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06 JULY 2011

The creative writing exegesis sets off on its own trajectory: from reflective text, to parallel text, to plaited text

"The reflective journal exegesis, with its this–is–how–I–wrote–my–creative–piece approach, was soon deemed unexciting by creative writing candidates, supervisors and examiners. In the early 2000s, research scholars who had risen above questions like What is an exegesis? and Why do I have to do one? sought to achieve more with the exegesis form. They and their supervisors discussed the aims and focus of the exegesis and its orientation to the creative product (see dozens of articles in TEXT and, e.g. Fletcher & Mann 2004). The discussion questioned and attacked the exegesis, and also the gap between it and the artefact. This lent impetus to exploratory experimentation.

Departures from the reflective journal exegesis included the exegesis in the form of an essay providing a conceptual or historical framework – a mini–dissertation of the style familiar as submission for disciplines such as Literary Studies, Cultural Studies, History, Sociology or Philosophy – i.e. a prose work that swapped the tradition of the Creative Arts journal for traditions of academic writing in other Humanities disciplines. In this parallel text, the candidate might be seen to stop being creative writer, becoming instead the more disengaged and critical humanities academic. However, Butt takes an opposite view on this. She thinks, in examining the impact of outside influences on the writer and the writing, the parallel text 'is a conscious reflection of the largely unconscious act of writing' (Butt 2009: 55).

There's a schizophrenia apparent in this situation. The researching writer, trying to be creative writer, is forced back to the role of critic distanced from the process, as opposed to being critic inside the process. The exegesis here wasn't something home–grown in the Creative Writing discipline – it was an imposition from contextualising, 'more authoritative' disciplines – but was an initial extending of the umbilical cord between artefact and exegesis because it allowed the exegesis to be a parallel commentary with an implied relationship to the artefact, suggesting an added or alternative outcome to the research undertaken in writing the creative product. This raised the status of the exegesis from servant–to–the–master narrative to a sort of equal, to a narrative in its own right. An example of this is Nike Bourke's The Bone Flute – From the cradle to the grave (Bourke 2003), where the novel told a disturbing story about domestic violence and infanticide, and the exegesis was a study of infanticide in contemporary society.

In the early 2000s there was plenty of room for experimentation. In this context, two of my own candidates tested the idea of parallel texts brought together and plaited in the submission structure. Peter Wise, in The Turns of Engagement: A Thesis / Novel on the Circumstances of Writing (2001), presented exegesis and creative narrative as alternating, mirror–image, theory–then–fiction–then–theory chapters which blended together progressively until creative product chapters became, eventually, indistinguishable from dissertation chapters (Wise 2001). Wise's submission performed the evolution of fictocriticism, the creation of the thesis–slash–novel. It had a hard time passing examination in 2001.

In 2005, another student of mine, Marilynn Loveless, produced Mrs Shakespeare: Muse, Mother, Matriarch, Madonna, Whore, Writer, Woman, Wife – Recovering a Lost Life (2005). At Loveless's graduation, the Acting Dean refused to read out the title of her PhD; perhaps he considered it un–academic. The submission involved the chapters of a novel revealing Anne Hathaway as the real writer of Shakespeare's canon being alternated with the chapters of an exegesis about male–dominated discourse in the academy (Loveless 2005). Here the plaited texts worked off each other and created their own dialogue; Loveless's discontinuous narrative was about reading the gap between exegesis and artefact, and analysing it.

There's much to learn from the idea of the exegesis and artefact as plaited text. Barthes insisted on the death of the author because the exegetical wasn't present. He asserted that because the writer wasn't present in the work, the reader must alone create the work. But the creative writing doctorate's combination of creative product and exegesis insists on the writer's presence. The plaited text, in showing both the product and aspects of the process or its context, asserts the existence of the author."

(Nigel Krauth)

Krauth, N. (2011). "Evolution of the exegesis: the radical trajectory of the creative writing doctorate in Australia." TEXT 15(1).

TAGS

academic writing • act of writing • conceptual frameworkcreative arts • creative narrative • creative product • creative writer • creative writing • critical humanities academic • cultural studiesdeath of the authordissertation • doctorate • exegesis • exegesis form • exegetical • experimentationexploratory experimentation • fictocriticism • historical framework • historyhumanitiesliterary studies • narrative in its own right • Nigel Krauthnovelparallel textPhD candidatePhD supervisionphilosophy • plait • plaited • plaited text • prose • reflective journal • reflective journal exegesis • reflective text • researchresearch artefactRoland Barthessociology • submission structure • TEXT (journal) • the reader must alone create the work • thesiswriterwriting

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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