Author: Rolls, Alistair
Date published: September 1, 2011
This special number of AJFS is testimony not only to a developing field, that of creative writing, or l'écriture créative, in France, but also to its academic corollary in Anglo-Saxon French Studies, the academic analysis of French creative-writing programmes, of which Françoise Grauby is something of a pioneer.1 Furthermore, the intersection of these two phenomena, across two national academic discourses, throws into question the disciplinary identity of French Studies more broadly. One of the perversities of Anglo-Saxon French Studies is that they are fundamentally opposed to their French counterparts. Clearly, there is a breadth and plurality to "French Studies", which by necessity maps onto a number of discrete disciplinary areas in France and the Francophone higher education system. To indulge a truism, if not a stereotype, we might suggest that the literary analysis stream of Anglo-Saxon French Studies, which tends to be the dominant element in Australian universities, is somehow both more and less "French" than its French counterpart. For example, the modes of analysis associated with poststructuralist and deconstructionist discourses appear far more prominent in Anglo-Saxon criticism of French literature than is the case in France; and yet, as these analyses are produced by academics steeped in the disciplinary tradition of (Anglo-Saxon) "French Studies", it is perhaps logical that they should draw on critical theories that are recognisably French. There is a way in which French-based critical theories have remained une bande à part from French-based literary analysis, which has not been true of the Anglo-Saxon system in which leading figures in French Studies tend also to be prominent in critical theory circles, the two circles intersecting closely enough to make this coincidence not only likely but logical and desired.
The fledgling phenomenon in France that is l'écriture créative certainly represents an Anglo-Saxon influence within French academia; more interestingly for us here, however, is the light that its inclusion in the discourse of Anglo-Saxon French Studies can shed on its Anglo-Saxon counterpart. Put simply, my aim is to offer some speculative comments on how French Studies can contribute in a meaningful way to the teaching and learning of creative writing in Anglo-Saxon universities. And one of the modest contributions that springs to mind involves putting "meaningfulness", especially in the way that it opposes "meaninglessness", back on the (creative writing) agenda. As Grauby has previously noted, the model of creative writing developed theoretically by Jean Ricardou and academically by, inter alia, Claudette Oriol-Broyer and Anne Roche is one in which "le mythe de l'inspiration est récusé".2 It is an approach focused on words rather than meaning, at least partly "pour ne pas concurrencer l'atelier d'analyse".3 And yet, we should argue that this is precisely where some competition would be healthy. For literary analysis that focuses on meaning rather than on the words themselves risks putting excessive emphasis on meaning, and specifically meaning declined in the singular, and thus placing all its creativity on the shoulders of authors and their work, and not enough on those of the practitioners, the analysts themselves. This model of the atelier d'analyse is one where the text is still readerly, despite Barthes, still predicated on a metaphysical reading, despite Derrida. For this reason, Ricardou's model of écriture créative may well have more in common with Anglo-Saxon textual analysis than Anglo-Saxon creative writing, where expressivism is still a dominant tendency (in terms of student and staff perceptions and expectations). As Ricardou notes, "l'écriture est une activité compatible avec le pluriel".4 Such an approach to creative writing, which privileges an appreciation of the construction and constructedness of identity, is one that admits the input of the other into the expression of self and, by extension, the otherness that is inherent in self. In this way, creative writing can be, as écriture créative is, as much about reading oneself as text as about turning oneself into a literary work.5
The star status of creative writing in the Anglo-Saxon higher education system, where its solid enrolments often bolster "traditional" English departments, which might otherwise be economically unsustainable, does not preclude it from criticism, notably on the matter of its disciplinary identity. Certainly, its academic credentials will continue to be argued for and against within the Humanities framework as students' perceptions of their "real curriculum" are balanced against Universities' expectations in terms of, for example, academic rigour.6 On the one hand, the need for a strong element of "creative reading" (not only textual analysis but also grammatical training) within creative writing may well oppose a more expressivist model of teaching, for example;7 on the other hand, there is an ongoing debate around the conferring of DCAs as opposed to PhDs for theses whose creative element stands in lieu of a critical exegesis commensurate with the awarding of a research-based doctorate. Be that as it may, creative writing, with its large cohorts of students and its logical intersection with English Studies, is currently something of a valeur sûre.
