|University of South Australia|
A program evolves: relocating writing, relocating literary studies
At previous AAWP conferences and in articles in TEXT, I have described the development of the BA (Professional Writing and Communication) at the University of South Australia - a program in which students can pursue creative writing, technical and professional writing, editing and publishing, text studies, and studies in linguistics and sociolinguistics - studies framed by perspectives and knowledge drawn from the ethnography of communication, rhetorical practice, language study, research and practice of literacies and discourses in context. As part of this program we offer a sequence in Literary Practice. This paper focuses on this as a curriculum for the students of today and tomorrow - students who are members of the 'Net Generation' (Tapscott's term, 1998) or more particularly are what I term the 'M2 Generation' (note 1) - those who are able to work with multiple dynamic multimedia/ multimodal means of communication.
I discuss here the sequence and the way it is evolving, with a focus on rhetorical practice: the art and craft or 'Tekhne' of text production, reception and location, and with an emphasis on 'making' taking advantage of the 'M2' resources of a digital environment as central to addressing the tension between literary study and creative writing.
We know already that there is a different world order emerging - we know that the global, information-driven, socio-economic order will have an impact on our students of today and tomorrow in ways we perhaps can't anticipate. Yet, we need to attempt to shape an educational experience for them as readers, writers; as users of graphics, of words, of symbols, of technologies. Where and how does a writing program fit? What should a study of texts be about? How do these fit inside a revised English Studies/Communication/ Cultural Studies/ Writing/Creative Communication program? How do we relocate the creative and the critical in a curriculum for today and tomorrow? At the University of South Australia, we answer these questions in part with a sequence of studies in Literary Practice.
On our first day of class this term, I told you that insofar as I was concerned there were three possible things to be gained from a class in creative writing: the ability to become better, more discriminating readers; a greater capacity for truth-telling and with it the acceptance of hard truths from others; a greater respect for the difficulty of writing itself. (Bloomenthal 2001)
I have chosen to start this brief excursion into the remaking of the study of texts with quotations from several authors. There are links to be made between the provocative thoughts of the authors as expressed in the quotations that follow. The first from Michael Bloomenthal might provoke discussion on many fronts. However I use it here because he opens with the notion of writing students being taught to become 'discriminating readers' while also learning the demanding craft of writing.
Next, I move to the issue of 'the book' as produced object as neatly described by Adrian Johns:
Any printed book is, as a matter of fact, both the product of one complex set of social and technological processes and also the starting point for another. In the first place, a large number of people, machines, and materials must converge and act together for it to come into existence at all. However exactly they do so will inevitably affect its finished character in a number of ways. In this sense a book is the material embodiment [of] if not a consensus, then at least a collective consent...
Here Johns focuses on the nature of the book - the printed text and the context and makers of that text - which he sees as a product which is made by and which constructs a community of makers - thus the book is seen as a nexus for many contributors and contexts in the world's work.
George Landow allows me to take us into issues about the impact of electronic texts and the relationship between the printed text and the digital. We are prompted to see the need for a critical theory - that is both for reading the electronic text and for understanding the impact of the technologies on the making of the printed text:
one task for those concerned with literary and critical theory involves developing new forms of linked electronic discourse. In future, when writing on the net becomes increasingly important, on-line theory and practice may well predominate, though if the coming of print technology in the age of Gutenberg offers a relevant pattern, one can expect that old and new information technologies will exist side by side for a long time to come. If that situation comes to pass, one can also expect that, like video and film, hypertext will have an impact on materials written for print presentation. (Landow 1994: 40)
He then suggests that, 'Meanwhile, the linked digital world offers a powerful means of understanding by comparison the contemporary and past cultures of book and manuscript' (1994: 40)
Staying close to this theme, Roger Chartier advances the discussion as he covers issues raised by Johns (and particularly by Landow and others including Richard Lanham) and asserts that 'the electronic text revolution is at once a revolution in the technology of the production and reproduction of texts, a revolution in the medium of writing, and a revolution in reading practices'. Like Johns he sees a provocative but possibly fruitful coexistence between different text forms:
In the decades to come, however, there will most probably prevail a coexistence - not necessarily a peaceful one - between these two book forms [codex and electronic] and the three modes of inscribing and communicating texts: manuscript writing, printed publication, electronic texts. (Chartier 2001)
And he suggests that the state of coexistence will have an impact on how readers read and how knowledge will be constructed:
This probable coexistence requires that we think about the new ways in which fields of knowledge will be constructed and about the reading modalities enabled by the electronic book... It has been said that "form has an effect on meaning". Electronic books thus reorganize the way in which we rely on sources to demonstrate arguments. Writing and reading this new type of book necessitates the transformation of the criteria we use for evaluating the credibility of any discourse, particularly learned discourse. (Chartier 2001)
Discourse, text, medium and function are thus reordered by the electronic text - the 'book' as 'book' is challenged, says Chartier:
It is thus the very notion of "book" which is put in question by electronic texts. In printed culture, one tends to associate a type of discourse with a type of text and its intended use. The order of discourse is thus based on the material medium, be it letter, newspaper, journal, book or archive. This is not the case in the digital world where all texts regardless of their nature, are read in the same medium (the computer screen) and in the same forms (generally those decided on by the reader). A "continuum" is thus created in which no difference remains between the various textual genres or repertoires, now similar in appearance and equivalent in authority. (Chartier 2001)
Richard Lanham suggests possibilities for new ways of thinking about literary creation and literary study as the technological shifts occur. His is a most optimistic statement:
Technological change, then is forcing disciplined literary study to look outward to the changing literacy in the world around us. If the codex book is being revolutionized, surely we must ponder this process...
