2021-2022 Rachel O'Reilly: Supervalent/Lateral Writing Workshop 

This writing workshop will be offered online in December 2021 ( date and time soon TBC)

About Rachel O'Reilly 

Origin of Valence: Late Latin valentia meaning power / capacity, from Latin valent-, valens, present participle of valēre to be strong — First Known Use in 1884. Also related to Middle English word welden meaning to control, and Old High German waltan to rule.

Origin of Lateral: From lateralis, from latus. lateral adjective. To the side; of or pertaining to the side.

Supervalent Thought: “A train of thought that seems reasonable, but no amount of voluntary effort of thought on the patient’s part is able to dissipate or eradicate it.” –  (2009) In R. J. Campbell, (Ed.).  Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary Campbell’s psychiatric dictionary,  Oxford University Press

Supervalent Thought: “An extreme preoccupation with a single topic (see Obsession; Rumination.”) – (2007) In G. R. VandeBos, (Ed.). The APA Dictionary of Psychology APA dictionary of psychology. (1st ed., p. 844). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Supervalent: “Characterizing an idea that takes on excessive intensity and cannot be eliminated by personal efforts, for example, extreme jealousy stemming from a source concealed or unconscious.” (2001) In R. J. Corsini, (Ed.) The Dictionary of Psychology. Psychology Press.

Reference (and indebtedness), to the writing experiments of Lauren Berlant: http://supervalentthought.com/


One works through many issues that put blocks on the genuine risks and rewards of research-oriented and experimental writing while undertaking Masters degree creative work. Challenges change in the context of accelerated conditions of change in the world, not only in relationship to local policies or specific classes impacting one's late liberal art education. 

It was only three decades ago that neoliberal globalization restructured the cultural field to institutionalize Art and Literature MFA programs inside the “modelled global” (Euro-American) University. “Crit” sessions in US Creative Writing MFAs often went so far as putting prohibitions on critical ‘theory’ for practice, while subjecting students to communal “group crit” sessions using uniform protocols that were often punishing, and extreme. Art students today meet to navigate quite different institutional conventions and Writing program offerings, with a juxta-political sense of “possibility.” 

How To Do Things With Theory at DAI laterally references J L Austin’s small language philosophy book How to Do Things with Words, which emphasised the role of performativity in the construction of meaning. While ordinary language philosophy debates at Oxford have little to do with today’s decolonial post-Frankfurt school legacies of progressive art education, the text (and title) was a reference for performance theory's focus on the critique of the liberal subject and the constructedness of identity. Presently, the performative freedoms of the late liberal fine art school remain branded in strong contrast with the trade realism of the neoliberal business University, while assuming in advance a certain inorganic proximity to social movement projects. Whether we suspend art infrastructure or not in our writerly research interests (Spivak once wrote that the term “writing” describes “a place where the absence of the weaver from the web is structurally necessary”), where do we want to focus our writing energies during out time at DAI? And how can writing actually help us work this out on our own, in dialogue with texts, and in groups? 

Developing (or stealing) a partial and animating writing practice as imperfect ongoing habit—in parallel to work, life, art-making or assessment processes—can provide “cut-through” to ourselves in our own journey and struggles in ways that open us out to new and different ideas and relations that have different tenses. Aside from our participation in the theory seminar, we may need to catch up on a very basic understanding of what was “critical theory,” in order to consider what we want from what it has become. We might also want to question our assumptions about its relationship to today’s academy and to “practice” (another concept assumed to equate with theory’s prohibition). 

From a writer's perspective, we will need to navigate, inevitably, the relationship of desire and subjection to creative ambitions and research expectations, generally, and specifically at the level of the fits and starts of our own perceived successes and failures. How can we work better with the conditions that seem to hamper generative writing? What is the specific possibility and limit of the student-supervisor relationship? What does it actually mean to submit to, or stylistically experiment with, or evade conventions of “academic writing”? 

This seminar uses a series of contextualizing, self-reflexive, and self-othering writing/editing prompts and workshop exercises, and a small number of useful readings and reference points, to consider how any one of us comes into the spaces of “research, art and theory” in ways that can help us make sense of impasses, itineraries, the non-globalisability of practices, and the crux of our all-too-human thesis ambitions. How can articulating anxieties, urgencies, ignorances, depressions and outrages actually help process and accumulate rather than hinder a writing process?