While creative writing refocuses debates around the disciplinarity of English,8 the contemporary disjunction between the academic experience of the French Studies classroom and the academic conference gives grounds for reflection on the fragmented status of French Studies as a discipline. French Studies conferences bring together academics, whose common denominator is typically their role as language teachers within their respective institutions, to showcase their otherness, their (national, external) disciplinary identity as researchers. This experience of difference from one's disciplinary colleagues can be both inspiring and disorientating; it can also have the effect of fragmenting the perception of French disciplinarity at its very heart, that is to say amongst those who claim that discipline as their own. This feeling of isolation within French Studies can be both heightened and palliated by participation in conferences that are either cross-disciplinary in focus or hosted by "other" disciplines. The result of presenting one's disciplinary skills at what Deleuze might call a site of heterogeneity is indeed a feeling of "becoming", of becoming-other, and of othering French Studies, of virtualizing it and its potential for creative synergy.
For French Studies in particular, therefore, this perception of being more fully "oneself' beyond one's disciplinary parameters is a logical extension of a French tradition of self-alterity. Twentieth-century French literary theory, philosophy and poetics all revel in the paradoxical nature of self and other: for Barthes, the most important difference that a text can display is that which differentiates it from itself;9 for the Yale school of deconstruction, the text contains within itself the very seeds of its own undoing, which is to say that the metaphysical and nihilistic readings of a text inhabit the same, paradoxical space,10 and for Derrida, in particular, the idea of differance becomes crucial; for Sartre, the nature of the être pour-soi is to fail fundamentally to coincide with itself and to search eternally to synthesize its transcendental cogito with its self-founding corporeality as perceived, objectively, by the other; even for the Surrealists, with their notion of two parallel realities, we are somehow more deeply ourselves when dreaming, at which point our unconscious can reach out to make contact with that of other people. In other words, French Studies, across a broad range of its familiar constituent parts, is constructed on an internal otherness, according to which the virtual, the nihilistic, the other, the unconscious, if only half the story, are nonetheless more seductive than the actual, the metaphysical, the self and the conscious.
In the Anglo-Saxon system, the creative writing classroom (and, it should be added, especially that which integrates a major component of creative reading) is an ideal site of heterogeneity for the French Studies practitioner. The following "French Studies reading" of an American short story will aim to support this statement by demonstrating the importance of bringing alternative cultural experience to the attention of students whose background is likely not to include much contact with French literature or critical theory.
Any where out of the world, or Hunting E.L. Doctorow
The matter of disciplinary self-alterity was made vivid for me recently by Edward Gallafent." For Gallafent, one of the highlights of Eastwood's The Bridges of Madison County (1995) is when Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) asks photographer Robert Kincaid (Eastwood) to take her somewhere else in the world. From a French Studies perspective, Francesca's "somewhere" can be compared directly to the "anywhere" of Charles Baudelaire's "Any where out of the world" inasmuch as both express a desire to be transported figuratively to an elsewhere that is virtual, which is to say both unreal and, perversely, always already present. In Baudelaire's case, the explosion, which, as does Francesca's, strikes the reader as both desperate and cathartic ("Enfin mon âme fait explosion, et sagement elle me crie: 'N'importe où! n'importe où! pourvu que ce soit hors de ce monde!""2), follows an internai dialogue-between the poet-narrator and his soul-that stands in counterpoint to and, given the position of "Any where out of the world" as third prose poem from the end of the anthology, almost as a framing device when read in conjunction with the famously schizophrenic opening poem "L'Étranger". In the course of what is a typically Baudelairean doubling of the singular, a series of destinations are considered as significant others. Paris, for its part, needs no mention as the point of departure, since it is the centre of all the prose poems: it is their constant point of departure and return; indeed, it is the whole world, outside of which they can only venture allegorically and of which all function as metonyms. Given the status of real others as impossible destinations-the prose poems are locked inside Paris (under the tension of incessant movement and countermovement), deprived of the panoramic objectivity of verse-this desire for alterity can only be read as an appeal to, and affirmation of, self-alterity. If Paris must be escaped, it is precisely because Paris is escape; and if it forces escape from self, it is because it is the very symbol of the non-self-coinciding urban experience, which for Ross Chambers sees all steps taken in the modern city as pas de deux, as always already haunted by real steps taken by self and other, and steps remembered, that is recollected and deformed by memory.13 Similarly in Francesca's case, the desire to be somewhere else in the world is the climax of a prose poem, in this case of Robert's recollection (as documented through his photographs) of his travels to exotic locations. As in the case of "Any where out of the world", Francesca and Robert arguably form a single double-protagonist: their once-in-a-lifetime experience together is the realization of a unique compatibility, a knowledge that their destiny is to be one together, which is only as certain, however, as its other, the knowledge that they are destined to part. In this way, the desperation of Francesca's desire to be somewhere else in the world, expressed against the knowledge that she will not leave, is counterbalanced by Robert's earlier comment that, boring as she may find it, her situation is not "nowhere" because it is her home. Furthermore, her home is, for him, the culmination of his travels in addition to being a site of natural beauty (he comments on the rich fragrance of the soil that is typical of Iowa, and is struck by the architectural qualities of the region's famous covered bridges). His flight, therefore, is grounded in her home while his arrival brings to a head her longing to take flight. Individually, they are both here and there, and together they embody the tense space of double movement: from outside in (or from the Heavens streetwards) in his case, and from inside out (or from the ground upwards) in hers. The convulsive beauty of their love, which cannot be and cannot not be at the same time, is therefore riven by that same traumatic shock of modernity as expressed in Baudelaire's prose poems.
