On the road to Barrow: cultural criticism and creative writing

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I've just changed the subtitle of this blog to 'science fiction in the cultural field', to reflect my methods and also the rather wandering nature of this blog over the last few years. A broader sense of cultural production has always been where I've come from critical, rather than a 'literature' enthusiast, student,  scholar, critic. My first degree, at the University of Warwick, was on English and American literature but contained courses on Culture and Society, Film Studies and US society and culture 1955-65. (I followed up the latter by moving to take an MA in American Studies at UEA a couple of years later.) My PhD, on American dystopias of the 50s and 60s, was resolutely culturalist. My first full-time teaching job was as a lecturer in film and media; then I moved to teach literature and film; and in my current job I teach and lecture on a wide range of courses.

One of the lovely things about teaching at my current university is that we're a department of literature and creative writing. Though there are sometimes tensions between the two disciplines, I have great working relationships and friendships with my colleagues and this developed, a couple of years ago, into a collaboration with the novelist Jenn Ashworth, whose novel Fell has recently been published to great acclaim. Jenn has taught a course on Writing and New Media and, because of my interests in this area, we discussed this, and I've subsequently developed a new course along those lines (with more of a bent towards experimental writing) at Master's level.

A few years ago now I developed a particular interest in twitter fiction, and wrote about it. I also wrote my own sf twitter narrative called 'Shiva', which can be found archived here and which I also wrote a post about. 'Shiva' is narrated from the point of view of an AI, which is something I'll pick up in another post in the next couple of days. Because of some of these things (and some critical/creative writing on Ballard that Jenn liked) she asked me to participate in an online narrative project called 'The Barrow Rapture', about a character returning to that town to find it abandoned after a rapture event. I was really privileged to work with Jenn, Tom Fletcher and Beth Ward on this project, an interactive narrative written by Jenn, Tom and myself with Beth's lovely artwork. You can find it, and choose your paths through it, here.

One of the really illuminating things about The Barrow Rapture was finding out about the processes of writing and collaboration, particularly to do with creative practice. It was also terrific to be accepted as a peer and collaborator by very talented people. Following on from this, I've begun a different collaborative project, making films with another colleague (in Film Studies), Bruce Bennett, whose name has been taken, not in vain, in these posts occasionally. I'll write something about this very soon.

Literature academics aren't always easy collaborators, no matter that their metier is (or should be) sharing and communicating their research materials in a variety of forms - lectures, teaching, articles, books, blogs etc. It was always a gap in my own practice, but I was very pleased recently when another colleague called me a 'natural collaborator' (in the positive sense - I think). Like many things to do with my relation to academia, it's learned rather than natural, but pushing myself to do these things has been stimulating and rewarding in dark cultural and political times.

And so we circle back to cultural criticism, to cultural politics and practice. My interest and engagement in creative work is an extension of my inquisitiveness, my desire to find out about things and how they work, to try different approaches, but also my interest in the processes and politics of cultural production and of communication. I'm interested in 'zine and cassette culture, in Super 8 film-making, in punk and post-punk, in artists and makers doing it themselves, seizing the means of production. This blog is a minor form of that, but over time it became more work, and I stopped doing it.

Looking back over the blog posts, certain ideas or threads connect up and recur, and this has always been part of how I go about things (retrospection is no good for planning ahead, of course): I move intuitively and later I see how seemingly disparate things were really connected. The next couple of posts will explore those connections a bit further.

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