New York Creative Writing/Critical Theory PHD
October 16, 2007 5:48 AM   Subscribe

New York Creative Writing/Critical Theory PHD: I am currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing and Critical Theory in London, and plan to go on to PHD after I finish. I would ideally like to go to an East coast USA/New York university to do this (for several reasons). I'd like some help with finding a good list of possible institutions...

I am interested in Narrative form, from a Creative/Critical theory perspective. I also want the ability to utilise other areas of any university I take a PHD in to broaden the scope of my thesis, thus:

- I am interested in the Evolutionary origins and purpose of narrative (a university established in Evolutionary Psychology perhaps).

- I am also interested in the neuro-psychology of narrative form, (i.e. Which came first: the narrative or the human mind? How does each relate to/influence the other?)

- My studies will necessarily follow a semiological/semiotics path...

A New York based university with departments and/or specialists in these fields and a firm PHD basis in Creative and Critical Theory is what I am looking for.

Does such an institution exist?
posted by 0bvious to Education (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Just in case: For those who don't know, Critical Theory is Literary Theory by another name (more or less)
posted by 0bvious at 5:57 AM on October 16, 2007

How is your present academic standing? I have tangential experience, but certainly Columbia comes to mind. NYU, as well.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:17 AM on October 16, 2007

Excuse me, Columbia.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:21 AM on October 16, 2007

Best answer: dude, the poetics program at suny buffalo.

from their philosophy:

"The Program is committed to historical, contemporary, interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches to poetics. It takes poetics in its broadest sense as the theoretical discourses that define, modify and inform the term poiesis as construction and making. It recognizes the foundational relation of poetry to both the materiality of the text and the physiology of its human enactment. Hence, attention is paid to the relation of the human body and the organic revolution to language in speech and perception."
posted by apostrophe at 6:38 AM on October 16, 2007

The Columbia link StriketheViol posted is to the *Center* for Comparative Literature. As at most universities in the US, Centers do not have PhD programs. Departments do. So the relevant Columbia departments are represented by the faculty on the Center's website, with English being the major (and very, very elite and competitive) Departmental location.

Things are laid out differently in the US than in Europe. Here you will need to do a PhD in English or Comparative Literature, with very few exceptions (PhD programs in critical theory as such, and cultural studies are few and far between). Some of what you are interested in is happening in Anthropology and Philosophy as well.
posted by spitbull at 6:42 AM on October 16, 2007

Who are you fave academic writers? where are they located? What are your GRE scores and marks?
posted by k8t at 7:11 AM on October 16, 2007

Before you apply, I would do some research to confirm that your combination of interests would be supported by at least one professor. I would assume that a large number of academics in the humanities, if not most, would be highly skeptical of the wedding of neuro-psychology, questions of evolution, and critical theory.
posted by umbú at 7:14 AM on October 16, 2007

Best answer: What spitbull said is correct. I'm leaving aside creative writing because it's not often combined with theory in the US, and the terminal degree is the MFA, not the Ph.D. Apart from this you seem basically to be looking for a Ph.D. program in narratology. But in the US it's quite unusual to do a Ph.D. in narratology (or theory more broadly) without also specializing in a specific area of literature. You are asking for a combination of several elements which are not often combined in US academia, and the added insistence on New York only makes this seem more unrealistic. Take a look at the (slightly out-of-date) book Real Guide to Grad School to get a better picture of the disciplinary terrain in US universities.
posted by RogerB at 7:14 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: Some great advice so far. Thanks a lot

I do realise that stating just New York is unrealistic, but I wanted to keep my eye on one part of the country for now.

I would be willing to broaden my view towards an MFA, but my Euro-educated head will always consider PHD the better choice. I hear that Creative Writing MFAs are highly over subscribed to in the US.

I have not finished my MA yet, but am working towards my thesis at the moment. I have 70+ scores for all my modules, which basically rests as a distinction.