This is territory that we as teachers of writing and creative communication must explore. Thus the links between the multimedia/multimodal world in which our students are increasingly engaged and the curriculum in creative communication that might evolve to encompass both the creative and the critical in literary studies and writing are worthy of our attention.
In a recent paper in TEXT, Marcelle Freiman pursues an agenda with which many of us are in sympathy (Freiman 2001). Her comments also resonate with the work of Kevin Brophy and others in the company of writing and lit teachers who have advocated a closer integration of creative writing and literature study in Universities (Brophy 1998). Freiman considers the split between Lit Studies and Creative Writing commenting on the constraints of traditional reading practices:
in teaching English, interpretative skills are developed, the mode of engagement with the texts being reading and hermeneutic analysis, and learning is demonstrated, and assessed, in the writing of critical research essays, the requirements of which are determined by the frame. Thus reading and writing functions are prescribed - only particular kinds of reading and writing enter the frame. Traditional reading practices confirm that analytically supported and rational readings are given priority, following models of scholarly academic writing and research. (Freiman 2001)
She asserts the contribution which creative writing can make to the way students read and respond to texts as an antidote to the traditional hermeneutic analytical reading and writing required as the response to texts in English studies:
bringing creative writing into the classroom shifts the focus to literary praxis, so that the student becomes the writer.
Brophy in the same vein poses the problem of how creative writing in a literature course relates to the critical essay - does it 'illuminate the critical' or does it exist in its own right or does it emerge as a hybrid form? (Brophy 1998: 228).
Of interest here is first the link to be made between the possibilities offered by creative endeavour and critical reading and interpretive practice, and second the way this might be enhanced by the possibilities offered by the digital and electronic media. Thus new modes - digital and electronic modes - offer the possibility of hybrid forms that perhaps provoke an analogous illumination of form and function and that allow complementary and dynamic exchange of the creative and the critical. These are threads that I am attempting explore with my colleagues as we reformulate the study of literature within the undergraduate program at University of South Australia.
The School of Communication, Information and New Media has not had a Lit studies program for the past eight years. Instead, we have operated a Writing program within a school firmly embedded in the transdisciplinary New Humanities. The writing program has been a site for the integration of studies in the cultural production of texts, with theoretical insights drawn from the ethnography of communication, new rhetorical studies, linguistics and sociolinguistics, on literacies (reading and writing practices), so that our focus has been on the production and reception of texts as both critical and creative - that is, Tekhne - the productive arts, a reasoned habit of mind in making something - in action.
The writing program focuses on both reading and writing - taking a creative/critical approach including a focus on Textual Intervention, a way of writing to intervene with original texts to create a new text but also thus by the intervention to read the other text/s differently (Pope 1994). We redeveloped a literary studies sequence to complement the Writing program, drawing on existing courses in the Writing program as well as developing new courses to create a coherent sequence of studies. This sequence in Literary Practice allows for the literary praxis to which Freiman refers. However we intend that it will also take into account many of the points made by the other authors I have cited.
What does the Literary Practice sequence look like and why?
The School of Communication, Information and New Media has been engaged in a discussion about the future of undergraduate education. We are aware that our students are the beginning of the Net Generation - a term coined by Tapscott to describe the generation that has grown up with a once unimagined familiarity with the digital environment. This group of students has access now to an increasingly diverse and dynamic range of technologies and modes of creative expression - they are embedded in a digital, electronic and media environment in which they are able to create/make/construct texts and artefacts at will. These are what I choose to think of as more than the Net Generation; they are the 'M2 generation' - able to indulge in multiple ways in communicating in the multimedia/multimodal world.
