Discussion Group: Creative Criticism

The discussion group continued considering creative criticism.

Texts: From Clare Connors and Stephen Benson eds. Creative Criticism: An Anthology and a Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2014)

 Sarah Wood's essay, 'Anew Again', pp. 279 – 293  The cover image for Creative Criticism, a photograph of an art work made for the anthology by two artists in response to Wood's essay

 The brief exchange between Stephen Benson and Clare Connors which concludes their introduction to the anthology, in which the editors offer a reading of that cover image

Extracts from Abdelfattah Kilito’s The Author and His Doubles (1985), trans. Michael Cooperson (Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2001)

These texts were proposed by Clare Connors (UEA) and Wen-Chin Ouyang (SOAS), both of whom will be participating in the OCCT seminar on Languages of Criticism on Wednesday 28 May. The discussion also followed on from our event with Ali Smith on 8 May.


Summary and opening observations (Rosie Lavan)

A major question raised by these texts is how we measure the “creative” in criticism. The anthology from which Wood’s essay is taken, according to the editors, “celebrates the formal and intellectual inventiveness of works which also demonstrate a deep fidelity to the writing or art they address”: perhaps we should also consider the word “fidelity” and the notion of faithfulness as it relates to creativity and the object of critical contemplation.


Sarah Wood, ‘Anew Again’ The essay raises important questions about the language of critical appraisal—we might consider her metaphors; her likening words (e.g. “the same blue shadows of the graphic that we find in Wallace Stevens”, my emphasis (282)). Her important observation that “Picasso’s guitars are citations, guitariterations. [. . .] His guitars are something else and the same” (278) seems key: it opens out onto major points about intertextuality, citation, allusion, comparison. How far, or simply how, are dialogues between works of art established in criticism? Where does the weight fall between what is something else and the same, and where does the comparison exist? But there has also to be a question about intertextuality and subjectivity: does it matter? How do we accommodate subjectivity? Do we tolerate/locate/permit subjectivity differently within “creative” criticism? It is worth considering the methodology of the essay and the place and nature of close reading within it. We might consider here her recourse to etymology and also established associations for words—note especially her discussion of “blue” (286). It is interesting that this extended consideration of the tones of colours is also about the tone of her prose, which becomes almost synaesthetic at the end. This recovery of the polysemy of language and association is an assertion of the complexities and pluralities.

In the cover image of the book, ideas of agency and creation are implicit: the hand that plays the guitar is one with it. The editors’ dialogue at the end of the introduction also turns to the idea of agency, defining creative criticism as that which “registers the way works of art don’t just passively lie there, all before us, as the world did to Adam and Eve, but come at us in some way. We are surprised, or stolen up upon, find ourselves caught. It needn’t be immediate; it is what turns out to have happened. It could take the form of an obsession, perhaps. We have to keep going back.”


Abdelfattah Kilito, The Author and His Doubles

We might think of this as creative criticism in action. There is something almost Borgesian in the storytelling style—he draws in fables and anecdotes to elucidate and develop his points, which we can read both as diversions and directions. There may be a particular connection to make with his point about the fathering of meaning—and the location or begetting of meaning in criticism/theory: we can find here an extended metaphor about origins and authority. It is valuable then to set this, as he does, against and within his discussion of genre. His points about imitation perhaps bear wider consideration within the discussion of likenesses, and comparison. He writes: “Herein is the paradox of imitation. One wants to be “like,” but when all is said and done, one has only proved one’s difference. One cannot reproduce what one is not, and likeness can never be identity. Imitation lives in the space between being and seeming, and no matter how well executed, it can never abolish difference.” (109)



- Extended discussion of subjectivity. How do we read this essay: more like fiction than criticism or theory? Imagination emerges over analysis, perhaps, in her discussion of “blue” for example—the etymology here is not that of a linguist.

- This connects to the reception of the piece: inevitably questions are raised about disciplinary boundaries and categories.

- Is creative criticism about taking licence?

- Is there an epistemological question to be raised? What do we know after reading this text? Fiction creates knowledge of its own kinds, but do we bring certain expectations to criticism?

- The first person: interesting to note its presence here and think of e.g. 1920s criticism which was also not afraid to invoke “I”, despite the increasingly depersonalised turn later in the 20th C. Could we rewrite this essay without these expressions or foregroundings of subjectivity?

- All these points really turn on how we define and interpret creativity; what we expect of it. What is non-creative criticism?

- Kilito argues with conviction and it’s a very evocative style of critical prose: the use of fables etc provokes thought and reflection (and is perhaps also in sympathy with classical Arabic authors?)

- Is there a connection to be made with Deleuze on imitation?