William Gass states: ‘Finnegans Wake is a carcass on which doctoral candidates feed.’
Helene Cixous writes: ‘The thing that is both known and unknown, the most unknown and the best unknown, this is what we are looking for when we write. We go toward the best known unknown thing, where knowing and not knowing touch, where we hope we will know what is unknown. Where we hope we will not be afraid of understanding the incomprehensible, facing the invisible, hearing the inaudible, thinking the unthinkable, which is of course: thinking. Thinking is trying to think the unthinkable: thinking the thinkable is not worth the effort.’
The National Enquirer quotes the Ohio Statesman: ‘When everyone thinks the same—no one thinks.’
What do I think, what do I think about now? I want to think very well. I want to say what I say now. I diverge. I digress and diverge now. I go sideways. But I’m not linear. Is this the way to write my essay now? But Helene Cixous writes like I do now. But she already wrote her essays. Already did. She did her exercises now. Already did. But am I allowed to enter what Helene Cixous does in a book? Am I allowed to write like Helene Cixous now? Am I allowed to write my thesis like this now?
The university is a school. The university is an institution. I’m at a university now. I’m inside a university. I say this inside the university now. I am Foucault’s disciplined ‘docile body’, the ‘docile body’ within education now. I am a student. The institutionalized response of a student and a psychiatric patient. Ivor Goodson writes. Ivor Goodson writes about ‘positions of power’. ‘The forms of knowledge, legitimized and sanctioned within an institutionalized structure’. I quote Ivor now. Ivor Goodson writes about ‘commonalities in the history of psychiatry and schooling’. The act of coercion. The act of coercion in education.
I always have to quote somebody. This is a form of gossip now. So-and-so said. That’s the way to write about. The discourse, the formation of a discourse. This is what I am learning now. What somebody said and the interaction with that. That somebody says me now. Or I say that, I say that. I say what I think now. What I think about.
I think about the university. The university wants to be creative. It wants to be creative now. But it isn’t creative. Not yet. Not yet. Certainly not yet. It amalgamates. It takes in the Victorian College of the Arts. It swallows it. It incorporates. It wants creative writing. Oh yes. It wants to incorporate creativity. It wants to teach creativity now. That’s a popular course and I’ll take that. We want enrolments. I want to be a famous writer now. I’ll study.
The university teaches and I teach now. I’ll tell you what to do. You just listen to me now. The formal essay. You must do a formal essay now. The mode. The presentation. The guide. The guide will guide me now. The formal essay, the quotation. The neoclassical emphasis on unity, continuity and linearity. The books that speak to books now. I enter a formal essay now. I do my debut. The entry. I wear a pink dress now. The docile body of the institutionalized student. The docile body of the institutionalized subject.
The formal essay. I join up my paragraphs now. The formal dialogue. I do my reading. That’s university in the university now. But how to be creative in creative writing now? The university wants that and enters that now. And there’s fear. And I’m scared now.
The question of status enters, the question of limits of professional expertise enters. Who will teach to be creative? Who can teach creative writing? We don’t want a writer. Who will be creative? I am creative. I’m very creative. Oh yes! Oh yes, yes, yes. I have my creative angle here. That’s for sure. That’s what I’ll teach. And who will teach me now? My teachers tell me that I know it all and they can’t teach me anything now.
The teaching of theory and then the creative subject. The creativity. As a separate subject. The docile body in education. The docile young body. The docile young body of an inexperienced girl in a pink dress. I’ll coerce her. I am a professor Elephant and I will teach you everything now. Using a poetic tone. How dare she! This is fictocriticism. I combine an idea with me now and I write me. I do not separate one from the other. But the university does not join me now. This is not linear. This is an argument but this is not linear. Would this pass as an essay? Could I write like Helene Cixous within a university? Helene Cixous would fail here. This is a worry. You can write a poem but you can’t write a personaized essay. You can’t write a fictocritical essay, not yet. No, no, no. Daddy tells me. I say that I’m sorry. So sorry. Daddy doesn’t understand me, but mommy does do.
Anne Brewster writes about fictocriticism as ‘an alternative mode of knowledge production which foregrounds issues of relativity, hybridization, contradiction and uncertainty by defamiliarizing the convention of genre, enacts the process of thought, of learning, of writing and reading and the digestion (or non-digestion) of knowledge. This openendedness and sometimes collage-like strategies of fictocriticism allow the incorporation of troubling discursive problematics of language that conventional narratives of academic knowledge often elide, such as non-referentiality, contradiction, exclusion, difference, doubt, inconclusiveness and ambivalence.’
And I’m ambivalent now. Hm. Yes. The docile body of the institutionalized student. The student wearing a pink dress. The awkward debutante. The act of coercion. The entry into society. The mode you have to adopt. But Helene Cixous says ‘I’ll not give up the rhetoric’ Oh no! Oh dear!
The mode of learning at the university. You will do an essay. I do. I’m writing an essay now. I enjoy it. I want to be creative and I’m creative here. Oh yes, yes, yes. You must be creative. But the university presents the formal essay or an itsy-bitsy poem. Give us a poem. The creative writing class. We teach theory. We exclude. We don’t do both at the same time. The linear thought process. You join one thing onto another. I join one thing, I don’t join now. I sever. And I cut.
The university will have to find other modes. This is another mode. This is the new writing now. I enter theory. This is the way to write an essay now. I’ll teach you. I teach you how. I teach you now. The university is going to enter into new modes of writing. The university is going to have to now. The university is expanding but it’s not sure. The university is confused now. Which way will we go? What will we teach now? The docile body of the institutionalized subject. The educational response. The task to offer. I’ll do it. I’ll do it all to get a good mark now. I am the student. Oh no! I can do a very good essay now.
And creative writing is becoming a serious subject. I study theory. I know my theory. The university is addressing creativity now. It’s scared. The question of professional expertise. Who is the writer now? Who will teach me? The questions of lack of expertise. The question of status. The questions of fear or threat now. The question of boundary, of hierarchy. The question of fear. Of threat. Of another territory that is coming closer. Inevitably. Sooner or later. But not yet altogether. On its way. The university is teaching, is beginning to teach creativity as a subject. The creative subject. The university hasn’t thought about that yet. Not at all. On my way to consider. The university better think about this now. You better!
And underneath and at the bottom, and underneath the cover, the work plan, is a reluctance, a hostility, an anger. Because the Australian university never liked creativity and always saw it as chi-chi. Something unteachable, untenable. The crude primary material. That which is not accessible (to reason). And they were reason(able) people. And now they want to teach it. And they can’t teach it. And I teach it. I can teach it because I do it. I’m a writer. I know how to do it now. And I know theory. And I know everything now. They say that I think too much and that I know too much and they don’t feel comfortable but I’m happy. I write my essay. I do it very well. I know how. I know now. I write theory.
Ania Walwicz (1951 – 2020) was an Australian poet and prose writer, and visual artist.
This paper was delivered at the Melbourne University Alumni Fest 1996 Debate ‘Is the University Creative?’