The Critical Voice in the Fiction of A.S. Byatt
In 1996, shortly before ‘fictocriticism’ entered the literary landscape, Kathleen Coyne Kelly called A.S. Byatt’s writing method ‘ficticism’, referring to the ‘hybrid quality’ of Byatt’s writing in terms of fusing fiction and literary criticism. The Biographer’s Tale (2001), one of Byatt’s novels that might match the closest the definition of hybrid writing, was received by a reviewer as the most exciting piece of literary criticism recently read (O’Connor, 2002). Byatt could thus be seen as a herald, or precursor, of what is today referred to as fictocritical or hybrid writing. Not only is significant space in her fiction devoted to reflections and debates about literary theory and criticism; many of them are designed so as to deliver particular critical statements.
Nonetheless, there is also a certain ambivalence that partly undermines her effort to bridge the alleged divide between the critical and the creative and is significantly determined by her problematic relationship to critical theories such as post-structuralism and feminism. Historical circumstances play a significant role considering Byatt’s Leavisite university training and her formation as a writer and critic during the golden age of critical theories in the 1960s and 70s. To a certain extent, Byatt seems to remain imprisoned in her own responses to the products of the era, which prevents her from profiting from the ‘post-theory’ freedom reportedly enjoyed by numerous young contemporary writers or students of creative writing (Lobb 2012). The proposed paper examines the sources of this ambivalence and its impact on the degree and nature of the creative/critical hybridity of Byatt’s writing whilst demonstrating the scope and character of her critical preoccupations in her fiction.
Against cohering – or, Why the bluebell is a poor analogy for the literary-critical text
With its propensity for cross-breeding between British native and Spanish varieties, the bluebell might seem an apt analogy for the writing under discussion by this conference. The category of ‘hybrid’ can help articulate what is particular or indeed slippery about the literary-critical, especially when securing a place for such work on bookshop shelves or within higher education. But it’s worth asking what ‘hybridity’ as a synthesizing category might threaten to elide, and why such categorization of such texts should be deemed necessary.
Reflecting upon the experience of writing a collection of poetry, this paper will argue that creative, literary writings are always already critically engaged, employing a distinctive mode of thought that is irreducible and needs no justification. It proposes the ‘feral’ as an analogy for that mode, which – in its ‘thinking through making’ – trespasses discourse borders by failing completely to acknowledge such borders exist. In this, the alterity of the ‘feral’ is a valuable counter to the urge to justify the literary-critical against the discourses of commercial publishing or indeed academia.
If ‘hybridity’ is to serve the literary-critical text and its readers and writers, we might think of it less as an object readily available to taxonomic definition than as an activity. I will suggest that such writing holds its literary and critical elements in oscillating relationship and that their resistance to synthesis – not to mention moments of readerly ‘bafflement’ at perceived disjuncts between those elements – are its distinguishing and essential features. ‘[B]eware the Hybrid Bluebell’!
 Jarvis, S. (2010) ‘For a poetics of verse’, PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 125(4), pp.931-5, p. 934.
 Jarvis, S. (2010) ‘Unfree Verse: John Wilkinson’s The Speaking Twins’, Paragraph, 33(2), pp. 280-95, p. 282.
 Harrap, S. (2013). Harrap’s Wild Flowers, London: Bloomsbury, p. 341.
THUMBS IN SPACE: digital messaging from Elizabeth Bishop to the drunk text
I propose to give a paper on my practice led research in creative critical writing.
My presentation will expand on my dissertation I Don’t Feel At Home In This Word Anymore, which melded personal rememberings, critical analysis, art history, poetry and photography. I will use writers and essayists like Ali Smith and Virginia Woolf — who have legitimised the form, to demonstrate the radical possibilities of the medium.
The paper itself will be creative critical in form, leaning on quotes and images from a vast array of chronology and media. I will discuss themes of influence and allusion in the writings of Ali Smith, in particular her creative critical work Artful.
As Artful displays the writer or artist is also always reader, and is aware of reading as a social process. I will discuss ideas of reference and allusion in the paper.
A quote embedded in an essay forms part of a montage. It also becomes something else, something different and something queer when it is lifted out of its original context. What happens when Picasso paints a picture of Gertrude Stein? Who claims authorship? Is Gertrude changed? Is Picasso made a little queer and Stein a little misogynist in the transaction? What happens when the black queer disco artist Sylvester sings Southern Man by Neil Young, a song written by a straight white man about racist violence? How does the cover – or allusion — change the essential character of the first or original?
My presentation will talk precisely about these sorts of radical allusions. How do our own lived experiences change the works we have read in the past or are reading? And how might our lived experiences inform and actually play a part in the form and content of our research.
I will also look at Claudia Rankine’s poetic essay Citizen and the ways in which women, particularly queer women, have used the creative-critical form to talk about injustice and politics. I will study how in the course of these essays, A Room Of Ones Own being a fine example, queer writers ‘come out’ as queer readers. How do our fictive and artistic influences transform our experiences in writing and in life? And how might a queer lineage in literature be traced via the creative critical form?
