Saturday, 1 June 2019, 10.15-18.30, National Centre for Writing, Norwich

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This summit marks the formal inauguration of a collaboration between UEA and IES on the ‘creative-critical’, to involve a series of work-shops and colloquia over the coming years, and intended to lead the conversation about this crucial emerging field in literary studies. There will be four plenary speakers – Robert Hampson (Royal Holloway), Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes), Maria Fusco (Northumbria University), and Sarah Jackson (Nottingham Trent) – who will explore different dimensions of the ‘creative-critical’. This will be followed by a series of readings by creative-critical authors – Brian Dillon (Royal College of Art), Tiffany Atkinson (UEA), Preti Taneja (Warwick), and Mathelinda Nabugodi (Newcastle).

‘If so large a part of creation is really criticism, is not a large part of what is called “critical writing” really creative?’, asked T. S. Eliot in ‘The Function of Criticism’. The last decade or so has seen a steady erosion of any sharp distinction between the ‘creative’ and the ‘critical’, and of the borders marked out by each of these not wholly satisfactory terms. Can criticism itself aspire to being creative? Does creative writing have a critical force? Or should we dispense with these terms altogether?

At the institutional level, the teaching of creative writing is expanding swiftly across British universities, at BA, MA, and PhD level, and with it ‘creative writers’ are ensconced within university departments, their work becoming classified and evaluated as research. New BA, MA and PhD programmes across the UK describe themselves as involving a focus on the ‘creative-critical’, raising questions such as: What might it mean for a novel, a poem, or a play, to be ‘practice-based research’, or to form part of a PhD asking critical or intellectual questions? And how does the act of critical understanding feed creative writing? How can students at all levels be taught criticism in a way that enriches and is enriched by creative practice, so that the two sides of departments of literature are drawn together?

Meanwhile, many critics, writers, and academics are becoming more emboldened to express their frustrations with the protocols, languages, and forms of academic criticism that developed after the Second World War, and which have become the norm of literary response within the academy. They complain of what Charles Bernstein calls ‘criticism’s blindness to the meaning of its forms’, and the enormous difficulty faced by critics writing in fixed inherited forms, languages, and voices who wish to describe the specific aesthetic qualities of a work of art and the individual emotional encounter of the reader with the work.

Such critics can point to a range of models: the traditions of imitation, parody, and re-writing which stem from Renaissance humanism; the literary and art essay which preceded the emergence of academic criticism, and has thrived alongside it, as practiced, brilliantly, by Hazlitt or Lamb or Woolf Lawrence or Sontag; works in the German Romantic model of the fragment by Schlegel or Benjamin or Adorno; French post-structuralist adventures by Barthes, Cixous, and Derrida; writings by poets such as Maureen McClane, Anne Carson, Peter Gizzi, and Denise Riley; and by prose writers such as Benjamin Friedlander, Ali Smith, and Geoff Dyer. A number of presses have arisen to publish such work, among them Beyond Criticism, and the associated website.