SOME PEOPLE LIKE POETRY
thus not all.
Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting schools, where one has to,
and the poets themselves,
there might be two people per thousand.
but one also likes chicken soup with noodles,
one likes compliments and the colour blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes having the upper hand,
one likes stroking a dog.
but what is poetry.
Many shaky answers
have been given to this question.
But I don’t know and don’t know and hold on to it
like to a sustaining railing.
From the prose of Taylorism to the new management poetry. By Marco Minghetti
The will of the scientific manager to control the corporate world by conforming it to a single, preformed meaning imposed from on high is made quite useless by the liquid, changing, continuously evolving nature of our contemporary reality. Poetry opens the way toward a different management practice, based on accepting imperfection, diversity, uncertainty.
Wislawa Szymborska, Nobel Laureate for Literature, admits it. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what poetry is. Even less what its purpose is, then. And no idea at all, we might suppose, as to what use it might have in companies. She is not a member of that army of “experts” who “based on their degrees, or maybe simply on their self-certification, offer their help (at the right price, of course) to act as our guides into the dark secrets of our soul” (Zygmut Bauman). She does represent an excellent example of a true poet, however, who refuses to cage existence into a given order: poetry goes in search of the infinite paths that the impermanent nature of reality makes it possible to trace out. Emily Dickinson expresses this idea thus:
They shut me up in Prose—
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet—
Because they liked me “still”—
Still! Could themself have peeped—
And seen my Brain—go round—
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason—in the Pound—
“Uh oh, poetry in the corporate world is not only useless: it’s dangerous!”, exclaims the scientific manager dedicated to the cult of bureaucratic planning and rigid control, instead of reflecting on the goals to be pursued, on the exploration of the company’s potential and the recognition of the means necessary to bring it into fruition, on the strengthening of a leadership willing to go down the unpredictable forks in the paths that wind through the gardens of the future (at the risk of venturing into areas where all the paths, marked onto the flourishing greenery in the form of ingenious labyrinths, have been wiped away, either because no one has set foot on them since time immemorial, or because they’re unexplored).
Answer: yes, it is, if we want to preserve the stability – and Szymborska wrote an epitaph for all these who want to maintain it: Every one of their forecasts has gone in a completely different way / or a bit different, which also means totally different (Letters from the Dead). But if we need creativity, innovation, the courage to reveal the hypocrisy of the current organisation in order to build a stronger one that is oriented toward the future, based on transparency, trust and mutual consideration, then the introduction of massive doses of poetry into the company becomes its only salvation.
This does not mean forgetting the past, quite the opposite. Kundera writes: “The ceaseless activity of forgetting lends a phantomatic, unreal, fleeting quality to every one of our acts. What did we eat at lunch the day before yesterday? What did my friend tell me yesterday? And even: what was I thinking about three seconds ago…? Works of art rise up out of our real world like another world where everything, every word, every phrase, deserves to be remembered and was conceived with this purpose. In this sense, poetry is privileged. Whoever reads a sonnet by Baudelaire can’t skip a single word. If they like it, they read it a couple of times maybe, out loud. If they’re crazy about it, they learn it by heart. Poetry is a fortress of memory.” Szymborska translates this concept, for example, thus:
Are you certain then that our vessel has reached
the deserts of Bohemia? – Yes, my lord.
It’s Shakespeare who, I’m certain of it,
wasn’t someone else. […]
Poetic certainty is not scientific certainty, however. The lines that we learn by heart may “resound” in us in a certain way when we repeat them to our first love as teenagers and in a completely different way when they give us comfort in the solitude of old age. Through poetry we preserve the memory of a changing, multi-coloured, unpredictable reality. I said that time may change me / But I can’t trace time, David Bowie reflects in Changes. Life is a continuous transformation that is consumed in the attempt to synchronise day by day imperceptible shifting in the memory of places, encounters, sensations. But that’s not all. We can even remember an event perfectly without even having lived it. Actually this is true for most of our memories, if not all of them. At least this is the opinion of a large school of thought that includes Leopardi and Marías, Proust and Yourcenar, not to mention Philip K. Dick. Finally, it was Umberto Eco who remembered that “once, as a joke with some friends, we invented a list of non-existent fields of study for university professorships, like Aztec Horse Racing, Nomadic Urbanisation, Institutions of Deviance, Theory of Non-Normal Sets, or Microscopy of the Indiscernible. One of the most interesting subjects was the Ars Oblivionalis as the opposite of the Ars Memoriae.” Memory loss is not necessarily a pathological event. There are forms of selective amnesia that are indispensable for our survival. Anamnesis, in the original Greek, means recollection (Plato docet). It’s no coincidence that today it means the history of an illness. From an evolutionary point of view, most of us would hardly need a system that would allow us to indulge in the memories of our first love… This is what Szymborska also thinks, expressed in one of her poems (First love).
