inspired leap into the unknown


Beginning a phd exploring the resilience and mental health of rural women utilising narratives of lived experience, biographical and creative. Products:  A novel and an exegesis. Big breath.  How to do this?  What frameworks? What approach?

Baby steps.

Reading articles in TEXT, Number 27: Creative Writing as Research IIIAuthors looking at the process of research into what is essentially a right-brain activity, possibly resistant to analysis.

Nike Bourke and Philip Neilsen in 2003 observed that the two main disciplines writers were using for their research exegeses were Literary Theory and Cultural Studies, which may or may not be appropriate.

In fact, they state:

…we would like to draw attention to the fact that when using Cultural Studies or Literary Theory students treat their own work as a sealed and completed object. What is always lost in this treatment of their own work as object is the writing, what replaces writing is the act of reading. If we are to develop a unique and recognisable set of discourses that can rightly be called Creative Writing, that is identifiably different to Literary Theory or Cultural Studies, we must recognise that this movement should not take place. Creative Writing, as an appellative, recognises what we need to keep constantly in mind – that we are a discipline whose principal concern is with the development, critique and articulation of process rather than product. (my bolding)

They are boldly promoting a new type of practice.

So what disciplines might be more useful?

Kevin Brophy, in TEXT,, turns to Freud and psychoanalysis. What interests me is the right-brain, left brain research that has been done since Freud, and how much we know about how the hemispheres work.  Essentially the right brain has a wholistic view, is creative, intuitive and has massive tacit knowledge, but it is left up to the left brain to put that knowledge into language.

Brophy quotes eminent thinkers who suggest that there is a between-ness that is crucial, and that in creative endeavours, as well as life, we must constantly negotiate between these two aspects of ourselves.

Brophy: The left hemisphere has its own distinct manner of constructing a perceived world. The left hemisphere does not, it would seem, engage with the world but rather finds in itself representations, models, theories, categories and labels that stand-in for the world. Left to itself it lives in a virtual world of well-established truths. Language is central to this, for language, spoken and in text, provides a means of defining and dividing-up the world (see for instance Dehaene 2009: 76-82, 270-77 on the speed and efficiency with which written material is taken up by the left hemisphere). Another way of saying this is that the left brain is most comfortable with what is known.

‘From the above brief discussion of research into brain functioning, what emerges is a single human self that is produced by a constant negotiation between two distinctly different forms of thinking. These operate in an asymmetrical, possibly antagonistic relationship, certainly one that involves mutual inhibition. Overall, there is a tendency for the right brain’s participation in thinking and perceiving to remain unremarked by the conscious aspects of self, while the left brain’s activities tend to be both highly conscious and resistant to the participation of the right brain. …’

This is interesting to me on a couple of levels.  It is well known, even on a laywomen’s level like mine, that when you are doing creative work, you need to drift into the zone, or go into a sort of reverie/ trance.  That would be the right-brain activity.  Then you need to actually write the story down.  That would be the left-brain activity.  You have to tack from one hemisphere to the other, back and forth.

In doing a phd, it may be even more separate.

The other level is that perhaps psychology, psychoanalysis, neurology and brain studies in general are an interesting ‘companion discipline’ to creative writing research?

Kathryn Owler, in Text, discusses the theories of inspiration proposed by philosophers such as Blanchot and Hegel.

‘For Blanchot, writing requires an inspired leap into the unknown. This leap involves an initial movement that aims to bring presence to absence and order to disorder. Through this leap, the writer comes into proximity with the antithesis of being, or what Blanchot calls ‘the interminable and incessant’ (Blanchot 1989: 37). Within this realm, the writer has lost all clarity. Any sense of mastery they enjoyed was only partial and temporary. Yet the writer must keep writing in order to save him or herself from the realm of dissolution, find a path forward and come to know themselves again. In Blanchot’s (1989) account, the writer is inspired during moments of clarity and moments of dissolution. ”

Perhaps philosophy is an appropriate and synergistic discipline?

I’m hoping maybe an approach lies in the ‘between-ness’ Brophy quoted, between hemispheres, between disciplines and across many perspectives, in the wholistic right-brain way.  My closest areas of applicable previous study are the historical research frameworks of locating and using primary sources, and the ethnographical and social science work of participant observation, intuition, interviews etc.  This, my first post, is guessing that the novel/ creative writing will be the product but the exegesis will be the development, critique and articulation of process – for me, the tacking back and forth between the lived experiences, the writing, the creativity theories and how the process worked – without letting the left brain choke off the creativity!

One step taken, many more to go –