Creative Writing and the New Humanities

By Paul Dawson | Go to book overview

6

What is a literary intellectual?

In the introduction to his 1995 book, From Outlaw to Classic, Alan Golding argued that 'the place of creative writing in the academy, and its relation to “theory, deserves a substantial treatment that I have not attempted here' (xvii). As I pointed out in the previous chapter, these questions have been addressed in a variety of ways by academics who teach in writing programmes. In the same year, however, the term 'posttheory' was coined by Jeffrey Williams, suggesting that Creative Writing might now need to situate itself in relation to a new academic paradigm. In an article entitled 'The Posttheory Generation' Williams discusses the specific identity of 'the generation of intellectual workers who have entered the literary field and attained professional positions in the late 1980s and through the 1990s' ([1995] 2000:25). Williams defines this generation not in terms of age, but in terms of institutional conditions determined by two interrelated factors: 'first, what seems to be the dispersion or breakdown of the paradigm of Theory; and second, a drastically reconfigured job market, pinched in the vice of a restructured and downsizing university' (25).

The 'posttheory generation', Williams asserts, has been educated in an academic climate governed by Theory, but nonetheless possesses a sense of belatedness, of appearing after the revolutionary polemics of poststructuralism, Marxism and feminism became institutionally sanctioned as part of graduate-school training and as a mark of professional attainment. 'In short, the posttheory generation was taught to take theory - not traditional scholarly methods, not normal practical criticism - for granted, and theory in turn provided a threshold stamp of professional value' (29). The academic work of this new generation has not produced new theoretical paradigms. Instead, Theory has become fragmented and applied to areas such as Cultural Studies and Race Studies; it has 'dispersed to provisional, localized, pragmatic

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