Creativity in Literacy Practices

Creativity in Literacy Practices: A TEXTUAL AND CONTEXTUAL APPROACH by Agatha Xaris Villa INTRODUCTION AT PRESENT, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF LINGUISTIC CREATIVITY. THEY DIFFER IN THE WAY THE WAY THAT THEY CONCEPTUALIZE WHAT COUNTS AS CREATIVENESS OR ‘LITERARINESS’ IN LANGUAGE AS WELL AS IN THE METHODS THEY USE TO IDENTIFY AND ANALYZE CREATIVITY IN EVERYDAY LANGUAGE.
This essay begins by discussing and exploring the premises of an analysis of creativity at text level following a textual approach to literacy and creativity; assessing the extent to which it is effective in identify creativity in literacy practices such as diaries, letters and graffiti.
However, I would like to continue by presenting the argument that while literacy practices do offer opportunities for creativity at text level, the study and identification of creativity in literacy practices may be more productive when studied with a broader perspective – one that goes beyond the limits of the text and considers the influence of context in the production, reception and processing of texts, literary practices and creativity. Creativity in literacy practices at text level LITERACY IS AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF EVERYDAY LIFE AND IS A PART OF EVEN OUR MOST MUNDANE SOCIAL PRACTICES.
WHILE THE ROLE WHICH LITERACY PLAYS IN SITUATIONS MAY VARY IN IMPORTANCE, IN THE CONTEXT OF LITERACY EVENTS WHERE LITERACY PLAYS A SIGNIFICANT ROLE, INDIVIDUALS DEVELOP CHARACTERISTIC AND PATTERNED WAYS OF USING AND INTERACTING WITH TEXTS. THESE HABITUAL PATTERNS HOLD DIFFERENT MEANING AND VALUES FOR INDIVIDUALS AND ARE WHAT WE REFER TO AS LITERACY PRACTICES. Creativity in literacy practices at the level of the text may be identified by focusing on special linguistic forms that stand out in texts. This pproach is modeled after what Carter (1999) called an inherency perspective which perceives creativity as being ‘inherent’ in the creative uses of language intrinsic in text. The focus is on the writer’s skill in the manipulation of linguistic forms that constitute text on the phonological, grammatical and semantic level. Roman Jakobson (1960), one of the well-known advocates of this approach, was concerned with the ‘poetic function of language’ which was believed to be in close relation to literariness in text.
He argued that the poetic function of language involves the ‘foregrounding’ of language forms which have the ability to draw attention to themselves – making a noticeable impact on the reader. Foregrounding results from stylistic choices which may come as (1) deviations from the norms of everyday language (e. g. the use of different writing systems, lexis and ‘figurative language’ such as metaphor and simile or (2) prominent patterns of parallelisms in phonology, grammar and semantics (e. g. meter, rhyme, etc. (Maybin and Pearce, 2006, p. 6 – 9). By highlighting the ‘poetic usages of language’, we can identify creativity in diaries at the text level. The metaphoric descriptions and dramatic portrayal of entities and events in diaries are ways in which individuals attempt to explore their feelings regarding their experience of the ‘real world’ that are often difficult to describe. In addition, repeated structures and rhythms are commonly used in diaries as a form of emphasizing points in the writer’s diary entry.
Such examples of ‘poetic language’ may also be identified in letters. In Margaretta Jolly’s (1997) study of war letters, she states that letters are probably ‘the most common form of creative writing. ’ Her examples point out the creative way in which letter-writers are able to use language forms such as imagery, metaphoric and rhetorical devices as well as parallelism (more commonly related to literature) for the purpose increasing the text’s emotional and persuasive impact and highlighting contrast and subtleties of meaning (Maybin, 2006, p. 72). The “art of graffiti” is a long-standing tradition with the ability to exhibit creativity at text level both in its traditional and embellished form. Creativity is seen in the use of rhythmic repetition, puns and contradictory voices (as in parody and irony), the use of non-standard spelling and punctuation (usually in line with a particular artistic style) and the use of text and decoration for aesthetic and communicative purposes.
While it is possible to be able to identify creativity in literacy practices at text level, this approach is somewhat limited because it fails to take into account: (1) the interactive features and functions of literacy practice, (2) the influence of its socio-cultural and historical context and more importantly (3) the creativity in language practices that is inherent and emergent from social practices in particular contexts.
