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Educational Philosophy and Theory, Vol. 43, No.

4, 2011
doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2008.00502.x

Aesthetic Creativity: Insights from


classical literary theory on creative
learning _502 321..335

T G H
Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy, Lund
University

Abstract
This paper addresses the subject of textual creativity by drawing on work done in
classical literary theory and criticism, specifically new criticism, structuralism and early
poststructuralism. The question of how readers and writers engage creatively with the text
is closely related to educational concerns, though they are often thought of as separate
disciplines. Modern literary theory in many ways collapses this distinction in its concern
for how literariness is achieved and, specifically, how literary quality is accomplished in
the textual and the social dimension. Taking literary and aesthetic creativity as a point of
departure in the reading of five central authors in classical literary criticism, the paper
identifies the processes of narrative imagination and emotional identification as central to
the role that the textual dimension plays in the creative process of the author/reader
particularly in the way it provides a space for experimentation and self-reflexion through
storying.

Keywords: aesthetic creativity, learning, literary theory, narrative

Aesthetic creativity is a well-researched area, and studies abound on the social


and physical conditions for aesthetic achievement, the histories and personality
dimensions of artists, and the cognitive processes present in artistic creativity
(Gardner, 1993; Pfenniger & Shubik, 2001; Simonton, 1997). The field has also
been methodologically eclectic and one can find a rich array of methods ranging
from historiography/biography, and qualitative interviews to experimental and
survey studies. This paper takes a somewhat different approach to the question
of aesthetic creativity, by looking at how three schools in literary theory and
criticism have treated the issue of creativity in the constitution of the literary
text. The focus of this contribution is specifically related to the learner side of the
educational nexus, emphasizing how literary creativity is a process of self-extension,
which pertains dually to the reading and writing of the literary text.

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Educational Philosophy and Theory 2009 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and
350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
322 Tomas Georg Hellstrm

Unfortunately for those concerned with educational issues, much of the rich
tradition of (modern) literary theory and criticism has been about the writing
out of creativity from aesthetic consideration. In new criticism, an influential
movement in literary criticism developed in the 1920s1940s, this was done
through close reading and detailed textual analysis mainly of poetry, as a reaction
against the biographical/psychological author focus of previous forms of criticism.
Similarly in structuralist literary theory, this has been done by focusing exclusively
on conventions and codes employed in literary text, thus depriving the author of a
place in the analysisand finally in postmodernism by simply declaring the death
of the author as a creative element on the whole. However, these traditions, as we
will see, all reserve a space for creativity, even if this space sometimes has to be
analytically reconstructed. The aim of this paper is the reconstruction of such a
space, with the purpose of investigating some of the ways in which criticism and
theory have identified sources and signs of literary creativity. From an educational
perspective, such an analysis would be useful since one can hypothesize that from
an institutional point of view criticism structures both the writing and the reading
of text, that is, it continuously provides the production and consumption cycles of
the literary with a descriptive and normative poetics which has clear educational
implications. The theoretical orientations analyzed in this paper are significant for
the way that they have come to affect literary traditions and to structure the way
that artists as well as readers relate to texts.
In creativity research the literary text has been the focus of attentionalbeit
sparselyat least since the publication of Ghiselins anthology The Creative Process:
A Symposium (1952/1985). This text, which includes a wealth of primary material
on the artistic process, including that of poetry, has inspired subsequent authors
to take a lifeworld perspective on artistic creation, and in so doing to focus on the
process of aesthetic creativity, rather than on its end product (Bindeman, 1998). For
example Doyle (1998), drawing on a qualitative study of narrative authors, shows
how the writing process is constituted by a non-reflexive mode of narrative
improvisation, where the writer moves between a preparation and reflection world
and a fiction world, the latter being a state where story elements pre-reflexively
come to the writer, to be included in a text. Other researchers, e.g. Lubart and
Getz (1997) have emphasized the import of personally internalized and emotionally
charged metaphors or endocepts and how these are used in creative association
processes. This connection between metaphor, emotion and association is close to
what I have found occupies much of the way in which literary scholars link creative
processes to the aesthetic expression.
This last point concerning the connection between emotion and association in
the literary experience is addressed by among others Radford (2004), who draws
on the idea of conceptual spaces advanced by Boden (1994) to explore a number
of creative dimensions of fiction texts. The central premise, that a writer may
establish and operate a conceptual literary space with its own logic and evaluative
standards makes several literary devices possible, including defamiliarization
experiences in the reader and the opening up of new avenues for exploring expanded
senses of self (Richmond, 1999; Shklovsky, 1965). In addition it also provides new

