TEXT review

Rehearsal, adaptation and flow

review by Moya Costello


Nigel Krauth
Creative Writing and the Radical:
Teaching and Learning the Fiction of the Future
New Writing Viewpoints 13
Multilingual Matters, Bristol UK 2016
ISBN 9781783095926
Hb 240 pp GPB99.95


Nigel Krauth’s interest in digital narrative was apparent from the first issue of TEXT in its inclusion of his article, ‘Writing in Small Chunks?: Electronic Media and the Novelist’ (1997). Following on that, also in TEXT, Krauth (2000) rethought creative writing’s place in the academy, and, with Ross Watkins (2016), the writing of the scholarly article. He has now published Creative Writing and the Radical.

Krauth’s concerns in this text are a spindle of threads. He names the contemporary as the time for a new kind of writing (1). His book is written for the writer, from the writer’s point of view (3, 20). He gives an historical account of radical movements, and radical writing and publishing practices (3). For Krauth, ‘the most important thing we can teach creative writing students is an understanding of the value of the exegetical – of the need for writers to examine, analyze and articulate their writing process in the context of the discourse provided by what other writers and critical thinkers are doing and saying’ (205).

This historical coverage of Creative Writing and the Radical is comprehensive, and stimulating, and includes the Dada and Surrealist movements, to Eastgate’s early hypertext publications and more. Krauth covers radical uses of language (such as Gertrude Stein’s oeuvre), composition practices (such as collage, cut-ups, automatic writing, and constraints), publishing formats (such as the flipback® book and the app novel), and multiple media.

There is a curiously minimalist mention of Australian progenitors and practitioners of digital text. For the journal TEXT, which Krauth co-instigated and edits, has not ignored Australian projects, digital and experimental (see for example Zervos 2001; Costello 2005; Costello, Gibbs, Brooks and Prosser 2013). What comes to mind is the small, Australian, independent press Spineless Wonders which is producing print, ebooks, online supplements such as interviews, audio-visual outputs and performance – and VNS Matrix, Mez Breeze, Jenny Weight writing as geniwate@, Marion May Campbell, the sound poet Amanda Stewart, and various electronic text projects involving writers such as Linda Marie Walker. He does mention Komninos Zervos, and print-based writer Helen Garner’s short story ‘The Life of Art’. This latter is a model of nonlinear, fragmented text, for Krauth is very conscious of ‘feminist ideas’ seeking to ‘dismantle old hegemonic structures and replace them with matrix-like’ rhizomes (114).

Krauth sees radical creative-writing practice as a necessity. ‘[E]xperimental … styles … critique the limits of normative forms … by invoking the liberating and critical power of art’ (Sullivan [2012] qtd on page 192). Krauth deploys the term ‘radical’, giving, as a rigorous scholar, the history of the term in chapter 1. Radical writing has ‘innovation in mind’ (2); the writer setting out ‘to defy convention’ and to call into question ‘the accepted processes of writing and reading’ (2). He carefully notes, though, that the radical is also about disqualifying oneself from ‘popular acclaim and political approval’ (5). But Krauth writes, too, of ‘brave publishing houses’ who have ‘supported unconventional works’ for their cultural rather than monetary value (40).

The ‘radical’, for Krauth, is not unproblematic, because ever-changing technologies make the radical seem everyday. But it is also problematic because in the early twenty-first century, wide-ranging influences also include the conservative neoliberal ideologies of late capitalism, which thrive on instantaneous commodification, neutralising the transformative capacity of the ‘new’ , and the pervasiveness of postmodern aesthetics which, likewise, make the new too familiar already. Nevertheless, stability, and assured success, notes Krauth (46), are inimical to the new – which ought to be about a process of ongoing becoming.

Towards the end of his book, Krauth gives an overview of his own course, Radical Fictions –which similarly maps onto the contents of his book. As in the SCU experimental writing unit that I teach, Writing from the Edge, students are challenged. ‘[T]hey … learn to break all the rules they’ve been taught in writing classes before’ (205). Yet, in the end, my students say, as Krauth’s do, ‘they wish they had been allowed to do this course first, rather than last’ (205).

One of the most important messages in his book is that Krauth sees the systemic structural issues in the academy as problematic for creative writing (19-20). He picks out English departments as stymying change in creative writing. This is not necessarily so. My PhD in creative writing was done in an Australian sandstone university’s English department which had diversified not only into creative writing (ok, reluctantly) but also Media and Cultural Studies. My supervisor’s specialty was the Early Modern, alongside which she was pursuing an interest in electronic literature. We currently have no English department at Southern Cross University: the creative writing program functions as this for Education students, future English teachers, who require literary studies, and because the SCU writing program believes writing students need to be readers.

Writing is traditionally seen, as Krauth notes, as an individual practice, though I have never seen it as this. Clearly, the multimodal requires collaborative production. Hence, Krauth predicts that creative writing in the future will be in multidisciplinary or multiarts sites in the academy (195).

Responses of discomfort to the experimental and multimodal are noted by Krauth: the stated pleasure of the silent, imaginative experience of print which is still part of our panoply. For discomfort, Krauth recommends ‘negative capability’, allowing yourself ‘to be caught up in the rollercoaster ride’ of the digital multimodal (39). And it may comfort detractors of the multimodal to know that publishers are aware that ‘devices’ are not ‘content’: they need authored works (183), and ‘book professionals’ are required to ‘provide services’ for any technology (187).

But at a time of great change in the literary industry, physical bookshops are sustaining themselves, while new ones are also opening (Sealy 2016). Ebooks are not making all that much profit for publishers and writers, while hard copies are still in demand (Takolander 2005). Writing by hand is still in focus (Bushak 2015).

Krauth quotes Jane Murray saying in 1997 that ‘[t]here are probably not two more difficult things to predict in this world than the future of art and the future of software’ (197) – this is perhaps another reason to accept climate-change scientists’ predictions for the future of the planet.


Works cited



Dr Moya Costello teaches Writing at Southern Cross University, in the School of Arts and Social Sciences.


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Vol 20 No 2 October 2016
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Reviews editor: Linda Weste