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Creative Writing / Critical Seeing

Image by Chase Yi

Creative Writing / Critical Seeing

Michael Hrebeniak

In The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), William James suggested that 'our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.' This seminar aims to mine those lesser documented regions by opening new expressive modes through writing and film, which deviate from the positivist or expository approaches associated with the academic discourse. The practice of writing is to be regarded here as being at one with the principle of literary experiment: a radical inquiry into the possibilities of mind and language, and, by implication, an exploration into the nature of difference and interdependence. To aid this we shall regard creative writing as an extension of critical reading and seeing. 


Students will be invited to move through a number of short literary exercises for emulation that will be subject to careful analysis in advance. Some of these orbit existing models, while others are freshly imagined; and they will be culled from the study of the methods, processes and techniques of a range of writers and artists that cut across time and discipline, and are as different from one another as Virginia Woolf, Basho, Frank O’Hara, Paul Cezanne, Gertrude Stein, Charles Olson, Hélène Cixous, Amiri Baraka, Patrick Keiller, Charlie Parker, Raymond Queneau, Hannah Höch, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jackson Pollock and Allen Ginsberg. 

We will consider the critical, theoretical and creative implications of their works, allowing participants to combine challenging ideas with a commitment to the creative act of writing. This is intended to prompt further exploration, emphasise the need to cancel the fixed ‘self’ and multiply identity, welcome-in the possibilities of chance and the unconscious, and embrace unfamiliar and international styles. The purpose is to increase the possibilities of the written act and introduce new ways of seeing that might productively feed into a student's more standard writing practice, whether personal, academic or creative. These lessons could then be applied to the making of a short film as a portfolio assignment. This will form a unique synthesis of creative and critical thinking in a single hybrid piece that responds to an issue, context or question raised by one or more of the writers or artists under appraisal.


No previous experience of creative writing or film-making is necessary - ‘Everyone is an artist, naturally,’ wrote Comte de Lautréamont in 1864 - but students should be enthusiastic readers of literary texts in English, and have an interest in the interdisciplinary relationships of the arts. Access to a simple film camera, such as that within a smart phone, and access to an elementary editing suite, such as iMovie or Videopad, is desirable. The aim is to foster collaborative discussion and constructive criticism with regard to each completed exercise. 

Students might relish working their way through a selection of the following texts in advance of the seminar:

Allen, Donald, & Warren Tallman (eds.),

The Poetics of the New American Poetry (NY: Grove, 1973) 

Baraka, Amiri/LeRoi Jones,

The Reader, ed. William J. Harris (New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 1991) 

Benjamin, Walter, 

The Arcades Project (Boston: University of Harvard Press, 2002) Creeley, Robert,

The Collected Essays (Berkeley & LA: University of California Press, 1989)

Cage, John,

Silence: Lectures and Writings (Middletown CT: Wesleyan UP, 1961)

Chipp, Herschel B., ed., 

Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California, 1968

Cixous, Hélène, 

The Reader; ed. Susan Sellers (London: Routledge, 1994) 

Creeley, Robert,

A Sense of Measure (London: Calder & Boyars, 1972)

Cushman, Stephen, Jahan Ramazani, Clare Cavanagh, Paul Rouzer & Roland Greene (eds.),

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Priceton, NY: Princeton University Press, 2012)

Dawson, Fielding,

The Black Mountain Book (1970; revised edition Rocky Mount: North Carolina Wesleyan College, 1991) 

Ginsberg, Allen,

The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971 (San Francisco: City Lights, 1972)

Keiller, Patrick,

The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes (London: Verso, 2014) 

Kerouac, Jack, ‘Essentials of Spontaneous Prose’ & ‘Belief & Technique for Modern Prose’ (c.1958), in 

Good Blonde & Others (San Francisco: Grey Fox, 1993) 

Olson, Charles, 

‘Projective Verse’ (1950) in Selected Writings, ed. Robert Creeley (NY: New Directions, 1966)

Selected Poems, ed. Robert Creeley (Berkeley & LA: University of California, 1993) 

McClure, Michael,

Scratching the Beat Surface (London: Penguin, 1994)

Mirzoeff, Victor, ed.,

The Visual Culture Reader (Third Edition, London: Routledge, 2013) 

Plumwood, Val,

Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993)

Pound, Ezra,

The Cantos (London: Faber, 1954)

ABC of Reading (NY: New Directions, 1960) 

Richards, Mary Caroline,

Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, (Wesleyan University Press), 1964

Rosenberg, Harold,

'The American Action Painters’ in The Tradition of the New (NY: Horizon, 1960) 

Rothenberg, Jerome,

Pre-faces & Other Writings (NY: New Directions, 1981) Rothenberg, Jerome, & Diane Rothenberg (eds.), 

Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics (Berkeley & LA: University of California, 1983)

Seitz, William C.,

The art of assemblage (NY: MoMA, 1961)

Spellman, A.B.,

Four Lives in the Bebop Business (1966; reprinted NY: Limelight, 1985) 

Stein, Gertrude, 

How to Write (1931, reprinted NY: Dover, 2000) 

Stevens, John,

Search and Reflect (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985)

Strunk, William, & E.B. White, 

The Elements of Style (NY: MacMillan 1959) 

Tuffnell, Miranda and Chris Crickmay,

A Widening Field: Journeys in Body and Imagination (Alton: Dance Books, 2015) 

Waldman, Anne and Andrew Schelling, eds., 

Disembodied Poetics; Annals of the Jack Kerouac School (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1995)

Williams, William Carlos, 

Selected Essays (NY: New Directions, 1954)

Paterson (1963; reprinted NY: New Directions, 1995) 

Woolf, Virginia, 

The Common Reader (London: Hogarth, 1925)

To the Lighthouse (London: Grafton, 1927)

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