Such is my fascination with the question of the ‘teachability’ of creative writing that it forms one of the themes of my campus novel, the writing of which constitutes the creative component of my PhD in Creative Writing. The novel’s narrative is fuelled by a series of oppositions, including the unwelcome arrival of practising writers into a reactionary department of English literature, and the protagonist’s attempt to reconcile the practice of writing to the teaching of it at a theoretical level. Welcomed on his first day as a member of the teaching faculty, William Wisper finds himself on the receiving end of the Head of Department’s belligerent speech:
‘You are all three of you young, so very young! This is not mere coincidence, rather part of a stratagem on my part to reconfigure the dynamics of the department. When I assumed coordination of the department five years ago, I inherited a desiccated, superannuated staff that fed on parchment and farted ancient dust into my corridors. Axiomatic to their thinking was the notion that contemporary equals crap. My first departmental meeting, in which I tried to initiate a few modest changes, felt more like a bloody séance – all of that wailing and moaning and trying to reach out to beyond the grave. They prefer their authors, you see, distant or dead. Preferably dead. They will not take kindly to your presence in the department. They will think you impertinent arrivestes – they will begrudge you your animation, your physical autonomy, the very breath in your bodies. Death bestows respectability and gravitas upon a writer, didn’t you know?’
While I perhaps overstate the oppositionists’ position for satirical effect, academics who resist the entry of the creative writer into the department of literature are either not aware, or are in fact too uncomfortably aware, that the critic and writer inhabit the same intellectual territory: if the writer has tunnelled his way up from the bowels of the earth, then the academic surveys the landscape from his ivory tower.
Does this antagonism exist in the way I have depicted it? Is my caricature outdated? Or does it still exist in some places? I am greedy for feedback, as this subject will certainly inform the content of subsequent blogs.
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