The exegesis is a hot topic at TEXT. A Google search for 'creative
exegesis' has articles in TEXT coming up in the first few entries.
This issue of TEXT introduces a Special
Issue on the exegesis - the best of the papers given at the University
of Ballarat symposium Illuminating the Exegesis, held in March
2003. As part of the special issue, we have compiled a list of some 30
papers, previously printed in TEXT, which deal with the exegesis
and the associated debate about research in the creative arts.
Much has been written on the topic of the exegesis in creative writing
programs, and a good deal of the international literature has been printed
in TEXT. It is readily available. A scroll through the back issues
will reveal all manner of twists and turns in the ongoing debate.
And yet TEXT still receives papers from supervisors and research
higher degree students dealing in what by now can only be described as
'well-rehearsed statements'. They fall into two main categories. First
there is 'the eureka statement': I didn't want to do it, but now I
see it's worth it; or, from the supervisor new to the field: I
thought the exegesis was a cop-out mini theory paper, but now I see the
relevance of its focus. These are coupled with an equal number of
submissions which might be called 'the tantrum papers'. They are characterized
by sentences such as: the act of creation is its own research - there
isn't any need for an exegesis; or, I don't see the point and
it's got a funny name. Sadly we have all heard the jokes about the
word 'exegesis' (exit-genius, exit-Jesus, etc) many times.
These submissions avoid the debate and instead contribute to the noise.
Their statements are well-rehearsed but unfortunately not well-researched.
They display a paucity of knowledge about the existing discussion. Oddly,
they seem to be written from a point that ignores the basic research technique
of - As a first step, and before you make an uninformed statement, survey
the field. Often questioning or deriding the need for academic research,
or even personal praxis research, at the same time they seek publication
in a refereed academic journal. What lies behind this urge to put fingers
to keyboards before researching the field? What is the cause of the strange
desperation that grips the research student when newly confronted with
the exegesis? Is it that this kind of exegetical writing - the exegesis
on the exegesis - continues to be produced inevitably as more writing schools
bring research higher degrees on stream and go through the process of
developing from scratch their exegesis culture? But there is no longer
any excuse for this kind of noise; the early stages of the debate are
The exegesis, far from being new, sloppy in concept, or un-researched,
now has its own developing history and rigor. It is no longer a scary,
up-start genre. Those who see it as such perhaps would be advised to relax
into its mode and trace for themselves some of its historical antecedents.
Here's an interesting case in point. The Writing Program at Griffith
University now devotes Week 4 of the foundation undergraduate course (Effective
Writing) to the Exegesis. Within a month of starting university, students
confront the concept of the exegesis - the writer (or visual artist, or
musician, etc) writing about their own creative work.
These 'young' students cotton on straight away. They are already familiar
with the exegesis. It is part of their everyday lives, their entertainment.
They regularly spend time and pay money on the exegetical. Of course,
they don't necessarily realise this until the lecturer says:
'Did any of you see the Classic Albums series on TV recently?
You know, Metallica sitting around the mixing-desk telling about how they
made the Black Album, and so on?'
Several put up their hands. 'I bought the series on DVD,' one student
'So you paid for a bunch of exegeses,' the lecturer smiles.
The student nods in a newly self-aware way.
'And have any of you watched a film on DVD with the soundtrack switched
to the director's comments? Or the scriptwriter's comments?' the lecturer
Many of them agree they have done this.
'So you are big fans of the exegesis.' The lecturer smiles again.
There's a lot of nodding going on now.
'And how many have turned on the Sunday afternoon interview programs
where writers talk about their work? Or have been to a writers' festival
where writers are talking?'
Well, a couple of shy hands go up.
'But you know the kind of thing I mean?'
'Those writers are involved in exegetical activity,' the lecturer says.
'And the people who watch and listen to all these forms - TV, DVD, live
talks - are interested in the concept of the exegesis because it provides
insight into creative work.' And the lecturer goes on to talk about historical
origins, written forms of the exegesis in English literature, the current
debate in academic writing programs, and how important all this is to
a writing career these days.
It's so easy to introduce the idea early to students. At Griffith in
the writing major students write short exegetical pieces to accompany
folio submissions in their first year and, increasing in size, in second
and third year. So what began almost ten years ago as a fearful exercise
introduced at Honours level but still not comfortably dealt with in the
early stages of research higher degree activity, has now filtered down
through assessment in the undergraduate program to - as already said -
the fourth week of the academic career. There it follows hard on the heels
of introductions to the academic essay and the personal essay.
Introduced thus, as falling into the territory around and between the
notions of accuracy, authenticity and subjectivity/objectivity associated
with various forms of the essay genre, the exegesis finds a site of understanding
for students. For the lecturers, it is a valuable tool throughout undergraduate
progress to test the thinking that writing students do about their processes
and their products.
The Exegesis, like other forms of writing, is in a constant state of
change. This change is assisted by the ongoing debate, the ongoing research
into its form and purpose, and historical precedents.
Let the debate continue and the noise subside.