The separation of the grounded Francesca from her poetic soul transforms their love story into a poem, a memory that grows with the objectivity of distance (both temporal and spatial). In Baudelaire's case, the end of the prose poems sees the poet finally rise up from the streets: his final act is a poetic one-his "Epilogue" is written in verse form-in which he gains the panoramic perspective offered from a mountain top. He looks down at last on Paris and sees her not as she is, existentially (from the inside, subjectively), but in her coincidence with her own mythology (from the outside, objectively). Yet, when at last Paris is as he wants her to be, the form that she espouses gives the last laugh to the prosaic: he loves her as a whore, a bandit, a prison.14 As such, the reader has come full circle from the Heavenly beauty of Romantic verse, via the double movement of Heaven's descent and Hell's ascent, to a point where Satan is on top of the world. Francesca, too, makes her peace with the devil, staying in Iowa and making the best of her life in the real world and worshipping Robert's memory (and Robert as memory). Both Paris and Iowa, then, by dint of being simultaneously here and somewhere, anywhere else, refuse to be nowhere.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this intersection of French and Film Studies is the unlikely application of the critical lens of modernity to a poeticization of Middle America. The translation of this lens, which is synonymous with the human experience of urban space, onto such a rural setting produces a perverse double effect: the traumatic dislocation of dreams and reality (the world as it presents itself to Francesca and Robert versus the way that they represent it to themselves15) is at once heightened by the intensity afforded to their examination of their dual loss and discovery, which would necessarily have been impeded by the bustle of the modern city, and softened as time is experienced as slowing down, allowing the moment of shock to be savoured before passing into memory. Such a reading of the film, enabled by an understanding of the dynamics of nineteenth-century French prose poetry and its attendant critical world view, is all the more readily applicable to written text, and especially the short story, with its intensity and emphatic highlighting of words (not necessarily at the expense of meaning but, perhaps rather, as sole source of it). E. L. Doctorow's short story "The Hunter" is a perfect vehicle for prose-poetic analysis: it is a story of how a small American town is, existentially, and how it was or as it is remembered. These two lenses are superposed and the story puts the shock of this encounter into words.
Given Doctorow's position as necessarily outside the canon of texts studied within the field of French Studies, an obvious place to demonstrate a Baudelairean prose-poetic reading of "The Hunter" is a "world literature" course with an emphasis on la littérature comparée. As Carol Morgan points out, in reference to the use of creative writing in foreign language teaching in the UK, "[t]here are three different contexts [...] for looking at the writing of poetry in the classroom: the teaching of English, the teaching of English as a foreign language and the teaching of foreign languages." And as she further notes, "[e]ach context foregrounds different priorities and has different patterns of practice.'"6 A creative writing course, though, with its concentration on words (again, either and or as opposed to meaning) makes for an interesting forum. The fourth way under discussion here, of course, is predicated on an (at least implicit) understanding of creative-critical reading and writing, which marries Barthes's concept of writerly reading with creative (authorial) production of text.17
The town in Doctorow's "The Hunter" is immediately presented to the reader in all its smallness and dilapidation. It is, however, "terraced in the hill, along the river, a factory town of clapboard houses and public buildings faced in red stone" (256). This is suggestive of a double space,18 an immanence or embedding into the bedrock of the hillside, where its terraces reflexively serve to create an amphitheatre for the story's actualization as performance, and a line of flight or of virtualization, out of which the short story's identity always already flows into other performative spaces. Self and other are brought together in a unity-disunity that announces that urban self-alterity redolent of Baudelaire's prose-poetic Paris. And not unlike the valley in Arthur Rimbaud's own verse poem, "Le Dormeur du val", this is an oxymoronic space of dilapidation and grandeur, where the public and the private intersect, the red stone offering a façade that facilitates osmosis between the two, a screen on which memories and reality will vie for the reader's attention. One of the keys to a prose-poetic reading of "The Hunter" is, indeed, the way in which town and story (which arguably coincide in their parallel non-self-coincidence) are at turns presented and represented in a narrative that maintains third-person objectivity but intermittently aligns itself with the teacher's perspective, adopting her subjectivity. The result is a text in which the presentation and representation of the town are brought together, the ensuing tension not only driving but in fact constituting the narrative, without achieving synthesis.
