POSSIBILITIES by Wislawa Szymborska

I prefer movies.

I prefer cats.

I prefer the oaks along theWarta.

I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.

I prefer myself liking people

to myself loving mankind.

I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand.

I prefer the colour green.

I prefer not to maintain                                                                                                                           Photo by Fabiana Cutrano

that reason is to blame for everything.

I prefer exceptions.

I prefer to leave early.

I prefer talking to doctors about something else.

I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems

to the absurdity of not writing poems.

I prefer, where love’s concerned, non-specific anniversaries

that can be celebrated every day.

I prefer moralists

who promise me nothing.

I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.

I prefer the earth in civvies.

I prefer conquered to conquering countries.

I prefer having some reservations.

I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.

I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.

I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.

I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.

I prefer desk drawers.

I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here

to many things I’ve also left unsaid.

I prefer zeroes on the loose

to those lined up behind a cipher.

I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.

I prefer to knock on wood.

I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.

I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility

that existence has its own reason for being.

The singular imperfection of multiple identity by Marco Minghetti

In today’s corporations it is crucial to cultivate internal knowledge as a plural space of possibilities: this is a collective originating  from the profound individual awareness of the multiple potential that each person possesses and from the responsible assumption of the consequences ensuing from one’s choices.

The model liquid manager who is successful, according to Bauman, is the Bill Gates described by Richard Sennett: a person who is “at home with disorder” and who knows how to move around “inside a network of possibilities”. So the manager of today needs to know more than ever how to “know thyself”, the self composed of chiaroscuro and half-tones /…whims, ornaments and details, / stupid exceptions, / forgotten signs, / countless variations of grey, / game for game / and you, the tear in the laughter (Into the ark): to whit, one’s individual, unique and unrepeatable possibilities.

To set off this introspective process, inspiration can be had from verses like those dedicated by Raymond Carver to Fear – which in some way represent the dark side, the male version, a sort of doppelganger of Szymborska’s poem Possibilities:

 Fear of seeing a police car pull into the drive.

Fear of falling asleep at night.

Fear of not falling asleep.

Fear of the past rising up.

Fear of the present taking flight.

Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night.

Fear of electrical storms.

Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek!

Fear of dogs I’ve been told don’t bite.

Fear of anxiety!

Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend.

Fear of running out of money.

Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this.

Fear of psychological profiles.

Fear of being late and fear of arriving before anyone else.

Fear of my children’s handwriting on envelopes.

Fear they’ll die before I do, and I’ll feel guilty.

Fear of having to live with my mother in her old age, and mine.

Fear of confusion.

Fear this day will end on an unhappy note.

Fear of waking up to find you gone.

Fear of not loving you and fear of not loving enough.

Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love.

Fear of death.

Fear of living too long.

Fear of death.

                   I’ve said that.

We are made of hopes and fears, of limits and of possibilities, all inextricably tangled up together. And contradictory, confused, incomprehensible. Carver is afraid of falling asleep, but also of not falling asleep; of the past rising up and the present that takes flight; of not loving and of not being loved enough. Szymborska, as usual, takes on introspection with the practicality of a mother hurrying to make up a grocery list. When someone observed that “a love for lists is typical of your work,” she replied: “You might be right.” You might be. She loves the device of listing, enumerating, accumulating. It’s a device that goes back to Hesiod and Homer, finding its way to our times through novelists like Melville. “When we read and comment on the Iliad,” explains Alessandro Baricco in Whales and Dreams, “we realise that the description of Achilles’ shield also serves to pass on information gathered from the father’s experience to the son. What the best choice of leather is to construct a strong shield, for example.” But if the list was originally a way of cataloguing reality with the objective of dominating it and transmitting its “instructions for use”, the lists of many contemporary writers reveal the impossibility of this feat. Just think of Montale’s “elliptical listing”, which has an ironic predecessor in Gozzano of the Crepuscular poets, but also the irresistible anti-climaxes of Achille Campanile, or, if you prefer something more “serious”, the chaotic accumulation that so frequently appears in Whitman’s poems and Joyce’s interior monologues (“What is that flying about? Swallow? Bat probably. Thinks I’m a tree, so blind. Have birds no smell? Metempsychosis. They believed you could be changed into a tree from grief. Weeping willow. Ba. There he goes. Funny little beggar. Wonder where he lives. Belfry up there” Ulysses). The two “uses” of the listing device, “chaotic” versus “ordered” is connected with the diatribe between Parmenides and Heraclitus in olden times, and between the Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia today: they’re opposing ways of cataloguing reality, of describing it, that are founded on two antithetical “metaphysical” visions of its most intimate essence – which in turn determine two different modes of politically managing society: the scientific and the humanistic. Let us say that we could draw an ideal axis that at one end stands for the totalitarian prescriptiveness of the Platonic Laws, and at the other stands for the anarchic spirit of Schott’s Original Miscellany.

