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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Literary Criticism, Critical Theory & Criticism around Creative Writing

I've studied criticism in many forms. During my under-graduation at Christ College, I studied the different schools of literary criticism—new criticism, formalism, structuralism, etc. It was extremely interesting—like observing a thought manifest into words, and then into a complete theory. Even though what these theories enabled was to be able to critique literature and understand it from different perspectives, what soon became clear was that the theories could stand on their own, and be understood as independent working systems of thought in progress. Although we were talking about literature, I felt that we could as easily be talking about anything else—about completely different meaning making processin in society. It became, instead of a way to understand and study literature, a way to understand and make sense of society.

The second form of criticism I studied was during my Masters, which was Critical Theory. I was studying Criticism of society here—looking at Lacan, and Derrida, and Barthes. There was a purpose to the criticism; in some cases, as when we were studying Post-colonialism, if it was to study the impact of the West on nations that had been colonised, understand our own (Indian) relationship to Colonialism, and our efforts to unconsciously Decolonize the West; in other cases, it was a theory of understanding and building piece, where we spoke of reconciliation of countries which had been torn apart by racism, apartheid, or genocide. This form of criticism also lent itself to allow one to look at objects and the relationships we share with them, and how this contributes to our understanding of materials. In all these cases, there was a purpose to the criticism. We were moving towards a goal—to achieve something. To gain, for lack of a better word, some kind of closure in argument of pros and cons that led nowhere.

Now that I'm "studying" MFA Creative Writing, the approach to Criticism is entirely different. We are looking at Criticism not to give us answers of what has already been created, but to help us work towards creating more literature. We work around discussions of craft, and plot; character, and setting, and we do this not to achieve a deeper understanding of what already is, but what can be. It is like drawing blueprints from something that exists, and then, using those blueprints to create new buildings, and new models of architecture. There is much more freedom; to make of it, what we will, and to use it how we please. This is, a criticism that begins in theory, but ends in creation. Criticism that begins without the aim of solving a problem, or getting closer to it, but as a catalyst, and enabler to help a practioner of the craft of writing. It is, might I add, my favorite version of criticism.


Anil Pinto said...

Dear Kanasu,Thank you for this brilliant and succinct reflection. Yesterday I had a student who has done some creative writing lamenting over "too much theory" in BA honours and lack of appreciation of "creative writings in themselves." While I tried to clarify in some ways, I knew my grounds of clarity were not well-thought of. You have given much better clarity to it. Will share your post with him.

Agent M said...

Kana, beautiful, thank you. You just hit the nail on what i have tried to express (but in vain) to myself for many a past year!