Week 2 critique as an appreciation to understand and expand horizons #creativewriting

Our first proper session. The room was full. We were about 20. Definitely more than last week. I saw some of my peers again. Instantly I felt less lonely. Next to me (yes, in the last row) sat a lady I hadn’t seen before. She is also interested in children’s literature, I quickly found out. What a lovely surprise. We discovered that we had a few more things in common. Many of my peers have done an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing or Literature. This will have given them good foundations for their current degree. I haven’t. I need to learn to swim fast and this reminded me actually of how I did learn swimming as a child. It wasn’t a pleasant experience… I had to jump in the deep end of a pool. I still remember how scared I was and kept moving to the back of the queue hoping that I didn’t have to do it, until there was nobody else in front of me.

What was particularly interesting in the session was what Dr Caroline Magennis, the module leader, said about unlearning. Unlearning some of the theory and sticking to the rules. Unlearning what some of my peers learnt during their undergraduate studies in creative writing/literature, would be important. Her argument was that, that knowledge about literary theories might be constraining for creative writing. It could act as a barrier. So sticking to the rules is not a useful strategy for creative writing. Very interesting observation which echos an extract I found in a book recently about the importance of freeing oneself when writing creatively and added to my week 1 post (Smith, 2005). So, will creative writing work for me as I don’t feel entangled in literary theories? Less is more, in this case? It seems to be. This, of course destroys Bloom’s taxonomy, completely and the revision by Krathwohl as well! This linear construct usually shown as a pyramid that captures higher order thinking and is regularly used to define learning outcomes moving upwards from more simple to more complex. I knew it and am saying it all the time. Learning is messy, learning is not a linear process. Who says we can’t be creative without knowing the rules, the theories etc.? I am pleased I signed up for this course! And that we are encouraged actually to be creative by ignoring the rules… and that obviously is easier when you don’t know the rules…

As my literary theory foundations are very wobbly or not existent, I probably feel exactly like our PgCert students at the moment who are highly qualified often with a doctoral qualification but have to jump into a Masters level course in higher education, theory and practice, without having studied anything or very little in this area before. While I did a few modules around literature and language in my undergraduate degree in translation, many years ago, I really can’t remember anything about literary theories. So, am I a blank canvas? Scary. I confessed this to the lady next to me. I have a lot of catching up to do… and better start reading and engaging critically and creatively with what I read.

I am here to learn. A module overview was provided (what is that “uncanny” seems to be mentioned a lot? There is a lot of new terminology. Thinking as a translator makes me want to create a glossary, but I haven’t started any yet…).

In the session we got some information about the assessment. It was useful so that I can get organised and make a start with my assignments. Essays. Looking back now at my educational life… I actually can’t remember ever have written an essay or having asked my own students to write one. Now I have to write potentially two in the same module. One of them can be a hybrid. But what does this exactly mean? What could it be?

Seeing the essay questions, all 13 of them for the first time on the screen in class, made me freeze. I couldn’t relate to any of them… now what? When I arrived home, I downloaded them and read them again carefully. I have narrowed them down to four, but am still unclear how to work with them. And if I could use two of them for the two essays or how I would work with them. I guess in a way the given questions seem to be like research questions I am expected to respond by doing secondary research. Is this how it works? That seems to help me a little bit. Now also thinking about thought paper… is this what an essay really is?

For week 1, I printed everything I found on the VLE and read the articles. They were not easy to digest. I made notes on the printouts and articulated questions. We went through one of them together in class. The one about Literary criticism with a focus on being postcritical and what that means. First we briefly discussed our understanding of  theory more generally. What is it? I think we agreed that a theory is a lense used to explore something, in our case literary work. For me theory is something that can be a conceptual or empirical construct, or the combination of the two, that helps us make sense of something. In literary theory a lot seems to be about politics, society and culture, I noticed. The intersection of theories and the blending and overlaps of theories is now acknowledged more and recognised in the 21st century, I heard Caroline saying. That is encouraging as our world is not black or white, through my eyes anyway…

Going together through the post-critical article was useful and really helped me better understand what it was all about and what is changing. I really liked the fact that we will explore theory and practice through time and link to our time. It makes the discussions fresh and current and helps us relate to the theories and our own experiences, practices and realities.

