Transformative Approaches Project
Poetry and Policy: Prospects for an arranged marriage
Transformative Approaches Project |
The theme here is the future relationship between poetry (including rhythm) and policy making (including management) in their various forms. This might even include the possible role of technology in reconciling them in more meaningful and fruitful ways. Exploring the relationship between such seemingly opposed concerns calls for continuing dialogue between imaginative musing and the constraints of experience.
1. Similarities between poetry-making and policy-making
There are few useful guidelines for such dialogue. There are however many who would declare it to be impossible, meaningless, or even destructive of the principles that such disciplines respectively embody. Such people have had many opportunities to make their point and by so doing may well have imposed unfortunate constraints on the emergence of new approaches to meaningful social organization. As ever, we are faced with the challenge of facilitating a marriage between the Sleeping Beauty and the Raging Beast -- however inappropriate such a marriage may appear.
In their own ways, both poetry and policy-making are uniquely concerned with transformation in the present moment -- namely with the transformative moment that patterns the subsequent flow of experience. For poetry, the focus is on the transformation of the aesthetic experience through imagination, with all that implies for the emergence of novel, subtle and complex forms of understanding and coherence. In the world of policy-making, it is the transformation of power relationships and the use of collective energy, namely the emergence of novel forms of social coherence in practice. In this sense policy-making may be understood as the shadow of poetry. In such an encounter between Quality and Quantity, both are however "manipulative" of meaning in the best and worst senses.
There is another similarity in that both are also "unprincipled" in the best and worst senses of the term. Both are prepared to sacrifice much, using whatever resources seem appropriate, in order to achieve this transformative process. In this respect both endeavour to break through or transcend conventional patterns that constrain the emergence of the new as noted by information scientist Kathleen Forsythe (1987), herself a poet. For management, the "bottom line" may be "getting things done", often with an objective limited to profit. For poetry it is associated with some sense of "getting it right" or "goodness of fit", whether or not the relevance is purely whimsical for many.
2. Viability of a marriage
If marriage can be used as one metaphor in looking for a new relationship between poetry and management, then there is need to reflect the spectrum of understandings of marriage at the end of the 20th century. The appropriateness of arranged marriages in certain cultures should not be forgotten. Whilst the aesthetic dimensions of marriage remain as subjectively important as ever, if not more important, the brutal reality of unfulfilling relationships must also be objectively acknowledged. There is a need for a high degree of frankness about the weaknesses of both management and of poetry as prospective partners in a future relationship capable of sustaining its own magic. And, as with marriage, there is a truth to the recognition down the ages of the problematic and paradoxical nature of any fruitful relationship between such opposites. Therein lies its charm, its powerful attraction, and the tantalizing promise of transformation.
One might start by acknowledging the strengths of each in relation to the other -- their essential complementarity. But in so doing there is a need to cut through that which is non-essential to that relationship -- however valid it may be to the world of one partner or the other in isolation. The key is to discover what is holding each back in the development of a more fruitful relationship beyond its own domain of choice. In the sense that both poetry and management tend to be highly impatient with traditions and constraints which do not serve them, such impatience can usefully be applied in looking at what they might each bring to any form of marriage -- and at what they might well leave behind.
Can each potential partner really be of relevance beyond its conventional domain? There is a suspicion that any failure in this respect may have much to do with the excesses of each as an instrument of insight articulation. What then might be the nature of the bridge between the delightful musings of the one and the boring operational preoccupations of the other? In what follows, apologies may indeed be due here for failing to respect the niceties of each where it appears that a larger cause could usefully be served.
This paper could easily take the form of a conventional study of such issues. There is sufficient material to make the theme both original and academically acceptable. However there is a strong case for treating the possibility of any such marriage in a much more urgent mode that tends to be quite distasteful to those of purely academic inclinations. The world appears to be in dire straits and those in power have had remarkable opportunities to demonstrate their impotence, their incompetence and above all their lack of imagination. The academic world has had equally remarkable opportunities to demonstrate its inability to generate insights that transcend the petty squabbles of individual disciplines and Nobel egos that might be expected to be a source of some degree of wisdom. As noted by policy scientist Yehzkel Dror: "To meet urgent policy-making requirements, a quantum jump in policy analysis is needed....the explicit state of the main stream of policy analysis in its different versions and nomenclatures, as expressed in the vast majority of literature and teaching, is very useful for micro-issues but not for most critical choices."
