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.
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?
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