Eco’s observation is interesting, then (also as the author of a novel centred on the theme of reconstructing the memory, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana). The book examines a series of ideas on the feasibility of an art of forgetting, starting from the Libellus artificiosae memoriae (Wittenberg, 1570) by Johannes Spangerbergius, and finishing with modern Internet search systems, passing through the investigations of a Borgesian character named Isidro Parodi, and the theories of Pierce. Oddly enough, Eco forgets the Sherlock Holmes (who he discusses thoroughly in other essays) of A Study in Red: at the beginning of the novel Watson is amazed by the detective’s ignorance of the fact that the earth moves around the sun, shown in one of their first encounters. Holmes points out to him that since the memory is like a container, if it were filled with useless notions it wouldn’t be able to house the concepts he needs for his profession. This would seem to be a paradoxical response: if it weren’t for the fact that Eric Kandel, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2000, precisely thanks to his studies on memory, proves Holmes to have been right: “To remember well,” he said, “means being able to select what is meaningful and to forget the rest.” But Eco probably didn’t cite Holmes because, like Watson, he believes that “an ars oblivionalis cannot be constructed on the model of mnemotechnics, since it is proper to every semiotic system to make absence present.”
Perhaps this is why, since ancient times, man has tried to turn to pharmacology: from opium, to lotus flowers, to the recent “morning-after pill” which, according to its inventors, wipes away what shouldn’t have happened: an inconsolable death, violence, trauma. A dose of forgetfulness to delete an event and anaesthetise all the emotional effects. A contraceptive of the soul that renders the experience of pain infertile… And recent cinema has been exploring this theme with increasing frequency, imagining the possibilities of futuristic technologies for manipulating the memory: Strange days, The Bourne Identity, Minority Report, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Manchurian Candidate, just to name a few “blockbusters” from the last few years.
There isn’t much that can be done about it: we just have to resign ourselves and admit that the inevitability of leaving traces in time is not equivalent to the possibility of tracing it in terms of a predetermined way or direction. All we can do, like Szymborska, is practice our memory as it alights delicately, with absolute transparency, on people, on things, on feelings, on changing scenes.
The little girl I used to be –
I know her, obviously.
I have some pictures
of her brief life.
Funny little thing.
How could she know
that even desperation has its benefits,
if you’re lucky enough
to live longer.
Don’t look at us
with those eyes of yours
too opened wide,
like the eyes of the dead.
So the everydayness of the Polish poet is not, writes Emanuele Trevi, “a solid and reassuring base: the identity that expresses itself in verses looks at normality and at the same time knows that she will never be able to take it for granted… Like in the wonderful poem entitled Memory Finally. It’s an exhilarating piece, because a wish has finally come true, to dream of her parents how they really were and how it was finally possible to dream of them on A normal night, / from any Friday to a Saturday… And this is how they appear to her now: in a dream, but as if they were free from dreams, / obedient only to themselves and to nothing else: beautiful, therefore, to the point of radiating their beauty, comments Szymborska with a brilliant reversal of concepts, because they resemble each other. Wislawa Szymborska speaks to us of a difficult passion for this resemblance, for this congruence between what exists in itself, what we tend to take for granted, which for Szymborska is rather a miracle that repeats every time we wake up: a gift, an astonishment that leads us to touch the world, that smooth world of ours, studded with habits like an engraved frame.”
I touched the world like an engraved frame: it seems as if Szymborska is alluding to the frame theory of Erving Goffman, according to which reality is not one, but rather consists of a set of frames all joined together: there is no such thing as a “true truth”, then, just interpretations that are valid for each individual. It’s a conjecture that is void of foundation; and yet the association is strengthened by looking at the poetic composition in which the question of what poetry is, like in a play of mirrors or a Borgesian labyrinth, is asked. It is arranged into three parts, adopting the same method used to teach children grammar and logical analysis (by classifying the various words, assigning to each of them one of the parts of speech, specifying the morphological features, like gender, number, type for each classified word). What could be easier for adults with the benefit of normal schooling? Yet, if we put ourselves to the test given by professor Szymborska, we make a dizzying discovery: each one of the terms, which seem to refer to unambiguous definitions in the context of an everyday sentence, a commonplace, is full of ambiguity (Some like poetry).