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bases for meta-reflection on the artform as such (Godfrey, 1998). The creative
function in these cases is to affect a figure shift in the readera process to which
the reader must actively contribute by being prepared to utilize his/her prior
experiences in new ways of thinking within a narrative. Jerome Bruner (1979,
p. 72) touched upon one essential aspect of this process in his reference to the
shock of recognition, that is, the way in which a text may tell us something we
implicitly already knew, but in a new, unexpected way. I will elaborate on the
foundations for this process and synthesize some of its key elements by introducing
the concepts of narrative imagination and emotional identification.
Because of the duality of the text in terms of creativity, where a writer writes and
a reader reads, as well as the assumption that literary qualities are constructed
somewhere within this continuum, I have chosen to present the analysis of this
paper under the heading of writing and reading respectively. Furthermore, these
sections draw on three critics/theorists, which I believe to be representative of their
respective traditions: the new critic Cleanth Brooks (1947, 1951), structuralist
Jonathan Culler (1975) and the poststructuralist Paul de Man (1979). These
critics, even though they produced most of their work between the 1950s and
1970s nevertheless represent the theoretical sentiments of their respective schools.
The paper will conclude with a discussion and conclusions pertaining to creativity
and literary theory, and how insights here may extend our understanding of
creativity and aesthetic education.

Writing
As previously mentioned much of literary criticism and theory, at least since
Russian formalism in the 1920s, has more or less explicitly eliminated the author
as a creative subject and replaced him/her with a textual focus (jxenbaum, 1971).
In postmodernist theory this has been achieved mainly by introducing the recon-
structive powers of a reader who actively assembles intertextual references and
historical fragments of a text into something which makes sense from a personal
perspective. The significance of saying no to authorial creativity and yes to reader
creativity is difficult to ascertain. The demotion of the author in this way seems
to have been just as much a political project as an epistemological one. Further-
more, much of this attack on the author as a creative subject seems to be based
on confounding the author as a historical, concrete person with the author as an
artistic function, who is concretized in a textual expression. The following discussion
of authorial creativity will therefore take its point of departure from the generative
function implied in the text as that which is put forward for the reader.
The representatives of new criticism rejected the notion that authorial intention
should play any role in the interpretation of literary texts but they nevertheless
emphasized and systematized, in unique detail, the creative function of the authorial
expression. While the authors intention, in their mind, could never be a norm for
how to approach the text, the authorial intellect was still considered the exclusive
and inimitable cause of the text. This distinction allowed the new critics to
elaborate a neutral poetics of literary expressions, in which the artistic function

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remained central, while the author him/herself could be safely bracketed and
replaced with principles or norms for literary creation. The literary expression,
as in that which is expressed became the focus, rather than that which was
intended, which was eliminated from analysis. In this account I will start by looking
at how the new criticsparticularly Cleanth Brooksdealt with this creative
function. After that I will trace the function of authorial creativity via Jonathan
Cullers structuralism and reader-oriented semiotics, and finally take up some of
the observations on this issue made by Paul de Manhere taken to represent
postmodernism in one of its earlier Anglo-American incarnations.
Focusing on the literary expressionor the product of writingthe new critics
touched on at least three areas of concern for understanding the creative act. The
first of these is the way in which the author works with internal integration and
economizing of the literary expression in terms of a close and balanced amalgamation
of its component parts, in order to achieve an aesthetic effect. The second follows
from the first, and is the way in which a literary work becomes uniquely able to
express its pointthat is, it becomes impossible to paraphrase in an exhaustive
way, and thus governs its own inimitable expression. These two functions would
typically lead to a third, namely a focused emotional/aesthetic experience in the
reader and particularly a homogenization of this experience. This last effect we may
locate in the act of reading, and it will be taken up in the next section.
In the first instance the authorial challenge is one of presenting and exploring
disparate or seemingly contradictory aspects of a phenomenon which are gradually
shown to hang together according to a theme. In effect something deeply true about
the phenomenon that theme refers to is brought out. Ambiguity of interpretation
is of great import during this explorative process, yet it must be balanced so as not
to diminish the effect of pulling towards a thematic centre where the truth of the
subject of a text can be seen. This process of exploration as Cleanth Brooks (1947)
describes it, is in every way a convergent process of drilling in one place, by means
of a divergent set of images and signs. The main way of creating such imagery is
through metaphoric and metonymic association, however again, the new critic
would have pointed out that symbolic divergence from the theme can only be
temporary, and must eventually offer a clear path towards the centre of meaning
of the text. There are at least two creative challenges here which take place on an
authorial level. Firstly it is the identification and execution of a language of meaning:
values and symbols that are not the same as any one concrete subject of the text
that is, the elaboration of a poetic meta-language. Secondly, there is the capture of
a unitary idea through the elaboration of a variety of divergent expressions, where
a living tension will have to be maintained throughout the process of textual
elaboration. Both of these illustrate a mixed convergent-divergent principle, where
onethe divergentmay be said to be in service of the other. The creative decision
is how much divergence/convergence can co-exist for a proper poetic balance to
be maintained.
Brooks points out that the way that this creative unity in tension is identified
in a poem is that its substance becomes impossible to paraphrase, to redescribe in
another style with other words, without losing that which is distinctly meaningful

