Style, innovation, endurance and murder
24/04/2008 - "Style, innovation, endurance and murder" by Donal Carroll
A salaam! Now we've moved, welcome to the first posting from this site. The blog should be easier to find too, at the front of the Critical Difference home page. Check it out and let us know what you think.
A recent obituary of George Hunter, Professor of English Warwick University prompted this thought: How do individuals express their 'style' –in whatever form? How does 'style' emerge and endure through life and how does it relate to creativity and innovation? In my final year at Warwick , George made this fastidious note on the margin of an essay I had written for him: 'Your style Mr Carroll, varies between inventive barbarism and sloppy journalese.'
Round the same time, my tutor was the wonderful JMNewton, a sort of refugee from Cambridge University preciousness, whose style was the opposite of George's. He invited me to a public lecture at the ICA in London , on 'Literary Criticism, Universities, Murder', later published in the Cambridge Quarterly. In the lecture JMN talked of John Donne and how some EngLit teachers 'murder' student imagination. One example he gave was where, as part of an English poetry course, I had written an open letter to William Blake which a (different) tutor refused to accept as it was 'unacademic'. He also warned me, that to progress, I needed 'advocates' in the English Department.
Looking back on this now which 'advice' proved most useful? My first job, post-Warwick, turned out to be teaching poetry at Cambridge University . As for George's comment –have a look round the Critical Difference site and judge for yourself.
At a more public level, here are some recent innovations –we hope to do an innovation of the week from now on:
  • Giving Women Credit: Pro Mujer: giving micro loans to ' Latin America 's poorest entrepreneurs' lending only to women. This extends Nobel Prize winner, Mohammed Yunnus' Grameen Bank idea to disburse millions of tiny loans to Bangladeshi women living in poverty, with immense success.

  • 'Boy wonder' 5 year old Samuel Houghton, inventor of the Improved Broom which consists of two ordinary brooms with different sized bristles tied together with a rubber band to enable variable dirt to be swept up more efficiently! (Guardian 24/4/08) Wonder where he'll be in 30 years time?

  • 'Sshhh...!' bags: made of biodegradable jute, from staff at Leeds University and given to students there. Staff also use Web 2.0 technologies to link students and teachers in virtual communities. Participants can 'mash-up', or create user generated content by lifting text, music, film, sound from various sources (with copyright). Their efforts are in part, to combat problems raised in a JISC report 'Information Behaviour of the Researchers of the Future' which found users 'power-browsing' (skimming), using 'horizontal' (shallow) research, and go online to 'avoid reading in the traditional sense'. (Sshhh...! Bags:

  • Mash-up appears in a different way with chopping up professional media at the user's whim: select any part of any video, or film and do what you like with it -email it, use in a blog, put it on your Facebook page... And if they haven't got what you want, they'll direct you to a relevant source even if a rival. Costs though, they seem heavily venture-capitalised.

  • 'The glory of failure' project: seeks 'to turn the conventional of failure on its head by exploring the benefits of failure in order to promote a healthy sense of ambition, creativity and innovative spirit...'

  • And... a current joke: what's the difference between bank hedge funds and a Las Vegas Casino? Casinos are regulated.

  • Finally, for all the poets out there, and budding innovators in whatever form, keep producing, keep your imagination up, and don't stop dreaming. Constraints are the necessary gruel. As Nabokov, said keep looking for the halo round the frying pan.

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