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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Notes on Creativity in Scholarship: Intro

I. We can divide things we do into scholarly and creative projects. So a poem, film, or music score would be creative, and the analysis of any of these things would be critical or scholarly.  This is simply a classification, though. An uncreative, derivative film, or an inept play, would still be creative in this classification, just as bad scholarship might still be classified as scholarship.

II. So creativity in scholarship--what is it, exactly? My first idea is that it might be the kind of insight into the creative work that a creator might have. So a musical creator might have insight into the work by virtue of being a composer, that the mere analyst does not have. This does not make the scholarship necessarily creative in its insights. It would depend on whether the composer knew how to formulate insights in this way. Maybe yes, maybe no.  Just being a creative writer doesn't make you a creative thinker. It would depend on the quality of your thought. Still, a skilled practitiioner would now certain things.

III. My second idea is that we know uncreative scholarship when we see it. We call it "plodding. "It belabors obvious points; analyzes in detail with no sense of purpose; provides a lot of information without telling us why it is meaningful; fails to follow up on potentially more interesting points; we read it and don't learn very much of interest. From this sort of unimaginative practice, we can deduce what we mean by creativity.

[IV. But there is another kind of scholarship that tries to be creative, but seems creative in the wrong way (to me!). It is not dull or plodding; it is flashy. It has extravagant interpretations, a shimmering critical metalanguage. It does have a certain excitement about it, but we won't necessarily accept its conclusions and interpretations. It doesn't seem rooted in deep understanding, but in a kind of superficial use of exciting-sounding buzzwords.]

V. So we can reverse the definition of the "uncreative" without falling into the trap of being creative in the wrong ways. Instead of belaboring the obvious, it uses obvious points to set up the more interesting ones; it distinguishes between information and insight; the critic has a nose for what my be interesting and pursues it. He or she would make connections among things that are ordinarily seen as disconnected, or distinguish between things that are falsely seen as the same things, question arbitrary classifications. The originality is based on mastery of the field, and not on bullshit.

VI.  I don't know how to teach this. The student is or is not creative?  But perhaps I could have a series of exercises on scholarly creativity.

Stay tuned...

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