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about the original expression. The significance of a well-conceived poem is that


anyone who tries to explain what it says ends up themselves using metaphors and
poetic expressions, and in effect turns out their own literary product. This may be
the reason that criticism often itself has the character of literary text. Drawing
on the above argument one may reflect that this quality is related to the way in which
the components of a literary text stand in dynamic tension to each other, and that
these relationships are impossible to decouple without changing the meaning of the
other partsthat is a unique pattern of internal dependency. Again, the creative
achievement lies not in reformulating a known or novel topic in a symbolic
language, but in the way that such an internal dependency of a text is created, so
that its referent relation becomes unique.
What new criticism leaves open is the way that literary creativity is also a social
function, namely one that is embedded in the communicative act between a sender
and a receiver. While the new critics would have emphasized the channel through
which something is communicated, i.e. the text, the structuralist critic Jonathan
Culler (1975) specifically addressed the context, or the social conventions, which
makes this something a valuable contribution. From the point of view of identifying
literary creativity, this is a far from trivial matter, since it points us in two new
directions at least: firstly the way that an author enacts a balanced interplay
between the uniqueness of his/her contribution and the expectations or receptiveness
of a collective of readers, and secondly the way that creative contributions are
valued by this collective. I will look at the first of these two now and treat the
second in the next section.
Culler emphasizes how the literary institution to a large extent forms how
authors and readers produce and consume texts, through the application of meaning
creating rules which are applied to a material. This may appear to be the starting
point for writing creativity out of literary theory, but I believe it merely shifts the
location of the creative act. Instead of emphasizing the creation of a harmonious
whole in for example the individual poem, Culler directs our attention to how such
wholes are created as socially and culturally distributed systems of meaning. Here
the creative thrust of the authorial function becomes one of shaping meaningful
expressions which trade on the existence of conventions and genres, without for
that reason becoming trivial. At the centre of the creative function is the notion of
effects, and how effects come about for the reader. In formulating the text, authorial
choices will, according to Culler, be made in order to achieve an effect. That is,
an expression will have to be recognizable as literary, or simply intelligible, but
at the same time be relatively unexpected in order to challenge existing reader
conventions. The potentially destructive power which literary expressions may
wield over literary conventions is thereby recognized, and Culler has in effect
formulated a theory of literary change, albeit one that, contradictory to his own
structuralist principles seems to put the text in focus rather than the collective.
At least two ways can identified in which Cullers structuralism designates the
authorial function as creative: in the first instance an author must be able to create
a text which can be read as meaningfully addressing something which is of concern
to people other than themselves, and secondly, that in the process of creating

