TEXT review

Within and without: The habitus of creativity and writing

review by Simon-Peter Telford


Critical Writing with Critical Theory: Inhabitation
Dominique Hecq and Julian Novitz (eds)
Gylphi Limited, Canterbury UK 2018
ISBN: 9781780240688
Pb 292pp AUD 64.17

Inhabitation dives into writing, exploring the immersion of writers in their craft. Dominique Hecq and Julian Novitz have compiled works from a group of writers who examine their own interactions with language, form, culture and society in the search for an understanding on how writing is constructed.  At times Inhabitation offers a less formal conversation with writers and the examination of their works, not overly saturated with theory, while still presenting relevant theoretics where appropriate. This leads to a refreshingly honest approach that achieves the enjoyability of almost narrative driven self-reflection on the writing process, while looking at the finished pieces through a new lens. Each chapter presents a unique author, and as a result, differing writer’s voices. This allows the ability to offer something new and keep the reader engaged with a fresh perspective and writing style.

The first two chapters both intertwine thoughts of ownership and the ‘right’ to write. The lingering issue of colonialism hovers between the gaps of letters and lines of Lia Hill’s chapter ‘Walking No Man’s Land’:

writing in an Indigenous Australian language also raised ethical questions, as it must. I was using a genre not natural to the Anangu people; bending their language to a European form. What is more, I was walking the disputed line between appropriation and the assuaging non-engagement of political correctness. (18)

Amy Matthews struggles with the perceived appropriation of the holocaust through fictional stories in her chapter ‘Writing about the History of the Holocaust’:

I find the idea that I am turning other people’s suffering and death into something to be consumed as an art object, or as entertainment, deeply distasteful. And yet I am driven to imagine, to write, and to keep writing, continuously circling my attraction and repulsion. (35)

These chapters do not read as a stalwart defense or damnation of any particular practice, however, but more as an honest, intellectual and emotional discussion about such issues and their place in our craft. Matthews explores this with unflinching courage surrounded by respect for the subjects. The way in which our habitus informs the creative work that comes from cultures is also discussed in Gail Pittaway’s literary anthropology: ‘The Ghost of Sigurd the Volsung in Eketahuna’ takes the reader to New Zealand in an attempt to draw out the Norse influence of 19th century migrants within New Zealand literature. Inhabitation is a large word that encompasses much; within Pittaway’s chapter it demonstrates how cultural texts and myths move with those who hold them, and how they cross-pollinate with other cultures.

This then brings us to the writer as an individual in a globalised world. Dan Disney takes us on a kaleidoscope journey of diary entries, philosophy quotes and musings in his chapter ‘Toward a Poetics of Wandering’. Can we peel back the layers of habitus to reach some core self, is the core any truer than the rest?  Does the act of continuous changes to one’s habitus allow for the greatest depth of expression? ‘What is the wandering poet if not an archivist sensitized to that amalgam of processes in which immersion within exteriorities can generate jolting response?’ (130). Eugene Bacon examines how our inhabitation of life creates the voice of our writing, ‘the multiplicities I inhabit, neither of which is dominantly static as an identity, accompany each act of writing’ (59), discussing how societal influences and identities are undeniable shifting underpinnings of a writer. Graeme Harper questions habitus in the 21st century, and how, as all things seemingly change and evolve, changes in creative writing may take place. Physical and metaphysical in nature, the chapter is anchored with the enjoyable image of drinking with Einstein and other great minds at a bar. Harper concludes with the positive summary of creative writing and writers in this new world: ‘creative writers ... are today influenced by and influencing the plexus. What might happen next, what is investigated by creative writers creatively and critically as the twenty-first century progresses, in our new heterogeneous post digital world of laminal, contiguous, synaptic connections, is exciting to imagine’ (82).

Harking to similar questions that underpin Harper’s chapter on change, Katherine Coles’ chapter ‘The Ghost (in the) Machine’concerns itself with machine reading of poetry through algorithms, placement of words within the physical writing of poetry as by Emily Dickenson and how one’s self is expressed within poetry. These chapters regarding our 21st century lives are interesting in their predictions of possibilities for the future and offer a chance to reflect on our own progress through this changing period of time.

From looking forward to looking back, Simon West returns to the canon, in particular Dante, and evaluates the place of a poet with memory of themselves and the cultural zeitgeist from which they came. Taking the reader through segments of Dante’s work in ‘Squaring the Circle’,West draws the link between memory and writing: ‘we might say that our cultural memory and knowledge needs to be kept alive through actively returning to and interpreting the past’ (145), expressing the importance of individual and cultural memory within creation. When Eleanor Hogan went to the Ernestine Hill Collection at the Fryer Library she hoped to come across hidden gems that would expound upon Hill’s exploits as an enigmatic journalist in her thirties. Instead Hogan found a complex collection of memories that shed light on the race relations between Indigenous peoples and Hill. Hogan seeks to explore her humanised understanding of Hill, the disturbing and the inspirational, in the context of Hill’s time period, and therefore enhance the modern understanding of her work as a whole. Hogan writes

