There has been a long tradition in the link between criticism and creativity. Thomas Sternes Eliot, widely regarded as (“do I dare?”) the greatest poet of the twentieth century, was also an eminent scholar in his own time, providing a contribution to the influential and controversial field of New Criticism. Besides Eliot, other men of letters have bridged the gap between commentary and authorship. Great writers such as Larkin, Auden, Johnson, and Coleridge were deftly intertwining both aspects of their work; their analytical criticism first, which they used to inform their poetic compositions. This austere age of enormous cuts to academic culture has limited such a chameleonic approach to literature. A group of intellectuals and writers from York and Hull have established a new project called “Strange Bedfellows” in an attempt to remedy this problem. They intent to explore the growing difficulty academics face in continuing to both produce and analyse creative work as under Coalition Britain.
Sophie Coulombeau, Ben Madden and Ryan Hanley are the founders of this new project, and are calling for ten new contributors to the Strange Bedfellows’ blog. Coulombeau, author of “Rites”, which has gained praise from established writers such as Philip Pullman and Fiona Shaw, says that she aims to “help creative and academic communities to work together more effectively to articulate their importance and impact in age of government austerity.” Madden and Hanley are rising academics at York and Hull Universities, currently completing their PhDs. Together, these three have secured funding to interrogate the relationship between literary analysis and creativity. The real relevance of this research is not in the ivory-tower-style musing on this historic connection, but in how it can survive and improve in the face of financial adversity.
Regarding the project’s name, although tongue is held firmly in cheek, the teeth remain bitterly clenched. One can not help thinking that the “Strange Bedfellows” refers less to those abstract lovers, critic and writer, and rather more to Clegg’s and Cameron’s unlikely liaison dangereaux formed at the last general election. This project has fire in its belly, aiming to reach out beyond York University’s concrete walls and engage the community in its pursuit to put forward the case for not only the benefits of a thinker to both study and design, but the need for this creative fusion in modern Britain. Statistics show that more people are reading in Britain than ever before, and more people outside of Britain our reading our books. Literature as a major cultural export and tourist attraction demonstrates a demand for improved critical and creative practice.
Alongside a series of lectures, seminars and conferences, Coulombeau, Madden and Hanley are looking for ten contributors for the Strange Bedfellows’ blog. They are asking for literature students, academics, critics as well as filmmakers, poets or musicians with an interest in theory or philosophy. The bloggers would contribute stories and editorials from September 2012 to August 2013 every other week, although the deadlines are flexible. The ten bloggers in writing to understand the creative/analytical relationship will sharpen their own skills as well as developing a better insight into their own art and what informs it.
I doubt that there will ever be again men and women “of letters” like Eliot and Samuel Johnson in times gone by. But in this technological age it is important for authors to also have a critical output. It sharpens their own instincts when they face the blank page and the blinking cursor. The scholar likewise may nurture his tools of analysis after understanding the rigour it takes in the composition of new work. Strange Bedfellows’ goal of reconciling and understanding the man of letters, the Renaissance man, whatever one wants to call it, is ambitious. Perhaps this project is the end of the rigid framework which differentiates critic from poet or novelist, and critical efforts will go into exploring the total output of individual authorship.
For more information on this exciting new, writer-led, initiative visit www.strange-bedfellows.org. If you are interested in joining the team of bloggers for the next year, or require more information about the project email email@example.com or tweet @StrangeBedProj.