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meaning in this way, the author challenges established forms of meaning mak-
ing. By moving the creative question outside of the text proper and into the
sphere of conventions, we are able to identify new dimensions of how the tension
between the expected and the unexpectedalso pointed to by the new criticsis
achieved. In fact, in line with the new critics as well as in opposition to them,
Culler suggests that the achievement of a certain textual arrangement, a fragmen-
tation of the text and a dislocation of its form of expression, generates a challenge
in the reader to question the self, pushing identity boundaries in new directions
and thereby expanding and deconstructing convention along with identity. However,
this transformation is very much dependent on the influence of conventions already
present.
To finalize the section on writing, I would like to take up a few points brought
out by Paul de Man, a theorist who is usually located in the poststructuralist
tradition of literary criticism (1979). As we have seen in the above, the creative
function of the author seems to revolve around a tension between an inward and
an outward focus. In new criticism it is between textual coherence and reader
novelty, and in Cullers structuralism the tension between a convention and textual
dislocation. In both cases the authors function is one of opening up a passage
between an inner and an outer world by creating a bridge, crossable through the
act of reading. De Man challenges this metaphor, in the first instance by pointing
to the integral relationship between what the text achievesits rhetorical function
and the way it is arrangedits grammatical function. Instead of treating these as
relatively autonomouswhere, for example, words can be replaced in a sentence
without changing its rhetorical forcede Man emphasises the way that rhetoric
and grammar converge in illocutionary speech acts like for example in rhetorical
questions where the syntax of a sentence and its literary meaning are completely
bound up with a communicative act. So the question: whats the difference? may
actually be a forceful indictment to the effect that the answer to the question is
clear beyond any doubt. De Man equals the powerful figurative potential of
language with this collapsing of the inner and outer aspects of the text, its
form and function, and most importantly to the ability of the literary expression to
meta-reflect and legislate different rules for such a collapse. As a final reflection
then, one may note that the writers function, in this analysis, is a matter of creating
a relationship rather than a text, akin to the one created when someone asks a
rhetorical question or displays irony. In this way, according to de Man, writing
becomes a form of deconstruction, working with established grammatical forms
to achieve a rhetorical, ironic effect, albeit never leaving the available grammar.
Creativity is now taken to be the artful forming of rhetorical figures by second-guessing
the reader and utilizing the grammar of rhetoric to create communicative effects.

Reading
In the beginning of the previous section I attempted to show how the careful design
of a literary expressionits stylistic economy and self-referentialityacts to create
a focused emotional experience in the reader. I will begin this section on reading

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by interrogating how the new critics address and explain the way such homo-
genization of experience comes about in reading: that is, the way in which a textually
inward focused movement may create unexpected novelty in the process of reading.
After having discussed new criticism from this perspective I will look more closely
at how reading as a creative act is addressed by literary theorists Jonathan Culler
and Paul de Man (cited earlier).
As a corollary to what I have discussed above, Cleanth Brooks emphasizes how in
the act of reading, for example, a poem, the reader is charged with decoding
and focussing the metaphors and references of the poetic text into a total experience.
This experience works on the raw material provided by the text in the form of
divergent symbolisms and images. Just as the writer explores the possibilities of
language, the reader explores the dimensions of experience through language.
Brooks refers to this process as one of discovery, but on closer reflection it may be
taken to represent a more focused and active investigation or perhaps even creation
of emotional consciousness, that is again a mixed divergent-convergent motion
where somehow the former seems to be in service of the latter. The structure
towards which the reader is working to converge in his/her mind is a complex onea
heterogenous assemblage of values, meanings and interpretationshowever it is
one that is at the same time unique to that reader and specifically ending in one
total experience.
This may appear to represent a problem: why should we assume that a clearly
convergent experience drawing on a given set of textual expressions generates a
unique experience for the reader? Why is this statement necessary or explanatory
for the new critics and how can it contribute to our understanding of the creative
act of reading? One possible answer is that the act of reading itself constitutes
a specific form of artistic writing. Similar to the impossibility of successfully
paraphrasing a poem, where no single experience, regardless of its typicality in a
culture or in history will prompt two writers to represent it in the same way, the
same poem will never generate the same mental paraphrase in the mind of two
readers. The way that one reader creatively distinguishes him/herself from another
lies, according to new criticism, in the way that that person patterns the symbolic
structure of a literary text uniquelylike a paintingand the way in which that
person chooses to execute that pattern transformatively through a sequence of
emotional and intellectual appropriation, quite similar to that of creating a musical
composition. However, from the point of view of theory the question remains:
what is it that connects readers in the process of acquiring an aesthetic experience
from a literary text; what is it that they shareoutside of their unique personal
reconstructionthat the author may trade on to achieve communication? To
answer this question one may draw on Jonathan Cullers structuralism.
While Culler does not deny that literary work in some sense contains the
potential for literariness, he nevertheless locates artistic creativity mainly in the
readers act of decoding a text as literary. This act of decoding specifically involves
the application of an implicit or explicit theory of discourse in the act of reading,
in the first case to answer the questionis this a literary text? Such reconstruction
seems in Cullers mind to involve a supply side as well as a demand side function