However despite some significant leads suggesting the absolutely fundamental role that poetic awareness could offer in such a situation, it is not to be expected that poets should respond enthusiastically to the operational concerns of the policy world given the social environment in which they function. Liberation poetry may articulate one need, but the modalities are quite another matter.
It could be argued that our collective imagination, nourished by the arts, is fundamentally "out of synch" with the style of collective organization that prevails. Our enthusiasms and sensibilities are poorly served by our organizations, especially with the progressive globalization and homogenization of society. The retreat to smallness is a viable response for some, but it fails to respond to the challenge of the nastier global concerns with which governments and international bodies are forced to deal. Commercialization of services is arguably a response for others, but the consequent denaturalization and adulteration of the quality of life and experience has been well demonstrated by the multinational corporations that increasingly control the media and the arts, if only through their sponsorship. The spiritual quest offers hope to others and enables them to associate fruitfully with the likeminded, but unfortunately it tends to provide them with little ability to relate to those with contrasting spiritual views. Spiritual leaders and gurus are not noted for their ability to transcend their differences in innovative dialogue with those of other faiths.
4. Creating a new nexus
This paper is therefore principally concerned with what poetic insight and discipline can offer to the challenge of creating a new kind of nexus between the competing tendencies and obligations with which policy-makers must deal. But beyond the purely instrumental challenge is that of cultivating a new kind of meaningfulness in collective policy -- making fertile once again the soil rendered arid by the cynical and alienating politics of recent decades. Voter apathy is now a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of democratic institutions and to the appropriateness of their programmes. The young are right to be bored with the frameworks in which their elders endeavour to entrap them.
From a management perspective the challenge goes beyond the tokenistic cynicism of "public relations", "motivation", "mobilizing human resources" and ensuring "participation" in decaying institutions. It also lies beyond the desperate attempts to increase the level of "creativity" and "imagination" in sterile organizationsthat have been specifically designed to curtail such "undisciplined" behaviour.
5. Challenge of the marriage
But whilst the Beast may be in increasingly vocal agony, it is as yet unclear whether Beauty knows how to respond -- if indeed she is prepared to do so after having been so menaced and ill-treated over the years. Objectively few could argue that they are even remotely suited as partners. It is understandable that Beauty should therefore seek to reserve her favours for an ideal Prince Charming of her own imagining. Psychoanalysts would however argue that Beauty needs to take care in indulging her romantic "illusions" and living for a marriage made out of her own dreamstuff. For the fundamental experience open to her, as great dramas and myths have explored, lies precisely in establishing a relationship with the repulsive Beast such as to reframe and transform the social context within which they together function.
It is important to acknowledge how challenging a marriage this could be. What serious policy-maker or manager of the 20th century could accept that poetic "frivolity" could be of fundamental significance to the future development of his or her institutional system? And what serious poet could accept the sullying and distortion of cherished aesthetic principles which any such association might require? "State poetry" for national occasions is already sufficiently problematic as an exercise in aesthetic compromise -- and notably in the light of the experiences of the former socialist societies. What more might be required?
6. Differences between poetry-making and policy-making
Perhaps what distinguishes most these potential partners, is their respective relationship to the individual and to the collective. Policy-making is clearly preoccupied with the collective, usually to the point of neglecting the individual, as is so systematically demonstrated in the treatment of non-conformists of any kind. For although policies may be devious, they are seldom subtle, and the many contradictory policies often grind the individual into unrecognizable pieces. Of course some nimble individuals can flourish in the interstices created by cumbersome policies -- and it is often poets who do so. But whilst poets can offer the individual ways of reconfiguring private experience through liberating perspectives, they seemingly have little to offer in dealing with the mundane issues of organizing collective activity in a more fruitful manner. Indeed poets of anarchist persuasion would consider this neglect of the collective a strength rather than a weakness.