The initial description of the town offers poetic glimpses of sparrows and finches in flight but remains nonetheless predominantly prosaic in flavour: the river, it is stressed, is currently frozen (256), reminding us of the present moment of this actualization. We thus encounter the town in the same "real time" as offered by the fláneur-poel of the prose poems. We enter the school building alongside the children and, with them, "watch their teacher". We are therefore present to her from an external perspective (we learn that she is "cheery and kind"), but as we enter her mental space (via the knowledge that she "has been here [here and not there] just long enough for her immodest wish to transform these children to have turned to awe at what they are") the narrative shifts into a representation, in tune with her awe; and yet, this is a representation that focuses on the children's eyes, and thus of the way that they present her (to the reader) and a consciousness of how she is present to them: "Their eyelids are translucent membranes, so thin and so delicate that she wonders how they sleep, how they keep from seeing through their closed eyes" (256). Stylistically, Doctorow's language reflects the shift in mode of presentation, particularly here in the words "cheery" and "kind": while she stands in apparent contrast to the bleak backdrop, the language used to describe her is dull and flat.
While Baudelaire's prose poems are texts in constant and paradoxical movement (simultaneously moving from poetic skies to prosaic streets, by placing Goddesses and the like in the real world, and from Paris's streets skywards, via the su matura listic overvaluation of mundane objects), at times predominantly poetic (heading prosewards) and then predominantly prosaic (with glimpses of poetry), they teem with oxymorons that act as microcosms of the auto-antonymic whole (the prose poem). Here, the teacher's newness is tinged with relativity; it belies the contrast that the reader expects: she is new enough not to be a local but has been there long enough to be part of the furniture. Her experience appears closer to Walter Benjamin's Erlebnis, an experience lived in the present moment, than Erfahrung, the experience that comes with time. Her "immodest wish" is itself perverse as it is, arguably, the role of the teacher to transform children; her awe, on the other hand, suggests that she has been transformed, against the tide of Erfahrung, from a young adult into a child.19 The children's own modesty and naivety appear faked by contrast; their translucence is as unhealthy as it is fresh and youthful; indeed, it recalls Rimbaud's own disconcerting description of the soldier as child in "Le Dormeur du val": "Souriant comme / Sourirait un enfant malade".20 Accordingly, when the teacher takes the children on a trip around the deserted school buildings, it is she who sees the "signs of life" and the aliens (257); we readers see her wonder through the children's (translucent but jaded) eyes. It is not until the children have left on the school bus that the narrative joins her representative perspective. The transition from children's real-time (and thus adult) presentation to their teacher's (childlike) representation occurs across a contrary shift: the school bus, which arrived almost at her bidding, yellow because that is what they always look like, did not have "the small, burly man with eyeglasses without rims" that she expected. If she "did not recognize the driver", with his "long, light hair and white eyebrows" (257), it is because she actually sees him rather than representing him as she has the excursion through the school and the children's departure. Thus, when the narrative coincides with her world view, it is against the previous flow of the text (which has been predominantly from neutral presentation, of the town, to personal representation of the town as mythology).
