A favorite line from a favorite poem is dogging me these days. It’s from Wallace Stevens’ “Man Carrying Thing“, which begins:
The poem must resist the intelligence
The poem speaks to me about the challenge of withholding judgment – as an artist, or as an audience. Of not naming something until you know it. Of enduring the flood of facts, of “secondary things,” to allow the primary thing to emerge as it truly is:
Things floating like the first hundred flakes of snow
Out of a storm we must endure all night,
Out of a storm of secondary things
The poem is dogging me because it seems that everywhere I turn, I find a quick and expedient conclusion that we’ve made in our management of cultural enterprise. That there are producers and consumers, for example. That there are sales and transactions. That there’s a rational and reasoned exchange of value. That there is an organization with clear and obvious boundaries. So many of our actions are assembled from assumptions that we never fully considered or challenged, or conclusions we had constructed too early in the game.
Stevens’ poem speaks of the waiting required of true clarity:
We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.
About 130 years before Stevens, Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested some version of the opposite – that art afforded its audience a “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment”, an invitation to inhabit a world that was obviously untrue, a leap he also called “poetic faith.”
And it keeps striking me that perhaps the management and leadership of cultural enterprise is both/and, rather than either/or. That it is our work and struggle to fully inhabit the fictions of business and markets and finance and strategy, but also to know them to be fictions. To suspend our disbelief to get things done, as we also suspend any dogmatic belief about what we’re doing.
It feels a bit unformed at the moment. But I’ll endure these thoughts for a while, to see what bright obvious presents itself.