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of reading. What I mean by this is that the reader must know the internal aesthetic
mechanisms which would make the text an aesthetic contributionits grammar so
to speakas well as the social function of such a textthat is, the function of
literary discourse in general. Culler refers to the ability to recognize, or rather to
successfully reconstruct, these two functions literary competence, that is, the
confluence of analytical and social abilities which enables a reader to see some
text as literary. Culler takes up at least two corresponding ways of reading which
resemble that of new criticism: the reading for internal aesthetic mechanisms could
be said to correspond to a reading which draws on the literary convention of
thematic unity, that is, the way that different pieces of the text must be assumed
to be about the same thing, or to hang together in some way. The second,
external form of reading would assume that it is the task of literary texts to
communicate a meaningful position or statement relating to problems concerning
other humans. However the way that readers choose to view the text as a whole as
meaningful and the way they elect various parts for conventional extraction, is still
very much indeterminate and thus creative. Not only must the reader decide
on the content direction and scope of a variety of human concerns potentially
applicable to that particular text; to simultaneously decode a thematic unity which
is just as much a semantic and grammatical construction as a social one, but
he/she must also tie these two into a whole which will correspond to cultural mores.
How can this be done? Pre-established categories of writing and interpretation,
literary taxonomies etc. go a long way, however, as we have seen above literary
products do not come steeped in these categories (not even in Cullers version of
structuralism), and in any case mental and cultural taxonomies do not guarantee
a distortion free communication between author and reader.
Culler identifies the source of understanding in the principles for extrapolating
from one work to another, which a reader acquires gradually through their
socialization as readers. The reading of one novel makes the reader more prepared
to read the next, and over time specific reference points emerge which enable
various types of readings, maybe in the form of fruitful questions to pose to a
work. This Culler argues is the key role of literary schooling, to enable the student
to accomplish this extrapolation. The challenge for a theory of reader creativity is
to establish how extrapolation is in fact accomplished, and how creative freedom
may be exercised by the reader in the act of extrapolation. To the first question
Culler would answer, not surprisingly, that the extrapolation is accomplished on a
social level as well as on a cognitive level. The establishment of reference points
for understanding is a socially creative act in the sense that new ways of and norms
for reading emerge in the collective to handle new literary challenges. In this sense
every competent reader will evaluate his/her spontaneous reactions to a literary
work on the basis of what reactions would be reasonable or trustworthy as literary
reactions. Ultimately the creative act is played out within the social constructions
with which a collective reformulates these rules of engagement, and in the ways in
which the individual negotiates his/her own interpretation in order to fit in, yet
to make a contribution. On the individual level, the reader is charged with the
cognitive task of reconstructing a set of sentences and expressions according to a

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norm for interpretation, this mainly amounting to a number of artfully executed


operations where, for example the search for unity between seemingly disparate
themes is one typical such operation. The key creative act of reading may then be
the one that finds a way to read within the internal constraint of convention, and
yet through such a reading challenge the socially accepted constraints to the point
where these are questioned or transformed.
As we saw above, Paul de Man suggested that the beginning of such a reading
practice is in fact what signifies literariness, only in his version of the problem it
is much clearer what the implications for convention ultimately becomes: the
dissolution of the internal and the external, or in his words the grammatical and
the rhetorical in reading. de Mans suggests that as the reader enters the text and
starts to acquire its meaning through an act of interpretation, the experience of
something external to the text, to which the text refers dissolves at once, and the
text and its referent becomes one and the same. It is the experience of the text that
dominates and which determines what the text is to the reader and to what it
means or refers. The drama of the text is bound up with the readers presence on
a stage of experience, which is neither in the text as such, nor in some imagined
space to which the text refers, but rather in a whole which is dramatized by the
reading subject. The notion of creativity in reading has thereby come full circle and
is now approaching a monistic self-referential idea of artistic consumption akin to
that proposed by the new critics, albeit here in the form of a personal act of
meaning creation rather than a result of a poetic of reading accessible to a third
person, i.e. a critic.

Two Voices on Creativity in Literature: Rosenblatt and Nussbaum


In what follows I will expand the above reasoning on literary creativity, by looking
at two critics/theorists who in their own separate ways, and many years apart,
attempted to bridge the divide between author/text and reader. These authors,
originator of Reader-Response Theory Louise Rosenblatt (1938/1996), and
political and literary philosopher Martha Nussbaum (1992), with some distinct
differences and with some important commonalities, address the creative function
in literature from the point of view of bridging the writer-reader dualism, and in
its place seek to establish an emotional and experiential unity. I will firstly make a
selective review of each of these authors positions as they bear on the present
problem, and then compare critically with a view to establishing a fruitful synthesis.
Louise Rosenblatts focus has most typically been on the dynamics of the readers
involvement with the text, and she has described this involvement in terms of a
transaction between the product of writing and the reader him/herself. From the
point of view of literary creativity it is mainly the nature of this transaction; its sources
and its constructive potential, which concerns us. One of the main points of Rosen-
blatts position is that the writer/text-reader dualism is dissolved in the process of
consuming the text, however this is possible only because of the transactional back
and forth movement with which the reader draws on the sources of the text and
his/her own experiences and interests to create an experiential whole. Rosenblatt