The sense of alienation experienced in the modern city, which Chambers describes as a ghosting of the present with memory,21 stems from the reminders of what it (mythologically) connotes that are evoked by its own (real) streets, that is to say, those "meanings" that are what it represents, even as it unfurls in the present moment. In terms of perception, the double space is the child's world view (which is unbounded by the limits of birth and death, and thus presents nothing against an a priori understanding of "what it is") mapped onto the adult one (with its awareness of mortality, which compares all presented experiences with those encountered during childhood, which are now re-presented). For the child, then, there is only presentation; it is the memory of childhood that (de)forms former lived events into representations against which everything presented to the adult self is compared and, indeed, understood (the children in "The Hunter" appear to be transitioning into adult mode). Modernity is shocking, therefore, because it expresses the fundamental alienation that is the adult human condition, which remembers being the childhood self, is still technically the same self and yet which is inescapably cut off from that self. This understanding of the eddying shifts of narrative mode allows us to read the teacher's act of urinating in the bathwater (257). As she urinates, "[s]he hums a made-up tune"; she has reintegrated her childhood self, or at the very least is performing childhood. And we see this world now though her eyes: her representation has become the presentation of life in the town. Note in the next passage how the chilling anthropomorphism of the air is predicated on the monstrous, and thus childlike, overvaluation of key elements of the bathtub: "The tub rests on four cast-iron claws. A small window high on the wall is open just a crack and through it the night air sifts into the room. She lies back and the cold air comes along the water line and draws its fingers across her neck" (258).
It could be argued that, dissatisfied with-almost in denial of-the bleakness of reality, she is striving to make everything significant, memorable. There are suggestions in her behaviour, too, of the expatriate, whose attempt to live her life as a poetic estrangement from the present is caused by a double dislocation-in space (she is not originally from this small town) and time (she has been here for an indeterminate period and is thus ambiguously, and all the more tellingly, stranded outside her own childhood). In this sense, there is about her behaviour something of what Maria Freij has described as the lingering fog of childhood. For Freij,
[t]he landscape of childhood, which arguably must always be imagined or reconstructed to some extent, cannot, for an expatriate, be mirrored in present surroundings: the marker-buoys are missing. [...] Writing to salvage moments, images, people, and selves from oblivion involves some form of revisionism: it may admit fictional or dramatic interpolations. As such, it makes room for the emotional truth to be spoken, not merely the historical one.22
In the teacher's case the marker-buoys are perverse double markers, truths, in Freij's terms, both historical and emotional; for, as she notes, "[i]n the space and time of the poem, empirical and emotional truths can coexist".23 In "The Hunter" this coexistence is experienced traumatically, as a destabilization of identity. And if the ritualistic way in which she prepares to go to school and the donning of "small opal teardrop earrings" recall a child's preparation, or at least the vision through a parent's eyes of a child going to school, it is not clear that she is recuperating or revisioning her own past. Instead, her rearrangement of time, which includes a double take as she waits (in vain) then waits again (but this time with success-the janitor on this occasion "tells her the time, and it is the time on her watch") for the children to arrive, seems to tap into a collective memory of the town. The naivety that has infected the narrative voice is again hers as she looks to the past: "There have been sacred rites and legendary events in this town" (258). The shock of the modern city is experienced as a personal trauma, but it is always a reflection of a dislocation, in time and space, of the city as site of auto-differentiation. In other words, this is an alienation that makes expatriates of us all.
The problem is that the teacher wants her own representation of the town's past to coincide with itself. In order to write her own account of legendary events past, she "goes to the old people's home and reads aloud" (258). As a ploy it is reminiscent of the creative writing workshop, where reading and writing test the relationship of words and meaning. In this case, however, she is too attached to her own (metaphysical) meaning, to her own emotional truth, and she cannot tolerate the revisions of the group: "When the reading is over those who can walk come up to her and pluck at her sleeves and her collar, interrupting each other to tell her who they are and what they used to be" (258). Such parallel truths confound her new immodest wish-to transform these old people, and herself, by telling them what they were. By seeking to put the old people into the children's place, she aims to master double time, to collapse her revision of the present into her revision of the past. Historical truth, made objective by group debate, has no place in her expressivist auto-fiction.
