Are you guilty of playing it safe? Of sticking to tried and tested methods of writing, researching, thinking? I know I am.

Write Dangerously

However the way to discover new things is to think outside the box, to challenge conventions and to get go a little bit experimental!

In the past I have talked about software I’ve downloaded, tactics I’ve tried, thoughts I’ve had, mind mapping, even blogging – all of these are my way of trying to find fame, fotune, a wealthy husband, notoriety, success, media attention  a new way to succeed in a very traditional field, that of Literary Criticism.

Yesterday’s post about lacking originality was another way of trying to find a pathway to something new – even when you feel there is nothing left to find.

It is very hard to be innovative when studying something like literature. But when you  analyse literature to any degree you are immediately confronted with writers who are trying to do something new, something hitherto unseen, something exciting. The trend of the Modernists to ‘make it new’ was a reaction against the generic formulaic Victorian and Georgian formalism. Modernism was the apotheosis of experimentation, with Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake being the apotheosis of that apotheosis … imagine if he had stuck to the tradition of writing in linear, structured, coherent sentences.  Whilst Joyce is often held up as inspirational and ridiculous in equal measure, and often to cries of Emperors New Clothes, it cannot be denied that his work has the authenticity of longevity – we will be talking about if for many, many decades to come. Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf wrote fervently to create ‘the woman’s sentence’ – the antithesis of the black imposing masculine ‘I” that had dominated literature in the preceding centuries. They argued against the male dominance of the novel and took a step allowing women writers to engage a more feminine approach.

If unlike me you are not into Modern and contemporary literature, it isn’t a far stretch to look at the greats, such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, et al and recognise experimental literature when you see it … any banned book is another test case for change and advancement.

It’s easy to dismiss this ‘experimental verve’ as part of the artistic or ‘creative’ process that as academics we ‘should’ sit outside of, but we don’t and we shouldn’t. Any piece of writing involves the creative process. Yes we do have to follow certain conventions, but that doesn’t mean what we ‘say’ has to be conventional. Whilst I do find some forms of new criticism, like the idea of Hymenal Space (especially considering it’s medically questionable that the Hymen actually exists/ed)  ‘out there’ and I find my nose wrinkling up slightly at the thought, I do applaud anyone who is prepared to push back boundaries to create or investigate something new.

We don’t have to be Joyce, Woolf or even Leavis, Bahktin or Chomsky, but we can all try to look at our work from a different angle, structure our work in a way that works for us as well as for the examination boards and test the boundaries (via out supervisors) a little. Even if it turns out it doesn’t work, you will have learned new things in the process and become a more thorough academic in the process.

And if we can’t do that in our actual Ph.Ds we can do it in places like this! Or NaNoWriMo … places that encourage you to be different and new and unique and uninhibited – unleashed from the constraints and conformities of traditional academic writing.

So today is ‘Forget health and safety Tuesday – go a little bit experimental’.

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2 thoughts on “Going Experi-mental

  1. Here’s the thing I try always to keep in mind: We are all of us individuals, with our own life lived, our own experiences, our own body of knowledge. We are, in effect, walking encyclopedias. Just as the World Book Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia each include “the basics” but then have a different way of presenting any given subject – more in depth, less in depth, more extra information, less extra information, and so forth – so do we have different ways of reading texts. No one way is the “right” way, no one method or critical approach is the “best” way, and each new reading illuminates a new aspect of the text. In this way (assuming we have done appropriate research and found adequate supporting materials to document our reading/approach) each reading is unique to the reader presenting it – which means that as long as we are thorough and writing based on our own, unique experiences with the text, the critical approach, and the secondary materials we have chosen, then we cannot help but be original, because there is no one else out there with our particular knowledge and skills sets and experiences. For example – I thought there was nothing new to say about Chaucer, and expected the reader for my essay to laugh and then circulate it behind my back so all his/her PhD-wielding cronies could laugh at it as well. In the end, I received the comment that it was a “splendid reading” of the text in question. We all fear being caught out as academic frauds, I think. But I also think we each have valuable contributions to make, because no one else can make them. :o)

    1. If you don’t mind I may quote your comment later this week – it is bloody well said! And I agree wholeheartedly!
      It is also the longest comment I’ve ever received! 😀 So you win a prize – thank you! xx

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