Therefore, I suggest that a better and more efficient way to identify and evaluate creativity in literacy practices, is one that approaches literacy from a more contextual approach, more specifically from an ethnographic perspective. Creativity and literacy practices from an ethnographic approach According to the ethnographic approach defined by Papen and Tusting (2006, p. 312-359), creativity refers the production of something ‘new’ and ‘original’. In written language, creativeness should not be perceived as a decontextualised, individual activity or as being entirely shaped by context.
It should be seen as being dependent on and emergent from the creative literacy practices through which texts are constructed because they are shaped by people, who in pursuit of their own goals and purposes, actively draw on the interactional, contextual and socio-cultural possibilities available in the particular social situation they are embedded. Literacy practices are inherently creative in and of themselves. The ethnographic perspective takes into account the broader social-political context within which creativity is located and through their examination of iteracy practices and texts, advocates of the ethnographic approach found three major characteristics of creativity in writing. To begin, by focusing on people’s literacy practices rather than just texts, they noted that creative texts are produced as a result of interactive collaboration. Diaries, although written by a single person, emerge from an individual’s account and reflection of events and various conversations and interactions with people.
Diaries and journals are dialogic practices wherein the writer addresses and responds to a ‘reader’ and have the potential to be re-contextualized in different publications to address a wider readership (Maybin, 2006, p. 269) This dialogical aspect is more evident in web blogs or online journals in which people often (1) write in response to the entries of others, (2) write entries addressed to others and (3) write with the expectation and even the goal to get as much response from others. Maybin (2006, p. 73) tells us that letters are even more intensely dialogic in nature. I believe that letters are best viewed as mediums of ‘correspondence’ wherein we present written versions of our personal experience, relationships and identities in relation to an assumed reader who then responds by confirming or questioning. Letters are shaped by and inspire collaborative practices An interesting characteristic of graffiti that I believe exemplifies the collaborative nature of creativity is the way that graffiti attracts graffiti (Macdonald, 2006).
A graffiti-covered wall may look like vandalism to law-enforcers or a rather threatening cacophony of ‘names’ to the common passerby but it constitutes a symbolic exchange between members of a sub-group. In the world of graffiti, tags located on the same space are often interpreted in relation to their positioning and proximity to each other. They may be viewed as a sign of respect, acknowledgement or outright disregard – a reflection of the intensely competitive nature of this practice.
In addition to the collaborative nature of creative literary practices, the ethnographic approach pays careful attention to the influence of the context of reading and writing in the development of creative practices (Papen and Tusting, 2006, p. 320). They argued that in any given opportunity, there is particular set of possibilities and constraints that provides the opportunity for creativity. This involves affordances (i. e. properties of the environment, arising from its material characteristics which may be positive or negative depending on the individual) from new forms of technology, discourse conventions as well as inter-textual and material resources available to producers of text. An important thing to note is while possibilities may determine what is possible in any given context, the possibilities associated with a setting do not determine what is created.
For example, while people may be able to describe events, sights and even people through the practice of diaries and letters, there are abstractions such as feelings and intensely traumatic situations (such as in war) that are far more difficult to describe and articulate. In order to overcome this type of ‘constraint’ on expression, writers make use of metaphoric language and parallelisms, enabling them to represent their feelings and experiences in ‘words’ that their readers may be able to relate to. Creativity may also emerge from socially-constrained situations.
Graffiti emerged from the same socially and economically impoverished areas in America where gangs are notoriously prominent. Because graffiti is an act of illegitimacy and opposition, graffiti artists face the constant risk of being caught by the police or by rival gangs each time they make a ‘tag’ or do a ‘piece’. But this high-risk and intensely competitive literacy practice is a stage on which young men may choose an identity of their own making, present it in the style of their choice and regain control of their own ‘fate’ – free from the constraints of their socio-economic backgrounds (Mcdonald, 2006).
Social, economic or technological changes may result in the introduction of new affordance and constraints to any given context (Papen and Tusting, 2006, p. 325). For example, the popularization of the internet brought about the development of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), resulting in the creation of new literary genres and changes in literacy practices. According to Kress (2003), creativity may be perceived as inherent in CMC using the two concepts of ‘transformation’ and ‘transduction’.
Transformation is the way that the text producers manipulate the forms of signs within a mode to suit their needs and interests. Transduction, on the other hand, refers to the movement of ‘semiotic material’ between modes where meaning configured in one mode is moved to another. Online diaries, known as online ‘blogs, perform the same function as traditional diaries and even employ the same linguistic forms. However, bloggers now have access to a greater degree of interactive, inter-textual and multi-modal resources.