We do not have to seek too far or too hard to find ample evidence of this all around us. Thus, a newspaper article with the heading 'Making a creative noise in cyberspace' describes self-styled 'creatives' who are neither artists nor writers but something other who 'express themselves through creative writing, photography, music, journalism, Web design, animation, performance, airbrushing, drawing, design, painting, printmaking, new media, book creation and more'. These are the 'M2 Generation':
They don't call themselves artists - "artist " is so last millennium - and their forum is not a trendy urban gallery displaying immaculately hung and evenly spaced works of art. Instead, these "creatives" toil mostly behind closed bedroom doors, and some unfathomable space called the World Wide Web, where frames are computer monitors and their audience could be anyone, anywhere in the world, who has access to one. (Heinrich 2001)
If, as Millie Lawson, one of the organisers of the web art space Noise described in the article, says,
'Instead of pasting their photographs into a scrapbook, hiding their personal symposiums under their pillow and only dreaming of being able to voice their political points of view, the new generation of technically savvy, media-minded Australians are building personal art spaces, publishing houses, and online zines (magazines)' (Heinrich 2001),
then our task as builders of university curriculum is to acknowledge their skills and interests and go on from there. The sequence we are developing in Literary Practice as a major within the Writing and Creative Communication program at University of South Australia aims to do just this.
What theoretical territory do we mine as we create the Literary Practice
sequence? Why 'Practice'? What does it mean?
If the focus on is on the making - thus on the design, the Tekhne - then the reading will be of a different order. The creative and the critical will be dynamically at work; the student reader/writer might be the 'craftartist' (Mishler's term, 1999) in print, material, electronic text or in a combination of them all. The creative/critical/reflective replaces the hermeneutic but allows for the use of the accumulated ways of reading that once positioned the reading of Literary texts in English Departments.
Not only do we establish classroom activities that encourage such creative approaches to texts but also to the assessment assignments so that we seek a creative remaking of a text or we ask for a Poster presentation or a Performance presentation using multimedia, or a presentation in which writing and visual text are combined in a made or even sculpted object as a way of examining and re-presenting the students' reading critical response to text. We hope to extend this further as we develop our own confidence in the new technologies. But what we know is that our students in many instances are far in advance of us in this.
As an illustration of possibilities, we might look at a piece of work
produced by a student in the course Shakespeare Reworked. My
colleague Paul Skrebels comments on the course:
Given the students' own immersion in global technoculture, the major focus tends to be on the place consistently found for Shakespeare in the mass media. However, the course encourages students to contrast modes of production and reception through history and across cultures, and to reproduce and re-present elements of the Shakespeare canon in their own ways and for their own purposes. (Skrebels 2001)
As with many of the other courses in the Literary Practice sequence, students engage in processes of Textual Intervention - playing with a text, rewriting it, remaking it, performing it, re-producing it in different modes, forms and media. They engage in a 'literary practice' that positions them differently as critical and creative readers, as well as 'creatives' - manipulators of multimedia/multimodes of production engaged in Tekhne. They take advantage of current technologies in resourceful and imaginative ways. Thus Kathryn Hummel remade/reworked/recreated a scene from Much Ado About Nothing in SMS messaging language. She comments on how she began:
In reworking the beginning of scene 1 in the second act of Much Ado About Nothing, I have attempted to solve the problem of making Shakespeare's work significant for my generation, by presenting the text in a way with which they can identify. I first got the idea of shifting Shakespeare to a new medium, that of mobile phones when my tutor mentioned reinventing Shakespeare for yuppies (Hummel 2001)
Then citing a newspaper article in which the SMS messaging system was described as being part of young people's lingo and something that threatened the older generation and more traditional expectations of language use, she notes, 'Mobile phones and SMS seemed a very appropriate way of imparting Shakespeare to my chosen audience.'
At the level of the practical - the decisions about character and situation and so on - Kathryn chose to create a humorous scene at a nightclub where two young people, B and her gay male friend Tony, engage in a dialogue:
I selected the particular scene from Much Ado About Nothing because the beginning reminded me of the way girls gossip about guys they think are hot or not so hot. Because of my medium, I had to convert the conversation between three different characters into a dialogue, which meant I had to choose which characters would stay and which would go: I converted Beatrice to B and Antonio to Tony.