Sarah Jones & Simon Pook
Hospitality in Contemporary Fiction: Writing in Two Voices
Working from Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, this paper will move onto more theoretical ground. It will examine Derrida’s Of Hospitality alongside a consideration of Michel Serres’s work on ‘The Parasite’, turning finally to consider how technological advances are affecting the ways in which we write. We want to present a reading of hospitality in terms of the thresholds of the text, examining both the relationship between author/reader and host/guest, and suggest that collaborative writing reveals the instabilities and paradoxes within these supposed dichotomies.
“Known and Strange Things”: Teju Cole, Literary Journalism and Hybrid Writing
Teju Cole (U.S. author of PEN/Hemingway Award winner Open City; 2011) has been fêted as a proponent of twenty-first-century cosmopolitanism. With Cole’s Open City, emphasising the diversity of metropolitan life, scholars including Caren Irr have viewed his works as offering a form of ‘new global fiction’ which reinvents literary techniques from American proletarian literature and other politically committed writing from the mid-twentieth-century (by authors including Mike Gold). This reinvention ultimately involves mitigating the politically charged qualities of this U.S. literature to offer a detached cosmopolitan aesthetic for twenty-first-century readers.
However, my paper argues that Cole also experiments with a more hybrid form of literary journalism, as demonstrated within his first collection of essays (Known and Strange Things; 2016). Through his wide-ranging cultural references, his identifiable style of writing and his merging of literature and politics, I shall argue that Cole’s essays continue an often overlooked practice of U.S. hybrid literary writing which favours literary criticism, cultural debate and polemics over didactic politics. Whilst Cole’s novels evoke certain aesthetic practices, my paper argues that this hybrid literary journalism also experiments with more political argument which references, and extends the thematic concerns, his mainstream fiction.
My paper ultimately considers how Cole’s journalism participates in, and also extends, a form of literary journalism which appraises current events (including unrest in Ferguson), questions traditional mediums (including the literary essay) and takes pleasure in debate. Focusing on these varied publications, my paper will ultimately situate Cole’s topical journalism within literary debates about political commitment in wider twenty-first-century literature in English.
“If capitalism kills you, who do you complain to?”: Social Collage & Critique in Jeff Derksen’s Transnational Muscle Cars
A founding member of the Kootenay School of Writing (KSW), Jeff Derksen is an influential poet-critic. My interest is not in reading Derksen’s poetry and cultural criticism as separate discourses, but rather to engage with his poetry as cultural criticism — what Herb Wylie underlines in Transnational Muscle Cars (2003) as “an incisive grappling with the economic, political, cultural, and existential dimensions of the neoliberal order.” One of the salient features of the poems in that collection is what Peter Jaeger calls their modular form, and how modularity “provides … a means to practice a hybrid mode of theory/research/poetry.” If, as Jaeger suggests, Derksen’s poetry is modular and dialogic — that the reader must produce and link meaning between the discrete modules — then I would like to determine the critical valence of those elements. Using Clint Burnham’s theory of social collage and Lacanian psychoanalysis regarding KSW poetics, I will navigate a participatory/productive reading of Derksen’s text to examine how it critiques both “the hegemonic role of meaning in late capitalist society” (Burnham) and the pervasiveness of neoliberal values in everyday life. Burnham’s notion of social collage will outline how the poems operate as a critical text that promotes meaning making (rather than meaning consumption) by the reader. Furthermore, social collage will help elucidate how Derksen fashions his poetry as a critical apparatus within (and not outside of) its neoliberal subject matter, while questioning the role (and legitimacy) of poetry as an “unofficial discourse” (Derksen) in the late capitalist period. Although much has been written on the long/serial poems of Transnational Muscle Cars, little has discussed the shorter lyrics’ relationship to the modular and disjunctive major poems. I am interested in using Burnham’s approach to synthesize the modular form of the long poems with the shorter poems, and to register how that synthesis contributes to Derksen’s larger creative-critical project.
Pragmatism and Poetry as Epistemological Inquiry
My presentation will look at the influence of American pragmatism on 20th century American poetry. Peirce’s pragmatic maxim dictates that we should “[c]onsider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then the whole of our conception of those effects is the whole of our conception of the object”. Such a statement is representative of pragmatism’s wider privileging of practice over theory. For philosophers like William James and Peirce, truth is not something we passively absorb rather it is something we find by actively investigating the world.
Current criticism on pragmatist American poetry suggests that American poetry, in inheriting pragmatism’s wariness of fixed systems for classifying reality, follows James, Emerson, and Peirce by treating meaning as something manmade, truth as something fallibilistic, and practice as being favourable over theory. Poets as diverse as Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, and A.R. Ammons have all been described as pragmatic due to the way that their poetry investigates our perceptions of objects and thus performs an epistemological function.
My presentation will focus on an essay written in verse by Charles Bernstein. Bernstein argues in a Wittgensteinian fashion that meaning in language is not something produced according to absolute grammatical rules but rather something produced in the context of certain language-games. Bernstein’s hope is that his poetry, by exploring the range of possibilities for making meaning in language, will demonstrate to its reader the multiple ways in which we can make sense of the world. The objective of my presentation will be to demonstrate why for pragmatist poets like Bernstein, poetry is conceived to be a medium that performs an epistemological task which is unable to replicated by philosophical theory.