Whereas in the past, writers creatively used language to express their thoughts and feelings through metaphors and similes, bloggers can now make use of pictures, videos, music, emoticons, avatars and (through hyper-linking) other texts to represent themselves and their lives online. Similarly, the literacy practice of letter-writing is far from extinct in today’s modern ear but has taken up a new form – that is, electronic mail (e-mail). As a medium of communication, email has enabled cross-cultural communication and the creation of online relationships and ‘networking’ communities.
Finally, the ethnographic perspective sees creative literacy practices in everyday life as being embedded in socio-cultural practices situated in institutional, political and economic structures. These structures are in a constant state of movement and change therefore taking on a historical perspective towards literacy practices is a necessity. Based on observation and study, changes in socio-economic conditions are often accompanied by changes in the linguistic and semiotic means available to a community as in the case of the following account of changes to a Nepali rural community Papen and Tusting, 2006, p. 328). The 1980s was a time of great social and economic change in Junigau, Nepal. In 1983, the village set up its first high school, providing greater access to education for men and women – resulting in great changes to the literacy practices used by the young. A new form of ‘prolonged courtship’ (i. e. , love-letter writing) had become increasingly popular among the youth, improving gender relations and changing marriage practices (as the young were becoming more resistant towards arranged marriages).
The way in which these love-letters encapsulated new ideas on personal identity and individual agency which held no cultural precedent in their village is an example of how social and cultural change is closely related to the creation of new literacy practices (Papen and Tusting, 2006, p. 328) Conclusion ANALYZING CREATIVITY AT TEXT LEVEL, ALLOWED US TO IDENTIFY CREATIVENESS IN TEXTS AS IS REVEALED BY THE USE OF POETIC LANGUAGE OR LINGUISTIC FORMS COMMONLY ASSOCIATED WITH LITERATURE.
THIS APPROACH HOWEVER WAS VERY MUCH LIMITED DUE MAINLY BY THE NARROWNESS OF THE INHERENCY MODEL’S DEFINITION OF WHAT CONSTITUTES AS CREATIVITY AS WELL AS TO ITS LACK OF CONSIDERATION OF CONTEXTUAL FACTORS AND THE INHERENCY OF CREATIVITY IN LITERACY PRACTICES. In taking an ethnographic/historical perspective, characteristics of creativity that are inherent in literacy practices become more salient. Through our understanding of the three characteristics of creativity in literacy practices, we’ve identified creativity beyond the level of the text.
This contextual approach showed us how creativity is exhibited in literacy practices in the way that (1) texts are read and used, how the writer interacts with other individuals;(2) how people are able to creatively use language in relation to the possibilities and constraints available in particular contexts and finally, (3) individuals are able to adapt and respond to changes in discourse practices and socio-cultural conditions. References CARTER, R. (1999). ‘COMMON LANGUAGE: CORPUS, CREATIVITY AND COGNITION’, LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE, 8(3), P. 196-216 Jakobson, J. (1960). Closing statement: linguistics and poetics’, in T. A. Sebeok (ed. ) Style in Language, MIT Press. Jolly, M. (1997). ‘Everyday Letters and Literary Form: Coresspondence from the Second World War’, unpublished MPhil, University of Sussex. Kress, G. (2003). Literacy in the new Media Age. London and New York, Routledge. Macdonald, N. (2006). Chapter 6. Reading B: ‘The spray-can is mighteier than the sword: graffiti writing and the construction of masculine identity’ in Maybin, J. and Swann, J. (eds) The art of English: everyday creativity. Palgrave Macmillan/The Open University, p. 293 – 302. Maybin, J. 2006)(Ed. ) Chapter 6 ‘Writing the self’, in Maybin, J. and Swann, J. (eds) The art of English: everyday creativity. Palgrave Macmillan/The Open University, p. 261 – 279. Maybin, J. and Pearce, M. (2006). Chapter 1 ‘Literature and creativity in English’ in Goodman, S. and O’Halloran, K. (eds) The art of English: literary creativity. Palgrave Macmillan/The Open University, p. 6-9. Papen, U. and Tusting, K. (2006). Chapter 7 ‘Literacies, collaboration and context’ in Maybin, J. and Swann, J. (eds) The art of English: everyday creativity. Palgrave Macmillan/The Open University, p. 312 – 331.

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