Some. Pronoun. Used with plural countables nouns and uncountable nouns. All very well. In appearance. But in practice, these “some”, how many of them are there (and who are they)? Not all, which isn’t much help; not the majority, but rather a no better identified minority; Might there be two people per thousand? …maybe! Better pass on to the verb: like. Third person singular of the verb ‘to like’. Present indicative tense. There’s no way you can get it wrong, even though it’s a devious verb in some languages, intransitive and irregular. But what does it mean, to like? The dictionary definitions are, first of all, “receive pleasure from the senses” or “satisfy the aesthetic sense.” Right, but the comfort provided by chicken soup with noodles is different from the protection that an old scarf offers from the cold (coming both from the inside and from the outside as Charlie Brown’s Linus knows very well, although he prefers a blanket): nor is it comparable to a pleasurable sensation caused by seeing the colour blue. Unless Italian singer Paolo Conte is right when he puts all these things together: Come in and have a warm bath / there’s a blue bathrobe / outside it’s raining, it’s a cold world… (Via con me [Come with me]). The dictionary also teaches us that “to be liked” can mean “to meet with agreement, the approval of others, specifically in the moral sphere.” Fine, but the agreement that springs from victorious competition between wolf-men over other men is of a completely different character than the kind generated by the empathy we feel toward other living beings, whether humans or animals (one likes stroking a dog); and this liking is completely different again from the flattery (one likes compliments), which Shakespeare never tires of warning us against. Nothing to be done about it, we know as much as we did before.
Lastly, the subject, poetry: who can say what it is? No one: because poetry, like life, cannot be grasped, if we are under the illusion that it can be shut up in a phrase, in a predetermined meaning, or as for the scientific manager, in a formula. It’s such a difficult question that the only way to solve it perhaps is by following Hans Magnus Enzensberger when he suggests this in Options for a poet:
Say the same thing using other words,
but the same thing again.
Using the same words,
say something completely different, or
the same thing in a different way.
Or maintain an eloquent silence.
Does poetry reveal or hide? If the second option were right, scientific managers could breathe a sigh of relief. Who better than these technocrats, Heidegger’s “chatterers”, use words, even unconsciously, not to reveal or construct, but to bar what emerges from any meaning that is not predetermined, absolute, unchangeable (or believed to be so) imposed from on high? To use a Biblical reference recalled by Bauman and which Szymborska would like, they are still acting from the point of view of “Joshua’s discourse”, in which the world is “centrally organised, rigidly delineated, and hysterically obsessed with creating impenetrable confines.”
It’s an approach that the nature of today’s society – prismatic, multiple, liquid, ungraspable – due especially to the advance of new information and communication technologies, renders entirely illusory. The massive introduction of web-based IT technologies has created a point of no return, because they allow forms of knowledge about reality that are not sequential, rationally ordered, or completely consistent. Multimedia, hypertextuality, the various possibilities for interacting between the listener and the teller allow each of us to explore the complexity in which we are immersed. ‘Complexity’, in the sense of making it impossible for any formal (hence, scientific) system to adequately grasp all the properties of the real world. No grammar analysis can hold up to the task. In his Politics, Plato describes the hiatus that exists between “reality” and its symbolic representation: “It is impossible for what is entirely simple to adapt itself to what is never simple.”
This is where all our current disciples of Taylorism fall by the wayside: they don’t know how to resolve the paradoxes and ambiguities arising out of uncertainty, continuous change, the gap between abstract law and the concrete reality of the “vital world” that a company creates. They end up prey to Bartlebooth’s mania (one of the main characters in a novel by Georges Perec, Life: A User’s Manual), who decides “in the face of the inextricable incoherence of things, he will set out to execute a (necessarily limited) programme right the way through, in all its irreducible, intact entirety….his whole life would be organised around a single project, an arbitrarily constrained programme with no purpose outside its own completion.” For ten years, he acquires the art of painting watercolours; over the next twenty, he travels the world painting “seascapes” on Whatman paper at a rate of one watercolour a fortnight. Each view is then dispatched to a specialist craftsman who glues it to a thin wooden backing board and cuts it into a jigsaw puzzle of seven hundred and fifty pieces; over the next twenty years, on his return to France, Bartlebooth puts the puzzles back together, in order, at a rate, once again, of one puzzle a fortnight: the watercolour is recomposed into its original form thanks to a special substance and then sent back to the place where it had been painted. Finally, it is dipped “in a detergent solution whence would emerge a clean and unmarked sheet of Whatman paper. Thus, no trace would remain of an operation which would have been, throughout a period of fifty years, the sole motivation and unique activity of its author.”
