Creative Writing and the New Humanities

By Paul Dawson | Go to book overview

2

Disciplinary origins

The common understanding that Creative Writing programmes have effected an absorption of the literary profession into universities obscures the historical origins of the discipline. Why did the writing of poetry and fiction move into the university? Was it an act of literary colonisation by the academy, or an act of cultural generosity? In order to counter the perception that Creative Writing occupies an 'anomalous' position within universities, some apologists have argued that literary apprenticeship is not new; the workshop is merely a formalisation of writers' groups or of individual mentoring relationships which have developed between famous writers. Or they have sought to construct an institutional lineage for the discipline by claiming that Creative Writing is the revival of an earlier form of writing instruction: that is, the composition of Latin and Greek verses as part of rhetorical instruction in the classical languages. The purpose of such arguments is not to provide an historical explanation for the presence of Creative Writing programmes, but to divert attention from a scrutiny of this presence, to justify Creative Writing by claiming historical precedent, no matter how tenuous the link.

In the first chapter I described a broad social interest in developing and harnessing the general human capacity for creativity which emerged in the twentieth century. Creative Writing can, to a certain extent, be located within the context of this shift from imagination to creativity. In order to understand exactly how and why writing programmes developed in universities, however, we must turn to the history of modern English Studies. Creative Writing emerged as a discipline in American universities out of the struggle between scholars and critics in the early part of the twentieth century, a struggle which saw the reformation of English Studies from largely historical and linguistic research into literature, to the teaching and practice of the criticism of literary works. Creative Writing did not simply come into

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