So this kid writes me this morning and you can hear that his head is swirling with ideas and you can see that his prose is just effortless, and he is talking about pattern cognition. Nothing bad can come of this, I think to myself.
He runs a unit for a big company. (I won’t say more than this.) And he doesn’t know what he wants to say, exactly, but you can tell that this is a guy that just points thought and speech in any direction and light shines down from the heavens.
Except that he’s not using speech in the usual, didactic, expository, plain style way we all strive for. (Nancy Friedman uses this line from Matthew Arnold and it is just perfect: "Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.")
No, this kid uses speech in a way we never hear it used in our circles. He opens it like a sail and waits to see where he and the reader will end up. Meaning is unmoored in the most interesting and alarming way. You want to rush into the field(s) of reference but you are quite sure you’ll be looking the other way when an interesting idea comes pelting through. (Readers ought to be fitted with orange safety vests for this sort of thing, and I can’t find mine.)
And I started thinking, this is a voice we never hear in the business literature, and that’s because in the present BIGPRINT regime of business publishing, business literature never sounds the least bit like literature. Why must this be? As the intellectual and imaginative demands of business continue to grow, surely we need a body of discourse that isn’t just denotative, but actually connotative and evocative. No? Yes!
Anyhow, here’s how I replied to the kid:
Dear [name removed], you write beautifully, how about turning your thoughts into a contemplation by turning them into a novel, which is to say, treat some of the "who," "what," "where" of your [corporate] experience as the narrative frame and then let these ideas [go].
The world of management continues to believe that illumination can only be achieved with big books from the Business Press when in fact some of the truths we are after are more delicate and evanescent and will need a more subtle evocation. That’s it. Do a book about management using an evocation when all the others proceed by laborious denotation. Best, Grant
I am pleased to report that Eileen Fischer and John Sherry are doing a new book for Routledge called Exploring Consumer Culture Theory. It dares use poetry. So certain experiments are now afoot in the business school and business press worlds. I know that Mark McGuinness, the London poet, is, if he will forgive my saying so, well positioned here. I’ve been reading Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, and this has moments of anthropological illumination.
What we want is a "management literature" that reads like literature. Why must our writers work for the corporation and write, like Wallace Stevens, as if in another life? Everything in the corporate world is now changing…why not this?
Fischer, Eileen and John Sherry. Exploring Consumer Culture Theory. London: Routledge. [Couldn’t find an Amazon or a Routledge listing.]
Nancy Friedman’s blog is here.
Thanks to Christopher Chan for the image above. See more of his work at Flickr here.