Honore Daumier - the legislative belly
OK an example of the benefits of a daily blog - I read a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s (of “Blink” fame) latest book This points me to his website - and allows me to download all the articles from New Yorker which form the content of this latest book. I recognise some of them – eg the review of the small book which classifies the various ways we try to explain (“Why?”) and the critiques of personnel evaluation tests.
I notice how elegantly the essays are constructed – beginning always with a very concrete incident we can all relate to; then introducing us to the arguments of a few authors; and exploring where those arguments take us. I read with great enjoyment (in the middle of the night no less!) a piece about the light which those writing recently about “risks” and accidents throws on the Challenger space vessel explosion.
My mind then takes me to the essay as a form. I remember the impact which the essays of 18/19th century English writers such as Addison, Francis Bacon and Charles Lamb made on me at secondary school. “What is truth, said Jesting Pilot, and would not stay for an answer” is a phrase stuck in my mind - and is apparently Bacon – although the wonderfully evocative piece on burning pork is apparently by Charles Lamb – not Bacon as I had thought! I start to google the various names and find a wonderful website devoted to.....essays! Lamb’s on pork is there. The site, however, has a classic and somewhat American bias (it’s from Brigham Young University – which as I recall is Mormon??) – so there don’t seem many modern examples eg George Orwell. But it’s clearly a treasure trove eg one by AA Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame) struck a strong chord with my nomadic spirit
It was, of course, Montaigne who started this art form in the 16th Century in his castle near Bordeaux– and his Complete Works stands on a shelf above my study door. As I read Gladwell’s essays, I suddenly hear in my mind the tones of Alistair Cooke - as he read his Letters from America (for almost 50 years). What an institution he was! Weaving a spell as he slowly moved from his opening ear-catching sentences through a charming analysis of part of the American system to a laconic conclusion. I hope they use his texts on the Brigham Young courses. And then I thought of Thom Wolfe – whose 1970 essay “Mau-mauing the flak catchers” was such a merciless description of the funding culture which grew around the US War on Poverty. Unfortunately I couldn’t find this essay online – although (thanks to Wikipedia and New York Magazine) I could download his even more famous satire of “the radical chic”. If only someone would do a similar satire on EU funding – someone surely must have!! But it’s beyond a joking matter! Wolfe invented some great phrases - "shit-detector" was his word for someone who can smell out imposters and charlatans.
And so I am led, finally, to satire. And to realise how powerful a tool it can be. I’m not familiar with what the ancients contributed to this genre (some of the Sufi stories have gentle satire) so I generally start with Voltaire’s Candide and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
In our times, Antony Jay is well known for his “Yes, Minister” which showed on BBC in the 1970s. Forty years on we now have the not so subtle “In the Thick of it”. And “The Office” was apparently (the only decent BBC TV series I can access in central europe is Morse and Misummer Murders!!) a hilarious and accurate attack on office politics.
It’s not often, however, you get a management writer spoofing his profession but I discovered recently systems guru Russell Ackoff's Management F-Laws And Stuart Weir wrote earlier this year a spoof on the British political system -
Other examples of modern satire on management and politics would be much appreciated.
Anyway the point of this blog was to show the discoveries and rediscoveries which can come from a simple article and surf.