Szymborska’s place on this axis is made clear by one of her most recent poems, entitled – surprise, surprise… – List:

The list of questions is long

touching on questions of greater or lesser import,


What was real

and what just seemed to be


What the newspapers were

 writing about yesterday;


Why I took bad things

for good ones

and what I need to do

to stop making mistakes?

Like this list of questions of greater or lesser import, the inventory of Possibilities ends up being just as arbitrary and illogical (let’s go ahead and say it: human) as Carver’s fears. When she goes on to write that she prefers “many things that I haven’t mentioned here,” Szymborska is admitting, not all that differently from her transatlantic counterpart, that she doesn’t know exactly what she wants either. And yet we are unique and different from each other like two drops of water (Nothing twice): not only because of male and female, belonging to Old Europe or the Savage New World of America, optimists or pessimists, but because one is afraid of confusion, while the other prefers the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

Except for the question: “What is your biggest fear?”, she answers: “I’m afraid of chaos. Everything that seems to be one way and then, all of a sudden, can reveal a completely different, opposite face.” It must be added, though, that here Szymborska is alluding to a specific form of chaos: “I’m afraid of the demons slumbering in wait inside all of us. I’m afraid of aggressive stupidity, the kind that only expresses itself in violence. Idiocy convinced that it’s right. That’s horrific!” In any case, all the more so actually, it’s still a hell. Like Hamlet (and Plato before him), Szymborska sometimes seems inclined toward the idea that the world is a prison, made up of cells, secrets, and underground passages. And that freedom consists in choosing which prison you want to settle down in. Moreover, she never abandons it without exaggerating, on the other hand, the thought of death as a passage toward Nothingness. Even if she doesn’t give up on considering even the possibility / that existence has its own reason for being, it’s difficult to understand what the justification or the meaning of individual existence is.

The cheerful solution that Morcheeba suggests is Just be yourself. Easier said than done. Partly because defining one’s identity is an action that is further complicated by the excessive contemporary figure of the ego, which by now has become engorged, abnormal, uncontainable. According to Claudio Magris, this dimension of the Ego was introduced into western culture by Dostoyevsky’s The Double: until then, the dimension of the “double” had been hinted at by Chamisso, Stevenson, Poe and others, while here for the first time it becomes multiple. “He is that underground man who Nietzsche saw as the stand-in of his “overman”, with a plural subject, more a crowd than an individual, an “anarchy of atoms”, a plurality of persons in one”, the same man to whom Musil will definitively grant the status of citizen of the world, sensing the advent of a type of human who, because he wants to experience all possible “qualities” of existence at the same time, ends up having none.

Today more than ever, in fact, people would like to live not one life, but many lives together. We live in a condition of endemic instability: identity is fragmented into different memberships that often overlap, sometimes in contradictory ways, with an increasingly dreamlike consistency (We are such stuff as dreams are made on, mused Shakespeare). Identity is like a labyrinth inside of which we have to get our direction: or better, which we have to continuously reconstruct by choosing between various alternatives (between Dickens and Dostoyevsky, between leaves without flowers and flowers without leaves, between anniversaries and non-anniversaries…: life is a question of choices between different or antithetical possibilities, states Szymborska), all of which deserve to be followed, without excluding each other.

The only way out of the dilemma is to continuously pose oneself the problem of one’s founding originality: Why after all this one and not the rest? / Why this specific self, not in a nest, but in a house? / Why on earth now, on Tuesday of all days… (Astonishment: another example of how Szymborska handles the listing device).

The method for gathering them all together is suggested in A Speech at the Lost and Found Office:

 I lost a few goddesses on my way from the south to the north,

and a lot of gods, too, on my way from the east to the west.

A few stars have died out on me forever, vanished.

An island, and then another one, have sunk on me in the sea.

I don’t even know where I left my claws,

who goes around in my fur, lives in my shell.

My brothers died on me when I crawled up onto the shore

and only one little bone commemorates the event.

I was popping out of my skin, wasting vertebrae and legs, 

I was out of my wits more than a number of times.

I’ve closed my third eye on all this for some time now,

I put a fin over it, I shook off the fronds.

It’s about eliminating the superfluous, like Occam’s Razor, to reach the hidden kernel of ourselves. It might not be much, but this way we avoid the risk of losing everything:

I myself am amazed at how little of me has remained:

a single person for now of the human species,

who only lost her umbrella yesterday on the train.

