A5 Research: Writing style, language, denial of self, emotion, feeling

I recently posted about how I would be working with a woman called called Mandy on an image. She is currently doing a Masters and as we talk about our ideas it becomes more and more apparent that we are investigating very similar themes from different viewpoints.

The following is a quote from a recent email about her course and dissertation.

“The starting point for our Masters is that the dominant, masculine way of viewing and understanding the world via logical, rational, empiricist study – which encourages detachment and abstraction – is connected to our failure to finding new ways of understanding our world in a deepening social and ecological crisis. So we are pushed to practice radical “extended epistemology” where we give experiential and presentational (artful) knowing as much value as propositional knowing (ideas, theories, etc.). It’s viewed as a very necessary rebalancing of our rational/emotional (feminine/masculine) faculties. Hence my focus on artful inquiry in this project. It’s also why we’re encouraged to write in first person right from the start – to avoid that traditional academic language of detachment.

The title for my dissertatation by the way (can’t remember if I told you) is: How to move from powerlessness to power through the lens of gender.” (Thatcher; 2016)

I find this so interesting in view of my thoughts on writing since I began UVC. While I am in no doubt that my writing skills have improved since starting this module, I am also constantly wondering about why I have been asked to write less emotionally and more subjectively.

I have been watching quite a lot about William Kentridge since seeing his work at the Whitechapel the other day, so was pleased to see yet another connection in Mandy’s work as she told me she had quoted Kentridge in her dissertation.

“”In an article on the work of South African artist William Kentridge, the writer describes the presence in his studio of “Disembowelled encyclopedias, defaced accounts ledgers and liturgical tracts: on the hundreds, if not thousands of pages that Kentridge has marked, naive shapes dance across the oppressive knowingness of Enlightenment rationality and everything that it became when exported to the rest of the world — a humanism that was not extended to all humans.” As the author of this project report I too am trying to find a way to dance across these pages in something other than “oppressive knowingness”. I am striving to dabble with what Nora Bateson’s daughter describes (in the forward of Bateson’s new book) as countering the “cold tone of academic contemplation” with a “willingness to allow emotion to bleed into her words. In doing so she reminds the reader to never exclude their emotional, physical, and mental responses from the process of critical thinking. To form walls around these various aspects of the self is to deny the possibility of feeling and perceiving in more than one way at a time” (Bateson, 2016: page 11).”” (Thatcher, 2016) (It was me who used bold here, incidentally.)

Kentridge describes his working process in a recent documentary on BBC. He doesn’t plan, he makes no story board. His process is extremely organic. I don’t intend to follow his lead with A5 entirely, but I do take great comfort and encouragement from him regarding any creative work. And I hope some of that filters through to the academic work too because I think a “willingness to allow emotion to bleed” into any form of work, academic or not, is extremely valuable and worthwhile.

I have seen language used by others (often male but not only or always) to distance themselves from emotions in my own life. In once instance, by insisting on clinical, cold words in place of  ‘real’ ones, a person I was sharing something extremely painful with attempted to deny his distress and relied on language to keep at bay. It was like watching someone terrified and small rattling really, really large weapons at the world. But it also caused me further pain at a time when I needed comfort, because I received it as an attempt to diminish my own sense of loss. In fact, in retrospect I see someone with a crippling  inability to process difficult feelings trying to grapple with the onslaught of loss, and clumsily hurting me too as he did so. As discussed at the start of Mandy’s course and in the Kentridge quote above, people are conditioned to stay away way from their emotions which can be quite unhelpful at times. I have thought about this recently as I contemplate the way language is used in academia. Ring-fencing emotion and placing it in clinical language may be appropriate in some instances but it arguably perpetuates a conditioned way of existing in the world. When we don’t call things what they really are we can separate actions and feelings from the reality. For example, assassinate rather than murder; foetus rather than a baby.

We do indeed have different voices for varying scenarios in life. But just as one gaze has dominated western existence for so long, so has one voice. And I am not sure I wish to move forward with questioning that particular voice. Yes, some form of protection is undoubedtly necessary, but it’s worth recognising there is an expense and there may be times when some level of vulnerability are desirable too, therefore ideally enabling  greater empathy. It does seem as if there is rather too little of that around at the moment. The way Mandy and her cohort are encouraged to write from the start of their inquiries is worth thinking about in relation to whatever I end up writing about for A5. Certainly language and they way it shapes reality is very much at the forefront of my mind.

As such I was intrigued by the following research which looks at how tabloid newspapers report rape and the domestic murder compared to broadsheets. The Sun and other tabloids tend to describe murdered female partners in a way that excuses male murderers, therefore removing or reducing blame from the culprit and placing it on the victim. And so in this case emotional language is used irresponsibly and skews the story.


In addition, the way the internet has enabled an extreme right wing world view to circulate, again using language albeit a less easily recognisable one, is also something work considering. Again, emotive language is used to facilitate the spread of hate and intolerance.


We are being asked to write 2000 words with the following question as our heading:

What is Reality?

It may be worth starting with a quote by Roger Ballan from this month’s BJP – “Photography has taught me that reality is an impossible concept to comprehend” (2016;16)

It is interesting that both Ballan and Kentridge mix drawing and photographic imagary, not to mention the South African connection, and I am immensely drawn to each to them.




9 thoughts on “A5 Research: Writing style, language, denial of self, emotion, feeling

  1. Hi SJ,
    I guess I fall largely into the ‘academic’ style of writing rather than emotional but understand your thinking. However, iI think that one must beware of writing emotionally and forgetting logic. I think that the latter is important in academic writing even if it is written with emotion. Also of course one can write with more or less emotion in different fora. I like your style in your blog, 1st person and from the heart. In a formal essay I would go with less emotion and also 3rd person, but then that is me !
    I think that the Ballen quote is great – maybe I will use it too. However, I have found his work too deep for me and struggle to understand it. R Doug


    1. I guess the point is that if one views the world through a cold, clinical lens only, then perhaps here can be only one right and anything other than that is wrong. If one has a more subtle view of the world then we can aim for a more nuanced and interesting way or writing, seeing, or anything really.


  2. Certainly a complex topic. I’ve written before about the novelist Elif Shafak and how she uses Turkish as her emotional language and English as her intellectual one.
    Not all academic language is the same and I know comments have been made on OCA forums about the language used by insiders in various disciplines as their own shorthand and symbol of professional identity. I think you’re doing well in adapting towards what’s apparently expected in UVC in terms of the academic whilst holding on to your own sense of self as a writer.
    Versions of reality – that could be a very fruitful discussion at some point.


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