Her flight from the old people's home is prose-poetic, an oxymoronic ascent-descent: "She decides to walk up to the mansion at the top of the highest hill in town. The hill streets turn abruptly back on themselves like a series of chutes" (258). We learn that the mansion is something of a condensation of the town and story: it is a source of legend but its claim to status is demonstrably only skin deep: "It is said that one of the factory owners built it for his bride, and that shortly after taking possession he killed her with a shotgun. The Greek columns have great chunks missing and she sees chicken wire exposed under the plaster" (258). Depending on one's perspective, these lines suggest one of two things: first, the text is oscillating between the teacher's representation (the building's tragic past) and a neutral presentation (the mansion as a cheap structure now in decay), in which case it is tempting to read the story of the murdered bride as pure fantasy; alternatively, the rumours are not of her making and she is aiming to see things for what they are, to see the chicken wire propping up the tale, in which case she is becoming aware of her precarious mental state and the story is a watershed in that regard. What follows is equally open to interpretation. Gazing down from the upper floors of the mansion, from where she has an objective view of her surrounds (and thus, in Baudelaire's schema, an overarching, poetic viewpoint, that of which the flâneur-poet of the prose poems is pointedly deprived until the last poem when his flânerie ceases), she
sees at the edge of the field a man in an orange jacket and red hat. She wonders if he can see her from this distance. He raises a rifle to his shoulder and a moment later she hears an odd smack as if someone has hit the siding of the house with an open palm. She does not move. The hunter lowers his rifle and steps back into the woods at the edge of the field. (259)
Again, then, two readings suggest themselves. The first takes the story of the murdered bride as the teacher's fantasy and a prolepsis of the (equally imagined) account of the hunter. In such a reading, the trip to the mansion is a continuation of the excursion around the school, in which she encouraged the children to read fantasy into mundane objects. There is a whiff of creative genius going wrong here, a poetic ascent accompanying a descent into madness. The other possibility is that the hunter represents the teacher's revision of history. In this case, her dominant viewpoint gives the stamp of objectivity, credence and authorial legitimacy to her re-reading of the legend of the murdered bride. Be it an attempt to take the place of the bride and to give her, and her story, new life (the hunter misses this time) or to discúlpate the factory owner and lay his ghost to rest, this is an interpretation more in tune with the story's self-referentiality and the possibilities of writerly reading, or creative-critical writing.
The scenes that follow will be interpreted differently, depending on the significance ascribed to the hunter scene above. The Valium prescribed by the town physician is a determining element; certainly, its tendency to close down creative interpretation recalls the impact of the mention of laudanum in the prose poem "La Chambre double".24 Despite the clearly singular-double structure of this prose poem, which is perhaps of all the prose poems the one that is the most emphatically "about" the dynamics of prose poetry, students in the world literature classroom find it difficult to see in the vial of laudanum just one more (overvalued) object. It is almost as if Baudelaire has thrown down a gauntlet to them, challenging them to look beyond this signifier, which becomes almost the reverse of Edgar Allan Poe's purloined letter, with the letter (in this case the laudanum) in plain view but also seen, obscuring the entire room.25 There is, as in "The Double Room" (where the knock on the door marks the shift from the first space into the second), a reversal that takes place in the teacher's world view, which occurs immediately after the drugs are given to her. She moves from the pharmacy to the movie theatre only to discover that the reality of the town has replaced the vehicle of representation that is the cinema: "She cannot discern the picture. The screen is white. Then what she sees forming on the white screen is the town in its blanket of snow, the clapboard houses on the hill, the frozen river" (259). The neutral presentation of the narrative has replaced her fantasy, as if the Valium has taken immediate effect. What of course is overlooked here is again what is in plain view of the reader-that the text has oscillated from presentati ve to representative mode since the beginning of the story. And clearly, it is the beginning of the story that appears on the screen. The movie theatre, we are told, "bears the same name as the town" (259), so there can be no misunderstanding as to this scene's status as a mise en abyme of the story itself, which is ultimately what gets overlooked: the story and the town coincide; this is a story about the town, about the urban experience, however impoverished (and non-Parisian) it may appear.26 Furthermore, the town coincides with a story that is wilfully double, again just like Baudelaire's single-double room. The Valium resemble candy in ajar as they are dispensed, and it is as candies that she consumes them in the theatre. The apparent move from breakdown to recovery is no more significant than the continual shift between childlike and adult modes of presentation/representation. If anything, Valium is an allegory of the overvaluation of things in prose poetry, of prose poetics itself, and not vice versa.