In the evening, I was still thinking about post-critical literary criticism. I reached out to Wikipedia… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-critical while some references were missing there, I could still make sense of some of it. I had read the article about it we were given and the class discussion we had earlier today also helped. I was worried earlier that it would all turn into mash but it actually makes sense now. Well, it starts making sense. Not all of it did in the morning when I first immersed myself in the article on my train journey to work. The questions that were asked in class about the article were really useful and helped me understand what this is all about. I started getting under the skin of the sentences. For me post-critical as I understand it currently is a lense of exploring literature, a lense of evaluating literature and perhaps human activity and behaviour more general based on appreciation, empathy and do I dare to say compassion? Compassion to understand, to be open to alternative perspectives and to learn from these in order to extend and expand our current understanding about something in particular, as one of my peers said. In a way, as the article says, it is about moving away from suspicion, finding what is wrong and policing literary work and perhaps also reducing the gap between the person who criticises and the person who writes? The concept of post-critical reminded me of appreciative inquiry often used in pedagogical research to explore experiences. We also use appreciation and appreciative approaches as academic developers when working with our colleagues to acknowledge and celebrate what they bring to teaching and supporting students and building on these instead of seeking faults and accusations. We know that this approach does not lead us anywhere. Wondering now, are academic developers who operate in the post-critical domain more effective and what does this exactly mean? What are the implications for university leaders and managers? What would entering a post-critical phase mean for all of us learning, living and working in the academy? A few things to think about.

Caroline asked us also about the pleasure  of reading. What about also the pleasure of writing? Can this all be spoiled easily by literary criticism? And in academic development, the pleasure of teaching, my academic criticism? Also in research? And peer review there? I can see so many connections…

Back to my readings now for next week. I was told that it is very short… I started reading Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism but find it very heavy and it feels much longer than it is.  I am reading this very slowly… It does have loads of gems and I am picking up “soundbites” that speak to me at the moment as I can relate to these politically, socially and culturally. It feels however, very messy and disorganised reading this book and I am really unsure how I would use this text for a possible essay…

I can relate to the below but refuse to agree that there is no alternative! There must be an alternative! There must be multiple alternatives, hope and futures. What role does literature play?

“Capitalist realism’: a widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” (Fisher, 2009, 2)

“Action is pointless; only senseless hope makes sense.” (Fisher, 2009, 3)

“The focus shifts from the Next Big Thing to the last big thing – how long ago did it happen and just how big was it?” (Fisher, 2009, 3)

“Over the past thirty years, capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology’ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business.” (Fisher, 2009, 17)

I also need to revisit the possible essay questions and get in touch with one of the lecturers to share my initial ideas. First, however, I need to construct them for myself. Could I draw a visual map? Struggling at the moment…

The essay questions that have started tickling my interest, a little bit, are the ones below. Still very unsure…

1.      ‘From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly everything is possible again.’ (Mark Fisher) Can literature and culture imagine alternatives to capitalism?

3.      ‘To share what deviates from happiness is to open up possibility, to be alive to possibility’ (Ahmed). To what extent does literature showcase Sara Ahmed’s politics of feeling?

8.      ‘A novelist who takes himself as the principal subject of his novel is asking for it’ (Smiley). Critically assess the risks and rewards of auto/fictional practices, drawing on relevant critical and creative material, including at least one auto/fictional text of your own choosing.

9.      ‘We are suffering, in academic life, from a surfeit of words. […]The challenge, then, is to find a different way of writing’ (Ingold 8). How might genre queer texts respond to this challenge? Illustrate your answer with specific examples.

Weekend update:

Capitalist realism: I have now read the whole book by Mark Fisher. My brain hurts. As I was reading it page by page I became entangled in his ideas and stories and tried to jump with him through these. It was not always possible. His writing reminded me of a patchwork and a deeply reflective piece. I could relate more closely to his writings that seemed to echo my own experiences and life story. I needed help understanding and making sense of it.