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describes this as a circular movement, where the reader constructs emotional and
intellectual meaning in the text, at the same time as the signs on the paper channel
the history, perceptions and emotions of that reader.
Emotion plays a great role in Rosenblatts reasoning. Emotion channels the work
and creates an organized structure or inner storying in the imagination of the
reader, in which that person can play out scenarios or make decisions, depending
on their interests. The way that words and signs are imposed with meaning derives
from personal historyhowever a history which, according to Rosenblatt, is also
creatively reconstructed in the transaction with the work. Previous experience and
linguistic skill are but raw materials for the construction of new points of view and
even tentative personalities, or possible selves (cf. Markus & Nurius, 1986). In
this sense, not only does the literary transaction result in a personal world which
is neither in the text nor in the reader, but as the text channels reader potential,
the two planes of personal history and dormant text start to move interdependently
and recombine to form the backdrop of a possible selfa new identity within the
experienced text, which the reader may like to try out for a while.
This is probably one of the most distinct ways that reader creativity can be
analytically isolated, through the observation that not only do readers selectively
approach texts, but that in fact reading personality may cease to exist in the act of
reading and become something else. However, as Rosenblatt intimates, this process
is not only an emotional and aesthetic one, but also an analytical one. The
effect of collapsing the form and the content, analysis and emotion is not with
Rosenblatt, as with many other theorists, the dissolution of these categories. Rather
the analytical is for Rosenblatt a factor which establishes a backdrop for focusing
attention and evaluating the emergence of new emotional experiences, according to
a particular exploratory interest in the reader. In Rosenblatts view, even basic
empathic reactions in the act of reading, such as identifying with a tree bending to
the wind, is to some extent guided by the readers interests and a result of his/her
attention. This quality of emoting with purpose, and the construction of possible
selves in the act of reading, is in my opinion the key to understanding Rosenblatts
contribution to a notion of literary creativity.
Marta Nussbaum, in Loves Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (1992),
takes up some of the same themes as Rosenblatt, and draws similar conclusions on
the nature of what constitutes the literary and how it is creatively accomplished.
However she approaches the issue with a different slant. Nussbaums main point
in Loves Knowledge seems to be that narrative can explain truths about ourselves,
which are not accessible through analytical self-reflection, and that it does this in
a number of special ways, many of which illustrate creative principles. By juxtaposing
the analytical-philosophical tradition of Plato with the literary work of Proust,
Nussbaum produces a convincing analysis of the processes of insight involved in
learning and developing new notions about ourselves: that is, of being creatively
engaged in self-reflection.
Taking Marcel Prousts In Search of Lost Time as the basis for her analysis,
Nussbaum points out how Prousts ability to express ideas about humanity which
simultaneously surprise and convince, is wedded to a particular human point of

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view which his text adopts, and which involves a characteristic temporality and
patterning of emotive and experiential expressions. This inside perspective makes
it possible to generate in the text and in the act of reading particular forms of local
truth, which are possible and acceptable exactly because they are storied truths,
already part of a story which we have accepted qua story. As storied truths they
nevertheless force us to consider them and experience them as actual truths
because of their place in a framework of emotively perceived events, such as is often
the case in a literary text. The way that Prousts narrated character happens upon
a truth by accident, becomes for the reader a corollary to the way that accidents
happen and shape his/her world, and the truth of the story emerges within this new
imaginative framework as a forceful outcome to be posited next to the readers
factual world of accident. The framework of the story thus merges with the
personal real framework of the individual, and anything which may come with it.
This process creates a space for reformulating and testing, quite in the same way
as Rosenblatt described, only for Nussbaum the reformulation of the expected
and of individual identitymay happen because the identification and empathy
created by the readers presence in the text allows for odd perspectives to be
accepted, and maybe not only temporarily so. We are asked to adopt the characters
perspective and then evaluate it intermittently, all within the reality of the literary
frame, which implies that both our emotive and our analytical evaluative selves are
now absorbed in textual reality. This, Nussbaum points out, is where the text
carries a moral dimension: it has the ability to change the reader in fundamental
ways.
In Nussbaum and in Rosenblatt alike, this is a key creative function of the
literary, that is, its ability to fundamentally steer past conventions and suggest the
reader and his/her existing frame as temporary or even obsolete. While Rosenblatt
emphasizes the transaction between the reader and the text, and thus maintains for
the reader a space of play, where he/she tries out various perspectives which, in
a way, at worst put their peace of mind at stake, for Nussbaum the merger of text
and reader is more about staking a life: the confrontation of the reader with his/
her constructed world and in that new world with its own truth, has the potential
for true disruption, but also true change. In this sense Nussbaum is more akin to
the Platonic believer in absolute truth, while Rosenblatt resembles the social
reformist in her gradualist conception of the power of literature. Nevertheless,
what Rosenblatt and Nussbaum together show is that text and reader together form
a creative whole, or a stage, on which transformative acts may take place, where
identities can be questioned and reconstructed. In this process there is an open
analytical space for the actor, be it a writer or a reader (in fact in their account
there is no great difference), to act, that is to drive his/her program of reconstruction
by force of personal attention and mindful selection within a literary tradition.

