The writing cure?: ethical considerations in managing creative practice lifewriting projects

The Australian Association of Writing Programs
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Conference Proceeding
Strange Bedfellows or Perfect Partners - Refereed Conference Papers of the 15th Annual AAWP Conference, 2010, pp. 1 - 11
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The autobiographical turn in literary studies has increasingly placed value on selfrepresentation as a strategic means of reclaiming voice, identity and agency. By and large, the narrating 'I' is circulated and read as a storied performance/product which empowers the writer. Typically such texts are often ones that rehearse, record and expiate individual trauma, and also produce a set of readings that textually frame the work as 'therapeutic'. There is a growing selection of texts which narrativise personal trauma now being set for literary examination in tertiary syllabi. Concurrent to the formal reading of trauma texts in the context of literary studies is the narrative impulse to repackage traumatic experience as autobiographical process/literary output within creative practice higher degrees. This paper seeks to interrogate some of the ethical concerns that arise from students drawing on personal trauma in creative writing contexts for the production of literature that is to be formally supervised and examined. How is the potential risk of re-traumatisation of the student, and vicarious traumatisation of the supervisor/lecturer, managed? If higher degrees are providing an emergent space for catharsis, 'unofficially' offering writing as a therapeutic mode in creative practice, what are the implications of the supervisor/lecturer moving from a role of artistic and scholarly critic, to one of bearing witness? And in this newly formed therapeutic alliance, does an academic need more skills than they have developed in simply delivering a writing or literary curriculum? And what professional frames of support, if any, are in place to sustain both the student and the academic throughout the process? Without well-established professional support and guidelines, is commodifying trauma in order to gain a degree, and or a literary output, ethical professional practice?
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