So I started googling and quickly discovered some of his lectures. I had no idea he is no longer with us. I was shocked when I read that his life had ended just over a year ago. I watched parts of the clips and his passion and pain, I would say were evident in these. I felt sad watching him and at some point I wished I had met him. He emphasised on the power of the collective but how our capitalist reality, the reality we live in, according to him, is polarised and obsessed with the individual, and how damaging this is for human relationships, all of us and the world we live in. Is there a way out of this? It seems that Mark was in search for an answer which he positioned in the power of the collective. But were was the collective, were were we, when Mark needed us the most?

I have ordered the book and will read it again. It will not be the same…

Assignment 1: I have been thinking about the assignment I have to write, the first one for now. I had an idea but then I quickly abandoned it…. I now have another idea with which I am happier with at the moment as it would give me the opportunity to stitch together my current readings and my life as an academic developer. This bridge would be really valuable for me. The essay questions provided invite is to explore one article of the theories we explore in this module.

Looking at them again, and the ones I selected initially (see above), I can’t see any of them relating to “cruel optimism” (Berlant, 2011), which may be the one I would like to use.

This theory is presented in week 3 (I found a Cruel Optimism book here) and while I almost don’t know anything about it, I can relate to it somehow. I see “cruel optimism” in picture books but I also see it in academic development, my current professional reality. After also, reading an LSE blog post linked to “cruel optimism” of PhD graduates, a paper about the deficit doctorate and a recent Guardian article on bullying in higher education, I feel this may be something I would like to explore in my professional context based on my own experiences as an academic developer and experiences and realities of academic developers more widely. Can I do this?

My draft question: How can academic developers’ cruel optimism about the ‘good life’ (Berlant, 2011) in the academy be explained and to what extent could it shape the identity of academic developers?  

References

Berlant, L. (2011) Cruel optimism. London: Duke University Press.

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist realism. Is there no alternative? Ropley, Hants: John Hunt Publishing.

Smith, H. (2005) The writing experiment. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. Available from http://www.academia.edu/9485157/THE_WRITING_EXPERIMENT_Strategies_for_innovative_creative_writing

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our Play book with @alisonrjames and many many others is now in production

We have received notification that our edited book with Prof. Alison James is now in production. Alison and I have, and also all contributors, worked on this for a long time now and it is amazing that we are almost there now. We even have a flyer!!! See below 😉

The Power of Play in Higher Education_flyer

It all started when I first met Alison back in 2013 at the annual SEDA conference and our love for playful learning united us. We stayed in touch and our professional relationship developed into a deeper friendship. We created opportunities to do some work together over the years and got the opportunity to co-edit a Creative Academic Magazine issue thanks to Prof. Norman Jackson who entrusted us to explore the use of play in higher education. We couldn’t believe how many people contacted us and how many contributions we received… so many that we decided to publish the issue in 2 parts…

creative_academic_magazine

Nerantzi, C. & James, A. (eds.) (2015) Exploring Play in Higher Education, Creative Academic Magazine, Issue 2b, June 2015, available at http://www.creativeacademic.uk/magazine.html

Nerantzi, C. & James, A. (eds.) (2015) Exploring Play in Higher Education, Creative Academic Magazine, Issue 2a,  June 2015, available at http://www.creativeacademic.uk/magazine.html

These earlier explorations into play and our own practices in this area, generated ideas for an edited book at the time where play as a concept in the context of learning and teaching in higher education was still very new.

Prof. Sally Brown kindly supported us putting a book proposal together and after some time we secured a book contract with Palgrave. Thank you so much Sally for all your valuable advice and guidance. Alison and I were delighted when we got the offer but knew the hard work was all ahead of us. At that time, I was still working on my doctoral thesis… but this didn’t stop us. Our plans were ambitious and we worked systematically on the book project to bring it to fruition. We were hoping to get contributions from practitioners from different disciplines and professional areas as well as from different parts of the world. We did and we are grateful to all colleagues who came forward and contributed to this book and made it such a rich collection. We have learnt so much through your stories.

There is still some work that needs to be done on the book. But it is now in production. We will be delighted to share the book with our contributors and the wider academic community.

LSPbook_coverOur openly licensed booklet around the use of LEGO in Higher Education will follow and there is still the opportunity to contribute to a special issue around the use of LEGO (IJMAR). See the open call here.

