Conversations on Creativity

7:00 p.m. Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Madison Public Library, Pinney Branch 204 Cottage Grove Rd.

Creativity in Language: Literature, Imagination, Teaching

Henry Turner
Assistant Professor of English, UW-Madison

Ever since Plato argued that poets should be banished from the Republic, philosophers and statesmen have regarded artful language with skepticism and suspicion. Literature, they have argued, and poetry in particular, is the source of lies and distortions; it is a sponsor of unreal fantasies and a persuader to dangerous sympathies. As many of poetry's critics and its supporters alike have long acknowledged, the power of the "literary"-of poetry, rhetoric, myth and other modes of artful language-derives from its unusual creativity: from its willingness to challenge conventional ways of thinking and to propose alternative ways of understanding the world.

This talk explores some of the long-standing criticisms that have been directed at literary modes of writing and considers some famous attempts to defend the value of literature, of the imagination, and of creativity. Can real creativity be taught, or is it a natural impulse? Why is literature-this "dangerous writing"-always so pleasurable and delightful? What is the relationship between literature and "invention": the act of imagining the new? What is the place of literature in the contemporary world? Why should literature be studied, and not simply read, and why should literature not simply be read, but be read passionately, indulgently, luxuriously? Why read literature at all? We will discuss all of these questions, and many others.

About the Presenter:

Henry Turner specializes in Renaissance Drama, theater and print culture; early modern intellectual history, literary theory and early scientific thought; history of sexuality and the family; medieval literary, social, and intellectual history; contemporary critical theory, esp. Marxism, Foucault, and Derrida. His teaching has included courses on Dekker, Middleton, Jonson and critical concepts of everyday life, on "imaginary topographies" in early modern literature from More to Shirley, on Shakespeare, and on English literature from Chaucer to Aphra Behn. Turner earned his BA at Wesleyan University and his MA at the University of Sussex. He earned MA, MPhil, and PhD degrees at Columbia University.