The course leader of my MA has strong ties with Suny Buffalo (I have actually met one of the conveners of the Poetics course, Steve McCaffery). It is probably my best option at the moment, but the ties with Philosophy of Mind, which I am interested in, would most likely have to be forgotten.

There's a lot to think about...
posted by 0bvious at 7:24 AM on October 16, 2007

Best answer: Where you wanted to be until recently was the Duke PhD program in Literature, a standalone PhD program founded by Frederic Jameson. It has changed recently, but I think it's still very much your speed. Or the UC Santa Cruz History of Consciousness Program. It *is* going to be hard to do anything serious with neurobiology in any humanities PhD program with the foci you are interested in. There's a lot of bullshit biological theorizing, but a general mistrust of natural scientific approaches and explanations to deal with. People asking those questions tend to be in (experimental and cognitive) Psychology departments, and not very friendly with the lit crit folks, if at all. If you are *seriously* interested in neurobiological approaches to creativity and meaning, you would do best to find a university where that is independently strong and make your own connections. Places where lit crit and neurobiology are both strong? Stanford and Cornell come to mine.

If you're strong enough to get into a top US PhD program, you make your own mix anyway.
posted by spitbull at 7:43 AM on October 16, 2007

Ah, didn't see Obvious had replied . . .

An MFA is nothing like a PhD in the US, either. It's the terminal degree for the entirely separate world of creative writing, where the word "semiotics" will get you a beat-down. (And you better have a "memoir" to write, peferably detailing your abusive childhood.) An MFA only qualifies you to teach creative writing at the college or MFA level; a PhD is a much more academically oriented qualification. You need to get a little more of the basic scoop on all of this.

BTW, I direct a PhD program in the humanities at one of the major universities in NYC. Knowing the landscape, I don't think NYC offers what you want.
posted by spitbull at 7:47 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: The consciousness angle is right up my street.

My undergrad was in Philosophy, my MA is a Creative Writing MA in which I have taken a strong leaning towards Critical Theory.

I have to admit that the neurological element of my interests stems from a broad interest in popular science and Philosophy of mind. It seems more and more likely that I should concentrate on the Narratology/Semiological aspects of the field.

Can I ask you, Spitbull, why you think the Duke university program has changed (in the negative?) recently? From a quick glance at the courses you just mentioned that one stands out.

I know that departments often do not cross disciplines well, but I have been bolstered in my intent recently by this book: The Literary Animal

Post modernism is my bag, and so is Evolutionary Psychology. Melding the two in some mutant of a PHD would please me immensely.
posted by 0bvious at 8:08 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: Funny you should mention the 'memoir' format of MFA writing.

A group of American MFA students travelled to our London uni to 'exchange methods of learning' with our MA. We each read some of our creative meanderings in an informal workshop, just this last week.

9 out of the 10 MFA students sharing their work had written semi-autobiographical narratives.


Thanks for all this input Spitbull, it is much appreciated.
posted by 0bvious at 8:16 AM on October 16, 2007

not all MFA programs are like that with the memoir-obsession. there are several schools that tend toward a more critical, experimental investigation: brown, mills college, umass amherst. to name a few.
posted by apostrophe at 8:29 AM on October 16, 2007

Well, I didn't say the Duke program had changed "negatively"; just that the retirement of Jameson and a lot of new hires there have altered its profile in ways I am not following.

In the US, the phrases "critical theory" and "evolutionary psychology" are almost always uttered as antonyms, and as a major polarization of the "culture wars" of the 1990s. Many leading Ev Psych folks have been outspoken about calling bullshit on a good deal of contemporary humanistic scholarship (broadly caricatured as "postmodern" until recently). (And their convergence is therefore somewhat predictable, ironically.) Those wars are sort of over, and there is more cross talk, and some interesting interdisciplinary conversation, but structurally the worlds of cognitive/evolutionary psychology and critical studies of literature are very separate and antagonistic ones.
posted by spitbull at 8:29 AM on October 16, 2007

apostrophe, I caricatured MFA writing programs . . . sorry. But the fact of the matter, as I understand it from many MFA writer friends, is that you do an MFA to make professional connections, mostly, and that you pay money for it, and that it only makes sense to do so at a top program and then only if you are seriously trying to write as a career.