Although Hill’s published writing is highly problematic in some respects, the value of rereading it in relations to the Hill’s Collection’s work-in-progress lies in what the many-voicedness of the archive or hypotext might reveal, not just about the paradoxes and contradictions of the narrative and historical personae of Ernestine Hill, but the shifts within the “idea of Australia” that her life and writing spanned, and beyond. (192)

‘Revising “Finished” Poems’, the chapter written by Paul Hetherington and Paul Munden, approaches poetry as a worker approaches their craft. That is not to say the authors lack any of the so-called mysticism of creativity but rather that their chapter acknowledges the all-too-often hidden process of refinement and reworking that exists behind many poems. This is juxtaposed with the perceived flaws that can exist within poems that are seen as inherently crucial, in which case, are they truly flaws? More importantly, are the revisions of such flaws in actuality a detriment in the end? The inhabitation of a poet within their poem as they write can never be the same once a poem has finished in the writing according to Hetherington and Munden, and so there must be implications on revising poems from a re-immersed inhabitation.

Collection co-editor Dominique Hecq’s own chapter, ‘Crypts of Loss, Love, Lack’,gives the reader an exposition on writing inhabiting loss, mourning and grief. Discussing examples of writers who concern themselves with recreation of the self and loss, notably Marguerite Duras, peppered with Lacanian and Freudian psychoanalysis, Hecq turns towards herself near the end of the chapter. Ruminating on the role of woman, of mother, within grief and cultural normality, through her own work, she comes to the conclusion that

the experience of mourning and melancholia is “sexed”. I find it astounding that grief returns unbidden at key moments in a woman’s life-time, again and again, marking the anniversary of a child’s death, for example, as though the body is set to disregard the passing of time. (210)

She adds that the inhabitation of loss and the creative works resulting from that inhabitation, or better said, are that inhabitation, are one and the same with the writer who resides within.

‘Bodily Difference in Poetry’, Andy Jackson’s chapter, challenges the discussion on poetry’s relationship with the body, and its perception as some manifestation of ethereal disembodiment. As stated previously within this review, inhabitation is a term which encompasses several aspects’. Jackson’s chapter discusses the ‘literal’ inhabitation of poetry within the body or mind or somewhere else. Amalgamating philosophy, sex, politics, poetry form, and style through the focus of disability, Jackson debates the conversation in an open-minded yet academic mindset, resolving that ‘the innovation and adaption of form that is integral to both poetry and disability, we may find that it is in fact poetry that is the natural home of bodily difference’ (230).

Bodies to bodies: in this case focusing on bodies of water and the metaphor of water as empathy, Shari Kocher dissects Dorothy Porter’s Crete (1996) poems. The chapter, ‘Matri-Liminal Bodies’, is an extensive cross reference of many scholarly resources regarding the subject, swimming in an aquatic themed syntax. Kocher posits that Porter’s critic on the limits of art also ‘involves an oceanic impulse which shifts chiastically between self-reflective postmodernist questing along Sapphic modes of inscription’ (243). The root of empathy, for Kocher, is found in the oxymoron chiasmus within Porter’s Crete poems which allow for ‘Sapphic inscription and self-reflexive questing’s beyond the trope of the dissolving non-linear journey’ (249).

The epilogue for Inhabitation is written by Amelia Walker. Her capstone chapter reminds the reader why it is crucial to read books such as this one, why creative writing research and understanding matters not only for the writer but for academia and society as a whole. Walker’s rebuke of the romanticism of creative writing research demonstrates how ‘if creative writing research findings seem derived from a self fully distinct from o/Others and its situation, there remains limited scope for arguing that those findings bear importance to anything and anyone beyond the individual writer’ (256). Walker also engages with the challenges of originality with which creative writers often grapple. Originality from the unoriginal is explored in her sub-chapter on ‘Queering Harold Bloom’, in which an understanding of originality born from unoriginality feeds into an anti-romanticist view of creative writing, which leads towards the possibility of writing from the self-subject as an o/Other. These points combine to form a strong argument for the knowledge-making ability of creative writing and a strong end to a meaningful book.

Inhabitation is the inhabitation of the writer within their work, their work within them and the reader within the process of the authors. It is the writer within the world, within a culture, within a language. For a subject such as creative writing, there is not a hierarchy of theory, experience and creativity that must be strictly followed, rather a synthesis of all to create a blend which is arguably the best method to understanding what it is we do. Hecq and Novitz have produced an exploration into creative writing that offers much to think about as a reader, whether a seasoned professional writer, academic or a beginning student, delivered in an enjoyable and refreshing compilation of writers who are respected voices in their field. Inhabitation has a welcome spot on the bookshelf of any writer who wishes to delve deeper into how creative writing places itself in and grows from culture, craft, technology, and more.



Simon-Peter Telford is a writer, playwright, poet and recent Honours graduate in Creative Writing through the University of South Australia. www.simonpetertelford.wordpress.com


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Vol 23 No 1 April 2019
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker