Creative Imitation in the Classroom

Thomas Karshan 2MCRh

‘If so large a part of creation is really criticism, is not a large part of what is called “critical writing” really creative?’, asked T. S. Eliot in ‘The Function of Criticism’. The last decade or so has seen a steady erosion of any sharp distinction between the ‘creative’ and the ‘critical’, and of the borders marked out by each of these not wholly satisfactory terms: partly because of dissatisfaction with existing protocols of academic critical writing; partly because of an interest in the critical force of ‘creative writing’; and partly because the rapid expansion of creative writing in universities raises fundamental questions about its relationship with criticism and scholarship.

In response to this, the Institute of English Studies and the University of East Anglia have begun a collaboration ‘On the Creative-Critical’ which encompasses a series of conferences and workshops: a summit ‘On the Creative-Critical’ took place at UEA on June 1, 2019, following a sequence of workshops at IES.

IES and UEA are offering two interlinked workshops on aspects of creative-critical writing and teaching for English Shared Futures 2020:

2. Creative Imitation in the Classroom

This session is focussed on the emerging revival in university teaching of early modern and modernist practices of imitation and parody. This teaching practice offers an alternative to the discussion plus essay model of literature teaching, and one which benefits students both in their understanding of literature and in their development as critical and creative writers. Organised by a Renaissance scholar (Dr Hannah Crawforth (KCL)) and a modernist (Dr Thomas Karshan (UEA), the session will also address the history of the teaching of literature and how certain Renaissance practices of imitation survived until the modern period and were even embraced by modernists, before being eclipsed by the analytic essay’s emergence as the norm of critical discourse in the period between the two world wars. This session will build on the panel on imitative pedagogy that took place at ESF 2017; but where that was a panel of three papers and a short discussion to follow, this will be a workshop in which participants will be actively involved in the pedagogical practice.

The session will begin with two short (10-minute) position pieces to set out the stakes of our discussion; articulate our respective modern and early modern viewpoints; and ask of the participants some key questions. We will then offer samples of teaching materials that we have each used with some success and ask participants in the workshop to spend 25 minutes trying their hand at one or more exercises. Crawforth will offer materials from a single-author third-year undergraduate module on ‘Reading Paradise Lost,’ inviting participants to consider how individual literary style is constructed, and how deconstructing Milton’s writing can allow us to rethink our understanding of the poet’s relationship to his text. Karshan will offer materials from his creative-critical MA module on Ludic Literature, giving participants a chance at re-writing various source materials through the prism of various of Beerbohm’s and Joyce’s parodies of various individual styles.

We will then have an open discussion of 30 minutes in which participants in the workshop will discuss their experience of working through these exercises and comment on a series of questions:

  • What can imitation and parody teach us about an author or style that is distinct from what we can learn from description, comparison, contextualisation, and analysis?
  • What does it teach us to remake a text for ourselves, in our own language, our own moment? How does the early modern concept of imitatio speak to us today?
  • What do we learn about one style when it is mixed with or transposed into another?
  • How can imitation help students to develop as creative writers as well as readers?
  • Can imitation and parody serve to foster a more inclusive classroom?

The first workshop is Real Criticism

Sun 4:00 pm - 5:15 pm