MSL Evening School Sem 1 2023
A Seminar and Workshop taught in-person March-June
The Melbourne School of Literature is proud to present the Semester 1 Program. The critical seminar is 10 hours in length. The Practical Workshop runs for 25 hours and requires an application - see details below. All classes will be in person at the Kathleen Syme Centre in Carlton. Distance enrolment will be audio access only.
When: 27 March - 5 June
Where: Kathleen Syme Centre, 251 Faraday St, Carlton. Critical Seminar: Multipurpose Room 2. Creative Writing Seminar: Activity Room 2.
Please note that for the Melbourne School of Literature semester 1 program, the MSCP is unable to offer online distance enrolment via zoom. However, the critical seminar classes are being recorded in audio format only and will be available for distance students to access at the end of the class. Access to the recorded lectures will be provided via the online box portal. All payment must be made via credit card during enrolment.
MSL Semester 1 Program
Seminar: 2 hours per week for 5 weeks / Creative Writing Workshop: 2.5 hours per week for 10 weeks
The Will to Style: critical seminars on the false problems of fiction
Lecturer: Ursula Robinson-Shaw
Starts: Wed 5:00-7:00pm 29 March
Full Schedule: Mar 29 (postponed), Apr 5, 12, 19, 26 (NB: this class starts at 5.30pm) , May 3
Location: Kathleen Syme Library, Carlton. Multipurpose Room 2.
What is wrong with fiction nowadays? Why is it so trite, formulaic, limp, posturing, and shit? According to lore, poetry is the esoteric language art we must learn to decode, the form closest to the unconscious; nobody can read it, but, due to its essential mystery, everybody can write it. Stories, on the other hand, are readily understood even by children, and conversely the writing of fiction is a matter of dogged and dedicated craft, involving much measured reflection, aesthetic restraint, and the disciplined exercise of sympathetic imagination.
This approach to the writing of fiction, popularised by the MFA, and the accompanying focus on ‘literary craft’ is, at its worst, ahistorical, depoliticising, and artistically neutering. The seminars in this short course aim to denaturalise the creative writing program’s toolkit, taking a critical approach to those ‘false problems’ of story — character, plot, perspective and style. Responding to the three traditional imperatives of creative writing programs (show don’t tell; write what you know; find your voice) this course will be structured by three provocations:
- THERE IS NO ‘TECHNIQUE’!
- FICTION IS A FORM OF LIFE!
- ART IS NOT THERAPY!
Forgoing assumptions about what fiction is (the human storytelling impulse, an expression of subjectivity, a therapeutic mechanism) and what it does (foster empathy, represent identity, redeem the horrors of life) we’ll blaze a haphazard and polemical trail through some key literary theory to figure out how fiction works. We’ll explore the relationship between fictionality and social forms, the commodity of the text, the performance of authorial selfhood, and that ineffable thing, ‘style’.
Though this course is designed to be taken alongside the MSL creative writing workshop (below), it’s appropriate for anyone interested in fiction as a reader or writer.
THE PRIMAL SCENE: WHERE DOES FICTION COME FROM?
Orienting the course, we will look at some of the novel’s historical conditions of production, thinking about the rise of fictionality as a way of articulating the self and of engaging in new kinds of speculative thinking. Moving to the contemporary, we’ll discuss the development of the short story in the 20th century, and critically consider its function as a commercial outgrowth of the creative writing program itself.
- ‘The Rise of Fictionality’, Catherine Gallagher, in The Novel vol. 1, ed Franco Moretti.
- The Program Era, Mark McGurl, ch. 5.
CHARACTER, AUTONOMY, MODERNITY
The pedagogical commonplace insists that we experience characters as human beings; good characterisation is, supposedly, about authorising and evoking this response. Characters are ‘round’ or ‘flat’; protagonists are ‘convincing,’ ‘coherent’, and, worst, ‘relatable’, embedded in but not contained by the world of the text. We’ll talk about the close relationship between individual subjectivity, rationalisation, and the novel form; extending our discussion of Gallagher’s fictionality from the previous week, we’ll talk about what makes a protagonist, touching on Alex Woloch’s labour theory of character.
- ‘Minor Characters’ - Alex Woloch, in The Novel vol 2, ed. Franco Moretti.
- The Antinomies of Realism - Fredric Jameson, ch. 1 and 2.
PLOT, IRONY AND THE NON-NARRATABLE
Plot is often understood to revolve around two things: causality (that is, one event leading to another according to the laws of plausibility) and, to a much greater degree, character evolution (character motive, character development, and character revelation). We’ll discuss what makes the plotting of modern fiction different to the hermeneutic patterning of the mythic or legendary, and look at the constitutive tension between what a narrative tells us it wants, and what it does, with specific reference D.A. Miller’s work on closure.
- Narrative and its Discontents, D.A. Miller, ch. 1.
- The Rhetoric of Narrative, Wayne C. Booth, ch 1. and 7.
NARRATION, INTENTION AND AUTHORIAL SELFHOOD
When the story talks, who is speaking? Where does narrative authority reside? We’ll look at the thematic, analogic and mimetic levels at which narration occurs, briefly stopping over in structuralist theory of narrative discourse. Moving beyond point-of-view analysis to think about how a focus on ‘character’ and ‘perspective’ can obscure the ideological operations of a text, we’ll discuss the disordered, complex, and sometimes sinister production of narrative ‘voice’.
- Narrative Discourse, Gerald Genette, ch. 5.
- The Culture of Redemption, Leo Bersani, ch. 7.
STYLE, VOLITION AND THE UNCONSCIOUS
‘Style’ has a number of contradictory meanings, referring at once to a cultural unconscious expressed in individual works; to the immanent and immutable mark of the author; and to the highly agential and deliberate exercise of technique. Freud says that ‘every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or rather, rearranges the things of the world in a new way that pleases him.’ We’ll triangulate these definitions by way of Freud, Sontag and Nietzsche, thinking about wish-fulfillment, the volition of the author, and artistic self-shattering, in a discussion of the politics of style.
- ‘On Style’, Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays.
- ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, Sigmund Freud.
- The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Creative Writing Workshop: Narrative Prose
Lecturers: Ursula Robinson-Shaw & Jack Kirne
Starts: Mon 5:30-8:00pm 27 March
Full Schedule: Mar 27, Apr 3, Break, 17, 24, May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, Jun 5
Location: Kathleen Syme Library, Carlton. Activity Room 2.
Faulkner said writers need two of three things — ‘experience, imagination, observation’. As Fredric Jameson has pointed out, only one of these is available in the classroom. This workshop will proceed on two assumptions: that a community is a writer’s most invaluable resource; and that, imagination and experience being unteachable, all writers can actually learn is to look closer.
In this practice-based workshop, we will share, respond to and critique works of narrative prose. It’s encouraged — though not compulsory — to begin this workshop with a project in mind. Ideally, your project will be workshopped twice during the ten 2.5 hour sessions. You’ll be expected to attend workshops having read and thought about each other's work, which will be distributed in advance of each week’s session.
Workshops will be accompanied by a reading list, consisting of short fiction, novellas, and novel excerpts, and ranging from the late-nineteenth century to the contemporary. This reading list will be reflexive to workshop discussions and the work presented, shifting to accommodate conversations in the workshops and the participant’s work. Each workshop will start with a brief discussion of one or more of these texts.
Workshopping is designed to be undertaken alongside critical seminars. The workshops are participation-led, and seminars are not designed to act as a formal syllabus to be ‘applied’ in the workshop setting, though there is an expectation of participation in both.