The Play book was a big and complex collaborative effort!

A big thank you to all contributors, Prof. Sally Brown for her valuable support with the book proposal, Prof. Bill Lucas who wrote the foreword, all colleagues who read the book and provided testimonials (they will be added to the back cover of the book) and Alison, of course, for working on this exciting book project together. It has been a joy. I loved our long Skype conversations and still do 😉

Week 1 freedom and playfulness

I am, and always have been a mature student. This doesn’t mean I was always that old, of course… When I started my undergraduate studies, I was almost 24. Today, I was again one of the very few mature students in my new class. This time, the age gap was much larger, my peers could be my own children.

Being among young(er) people is always a privilege, to find out about their hopes and dreams, what moves them, what scares them. I think that is one reason why I love working at university… and because I love learning and helping others learn, of course. I think politicians should spent time with our young people, regularly. So that they can discover what really matter and how they can help create a future for the next generation.  

While I did feel like an outsider and a bit lonely in that class, I knew why I was there and that I would have the opportunity to connect with at least some of my peers as the weeks will progress. It was lovely seeing everybody and talk to the two girl who were sitting next to me for a tiny bit at the end. At some point I looked around and was surprised that I seemed to be the only person taking notes… A book was introduced that will be used it seems a lot in the creative writing workshops. Have you heard of The Writing Experiment? That is the one.

I loved that experimentation was mentioned throughout and that we will be encouraged to actively experiment with our own writing. Who knows what I will create! We seem all to have very different writing interests and when we were asked to introduce ourselves by stating our name and a word that comes to mind when we think about creative writing, the first one that popped into my head was freedom, but then also playfulness. So I mentioned both. I think they are interlinked and definitely connect me at least to my writing intention, the writing process. If this is also reflected in the actual writing product, the output itself, I don’t know.

Maybe when I arrive home, my two books, the ones I ordered the other day have arrived (they were there indeed and I will start reading them on the way to work tomorrow). I am curious to dive into the theory now, can’t believe it myself, and experiment with some of the texts that I have written but also write new stuff. I think the re-assurance the lecturer gave made a difference. I liked the idea of seeing the theories as a “guided tour” and that we could self-select where we would stop for a little bit longer.

Speaking about new stuff…The other day, I had a new idea… while being in a tiny space we have in our house. A tiny space that helps me escape into other worlds when I am in there. I feel it’s expansive dimension now. Suddenly. Could this space become the next creative trigger of a new series of stories?

I am looking forward later in the course to uncreative writing, the essay clinic next week, I think. I loved the invitation to unpick tensions, ambiguity, contradictions and be critical and creative of course, which are two options of the same coin, I think. Makes no sense to me to separate them, like the left and right brain theory… doesn’t work.

Freedom and playfulness, that is what I seek.

Let’s see where my children’s stories will take me/us.

ps. I found the Writing Experiment online and started reading it… the following I found interesting…

There are no rules and regulations for creative writing, and no blueprints for a good piece of writing. Anyone who is looking for a formula for exciting work will not find it, and writers who rely on formulae usually produce dull results” (Smith, 2005, ix).

“… language creates the world rather than the other way round.” (Smith, 2005, 3)

Language-based strategies sharpen your sensitivity to language and help you to be discriminating,imaginative and unconventional in the way  you use it.” (Smith, 2005, 4)

References

Smith, H. (2005) The writing experiment. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin. Available from http://www.academia.edu/9485157/THE_WRITING_EXPERIMENT_Strategies_for_innovative_creative_writing

a new learning path into creative writing… #creativewriting

My course starts this week. Really feel like a proper student again. I have been accepted on the MA in Creative Writing Innovation and experiment at the University of Salford after submitting a portfolio of work with children’s stories and an interview with the programme leader. I managed to register and even look into the VLE on the weekend. New login details, different online spaces, another email account to look after.