This distinction also manifests in the characteristic mode of work. Managers and policy-makers are usually obliged to operate as teams, often deliberately designed so that each member's skills compensate for the deficiencies in others. The effectiveness of such teams is a matter of continuing intensive review and innovation. It is rare to find examples of poetry of any distinction that has been composed jointly by a group of poets -- indeed no innovative "methodologies" are explored for doing so. Whereas key policies may indeed be designed by leaders acting singly, the notion of poetry "made by committee" is inherently offensive to many. This is of course true of the arts in general -- with interesting exceptions in certain forms of music and drama (notably group improvisation), in some painting, in the culinary arts, and in architecture (and especially interior design). And yet both present and discuss their "works" in similar collective environments: managers in "quality circles" and the like, and poets in "poetry circles".
With this individual/collective distinction is associated what is most painful to poetic sensibilities, namely the soul-destroying tedium and monotony of management discourse. How is it imaginable that the future of society and human relations can be articulated through such a quintessentially boring medium? It is no wonder that music has emerged as such a powerful antidote -- with the widespread use of drugs as another. And yet those of artistic sensibility are far from being renowned for their inter-personal skills and even-handedness in dealing with the rich polyphony of the immense range of cultural products -- the kind of challenge with which management is constantly faced. And in the absence of any aesthetically viable solution, it is ultimately the management mentality that is called upon to regulate conflicting variations through its own unimaginative and manipulative procedures.
7. A marriage of opposites
This paper assumes that there will come a time when society will need what may be born from the consummation of a marriage between poetry-making and policy-making. Each carries particular combinations of "genes" of fundamental socio-cultural significance -- named by some as "memes". The survival of humanity as we know it may call for a level of insight that could only emerge from an appropriate combination of such memes. The concern here is with exploring the context in which such an improbable combination might occur -- in effect designing the "marriage bed" in which co-creation might take place. This design process may be understood as an exercise in creative imagination that effectively calls upon the insights of both partners.
If there is to be any such marriage, some form of courtship is to be expected -- Beauty has to be "wooed". Conforming to the metaphor, it is already possible to detect some patterns of courtship behaviour on the part of the Beast, however crude. True to role, Beauty has avoided any overtures, but occasionally exhibits anxiety about her "future". The most recent of these is entitled Does Poetry Matter? -- produced, ironically, by a businessman turned poet. The Beast has so far limited his initiatives to certain forms of token "public relations" activity (inauguration poetry and the like) which Beauty is wise to view with some suspicion as unworthy of what she really stands for. But there is much more activity on the sidelines on the part of various academic disciplines that recognize the cognitive and systemic challenge to the future of the Beast's existence and the key that poetic insight represents in responding to it. Within the metaphor they might be usefully seen as taking a role of Matchmaker.
8. Need for recognition of limitations
In exploring such a marriage it is important to recognize that neither Beauty nor the Beast are "innocents". And their understanding of each other is above all governed by negative stereotypes to which feminists would be especially sensitive. The Beast is renowned for his activities as a cultural rapist -- as an untrustworthy rogue of the first order, however attractive his energy and power may make him (if only to himself).
Beauty has had many companions, none of whom she takes too seriously -- flirtation is one of her skills. To potential partners she is maddeningly fickle. Unwilling to be trapped in constraining relationships, flightiness is her principal survival trait -- which she would defend as a matter of principle. She has not "met her match".
Neither of the two recognizes any merit in the kind of fidelity characteristic of a mature relationship through which a collective future is built. Neither would claim to be "into" parenthood or co-creation.
9. Overtures and inversions
To discover any windows of opportunity for such a marriage, it is useful to first briefly review some of the initiatives taken from the management side (Overtures of the Beast), on the part of concerned poets (Overtures of Beauty), and the catalytic role of various disciplines (The Voice of the Matchmaker). The signs sought are those of dissatisfaction on the part of either with their existing role, any recognition of its limitations, and any vision of new possibilities.
This marriage metaphor can be creatively applied in inverted form. The Dionyisian dimensions of poetry-making suggest useful insights from framing it as the untamed Beast articulating the wild and savage energies of reality. Policy-making could then be viewed through an Apollonian or Athenian frame that for some reflects the inadequacies of bureaucracies. The contrasts of this inverted metaphor have not been explored here.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential