Philip Neilsen responds to Gillian Whitlock

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As usual, Gillian Whitlock gives us great lucidity and value (as did the wonderful Kerryn Goldsworthy ABR piece). It might be worth pointing out that there has been an alternative academic life to either ‘ME’ or ‘gumleafs’ (a third way, no less) – and that has been through the metamorphosis of English into Creative Writing as a teaching and research discipline, especially in universities of technology – at Curtin, QUT, RMIT, UTS, for example – which are neither sandy nor gummy. Here the fashioning of a satisfactory selfhood with links to a tradition of enlightened values is still possible for lecturers. In this context, a valuing of liberal humanism and critical thinking/reading goes hand in hand with the possibility of creative practice and even spiritual nourishment.

It is reasonable for Gillian to ask to qualify the postlapsarian despair scenario for academics – especially we fortunate boomers. Yes, the stresses and compromises within corporate and under-funded universities are greater than ever. Yes, life is better for senior staff who can set more of their own agenda and, absurdly, that still mainly means men. The widely mooted separation of academic staff into “teachers” and “researchers/publishers” may increase that stress (I hope teachers of creative practice will be able to make a good case that they need to be both creatures – for a start, because published/performed/screened teachers have most credibility in students’ eyes). But I talk to colleagues in the fully private sector – law, for example, the area in which I idealistically began university study in 1967 – and feel thankful for my academic job.


Dr Philip Neilsen is associate professor and Head of Creative Writing and Cultural Studies at QUT. His latest book is Edward Britton, co-written with Gary Crew, Lothian, 2000.

Read Gillian Whitlock’s Leaving “ME”

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