In Creative Writing and the New Humanities, Paul Dawson declared that “Creative Writing needs to answer the critique of authorship and of the category of literature offered by Theory” and that central to discussion is the question “how do writing programmes negotiate the insights of contemporary theory, and the critique of literature which these offer?” (2005, 161). In the late 1990s, the rhetoric of Creative Writing academics certainly reflected this challenge. Jen Webb proposed that “one of the skills writing students need is an understanding of the politics of identity and representation” (2000); Kevin Brophy agreed, declaring that Creative Writing academics have a responsibility to teach “social-theoretical analyses of literature” (1998, 203). Articles in TEXT focused on notions such as the perceived tension between Creative Writing and Theory (Bourke and Neilsen 2004; Dibble & Van Loon 2000; Krauth 2000) and the interaction between Creative Writing and Literary Studies (Freiman 2001; Woods 2002). Dawson’s book summarised many of these discussions, and described the ways in which ‘Theory’ manifested in the Creative Writing workshop: models and approaches undertaken by teachers.
A decade or so on – and the discipline has change considerably; indeed, so has the Academy in general. We are now operating in what Leitch calls a forum of “postmodern interdiscipline[s]” (Leitch 2003), or even in a space of ‘post-theory’. Theory is now embedded in our research, but our emphasis has shifted: it has become only one component of the debates in the discipline, such as practice-led research (Smith & Dean 2009) and ERA recognition (Brien, Krauth & Webb 2010). Indeed, it could even be argued that there is a new generation of Creative Writing academics for whom “the embedded presence of Theory” as Dawson puts it, is now simply “taken for granted” (Dawson 2008). More importantly, it seems that there is a change in the way that Creative Writing students respond to Theory in the workshop. For students, there is perhaps a feeling of indifference towards Theory – or, even, something more violent: Dominique Hecq’s “Theory” presents a student voice crying “Next time I hear Barthes I’ll puke” (2011). In the light of these new contexts, I propose that there needs to be a re-evaluation of the function of Theory in the workshop.