With characteristic simplicity, this is how she sums up the question: “If I were a Dutch poet, most of my poems would probably not have been written. But some of them would have been written nonetheless, regardless of the place I lived. I think this is important.” Biological, historical, social, and psychological ties which we seem to be bound by have a value for the single person that is similar to that of the layers around the centre of an onion, which, however, is another thing:

 Its innards don’t exist.

nothing but pure onionhood

fills this devout onionist.

Oniony on the inside,

onionesque it appears. 

It follows its own daimonion

without our human tears.


At peace, of a piece,

internally at rest.

Inside it, there’s a smaller one,

of undiminished worth.

The second holds a third one,

the third contains a fourth.

A centripetal fugue.

Polyphony compressed.


We hold veins, nerves, fat,

secretions’ secret sections.

Not for us such idiotic

onionoid perfections.

(The Onion)

The self is not like the kernel of the onion, then, whose outer layers are peeled off by Peer Gynt, one after another, only to discover that there are only swathes and no kernels: “(Pulls off several layers at once) What an enormous number of swathes! Isn’t the kernel soon coming to light? (Pulls the whole onion to pieces) I’m blest if it is! To the innermost centre, it’s nothing but swathes–each smaller and smaller”. Rather, it’s about keeping the distinction between idem and ipse suggested by Paul Ricoeur: on the one hand refers back to self-sameness, i.e., identification, equality with oneself and with others, belonging to a group or a category; on the other hand, identity refers back to individualisation, a singularity that is personal and unrepeatable, difference.

So we are talking about a genuine philosophical issue. For example, Gilles Deleuze observed that “Spinoza very often speaks about essence, but for him, essence is never the essence of man. Essence is always a singular determination. There is the essence of this man, and of that man, there is no essence of man. He will himself say that the general essences or the abstract essences of the ‘the essence of man’ type are confused ideas. There is you, this one, that one, there are singularities….At this level, there is already an existentialism in Spinoza.” Nevertheless, Szymborska, a strict practitioner of the art of understatement, said: “I don’t cultivate grand philosophy, just humble poetry. The existentialists are monumentally and monotonously serious, and they don’t enjoy joking. […] I always find something a bit laughable about over-seriousness.” Yet in her poetry, writes Milena Gammaitoni, “there are traces of Darwinism, Heraclitean physics, existentialism (Merleau Ponty, Sartre, Camus), minimalism. As well as: Cartesian doubt and Schopenhauerian pessimism.” I’d add: rejection of the Platonic Good, Shakespearian tragedy, Kafkaesque incommunicability. And then Prehistory (Dinosaur skeleton, A Palaeolithic Fertility Fetish, Archaeology etc.), Homeric Mythology (A Moment in Troy, Soliloquy for Cassandra, On the Banks of the Styx etc.), History of Great Figures (Voices, Byzantine Mosaic, Medieval Miniature, Decapitation, Hitler’s First Photograph, Vietnam, Photograph from September 11 etc.) and especially of the little people: but always based on the conviction that history “unfolds mainly around horrible events.” Miraculously, all this “cosmic pessimism” (according to Hellen Handler, “the universality of suffering is a fundamental theme for Szymborska”) does not take away “the capacity to see the unusual, the enigmatic, the prodigious in the ordinary (J. Kwiatkowski)” – so that just as every tiny thing or event can reveal a hidden face of the real, each day may offer us the discovery of a new positive potential. In an imaginary conversation with Ecclesiastes, she reasons along these lines: “ ‘There’s nothing new under the sun’: that’s what you wrote, Ecclesiastes. But you yourself were born new under the sun. And the poem you created is also new under the sun, since no one wrote it down before you. And all your readers are also new under the sun, since those who lived before you couldn’t read your poem. And that cypress that you’re sitting under hasn’t been growing since the dawn of time. It came into being by way of another cypress similar to yours, but not exactly the same. And Ecclesiastes, I’d also like to ask you what new thing under the sun you’re planning to work on now?… I doubt you’ll say, ‘I’ve written everything down, I’ve got nothing left to add.’ There’s no poet in the world who can say this, least of all a great poet like yourself.”

