TEXT

The Journal of the Australian Association of Writing Programs

 

Letters to the Editor

 

from Stephen Muecke

Dear Editors,


Anyone know what happened to "fictocriticism" as a name for this [Creative Non Fiction] kind of writing; would have thought it was a candidate, given it is an Australian label, and given publications like the
Kerr/Nettelbeck book: The space between : Australian women writing fictocriticism?

 


from Heather Kerr

Dear Editors,

I have read Eva Sallis's article and was taken aback by the way in which she characterised fictocriticism. In particular, I'm wondering if her version of what fictocriticism is/does has already prevailed in the
editorial policy of the journal. What's happened to fictocriticism? Is it (absurdly) to become the case that TEXT won't publish work governed by "a critical purpose and a specialist readership"? I'm being facetious here, but it seems important for readers to know what that policy is, as finding places to publish fictocriticism is not easy, despite the increasing visibility of the category.

"A critical purpose and a specialist readership" is in fact the only definition of fictocriticism that Sallis ventures, relying on an assertion that "criticism is different from fiction" (which is not really useful as a formulation), and a geometric paradigm of discursive borders, edges and other versions of limit thinking: "fictocriticism xperiments with the perimeter of academic writing". Finally, the essay revisits a post-romantic version of art as "transformation and realisation". "Art" turns out to be the magic ingredient that enables an overcoming or
transcendence of the alleged boundary between fictocriticsm (mired in its drab, worldy and arcane institutional context) and research fiction that "goes well beyond it".

Pleasure and its dialectical other, didacticism, seem to be synthesised in research fiction, according to the argument, but I'm sceptical of how this version is different from "infotainment", a category familiar to cultural
studies and media studies analysis. It would appear that "art" is the value-adding that, by virtue of its high-cultural associations, adds distinction to a species of "infotainment" and turns it into research fiction. (I'm thinking here particularly of Greg Ulmer's work for the Florida Research Ensemble on webwriting and the critical appropriation/deployment of infotainment in fictocritical contexts.) Perhaps the difference is the underlying assumption that through imaginative engagement with a research fiction we achieve "sympathy", the
high-cultural/literary alternative to "info"? That's something I would like to follow up.

Sallis's formulation remains strongly within the post-romantic (Kantian critical) aesthetic. It seems to me quite unhelpful to find excellence in research fiction in the degree to which it hides itself: "the idea itself
has to be transformed and realised [so] that it is all but invisible" (it seems inevitable to me to compare "realism", "continuity editing", immersive electronic environments, etc with this urge to invisibility of
the technology). Successful research fiction will masquerade. It will masquerade as the other to itself; it will seem "popular" and "egalitarian". It will seem to be the second of each of the binary partners familiary represented as high (but actually not very high)/low (but actually not very low), difficult/easy, painful/pleasurable. But the truth that the academic creative writer knows is that it's "painful" and
"difficult" and depends on the "support of the academy" (the sometime preserver/home of "high culture"). This would suggest that the research fiction writer is in a curious condition of disavowal.

It seems important, too, to explore the degree to which creative writing courses engage in a similar kind of misrecognition; or should I say the clients of such courses engage in it? It is no accident that Sallis uses a
post-romantic aesthetico-ethical model of the author, "art" and "fiction". The aspirations of some client groups to artist/hero status are well known, but this is manifested in a disciplinary setting that might also treat
creative writing as so many skills to be mastered through a kind of Horatian(?) mimicry/imitation (not necessarily a "good" or a "bad thing"). I am wondering how much research fiction as a category is designed to
appeal to the creative writing student for whom the institutional settings and protocols are uncongenial?

But I think that what worries me the most about this formulation of research fiction as aesthetically and politically superior to fictocriticism is that it has the effect of setting off to one side (in fact encrypting within institutionalised "academic theory", for example) the "lessons", though I would say the "monstrous pleasures" of post-structuralist thought and its attendant writing practices. It might also be argued that research fiction would be uncomfortable with any kind of textual product that was self-reflexive and resistant, though I suspect
as a student of literary Modernism this isn't what Sallis would mean. Maybe that's what this research fiction/fictocriticism binary opposition repeats yet again; an under-defined but demonised "postmodernism" (that "ordinary" people can't understand) set over against the healthy public-spirited work of a version of "modernism" (that has been naturalised as "literary fiction" in which stylistic difficulty is ok as long as the "idea" is veiled by it). Clearly, I think it is quite unhelpful to set these two against one another in this way.

I would hope that TEXT will publish fictocritical work that is addressed to particular ideas and specialist audiences, work that tells and shows, to use Sallis's terms, and that reflects on the conditions of its (mainly
institutional) possibility. Research fiction turns out to be doing all those things too (being dependent on the academy for "support", being practiced in post-graduate creative writing courses) but, according to
Sallis, the product of those courses will have to disavow its locatedness, disguise its ideas, and remain within post-romantic intellectual traditions. In the end, I think this model of research fiction is the non-threatening face of fictocriticism, asserting continuities with popularly held, if not strictly common-sense understandings of art, creative writing, research, the academy and critical discourse. Obviously I think it's a retrogressive move only if TEXT gives up on debating these ideas in favour of research fiction: it would seem important to have a forum where the differing functions of various research and writing protocols can be debated. Research fiction is clearly market driven (this is an important aspect of Sallis's argument), but so is fictocriticism; let's look at the different conTEXTs for these practices but let's not presume, too, that creative writing courses can't/shouldn't teach fictocriticism, or reflect on its aims and methods.


