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Title: Where ideas come from; towards an ontology of inspiration in creative writing, with particular reference to the muses of mythology
Author: Habens, Alison Ruth
ISNI:       0000 0004 2679 0290
Awarding Body: University of Portsmouth
Current Institution: University of Portsmouth
Date of Award: 2009
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`Where do writers get their ideas from? ' This commonplace question is the starting point for both my novel and doctoral thesis. The answer I give draws first on the empirical evidence of my own creative writing; for during the drafting and crafting of three previously published novels, I regularly experienced `divine inspiration'. The critical component of my PhD offers a conceptual framework within which to discuss this claim, using theorists from Plato to Jung, Nietzsche to Nancy. My new novel, Translating the Muse's Tale considers a creative process in which the writer sits waiting, staring at a blank page or an empty screen, wondering what to put there. The feeling of not knowing what to say, which can be a lengthy and frustrating state, is then replaced in an instant by a fast flowing stream of words, the source of which seems mysterious. My fictional heroine is the unwitting channeller of messages from a `higher source': but in fact, any author can wonder, as fresh sentences pour on to their page, where the insights are springing from. Witnessing this on a regular basis over many years, I determined to study other writers' explanations of the same key moment in their literary production; and try to establish an ontology of inspiration. In the introductiont o my thesis,I contextualisem y novel as a pieceo f fantasy or science-fictionw riting, beforep roposings omec ritical conditionsi n which its scenariom ay be seena st rue, becauseu ltimately explicable. In chapter one, I attempt to trace a timeline of poets' and philosophers' connection to the divine; expressed by the earliest writers as a relationship with the muses of classical mythology. The stories start with Hesiod, who tells how the nine Muses of Mount Helicon appeared to him, whispering and singing ideas in his ears. In a sense, every writer since can be set against this account on the `divine inspiration' scale; to discover whether that once-strong link with some heavenly broadcast is still current, and if those celestial voices can be heard in the literary canon today. In the words of Homer and Horace, through Spenser, Sidney and Shakespeare to the modem and postmodern poets, I look for mentions of the muse. Then, in chapter two, I challenge the male chronology of famous names with a web of women's storytelling. From Spiderwoman, who made the world in aboriginal creation myths, I unroll a narrative of spinners and spinsters, sirens and sibyls and sphinxes; a sorority of the muse. In this mesh of references is an alternative plot; pagan inspiration as feminine and plural is ousted by the phallus, the logos, the pen, for the timeline's long fall into literacy. My third chapter follows the theory of the muse into the Christian tradition, where many instances of `channelled writing' may help substantiate the claim for divine authorship; its argument starting with words chiselled on a stone cross, continuing on the stone slabs of prophesy, and culminating in a biblical stoning. The essay's conclusion reflects in detail on the development of my novel, piecing together a patchwork of personal inspiration, from subconscious to what seems `supernatural'. Much of the material is autobiographical, based on real people, places and feelings; but the book is the antithesis of real life. Moreover, though most events and incidents used in the fiction happened in my past, over the long, slow process of writing three subsequent drafts, it seems that sometimes the plot can predict the future. Robert Graves offers the boldest polemic of all the writers I've studied on the question of divine inspiration. He says`The proleptic or analeptic method of thought, though necessary to poets, physicians, historians and the rest, is so easily confused with mere guessing ... that few of them own to using it. However securely I buttress the argument of this book with quotations, citations and footnotes, the admission that I have made here of how it first came to me will debar it from consideration by orthodox scholars: though they cannot refute it, they dare not accept it' (The White Goddess, 1997, p. 339). ' Academia may not admit that ideas come from God or goddesses. Told by poets or prophets, creativity is always already a myth. Even the key philosophies of `how it first came to me' are impossible to prove: though much great writing draws on subconscious sources, there is still an element of `superconscious' activity, evident in the trope of the Muses. In my research I have trawled a history of literature for these instances, positing a timeline of primary sources, testing it with diachronic and synchronic analysis. Against an idealist problematic, the essay is indeed a buttress of `quotations, citations and footnotes'. Though my aim is to be critically rigorous, the same story-telling skills are used in the thesis as the novel; which makes the same argument from the point-of-view of the muse. The two artefacts are linked by themes, characters, vocabulary, imagery: this is the unique literary feat of the creative writing PhD.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available