At the theoretical level she noted (drawing on an article by Davis, 1999) :
I wanted to find more ways of addressing the "Feministpschoanalyticalqueerhistoricistnewcriticalculturalmaterial postcolonial factor" of Shakespeare in modern society. Thus, in my version, Beatrice's character remains relatively the same and still decries marriage and men in general. Tony on the other hand, is a homosexual and is, in his own words, "a bit of a slut". (Hummel 2001)
And at the practical level of writing in SMS, which she had to investigate and learn, she discovered a link to the language of Shakespeare:
While searching SMS dictionaries on the Internet, I came across a site called, "Freespeling.com (with one el)" [Wade 2001: 1] in attempting to justify his experiment in post-modern spelling, Wade encourages readers to remember "the great freespelers: Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth" Shakespeare was a "freespeler" , and the "abreviations [sic] of Text messaging" are according to Wade an example of modern "freespeling" [Wade 2001: 2]. (Hummel 2001)
In concluding the exegetical paper that accompanied her creative text she reflects:
It would take a far greater writer than myself to create the same "highly suggestive and semantically complex" patterns in SMS text that arise in Shakespeare (Davis 1999: 22) but text messaging does not have to be merely functional. I have attempted to infuse some sort of rhythm in the SMS version of Much Ado About Nothing, for example, B's line: "2day 2Nite 2Moro he is pi$d. IMBluv (TIC)"...
A taste of her text is to be found in Appendix A below (note 2). When read alongside the original Shakespearian text, the new text can be seen as a delightful 'remaking' in contemporary lingo as well as in character, context and situation.
Here we have a student of the M2 Generation engaged in Literary Practice and specifically in Tekhne - very particularly in the productive arts, and the reasoned habit of mind in making something. This piece exemplifies creative and critical practice. It also reveals to us some of the possibilities now available to our students as 'creatives' of the M2 generation.
Thus, we turn to what we might do as we engage students with texts. We need to change what is expected in student assignments. We can no longer continue with the traditional practices. As Freiman argues:
although post-colonial responses to the domination of English have transformed the canon, introducing local literatures and post-colonial theory, as have the changes brought into the English discipline by feminism, Marxism, critical theory, cultural studies and creative writing, the basic hierarchical infrastructure remains in the perpetuation of traditional reading practices. These subjects continue to be dominated by literary canons which although reformulated (e.g. the Australian canon, a canon of women's writing), still require the teaching of literature as the interpretation of texts which are selected within paradigms of ideology and social control, even when these paradigms are shifting. (Frieman 2001)
The paradigms are shifting and being redrawn by technologies as well as by theoretical positionings. There is surely less room for the dominant literary canons in this new world of changing modalities. The world of electronic/multimedia technologies pushes the writer with words to work with more than words - to work with space, optical objects, interactive processes. The writer becomes a maker of optical objects. The writer has to be truly a rhetorical reader so that rhetorical reader is a maker of a kind.
If you reformulate studies of texts as Literary Practice what and where is the starting point? First, in Literary Practice we expect students to read as if for 'textual intervention' and to write from this perspective as well. They are invited to respond to texts creatively and critically with words and image and thus to 'read' the text in different ways.
Next, we extend the idea and ask that Making/Design or Tekhne and the productive arts take centre stage. In this case the student becomes a re-maker of the text - a reader but also a writer of text. The student can thus become a reader in a particular way and engage in reading that is: ' like writing an invigorating, dialogic, imaginative act of composition' (Sietz 1993: 155). The imperative to write and read and construct text or respond to text using whatever textual or multimodal/multimedial resources are available changes both reading and writing practices. The response is likely to be intertextual/intermedial/intergraphical/dialogic.
Writing, as Sharples argues, becomes a particular form of creative design. Design is thus 'a conscious and creative communication with and through materials to achieve a human effect' (Sharples 1999: 90). The writer anticipates the reader not only with language but also in terms of visual appearance and the physical form of text.
This is an idea Roth also deals with in discussing the use of models in design learning environments such as in engineering: designing is a social process - 'a pervasive human activity whenever objects are created or arranged for people to use' (Roth 2001: 212).
Here, designing does not merely have a social aspect, but is a complex activity in which many different entities and constraints come to bear in each design context. These constraints include material, social, historical, political, psychological and economic constraints that are salient to the decision-making agents (including individuals, groups, entire firms, and agencies). This literature therefore points out two important dimensions of design and designing. First, designing is a heterogeneous process in which equally heterogeneous tools, materials, artifacts, people, and agencies are mixed, associated, and woven together. Second, designing involves human beings who act in worlds structured by their experiences, lifeworlds, rather than in a world with a fixed and unique situation definition [Agre and Horswill, 1997]. (Roth 2001: 212)
For the writer in an electronic age the act of reading becomes a differently demanding and integrated part of the creative process. But the writer also becomes very particularly aware of the reader as receiver of multimodal texts. What this means is the need for a critical theory that takes into account the interaction between the creative process of writing and that of reading. More than this what we need to encourage is literary praxis through making that utilizes a full range of tools and media as the means for being engaged in the production and reception of texts.