As happens to many managers, the dream of omnipotence tied to the illusion of being able to control everything (an everything that is too transparent and arrogant – The Apple-tree), or even a part of everything – a project, a programme, a set of activities possibly aimed at pursuing absolutely inessential objectives, like Bartlebooth’s – shows itself to be precisely that. The last chapter of the book describes him when he is dead: in his hands he holds a W-shaped piece of the puzzle (which “depicts a little port in the Dardanelles near the mouth of the river the ancients called Maeandrus, Maeander”), while the only piece missing from his four-hundred-and-ninety-ninth puzzle is in the shape of an X, the sign of impossible perfection. But Bartlebooth is defeated not only because he dies before recomposing the last puzzle: his plan is spoiled by the eruption of reality, in the form of hundreds of unexpected occurrences that hinder him from completing his programme. The abstract design of the rule is corrupted by contact with the dynamics of the real world, showing the irreconcilability, concludes Perec, of “life and its instructions for use, the rules of the game that we dictate and the paroxysm of the reality that submerges and continuously destroys the work we put into rearranging it.”
The management ability par excellence today consists in knowing how to constantly describe, redefine, and reinvent one’s market, one’s business, and one’s organisational model, while always keeping one’s eyes open to the imperfections of reality, which is never completely graspable or capable of being expressed, as Plato saw (Seventh Letter). A literally “poetic” skill, if we consider the etymology of the word “poetry”: it derives from the Greek verb poiein, meaning to “make”, “create”. It is clear from this that poetry is intrinsically productive; the poetic act is above all a creative act, irreconcilable, however, with all types of Fordism. I prefer the hell of chaos to order, says Szymborska in Possibilities. And this is to be expected, because Joshua’s discourse, explains Bauman, is antithetical to “the discourse of Genesis”, the discourse of creation and creativity: “whereas in Joshua’s discourse order is the rule and disorder is an exception, in Genesis disorder is the rule and order is an exception.” “The scientific interpretation of the world,” adds Szymborska, “has no influence on poets. They are animists, fetishists who believe in secret forces that lie dormant in all things, which they are convinced they will be able to awaken with the help of words, aptly chosen.”
SOME LIKE POETRY
Francesco Bogliari, Director of “Business people”
It’s true, not everyone does. It’s true, we’re a minority. The minority are subjected to the rules of the game by the dominant party, whether in politics or in a company. But the spark of novelty, freshness, something different, can only come from the minority – even from the “crazy” loners, at times. Poets are different – and the few of us who love poetry are different too.
Apparently, poetry is useless. And that’s true from certain points of view, fortunately. But from another point of view, poetry stimulates creation, detachment from codified norms, the formulation of new routes that may lead to unexpected landing places. Anybody who wants to set out on new adventures that at times – with the addition of a lot of transpiration after the inspiration – transform into good, practical things for people, starts out from these landing places.
I have no idea what poetry is either. If someone could answer this (be sceptical of anyone who says they can) it would be an exact science and maybe it could be measured on a scale or with a yardstick, or using an anemometer. I do know with certainty, however, that poetry is not only words and lines to read out loud or to allow to resonate silently in the solitary intimacy of one’s mind.
Poetry is the daring harmonic constructions by Richard Strauss in his Rosenkavalier that accompany the heart-rendering farewell to youth sung by Marie Therèse.
It is the spirals of the flute in Cantata No. 8 by Bach: if God exists, he became flesh in Johann Sebastian’s notes. And what can be said about the suspension of time – extremely brief, but infinite – that comes before the “Contessa perdono” aria in the last scene of Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro? Or the screaming red in the Deposition of Volterra by Rosso Fiorentino, the shock on the faces in the Flagellation by Piero, or the desolate contemplation of nothingness in Burri’s sack paintings.
Wolfgang, Piero, Rosso, Richard, Johann Sebastian, Alberto, but also Gioacchino, Franz, Ludwig and many other friends have accompanied me in my life as a student, as a manager, and as a journalist, along with the poems of Lucretius, Dante, Kavafis, Leopardi, Rilke, through to Wislawa Szymborska, a recent, disconcerting discovery. The best things I’ve created have been under the effect of that highly addictive drug that is called poetry, for which no Nobel prize-winning chemist has yet to discover the formula, and he never will. The best advice I can give to friends and business colleagues is that they, too, should dive into this sea that is so sweet to flounder in. They’ll come out of it better and stronger. Maybe even as winners. But, in the end, that’s only a secondary effect.
Humanistic Management 2.0
- Origins of Humanistic Management in Italy: the ockhamist organization
- Agip Library
- The Shakespearian Company
- The Humanistic Management Manifesto
- Nothing twice. The Management seen through the poetry by Wisława Szymborska
- The Humanistic Management chair
- The In-Visible Corporation
- Web Opera
- Postmodern Alice
- Founder & CEO of Humanistic Management 2.0
- About Marco Minghetti
- Selected Excerpts
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