Site Identity Politics

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

After I graduated from my undergraduate university with a degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis, I went on to study Literature at another university. In one of my first classes, I had my professor tell our class how creative writing departments were “silly” and how all those MFA students thought they would write the “next great American novel.” I was upset about hearing this, because I knew it wasn’t true, but I was also a new graduate student and so of course I didn’t say anything. Plus, I’m from the midwest and it embarrasses us to say anything bad in front of anyone, or say anything at all, really. I think many of us know that in reality, most MFA students do not think they will write the next great american novel, but consider it wouldn’t be a bad deal if they did, though they know the realities. Also, the MFA program at this school was the department’s breadbasket.

I had come from a department where, as an undergraduate, I was shielded from these kinds of feelings. I cannot say they didn’t exist in my previous department, because they certainly did, I learned later. But as I continued my graduate career, I came in contact with frictions between literature and creative writing, composition and creative writing, and literature and rhetoric and each of these frictions are annoying and pointless. They do not help us articulate the importance of the humanities in education. They do not help us to accomplish anything but our own agendas without listening to outside perspectives.

Currently, I’m reading scholarship regarding creative writing studies, and finding that one of the big problems creative writing faces in the university is a lack of site identity. Where do you find Creative Writing in the university? The answer is you often find it in other departments. Another big problem is a lack of theory within creative writing, though I think there is theory there, just under the table, or perhaps that elephant in the room. But the truth is creative writers don’t get creative writing degrees to do research. They do it to write, and this brings a whole different attitude to what is meant by research or theory, but that is part of the problem, too. It makes it harder for us to enter that Burkean parlor, which I always picture being filled with self-important white men with cigars and this, of course, is also how I picture Burke himself. So should we create our own? If we do that, who is invited? And, perhaps most importantly, what are we talking about?

With all these frictions, and with the problematic nature of creative writing in the university which in this blog post I haven’t even touched the surface of, it leaves me wondering if English departments are outdated. In other words, should we have a Literature department and a Writing Studies department and a creative writing department and a linguistics department? I don’t know. But the truth of the matter is that if we cannot support each other, as a community, it may be something to think about.

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