There is a similarity between book launches and stand up comedy that I have only recently noticed. Both take place in a space of audience and performer anticipation. Let me entertain you. Go on then – impress me. Both therefore are risky; their success is relational, dependent on the connections and energies of the moment. Both thrive on good humour, meaning funny but also good natured. Both, done well, create an atmosphere of intimacy and recognition between author/comedian and the audience. And both, of course, are usually assisted in this by alcohol. And so it is at Blackwell’s Bookshop on Edinburgh’s South Bridge for the launch of Jonathan Wyatt’s book, Therapy, Stand Up and the Gesture of Writing (Routledge, 2018).
Wyatt, introduced by Edgar Rodriguez-Dorans, speaks about the motivations and ideas behind the book, which was conceived around the time that he was establishing CCRI and as a text works to formulate and develop what Creative-Relational Inquiry is, or might be. He shares an excerpt from the text which explores his experiences as a therapist, working with Karl, a client grieving after the death of his father. Karl, who is a figure whom I’ve ‘met’ before in lectures, seems more truthful than factual, reminding me of Richard Parker, the tiger in the novel Life of Pi, a character so vivid you can’t but believe in him, even after you discover he is the narrator’s creation.
We also hear about Wyatt’s experiences as an occasional stand up performer, including the toe-curling experience of a disastrous set at The Stand Comedy club. A flashing green light punctuates the vignette, warning the performer that time is nearly up, is up, was up a while back, get off the stage already. The piece is written and read with reflexivity and self-awareness, and much self-deprecating wit. Dying on stage is made hilarious and yet, standing alongside the section about Karl, death, in one form or another is always present in the room.
Wyatt has created that bond of trust with the audience. We have been invited to step inside the therapy room, a space of grief, anger and confusion, and also to laugh with him and at him in The Stand. He has made himself vulnerable, and yet, has he? Wyatt is safe and in control of the narrative which he shares with us, right up until he invites Nini Fang, David Clarke and Anne Pirrie to offer their responses to the book. A siren from a passing ambulance or fire engine reaches up from the street, distant yet present. This might be the genteel, scholarly equivalent of inviting hecklers. As Wyatt says in the title of Chapter Two, ‘Something might happen’.
There is some gentle scholarly provocation from Anne Pirrie – ‘In Chapter 12, you openly embrace shame: in Chapter 9, I think you’re avoiding it.’ Plus, there is disarming honesty from Nini Fang who says that, prior to reading the book she ‘was not too “sold”… Everything he [had] said so far was far from common-sensical, graspable, almost a bit absurd.’ These responses are genuine, considered and academic, far from the obsequious praise so often heard at book launches. (Trust me: I used to work in the literary sector and have been to a lot of them…)
There is not space here to include all of the respondents’ words but below are excerpts that give an indication of the various routes that they forged through the text. Their words, like Wyatt’s readings, leave me confirmed in my belief that each book is many books, completed in the minds of its readers. I encourage you to read on, imagining, if you like, the accompaniment of laughs, applause and occasional sirens that we heard at the launch, and then consider moving on to Therapy, Stand Up and the Gesture of Writing to find your own journey through the text.
‘This is a book that wants to be read, longs to be read, and one that is not afraid of being read. Although this is also one that requires a reader who is willing to work intimately with the texts and not read from a distance – never from a distance. “Texts cannot influence the world by themselves” as Rita Felski (2015) reminds us, “but only via the intercession of those who read them, digest them, reflect on them, rail against them, use them as points of orientation, and pass them on” (p. 172). The book invites the kind of reading as a relational practice that deepens through the co-constructive play between reader and text. “if reading is a journey, a reader would be better rewarded with what an author can offer to read with a traveller’s curiosity and not a tourist’s anticipation – to open the mind to the unexpected and unfamiliar in the text.” (Fang, forthcoming). “Step inside” (Wyatt, 2018) – come and join – “Something might happen. Something might be possible” (ibid).’
The book guides us to see that connectivity cannot be anchored in a linear design; it cannot answer for questions such as how I come to be in relation to you, what the relevance is between this and that, how one scene leads to another.’
‘Jonathan’s book is full of resonances, it is crafted of them. Resonances between disciplines; therapy, stand-up, writing. Resonances between characters in these worlds. Resonances between knowing, ethics, and the real. Resonances between affective states of personing – which isn’t quite the same as being human. And resonances between the author and the reader; Jonathan’s stories touch us with their humour, their caring for the process of inquiry, and their openness.
Bodies are separate in this book, bodies of writing, aging bodies, bodies of land, rooms as bodies, but there is nothing quite in between them. Rather, they resonate together. To remove the between – the space that divides in our representations of the world – whilst retaining the material presence of difference, is quite a writing feat. And this feat is partly accomplished through stories, and Jonathan’s careful consideration of theory. Jonathan’s book is full of theory. It creeps under every description, lurking in stories of family, of loss, of shame, and of joy. But also, and especially, in the vitality of the ordinary.’
‘The book is quintessentially about surprise, directness (and indirectness) and relationality.
I fully subscribe to your view of writing as inquiry, rather than a method of inquiry. I think it is a measure of the quality of the book that it afforded me many openings, ways of seeing the possibility of movement in my own work As with the other spheres of influence (therapy and stand-up), you opened up a clearing for us, your readers to step into, and one that was broader than that little white chalk circle. For me, the experience of reading was that the back of forth of the reading mirrored the act of writing. For instance, I realised that I need to take account of rhythm and refrain in a piece of writing that I have been developing with a former professional musician turned academic.’
Fang, N. (Accepted) ‘Narrating Trauma with (My Imaginary) Virginia Woolf: Imaginal Dialogue as a Method of Narrative Inquiry’, Narrative Inquiry. Revision submitted on 14 Jan 2019.
Felski, R. (2015) The Limits of Critique. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Wyatt, J. (2018) Therapy, Stand-up and the Gesture of Writing: Towards creative-relational inquiry. London: Routledge.