Towards a Synthesis: Narrative Imagination and Emotive Identification


In aesthetic education it is usual to view the writing and the reading of text as
belonging to different disciplines, sometimes to different educational faculties

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332 Tomas Georg Hellstrm

students of reading for example rarely acquire writing skills as an art form. However,
as we have seen in the above, from the perspective of literary theory, these two
activities draw upon a closely-knit set of creative activities, with many key dimensions
in common. The search for notions of textual creativity among literary critics and
theorists may be said to converge on the idea of narrative imagination, that is on
the way that constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing a textfrom writer to
readeris an expression of storying in new ways: an activity which focuses imagi-
nation through text. Jerome Bruner (2002) in some aspects captured the way that
we have seen fiction and reality, subject and object, blend in narrative imagination:
through narrative, we construct, reconstruct and in some ways reinvent yesterday
and tomorrow. Memory and imagination fuse in the process. Even when we create
the possible worlds of fiction, we do not desert the familiar, but rather subjunctivize
it into what might have been and what might be(p. 93). In what follows I will
attempt to reconstruct the most prominent aspects of this type of creativity, from
what has been discussed above, along a set of dimensions of relevance to aesthetic
experience and learning.

Narrative Imagination in Writing


In writing, the text may be used to offer new avenues on which to arrive at a known
conclusion: by taking a new road to get there, the conclusion itself becomes novel
somehow within the limits of the known. Or one could say that divergence is used
as a means to converge on a theme, in an unexpected way. This implies two creative
efforts: One is the elaboration of a clear enough purpose of the text, and the
second, simultaneous one, the enactment of a set of appropriate means of expression.
This dual movement is similar to what creative everyday work is about, for example
when constructing an explanation or telling a story about something which really
is nowhere outside of that story/explanation proper. A person has to manage a
framework where both the language and the object of language are created
simultaneously. Creativity is about balancing the vividness and emotional charge of
the story through symbolic expansion, while maintaining the feeling that there is
something distinct behind the words. If this exercise is successful, then according
to for example the new critics, it becomes difficult or impossible to paraphrase
without losing some substantial meaning. This insight is of course of great
relevance to aesthetic education, since an informal and pedagogically reflexive
measure of the creative achievement of a text may then be found in the answer
to the question: could precisely this have been communicated in any other way?
The way that Culler addresses the text is a sociological corollary to this more
cognitive meaning of narrative imagination, namely that of how to achieve a
balance between what is socially accepted, yet perceived as novel and original. The
key point is that a piece of creative work must carry the markers of established
form, yet in some respect be in violation of expectations in order to be creative.
The authorial challenge becomes one of achieving this balancing act. Related to
the abovementioned tension, this may also imply the establishment of new ways of
making meaning, that is new ways of representing events and phenomena through

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Aesthetic Creativity 333

language, which are themselves unexpected. The creative function, and the central
locus of achievement wherever creativity is an expected result of learning, is located
in the potential challenge to convention that such expressions represent, both in
terms of challenging the perspective on the subject matter, and challenging the
code through which this subject is mediated. Taking the poststructuralist perspective,
as in the case of de Man, it is the speech-act itself that carries the creative potential,
and the way that text can achieve a rhetorical effect by turning into a social
relation, through for example irony. In a way this is not very different from what
has been discussed by previous traditions, however in poststructuralism the distinction
between the structure and social significance of the literary text is completely
collapsed, and the creative challenge becomes one of maintaining this precarious
unity.