In 1986, Richard Lanham wrote about what a humanities curriculum should be. The humanities curriculum, says Lanham, should become:
a work of post-modern art, unstable, unfinished, interactive, not a certified canon of revealed cultural truth but a participatory drama in which the student must take part, a drama which is set on a stage but not set in concrete, with dialogue which is there to revise and a plot which licenses us to collaborate with chance - all these together aiming to teach not only knowledge but the way knowledge is held. (Lanham 1986: 141)
His words are pertinent today. Engaging in Literary Practice with Tapscott's 'Net Generation' or what I think of as the M2 Generation, as we can see demonstrated in Kathryn Hummel's work, is the challenge for us all. As we work with our students the curriculum in practice (particularly a curriculum in Literary Practice) should be an unstable art, and one which allows for the kind of collaboration and dialogue that allows for the emergence of a drama of chance and surprise.
(1) [Professor Woods has written 'M-squared' here,
i.e. a capital 'M' followed by a small-font '2' raised a half-line. The
formatting for TEXT is unable to reproduce this mathematical
symbol. With apologies - eds.] Return to article
Agre, P. & Horswill, I. (1997) 'Lifeworld Analysis'. Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research 6: 111-145. Return to article
Bloomenthal, M. (2001) 'I teach you, not love you'. The Australian, HES 17/10/01. Return to article
Brophy, K. (1998) Creativity: Psychoanalysis, Surrealism, and Creative Writing. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Return to article
Chartier, R. (2001) 'Readers and Readings in the Electronic Age'. <http://www.text-e.org/conf/index.cfm?fa=printeable&ConfText_ID=5> [Accessed 24 /10/01]. Return to article
Davis, Lloyd. (1999) 'Shakespeares: Critical/Cultural/Multiple'. English in Australia 125: 14-25. Return to article
Freiman, M. (2001) 'Crossing the Boundaries of the Discipline: A Post-colonial Approach to Teaching Creative Writing in the University', TEXT Vol 5 No 2 October <http://www.griffith.edu.au/school/art/text/oct01/freiman.htm> [Accessed 6/11/2001]. Return to article
Heinrich, K. (2001) 'Making a creative noise in cyberspace'. The Age 29 October. Return to article
Hummel, K. (2001) 'Much Ado About Nothing: The SMS Version'. Assignment written for the course Shakespeare Reworked. School of Communication, Information and New Media, University of South Australia. Return to article
Johns, A. (1998) The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Return to article
Landow, G. (1994) 'What's a Critic to Do?: Critical Theory in the Age of Hypertext'. In G. Landow (ed). Hypertext Theory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. Return to article
Lanham, R. (1986) 'The Rhetorical Paideia: The
Curriculum as a Work of Art.' College English 48: 132-41. Return
Mishler, E. (1999) Storylines: Craftartists' Narratives of Identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Return to article
Pope, R. (1994) Textual Intervention. London: Routledge. Return to article
Roth, W-M. (2001) 'Modeling design as situated and distributed process'. Learning and Instruction 11: 211-239. Return to article
Sharples, M. (1999) How We Write: writing as creative design. London: Routledge. Return to article
Sietz, J. (1993) 'A rhetoric of reading'. In Andrews, R (ed). Rebirth of Rhetoric: Essays in Language, Culture and Education. London: Routledge. Return to article
Skrebels, P. (2001) Personal commiunication. School of Communication, Information and New Media, University of South Australia. Return to article
Tapscott, D. (1998) Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill. Return to article
Claire Woods is Professor, Communication and Writing, in the School of Communication Information and New Media, at the University of South Australia. In 2000, with members of the Professional Writing and Communication teaching team, David Homer, Ruth Trigg, Paul Skrebels and Mia Stephens, she won the Australian Award for University Teaching in Humanities and the Arts, and the Prime Minister's Award as University Teachers of the Year. She is a member of the executive for AAWP and the National Creative Writing Research Archive. She is the Chief Judge of the Max Harris Literary Awards and has had a long association with the Penola Festival Writers' Weekend.
Vol 6 No 2 October 2002
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady