As we get ready to say goodbye to 2020 and all it has contained, this could be a good time to think about what we may have learned about ourselves and our society and the way we live.
For, in a period of time chiefly dominated by the pandemic – with its attendant lock-ins, self-isolation requirements and levels of state control and regulation not seen since wartime – there have been opportunities aplenty to reflect upon what is important in this world. Being with family and friends, say, getting outside for some air. And what is not. Going shopping, blasting off on international holidays.
And we've had a chance, too, now that we've learned that this virus, and others like it, are part of modern society and here to stay, to think about whether we really have the resources and skills to live differently, according to its terms. Can we learn to be on our own? To socialise differently? Think for ourselves? Make judgements abut our own and others' safety? Can we imagine new ways of being in the world?
This is partly why two editors of a new anthology wanted to explore how writing in a different kind of way might help us find a direction out of the despair and limitations of the life we seem caught up – by introducing us to a vigorous and unusual kind of non fiction that might be described as thinking on the page. This kind of writing, a sort of journeying towards an idea – what they call 'essaying' – seems to be just the right way of responding to the new realities. Because instead of just summing up notions already held to be true or important, essaying, by contrast keeps a discussion live, is open to others' ideas, is flexible and takes risks with its thinking.
This openness, this sense of intellectual and creative adventure, is the theme of Imagined Spaces
, a sort of 'workbook', it could be described as – that might help educate young people and all of us in a new way of thinking and writing. It's an anthology of essaying which covers all kinds of subjects, from architecture to art, from literature and music to our ethical, personal and political lives. One can 'essay' on anything, in fact – all it takes is a kind of trust in one's own experience and the courage to test individual thinking against other ideas. So it applies to reading as well as writing – trains us in a kind of open-mindedness – and helps us think about how to create for ourselves new possibilities and priorities, and make creative and intellectual judgements about the world that will help us as we prepare for a new post pandemic age.
The two editors – their names appear on the byline here – write as one shared 'I', a new approach to thinking in itself. It's a form of expression which allows for other points of view to be accommodated within my own, you see? And it means I am always writing with someone's ideas mixed in to text as it appears on the page. So I may be begin thinking one thing, but then I think another.
So, what if I was to ask a group of writers, artists, critics and more, to think about... well, thinking? And what if I asked some of them to form partnerships as I have done here, and write together, instead of one? What kind of conversation might ensue? What kind of thinking may follow? How might it speak to the way we live now?
As I come out of 2020 and get ready for the New Year, with all it holds – debates about nationality and the economy, post Brexit and independence realities, as well as the new international map and the proliferation of technology and AI and the revolution of the workplace, along with a sense of society being so changed by what we have been through this year – I am thinking of Imagined Spaces
as being like a party, with loads of different people all having different ideas and sharing them. It's a place where the conversations are fun and exciting but also serious.
If I've learned anything, over this past year, it's about how to maintain my relationships with others, learn from them, agree, disagree, while being on my own.
I don't think I am alone? The discussions going on in Imagined Spaces
remind me that we are in this new world of ours together.
Kirsty Gunn and Gail Low began their essaying adventure together by introducing students to a way of writing that uncaps their intelligence and their creativity. They created and direct 'Imagined Spaces' – a learning centre and publishing initiative which changes lives and provides various means to learn more about a distinctive and excitng form of writing. More infomation is available here: www.imaginedspaces.uk
For Beth McDonough's review of Imagined Spaces
, Click here