Narrative Imagination in Reading


All the approaches discussed are close to the idea that the reader uses the text as
a basis for exploring his/her own experiential universe. The reader may take the
text as a whole or as textual fragments and turn this into a point of departure for
investigating aspects of his/her own emotional potentials. The aim is not to arrive
at a mental representation of the literary text which somehow captures its essence,
but rather to create a wholly individual experience. In this sense, the readerly
creative act is one of self-reconstruction just as much as one of textual reconstruction.
Readers pattern the text uniquely by rewriting it in their minds. Apart from the
obvious emotive and value aspects mentioned above, creative uniqueness has to do
with what elements are selected for emphasis in reading, as well as how these are
arranged or narratively sequenced in the mind of the reader. In Cullers approach
to reading, the reader must first decide what is a literary work, and why it is a
literary work. This simultaneous reconstruction of content and decoding device
for the text is in part an operation which is socially and educationally affected, yet
where the readers are also to some extent alone, in the sense that they have to
create their own coherent whole. Here the decision on which parts should be
elected for a place and how these should be mentally arranged is an underdetermined
one. Specifically, a creative trade-off has to be created between the acceptable
social directions in which a work points, and the aesthetic and possibly very
ambiguous content of this work taken as a literary code, a problem well-known in
creativity and educational research alike. What is interesting is that readers, to
come away with a lasting impression or any kind of enduring experience, must walk
this road between social relevance and aesthetic novelty in a way that is meaningful
to them. This could mean constructing an experience which either challenges
or confirms existing attitudes and mores in the readerin any event a creative
achievement or one could say a biased balancing act between aesthetic qualities
and social significance. Taken to its most radical poststructuralist conclusion, the
creative act of reading is located in the dissolution of any reconstruction of this
type; in fact the world-creating act of the reader is about dissolving all fixed
external relations of the text. In de Mans version of reader creativity, the space

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334 Tomas Georg Hellstrm

constructed by the reader is largely self-referential and sets its own criteria and
conditions for experience. In some way this is a version of the self-contained
creative act of the reader, in much the same way as the new critics suggested a
self-contained version of the creative text.

Conclusion
The conclusions of this paper relate to an emerging conception of aesthetic
creativity, found in the contributions of the literary theorists and critics discussed
above. In these instances the text has been often of central concern, but one may
speculate that these theorists, and the interpretative traditions that they represent,
may be stretched outside of such a framework to creativity in general and educa-
tional creativity in particular. How generalization of this kind can be made must
be argued in the specific instance, but a few observations of relevance for practice
may be made on the theoretical level. To synthesize some of the arguments above,
we may return to a sentiment of Bruner, which may also be found in Nussbaum
and Rosenblatt, namely that narrative imaginationfor reader and writerdepends
on an extension of self into the narrative universe, and that this process is essen-
tially one of emotional identification, that is one of identifying with alternative
selves through a gradual erasing of established personal and social boundaries.
What can be said about this process based on what has been previously
discussed? One key point is that the readerand it is easy to imagine also the
writer of a textmixes text and personal history into an experiential whole, where
emotional and intellectual meaning are channelled in unison. The organization of
this new inner text, or the re-storying is very much about focusing attention, and
making decisions on the basis of emotional commitments and the interests that
follow from these. The resulting interplay of personal history, social situatedness
and dormant text thus recombine to form the basis for a possible self, this being
the essential creative movement in constructing and reading text (Markus &
Nurius, 1986). The basic premise for such creativity is a well-known one in Reader
Response Theory: namely that students of literature approach texts selectively.
Here we add that the readers and writers personality may transform through
the act of reading into something else. As we saw with Rosenblatt, this is not
necessarily a pre-analytical or primary process, but rather one where a user of a text
can focus attention selectively, and continually evaluate new emotional experiences
according to his/her particular explorative/emotional interest. This may be referred
to as emoting with a purpose, and is very much tied up with identificationnot
only with narrative characters but with every possible narrative object.
From the point of view of creativity and aesthetic learning, this means that the
text represents a potentially very broad spectrum for establishing and trying out
local or temporary truths as well as the storied contexts or worlds which such
truths require. The significance of emotional identification within a narrative is that
as radical as these storied truths may be, they nevertheless force the readers to
consider them and experience them as actual truths, because of their place in a
framework of emotively perceived events. The empathic identification created

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Aesthetic Creativity 335

within the ambit of the text allows for odd perspectives to be accepted, and since
the analytical is now inside and thus captive to the narrative universe, emotive as
well as analytical evaluative selves become absorbed in textual reality. This creates
a unique possibility to steer past conventions and to confront existing frames of
referencethat is, it creates the foundations for aesthetic learning and self-renewal.

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