To conclude, if the task of philosophy is primarily that of reconstructing the self-sameness of man, poetry can serve to reconstruct man’s singularity, shattered by the pressure of the contemporary world. For believers, naturally, religion is fundamental, but in spite of her frequent reflections on the Bible (in Night, Resumed, Lot’s Wife, for example) and evocations  – even purely playful ones – stylistic forms typical of sacred literature (In Praise of Feeling Bad, Psalm), Szymborska admits that she isn’t able to bite apples / in continuous horror. She has openly stated that: “my poetry is not religious…my poems remain questions. Padre Twardowski (a Polish poet, ed.) finds a natural solution in the cycle of destiny and the will of God. As for me, I don’t have any solutions. He’s a firm believer, I limit myself to believing that questions are more important. Sometimes more than the answers.” Out of this grows a poetics that allows us to explore our most authentic possibilities , by offering a path, certainly a very narrow one, on that inner journey that is difficult but not “impossible to take”, as Bauman puts it in Liquid Life: certainly, only if we accept the preliminary condition that “I am responsible for my strengths and my weaknesses” (while for Bauman, it is precisely the refusal to assume any responsibility deriving from one’s choices that most marks the liquid contemporary individual: “the only ‘kernel of identity’ that is sure to emerge undamaged, and even strengthened from continuous change is that of homo eligens – the man ‘who chooses’, but not ‘he who has chosen!’”).

This would seem to refer to a brief scene in the film Sacred Heart by Ferzan Ozpetek. The one in which Benny – the strange little girl, perhaps a guardian angel, who will show Irene, a ruthless top manager, the way to rediscover a possibility that had remained unexplored until then, that will reveal itself to be her truest spiritual dimension, consisting in the ability to give of herself by taking care of others – is accused of having stolen precious objects from the rich lead character of the film.  To prove her innocence, the little girl turns out her schoolbag. What comes out of it are a few ordinary objects, some trinkets, a mobile phone and a small light blue book: not religious or metaphysical texts, as one would be justified in expecting – the New Testament, the Bible, the Koran, a summary of the Summa Theologica by Aquinas or a collection of Confucian aphorisms – but Instant, one of the latest book of poems by Wislawa Szymborska.


Riccardo Sarfatti, CEO  of Luceplan

 The natural evolutionary possibility of the small is big. If the small doesn’t become big, or at least bigger, it’s because the growth process has been stunted, or not fostered at least. Dwarfism has never been a choice, but the logical consequence of the development model amongst other possible ones that was consciously and wilfully implemented. This is how natural possibility was transformed into structural impossibility.

The niche, or the hyper-niche, has become the heavenly hell of Italian companies. The protective shell that weighs, but protects, like the one that burdens the slow solemn gait of the snail, but which does not hinder the hermit-crab from crawling backwards or the little crab from moving as fast as lightning, but sideways. Different possibilities from the same “burdened” condition.

It is the niche, from within itself, that imposes and determines the choice of possibilities, which are also endlessly changeable, because the niche itself is continuously being changed and transforming in the global context.

The choice defines the identity, especially at the beginning, when the company project is about to transform itself into the project company. At the beginning, you choose one from among all the possibilities, the one that represents the summation of the autobiography that is yours up to that moment, and that of your partners. This is where the potentiality of the project’s force is accumulated. It’s the “only” possibility you believe in. An entirely ideological, value-based, ethical, ready-to-become-heroic choice. Then comes the company. And the hell of chaos and the hell of order are continuously confronting each other, continuously overlapping: the chaos of stunted growth, the rationalising order of the “Management”. You don’t have two possibilities: they’re the condition. You can’t prefer one to the other. You live with both. The zeroes in a jumble have to be constantly realigned into figures, but the hatchet of Basilea remains in wait.

The continual search for exceptions, the vital sap of an innovative identity, finds its outlet in the undertaking to have the discovered exception become the anticipator of hidden needs, already widespread, and, at that point, the least possible exception, basically normality: quality and quantity together at last. A nice thing usually. Something useful for people. Things that are useful for humanity are incredibly rare exceptions, because great intellects in the sciences, arts, poetry, thought, the great leaders of history and politics are incredibly rare: a rare rarity, in fact.

Identity also lays down the tracks for the choices. When it risks being a limit, you sense it, and the conflict between brand and anonymous thus becomes ideologically renting; but fortunately programme and project win out over ideology, as will always be the case, perhaps, since the great novels of the 1900s came to a close, and we move on. Giving up is impossible and differentiation is a palliative treatment for the illness of uncertainty and precariousness.

Until the contamination of many global centuries has been victorious over identities, the possibilities of choice between identity and non-identity are impossible.

Between a historical identity and a new identity, in the short term, maybe. If it’s possible, the time has already come for another and other generations, meaning, with no doubts or regrets, for a generational passing.

It’s the only way to consider the possibility that being (having been) has a reason.

Go to From: Nothing twice. The Management seen through the poetry by Wisława Szymborska.