Assignment 5 Research: Reflection about writing style and course direction

Having nearly reached A4, I have had some thoughts about the course and its importance to my development. In light of that, I have considered the following sentence from my most recent feedback which underlines some internal contradictions that I need to work out: “You would expect me to quibble about the use of the first person in the reflections. I merely think the writer is at the service of the writing rather than the other way around – many would disagree.” (Belshaw, 2016) I was genuinely and deeply confused about why I was asked to avoid writing in the first person in the reflection section of the assignment. However, any reader can see in the quote above my tutor admits there is plenty of room for debate. When I emailed him for some further explanation he explained that I should avoid defensive writing, and that writing in the first person encourages it. I agree that defensive writing is irritating; I irritate myself with it. It is challenging to merely state  facts that relate to a personal struggle with some aspects of the work, as opposed to descending into a whiny, self-pitying moan about history that is frustrating at best. However, the history – MY history, has had an impact on my life, as everyone’s does. The difference is, it’s something I’ve been actively exploring in one way or another since 2004, and it’s the main driver behind what I aim to express. I have long struggled with the narcissistic aspect of exploring ‘self’, and have touched on it here in previous blogs and written about it in TAOP. However, my ongoing longterm project relates to something greater than me, even though “I” is generally my starting point for the time being. Most importantly here, it relates to the formation of self, and therefore perception, which is the basis of each individual’s reality. My subjectivity is my project. (Which may be one reason I am not an academic.) Since we have been asked to explore ‘reality’ in A5, I am now at a juncture where I need to work out how best to proceed and understand that there may be some conflict between what I feel works for me, and what others feel is best for the course aims.

‘I’

Perhaps I could be accused of having an inflated ego, but I think writing, or any medium for that matter, is at the service of the subject. In an empirical text-book the subject usually demands a degree of distance from the writer and in that case objectivity is likely to be key. And to serve the subject best it is probably crucial to write in the third person under those circumstances. Although I see that an academic writer would be best placed to learn how to write that way, I am not on this course to become one of those writers. My subject outside of the confines of UVC is ‘I’ and writing in the third person might be considered problematic, although I do admit under certain conditions might be exactly what is required. I simply don’t want to limit myself to one or the other at this point.

Script writing vs. prose

Moving forward, my acting background is likely to be an important aspect to any current and future creative work. From a writing point of view, I have been unconsciously and heavily influenced by scripts. The sort of texts I am drawn to usually contain layers of subtext, long pauses, non sequiturs; the meaning isn’t always obvious or there is plenty of space for the reader to project, (perhaps collectively in a form of communion – audience). People don’t always speak with clarity in life and a style of scriptwriting emerged in the 50s/60s which aimed to emulate the sense of confusion and diffuseness that sometimes occurs in real dialogue, and I liked that style very much. In complex scripts people often don’t say what they mean. Words and intentions may represent an inner conflict or opposing tensions. Obviously that might not always be ideal when writing an essay about philosophical ideas or people, and as such I have been advised here to write more clearly and less subjectively. Overcoming internalised writing tropes that originate in written dialogue is something I have to be more conscious of, it seems. When I first started writing my other blog, I was advised to stop using the little sequence of fullstops script writers use to denote hesitation of delivery or a pause to work out what the next word might be (…) It didn’t occur to me that would be confusing for people reading my blog. I don’t think I realised until recently when I thought about it, how big an influence theatrical writing has been. So when I read in early feedback from my tutor, blog writing and academic writing need to be different, perhaps I understood the words but I didn’t comprehend quite where my blog writing was situated – which I see now is in the style of a monologue.

Several things occur to me though… (a pause, a breath, a moment to reflect before moving on

  • We are learning about how seeing and perception is constructed by history, and those in positions of power
  • We are learning about people who question traditional ways of perceiving, highlighting contradictions which relate to how we decide on differences between right and wrong, who question binaries that place one thing over another (Derrida – e.g writing over pictures, male over female (Botton, 2016))
  • We have learnt that language is constructed and
  • We might view reality as formed in and by our language, in the signs that help to create an internal edifice around which society is based
  • And about people who have challenged the status quo, the result sometimes being cultural norms shift and new paradigms emerge