The story concludes when the teacher summons a photographer to take a school photograph. He notices that the children are not dressed for a photograph, which, perversely, should be anything but a snapshot of existential reality frozen in time. The teacher's frantic response (the effects of the Valium have apparently worn off if ever they were important), which alarms the children, is to let down her hair, to shake off the symbols of her teacherliness, and to demand that he photograph them as they are: "Take it, she says in a fierce whisper. Take it as we are. We are looking at you. Take it" (262). Of course, this is rather a neat conclusion to discuss in a creative-critical reading and writing classroom since the teacher's attempt to do the impossible-to force her understanding of her own identity to coincide with an objective portrayal; in other words, ultimately and existentially, her aim is to coincide with herself-is directed to the reader. There is a suggestion here that the protagonist, and through her the story itself, understands that its destiny lies in its readers' hands, and that to offer up a self-consciously polysemous self is the best way to ensure an engaged, and convincing, reading of its identity. In hindsight, it is interesting that the one-room library is called the Lyceum. The Aristotelian connotations of this term, which is synonymous with Aristotle's teaching and thence his philosophy, are suggestive of an immanent form to things, such that both the thing and its thingness,27 which Plato had previously kept separate, are now brought together in one space. The shift from one space to a later double space, reflected in the two storeys, or two stories, of the "long two-story brick building" (256)), is then only an apparent shift, as the oneness of the Lyceum is itself philosophically complex and the (BaudeIairean) double room is a tale of two readings beneath one roof. This building is the old brassworks, and as such recalls the factory owner and his other house, the mansion. This one story contains a plurality of readings because all one-room stories are two-story texts in precisely the way that all modern cities are double rooms. And, of course, the teacher's fantastic tour of the school departs from the gymnasium, whose etymology returns us to the Greek verb "to train naked". For, to add layers of interpretation to everyday words is not simply to encumber or to dissolve away identity; rather it is to see a text in its naked potential for otherness.
According to Grauby, the writing workshop facilitates the reinsertion of the collective, and thus the tangible, the human, into the solitary experience of creative writing.28 By harnessing this collective forum and making it also a place of creative, writerly reading, it is possible to demonstrate to students that deconstructionist models of textual analysis are compatible with equally "human" endeavours, and that this dissolution of identity, which can be so mistrusted in expressivist circles, is in fact a proliferation and positive construction of meaning. Hence the benefit of gathering young writers in one room from which many stories will come. For it is also a room in which a number of multi-storeyed, and multi-storied, disciplines can come together and find productive common ground.
University of Newcastle
1 In addition to the present special number, we might also think of previous articles by Grauby, including "Ecrire ensemble? Théories et implications des ateliers d'écriture en France", Australian Journal of French Studies, 47: 3 (2010), 238-252, to which I shall refer in due course.
2 Grauby, p. 243.
3 Grauby, p. 244.
4 Cited in Grauby, p. 247.
5 The negatives of this are, of course, exaggerated here. Creative writing courses are not neatly divided into expressivist models-in which the coincidence of self with one's work would take on all the negative, delimited aspects of Barthes's readerly text-and poststructuralist models. As my colleague Maria Freij points out, most students "just want to write". Irrespective of this, we should argue that it is important that students be made aware of the situatedness of their production; indeed, the intertextuality within which they are operating will be lost on them if they are not also learning to "read", in which case the concept of "just writing" becomes rather problematic.
6 The term "real curriculum" refers to the students' perception of what constitutes their discipline's core. See Richard James, "Students and Student Learning in Mass Systems of Higher Education: Six Educational Issues Facing Universities and Academic Leaders", a seminar paper presented for Mass Higher Education in UK and International Contexts, Surrey, 29-30 May 2007. Available at http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/people/stafT_pages/James/JamesSurreyMay2007. pdf (accessed 31 August 2010).
7 For a reflection on the potential negative aspects of what she calls the "expressivist classroom", especially with regard to raising students' awareness of the constructedness of subjectivity, see Lauren Smith, "Staging the Self: Queer Theory in the Composition Classroom", in Calvin Thomas (ed.), Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality (Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000), pp. 68-84 (p. 69).
8 These debates are nothing new. On the threshold of the twenty-first century, identity was considered by Sidney Dobrin the most pressing issue facing English departments. See Sidney I. Dobrin, "Review: English Departments and the Question of Disciplinarity", College English, 59: 6 (1997), 692-699 (especially 692).
9 Here, I am inevitably paraphrasing Barbara Johnson's excellent chapter "The Critical Difference", in Diana Knight (ed.), Critical Essays on Roland Barthes (New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 2000), pp. 174-182 (see especially p. 175).
10 See, for example, Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey H. Hartman and J. Hillis Miller, Deconstruction and Criticism (New York: Continuum, 1979).
