Amongst the excellent resources available in the Great Writers Inspire collections there’s a lecture by Professor Peter McDonald on J.M. Coetzee which inspires the audience by challenging the notion of great writers as ‘spotless icons serenely floating above the murky complexity of their time or cultures’. In his analysis of the first sentence of Disgrace Professor McDonald demonstrates that the text calls for a scrutiny of its own language, the English language, and way of understanding the world, and poses crucial questions regarding the responsibilities of Western philosophical thought. In this critical sense, Coetzee is a ‘great’ writer. It is this interrogative approach to the cultural values that underpin literature and criticism that emerged from the discussions at the ‘Engage’ workshop hosted by the Oxford University Computing Services. Most participants recognised the need to evaluate critically the meaning of ‘greatness’ in literary texts and open the debate to external users of the Great Writers Inspire website. This online scholarly resource provides a combination of podcasts, e-books, essays and images, and the unpredictable dialogue between texts and con-texts seems to me its most valuable feature. The opportunity to select, combine and reuse materials encourages a mode of critical thinking that is performative and unequivocally provisional. And playful. I can see my students being inspired by accidental connections as they browse the site and discover new ways of approaching literature through quirky introductions, original manuscripts and thought-provoking lectures. This resource is a fine example of collaborative work and will definitely inspire similar projects as more teachers, researchers and students familiarise themselves with open content and virtual learning environments. One might then start to imagine the exploration of ‘great’ writing as a shared pursuit that speaks different languages and poses new vital questions. Thank you to the organisers of the ‘Engage’ event for introducing the resource and initiating a discussion on its educational potential. I look forward to the next stages in the development of the online collections.
Antonella Castelvedere is Lecturer in English at University Campus Suffolk.