All of which lead to …

…Questions in me about the aim of the course, and also about my motivation for doing it. Was my ultimate aim to become an academic who can write perfectly objective critiques of art? Or was it to explore difficult ideas, with structured guidance, and become a little more educated about how art relates to those ideas, or is influenced by them? I have always felt confused about whether or not we are expected in our work here to merely repeat other people’s ideas in order to become familiar with them, or to think about these ideas and apply them to our own interests and project aims. My instinct tells me the latter. My desire insists on the later as the former would be dull. And to be fair, I was encouraged to continue applying what I have learnt to my projects by Peter Haveland early on in the course in an email; ” I like the way that you are making reference to your own experiences, the links with Brecht and so on, this really is the way to go. I think the language is appropriate and so not only does what you are saying make great sense you are saying it in the right way (for the module anyway!)” (Haveland, 2015) The sense I get from my subsequent tutor is that my style of writing is entirely inappropriate, which has been confusing and somewhat discouraging too at times. However, I am certain he is right when he says my essays lack structure. Structure has always been a challenge. I hope I have succeeded in applying some of the advice I’ve received aimed at addressing disorganised chaotic thinking, such as using headings, starting with a brief outline of my argument and then expanding, and ending with a summary – basic stuff but not obvious to someone who has dialogue in her head. I am afraid that sometimes I have resorted to passive writing in an attempt to avoid writing subjectively. Often passive writing ends up coming across as limp, or too didactic, or pompous. I hate using the pronoun ‘One’ but often resort to it in a desperate bid to avoid ‘I’, while trying to satisfy an instruction. It feels old-fashioned and is no longer part of our everyday usage, not that I mind that so much; more importantly it is not my voice. And the point of this whole journey is to find my voice as the commentary in all the OCA literature tells us.

 A self-imposed lack of creative freedom

The result is that I have limited my creativity throughout this course in relation to it, perhaps rightly while I found ways to overcome academic limitations, and apply some of the learning, especially in relation to a style of writing. I also see clearly I would have missed out on some important lessons had I avoided tackling things in a way that felt frustratingly restrictive. But going forward I think it won’t help my development to continue suppressing creativity in favour of academic rigour, or rather to avoid taking risks. That is not part of my art adventure. I just don’t think it serves my personal aims in anyway. I’m 45 years old, I don’t have time to toe the line. What that means for any ‘mark’ I might receive is perhaps irrelevant. Written academia is not my objective. Saying that, I have not reached a satisfactory place for the academic writing yet and we have been asked to write a formal essay for A4, so I have every intention of doing so. A5, however, gives us more leeway and I think I have to find a way to utilise that and make the most of it, so that I create a piece of work that fulfils the course objective as best I can, but more importantly is representative of my aims and ambitions. There may be many creative possibilities and ways to incorporate objective and subjective narratives, but to dispense with ‘I’ entirely in an assignment that asks, ‘What is reality?’ would be to let go of too great an opportunity to explore something I’ve been working towards for what seems like years. Even if the assignment ends up being a sketch for work down the line, I still need it to be relevant to me rather than to serve someone else’s aims.

References:

Haveland, P (2015) Re: Skype (Email sent from Peter Haveland to Sarah-Jane Field 24th September 2015)

Belshaw, M, (2016), UVC Feedback for Sarah-Jane Field A3 (Email attachment sent from Michael Belshaw to Sarah-Jane Field 19th August 2016) https://uvcsjf.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/assignment-3a.pdf

Botton, A (2016) Derrida video by School of Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0tnHr2dqTs (Accessed 2 October 2016)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_passive_voice (Accessed 2 October 2016)

 

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5 thoughts on “Assignment 5 Research: Reflection about writing style and course direction

  1. Well I enjoy the reading – though having trouble keeping up just at the moment! A quick thought about “several things occur to me though..” I’m not sure that we are here to learn per se, rather to study? Learn as a verb seems overly didactic, a power thing, whereas study allows the student to formulate responses to ideas?

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    1. Mmm… not sure I agree. I could probably scribe a badly written essay about the words “to learn” and ‘to study” but as you say, it’s hard to keep up with all the reading, so I shan’t bombard you further 🙂 I very much appreciate your support and reading/commenting but I also understand that it’s not always possible especially at the moment as I’m trying to get through the course in a timely manner and posting so much.

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  2. Such a difficult problem – how to be ‘academic’ enough whilst being true to yourself. I think one of the difficulties with this Module, being an early one, is that it seems as if the reading is entirely separate from making Art, even though it isn’t really. In that sense I’ve very much appreciated how you’ve related your reading to personal experience because it brings often dry academia to life and I think there’s definitely a niche somewhere in general for that. The advantage of the new Modules is that reading we’re given specifically outlines some underlying theories for the photographers we’re asked to look at so it becomes part of ‘context’.

    To me you’ve certainly applied the ideas you’re reading about to your creative work even when you haven’t referred to them in writing. I can hear them coming through when you take about your work in TV group.

    Your idea seems a good one – to be formal for A4 (as observer scholar of yourself) and then to utilise the learning whilst being your creative self for A5.

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    1. I love the course, Catherine. I love learning the stuff I’ve learnt. I’m so pleased to finally know about these people and ideas more than before -and as you say, it’s having a huge impact on work I do, but crucially on the work I think I might do. And I’d love to study it more deeply. Especially Lacan, and the female philosophers I’ve discovered along the way too. It’s not a module for everyone and I find it immensely challenging at times, as I think everyone on it does. But if I were doing this course alongside other modules in a building on a 3 year course it might seem less separate and perhaps there would be more room to apply the work creatively through practise. Here there is very little room. Another UVC student I chat to is doing a less academic module at the same time for that reason, which seems a good solution. Regardless of all that, I really am too needy a person for a distant learning course but it has been the best option up to now, even though it’s also frustrating to need to spread everything out over so much time.

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