We should be exploring the conditions of possibility for the fictocritical effect in a number of differing contexts. We need to look more closely at the spectrum that emerges from Sallis's formulation: in the context of
creative writing courses the fictocritical effect is the dead-hand of "theory", "critical reasoning" and an uncongenial kind of "laying bare the device" of ideas being put to work (in short, the intrusion of disciplinarity). In the context of qualitative research in the humanities and social science disciplines the fictocritical effect is that which disrupts disciplinarity, whether because it refuses to theorise, works with partial and situated knowledges, or because it is personal and demotic in tone (in short, the intrusion of "imagination" and "creativity").


It's not hard to see the Enlightenment foundations for these effects. The creative writing student who is asked to write an exegesis as supplement to the literary TEXT is forced to combine the analytic, criticial, reason(s)
that are anathema to the (post-)romantic model of the imagination at work. (I am nonetheless conscious that my research into the concept of the imagination and its currency in some kinds of contemporary models of
writing might change my view on that.) Another way to think of this is to see how the disciplines are about techniques of reading: "writing down" and then a "writing up" the results of specific reading practices. The
creative writing student is, to state the obvious, engaged in learning about particular writing practices. When creative writing comes into the academy it needs "taming": one could say that the much maligned exegesis
forces the creative writing student to attach an example of the results of their disciplined reading to something that is its "other" - writing (if that doesn't sound too demonising).


What interests me about Sallis's model of research fiction is that it produces a compromise whereby the disciplinarities of reading are incorporated into the practices of writing. No longer would the student be
required to append something, "laying bare the device" of "ideas" (figuratively, the wound that blights the creative writing TEXT). Instead, creative writing would have absorbed these "ideas" into itself: the scar
tissue will be hardly visible. I will leave to another time the ways in which this seems a problematic model. And I will leave to another time the persistence of various understandings of the category "imagination" in
qualitative research, fictocriticism and creative writing discourse. It goes without saying, I hope, that I anticipate that TEXT will publish work across the spectrum of practices attached to the category of "writing" and that we can continue to explore the ways in which creative writing is situated in the academy.


 

from Donna Lee Brien

Dear Editors,

The AAWP (the professional body of Australian Writing Programs) is running an exciting new writing competition to coincide with the AAWP Writing 2000 Conference on June 23-26, 2000, on the Gold Coast.

To celebrate Creative Nonfiction as one of the 3 main strands of the conference, the organisers have instituted a competition to find and publish some of the best student writing in creative nonfiction.

The AAWP Writing 2000 Student Creative Nonfiction Awards:

Section 1: The Griffith University Postgraduate Student Prize in Creative Nonfiction
Winner: $200
Runner-up: $100
Prizes include publication in an on-line form, and an invitation to read at the Writing 2000 Conference.

Word Limit: 800-1,000 words, previously unpublished (references not to count in word count)

Subject: Open, but work must be in genre of "Creative Nonfiction".

Submission Format: must be submitted in typed, double spaced, hard copy printed on one side of the page plus on disk using Microsoft Word. Prize winners will be requested to email story for publication.

Eligibility: Open to postgraduate students (Honours or above) enrolled in an Australian University writing course f/t or p/t in 1999 and/or 2000. Proof of enrolment must be included with entry.

Section 2: The QUT Undergraduate Student Prize in Creative Nonfiction
Winner: $200
Runner-up: $100
Prizes include publication in an on-line form, and an invitation to read at the Writing 2000 Conference.

Word Limit: 800-1,000 words previously unpublished (references not to count in word count)

Subject: Open, but work must be in genre of "Creative Nonfiction".

Submission Format: must be submitted in typed, double spaced, hard copy printed on one side of the page plus on disk using Microsoft Word. Prize winners will be requested to email story for publication.

Eligibility: Open to undergraduate students (up to and including third-year Bachelors level) enrolled in an Australian University writing course f/t or p/t in 1999 and/or 2000. Proof of enrolment must be included with entry.

IMPORTANT NOTES

One definition of Creative Nonfiction comes from Lee Guttkind in his The Art of Creative Nonfiction, John Wiley & Sons, NY, 1997. "Creative nonfiction differs from fiction because it is necessarily and scrupulously accurate and the presentation of information, a teaching element to readers, is paramount. Creative nonfiction differs from traditional reportage, however, because balance is unnecessary and subjectivity is not only permitted but encouraged."

Closing date for all entries 7th April, 2000

Entries to be submitted to:
Writing 2000 Student Creative Nonfiction Awards
c/- School of Media and Journalism
Queensland University of Technology
Gardens Point Campus
GPO 2434
Brisbane Q 4001

Make sure name, postal and email addresses are clearly attached to all entries, plus proof of student status. All entries to be clearly marked with section 1: postgraduate prize or section 2: undergraduate prize.

Include stamped self addressed envelope if you require return of entries.


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TEXT
Vol 4 No 1 April 2000
http://www.griffith.edu.au/school/art/TEXT/
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady
TEXT@mailbox.gu.edu.au