I am very excited about joining this programme as I will be able to connect back to my time as a translator of literary works and also further develop as an academic developer, my day job for now, and particularly through the use of story.

some of the books I translated with their originals, many are children’s literature

As a good student 😉 I downloaded the programme handbook to get a better flavour of the course but also to see how the assessment will work. Very interesting that I ended up thinking quite a lot about the assessment and how I can get organised.. already…

I was pleased that the modules were all 30 credits with a larger project module at the end. It really helps, a simple structure like this. You might work hard for 30 credits but you are actually getting something significant for it. In this case a 30 credit module is 50% of my PgCert. I have to say that I was a bit surprised when I saw the length of the assignments… and that some of the assignments were essays. … with all that debate around essays it will be interesting to see how this goes and what kind of essay this will be and how I will feel writing it or them… Have a look at Prof. Phil Race’s recent article about essays…

So about 7000 words (is this or equivalent?) for each 30 credit module but split in all modules in two parts. The course has in its title experiment and innovation. I hope to be able to do this also in the assessment and experiment with the form and mold the essay perhaps into something that would work for me? Will I be able to experiment or do I have to play it safe to pass? As my work and the area I want to develop further links the written language very much with the visual language, I hope to collaborate with colleagues and students in Art and Design but also further develop my own visual skills and capabilities.

I could not find the handbook for the first module yet to see further details but after a quick Google search I found some interesting resources to complement my studies from Yale. My first module is about literary theory. And while I have done bits about literature before during my undergraduate studies (in Greek, German and English) and later when I embarked on that doctoral research in translation with a focus on children’s literature, I feel that I have a lot to learn.

What I found is a series of lectures made available freely and openly. I didn’t have to create an account or do anything else, I can jump straight into watching the lectures. And they are lectures, by the charismatic and extremely knowledgeable Professor Paul H. Fry.

So far I watched one whole lecture and a bit. What I noticed is that I looked first at the overall length. It felt long, far too long to keep my attention. However, the lecture I watched was extremely valuable but I did struggle to watch for such a long time. I suspect I would have enjoyed reading about it as I would be able to make notes easier. The lecture didn’t reveal any interaction between the lecturer and the students. I felt being one of them. The only difference is that the students there had been given materials to read in advance. They would have been useful to me as well. I had loads of questions. I wanted more explanations, more examples that I would understand. I was also missing the interaction with peers. Did I start watching the clip as a developer and forgot that I was a student? I think I was both simultaneously.

Literary theory is a new area for me, literary criticism too. Really start feeling like our colleagues who we ask to engage with Learning Theories when they do their PgCert with us… Our first module on the MA in Creative Writing seems to be about theory. We often start courses from that angle but I am wondering if this is also a reason why students often feel lost. How about starting from our experiences and building theory. I hope this module will link the two and help me digest the theory and discover how it all links to my writing practice.

I want and need to do some reading around the theories, Marx, Nietzsche and Foucault (I think) as well as Darwin who were mentioned in that first Yale lecture I watched. What I do remember is that literary theory is the study of writing, focuses on the process of writing, the aesthetics of it from different angles perhaps, while literary criticism is the evaluation of literary work. Did I get this right? Not sure now about literary theory and will check this again, but there seems to be a clear distinction between writing (literary theory relates to this) and critiquing writing (literary criticism). I have ordered a few books, which I hope will arrive in the next few days.

I want to understand and identify how these theories relate to my work and how I can use them to grow as a writer. Can somebody write well without knowing anything about literary theory? This made me think about my work as well as an academic developer… Can somebody teach effectively without knowing anything about learning theories? This is often a dilemma we have and an expectation that colleagues academics do need to engage with learning theories to make informed changes to their practice. But what if they don’t? Does it mean they are not effective in what they do? How about the writer who does not know a lot or anything about literary theory? What is the role of experiential learning in both situations? These questions just popped into my head right now.

There is the author and the writer. I have a feeling that authors prefer to call themselves writers? Why is that? The second clip from Yale talks about the author so I am looking forward to watching it but in bits as I really struggle to follow for so long…

In the VLE I also looked for my peers. Couldn’t find anybody there yet.

Really looking forward to seeing everybody this Thursday and learning together.

Very excited! I am ready to start.

Chrissi
ps. I have also started adding useful links to my Diigo collection under ‘creative writing’
pps. Is there a course hashtag we can use on Twitter? I guess we will find out soon 😉