The Politics of Creativity

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Thomas Girshin / Binghamton University
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There seem to be two ideas regarding what is called "creative," "expressive," or "personal" writing in composition discourses. In one view, creative writing is seen as the work of the lone genius, who creates the Literature studied by English departments. Such a view, while having fallen out of favor in composition studies, is still considered viable in creative writing departments. Furthermore, as Susan Miller argues, it continues to haunt composition in the form of the split between composition and literature departments, and student writing and "real" writing. In the other view, creative writing is deemed overly subjective, apolitical, and generally inconsequential. This view would argue that student writing should participate overtly in "political" discourses, should engage in discussions of imperialism, capitalism, racism, etc.

What is the nature of this opposition between creative and political student writing? Are they really mutually exclusive? What are some ways of imagining student writing that is both creative and political? In her analysis of critiques of expressionist writing theory and pedagogy, Karen Surman Paley shows how expressionist ideology is very often overtly political. The crucial distinction between expressionist and social constructionist pedagogies, for example, is not their respective engagement with politics, but a profound mistrust of the individual, and as Suzanne Clark reveals, of whatever cannot be approached "scientifically."

While I do not doubt that scientific and heuristic approaches to writing may be valuable, I doubt that they are the only valuable approaches. If, as Bruce McComiskey writes, there is no such thing as an "a-social subject" (52), why are so many composition teachers and programs concerned with constructing a particular kind of subject, one that draws a line between self-awareness and social consciousness? bell hooks writes in her 1994 book, Teaching to Transgress, "the objectification of the teacher within bourgeois educational structures seemed to denigrate notions of wholeness and uphold the idea of a mind/body split" (16). As a result, teachers are asked to teach with and focus on only one part of themselves, their "mind," and students are asked to reproduce such a split in their "author-evacuated" research papers. Working from heuristic methodologies, students are asked to manufacture, rather than create. For Byron Hawk, such a method actually prevents true invention, because all possibilities are always-already presupposed by the heuristic system. "Writers will discover what the heuristic allows them to discover, covering over many of the new possibilities that a rhetorical situation may open up" (102). In contrast, Byron Hawk, bell hooks, and ecocomposition scholars like Sidney Dobrin and Christian Weisser, argue for a more diversified and creative approach to invention. "Here is a set of texts, theories, arguments, ideas, technologies, contexts, desires, forces, subjectivities," writes Hawk. "What can the student make with them? What can the body do?" (219).

We invite paper submissions on aspects of creativity in composition theory and pedagogy, especially those taking an ecological or complex systems approach. How can we "remix" our conceptions of creativity, without "re-forming" limiting ideas of the writing process? If you are interested in participating in such a panel at the 2010 CCCC conference in Louisville, KY, please e-mail Thomas Girshin at

Thank you.