In any case, memoir-obsessed or not, MFA programs don't train students in critical theory, and are often actively hostile to literary theory.
posted by spitbull at 8:32 AM on October 16, 2007

For obvious: here's a name you should know -- Jerome Bruner.
posted by spitbull at 8:33 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: The AskMefi community strikes again!

Thank you all once again...

I have a lot of research still to do. It seems that my interests lie somewhere between the Duke PhD program in Literature and the Suny Buffalo Poetics PhD.

Any specific ideas about Narratology heavy programs?
posted by 0bvious at 8:54 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: P.S. Jerome Bruner's ideas do seem fascinating, especially in the areas where I disagree with him!

My thesis will be an attempt and examination of the hermeneutics of narrative as manifests itself in mind. The Suspension of disbelief and elements of "Broken Fourth-Wall" narratives will feature extensively.

I will look forward to reading his work further, (there are brief references to his work in 'The Literary Animal' - mentioned earlier)...
posted by 0bvious at 9:03 AM on October 16, 2007

SUNY Buffalo has Pierre Joris, who is one of the most interesting people working with Deleuze and poetics. That's one good reason.

Pratt has a good creative writing program and they have a center in critical theory as well, which doesn't, as far I know, grant the PhD but is nonetheless pretty well-staffed.

Also, please note that critical theory != literary theory. That's a pernicious prejudice of the American academy.
posted by nasreddin at 9:55 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: Regarding the Crit/Lit theory, I just wanted to verify myself. I meant no comment on any academy, American or otherwise. I didn't want to get into the semiotics of the name of the department of the study of the semiotics of the name of departments...
posted by 0bvious at 10:44 AM on October 16, 2007

Regarding the Crit/Lit theory, I just wanted to verify myself. I meant no comment on any academy, American or otherwise. I didn't want to get into the semiotics of the name of the department of the study of the semiotics of the name of departments...

It's good to be clear on this. "Critical Theory" was developed by the Marxist Frankfurt School as a way of critiquing contemporary capitalist society and, especially, culture; it was subsequently further worked on by people like Foucault and Deleuze. "Literary Theory" is the study of literary texts, typically informed by French philosophers who may or may not be critical theorists. Literary theory has adopted critical theory approaches to studying literature and other texts, but critical theory maintains a life of its own, independently of English departments. Narratology is literary theory, but it is not really critical theory at all.

If you're going to be studying something, it is good to know what the terms that refer to your discipline actually mean and how they relate to one another.
posted by nasreddin at 10:50 AM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: I didn't want this to get into an argument over terms. I am only talking of Critical Theory in its application to texts, the disciplines do cross over and interrelate.

That's all I have to say on the topic
posted by 0bvious at 11:55 AM on October 16, 2007

For what it's worth...

I don't know much about your field, but Brown has a Moderun Culture and Media department that from my understanding could be right up your alley. Outside of the MCM dept, Neuroscience/Cognitive Science/Philosophy of the Mind are also big here. There is also a English Department, a Comp Lit department, and a Literary Arts department, so there would no shortage of those type of courses available to you.

Obviously, Providence is not in New York, but it is on the east coast.
posted by puffin at 12:00 PM on October 16, 2007

...and of course I meant Modern not Moderun
posted by puffin at 12:01 PM on October 16, 2007

I would also like to point out that the interdisciplinary study of narrative, or the rhetorical applications of theories of narrative expands far beyond narratology or literary theory. You can pick up those sorts of specializations in media/cultural theory programs, rhetoric programs, and humanities programs. I would be interested to hear whether narratology still carries much weight as a theoretical enterprise outside of literary criticism.
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:06 PM on October 16, 2007

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