11 Edward Gallafent, "Eastwood's Inscrutable America", keynote address, 'Clint Eastwood: Monument of American Cinema', University of Queensland, 22 July 2010.
12 Charles Baudelaire, "Any where out of the world", in Petits Poèmes en prose (Le Spleen de Paris) (Paris: Gallimard [Poésie/Gallimard], 1973), pp. 146-147 (p. 147).
13 Ross Chambers, Loiterature (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).
14 "Epilogue", Baudelaire, p. 156.
15 The prose-poetic model of analysis that I shall use here to read Doctorow's "The Hunter" is one that focuses on the non-synthetic coincidence, under considerable poetic tension, of these two terms. I am indebted to Michel Covin's reading of Charles Baudelaire's Petits Poèmes en Prose, L'Homme de la rue: Essai sur la poétique baudelairienne (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2000), in which he concentrates on the opposition of la présentation and la représentation, which he highlights by hyphenating it as re-présentation in order to bring out the displacement in time and space of the world's presentation as subsequently rendered, and mythologized, by the poet. This opposition maps perfectly onto the binary of Baudelaire's title: poetry versus prose. For Covin, this tension, the very shock of modernity, is met in the paradoxical space that is Paris.
16 Carol Morgan, "Creative Writing in Foreign Language Teaching", Ixtnguage Learning Journal, 10: 1 (1994), 44-47 (44).
17 The emphasis on critical-creative reading in the University of Newcastle creative writing programme was introduced by Kim Cheng Boey. I am indebted to him, and to our colleague Maria Freij, for affording me the opportunity to teach into this course and for convincing me of the usefulness of this particular, apparently cross-disciplinary synergy. The edition of "The Hunter" to which I refer here is drawn from the textbook for this course, Daniel Halpern (ed.). The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories (New York/London: Penguin, 1987), pp. 256-262. I subsequently went on to teach it in a world literature course at the University of Newcastle, where it complemented Baudelaire's prose poems.
18 The hyphenated "one-room library" is balanced out three lines later by a "two-story brick building", thereby highlighting the double-sidedness of singular space. The ambiguous spelling of "story", which reflects the ambiguous etymology (according to the Oxford English Dictionary, both types of "story" are derived from the Latin word historia), sustains this métonymie reading of the town as dually presented and re-presented and, thus, read doubly.
19 There is a clear sexual edge to the teacher's immodesty, which seems linked to an inability to develop successful sexual relationships with adults. This aspect of the story is not developed here, including the inappropriate touching of the children's bodies at the end, as a result of our focus on modes of re/presentation.
20 Arthur Rimbaud, "Le Dormeur du val", in Rimbaud. Complete Works, Selected Letters, with a parallel F.nglish translation by Wallace Fowlie (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 56.
21 Chambers, passim.
22 Maria Freij, "The Lingering Fog of Childhood", TEXT, 5 (2009), 1-2. Available online at: http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue5/freij.htm (accessed 6 January 2011).
23 Freij, p. 1 (abstract).
24 Baudelaire, pp. 28-30 (p. 30).
25 Almost without fail, and despite the fact that lectures were steered deliberately and explicitly away from any form of biographical criticism, essay questions set on the structure of Baudelaire's prose poems in the framework of the Modern World Literature course at the University of Newcastle elicited large numbers of essays focusing instead on the poet's drug addiction. While this has often been disheartening, it also suggests that the creative-writing classroom, with its perceived focus on words above and beyond meaning, may be a more productive forum for creative-critical reading than the literature one, in which students cling to (others' authoritative) meaning to the detriment of critical engagement with the text.
26 Baudelaire's prose poems are Paris (see Covin for more on this) but only because of his own disenchantment with the city, the way in which its own presentation fails in the 1850s-1860s to meet his representations of it (while still, simultaneously, being Paris and coinciding with these same representations). Doctorow's town is patently not Paris; but Paris also fails to coincide with itself. The Parisianness of this small town lies, therefore, in its (the story's, standing as the town's) prose-poetic display of its own self-alterity.
27 For the connotation of the Lyceum and Aristotelian metaphysics and ontology, see M. C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers (eds), The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 322-323 and pp. 59-60, respectively. Interestingly, Howatson and Chilvers explain the origins of Aristotle's "Peripatetic" teaching style as one "where the students walked up and down" (p. 58). In the story, of course, the teacher leads the children quite literally "up and down" in the school building.
28 Grauby, p. 249.