Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Last word on Sartre

Just to finish off on Sartre: this is the last paragraph of his autobiographical book Words it sums up all sorts of things for me, the last sentence especially, despite the unfortunate gender issue:

'I have never seen myself as the happy owner of a 'talent': my one concern was to save myself - nothing in my hands, nothing in my pockets - through work and faith. Now at last my unadulterated choice did not set me up above anyone: with neither tools nor equipment, I gave my entire self to the task of saving my entire self. If I put away Salvation among the stage properties as impossible, what is left? A whole man, made of all men, worth all of them, and any one of them worth him.'

And here are a couple of carefully contrasting videos for those who you who prefer the moving image...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Re. arts: thoughts from Sartre - choice, collectivity, collaboration and contingency


I recently came across Talking with Sartre, a fascinating book of ‘conversations and debates’ between Jean-Paul Sartre and John Gerassi, recorded between 1970 and 1974. When I was sixteen I had a picture of Sartre stuck to my guitar, cut from his obituary, and a Penguin Modern Classic of The Age of Reason in my long-overcoat pocket. (Think I can be a bit much now, you should have met me then...) Sartre fell out of fashion – after the collapse of the Berlin Wall I guess, but probably also because he wasn’t as cool looking as Camus – but for me he still sat there in the background, till Hazel Rowley’s book on his relationship with Simone de Beauvoir Tête à Tête revived my interest in and respect for a peculiar and flawed man who struggled to find an authentic way to be in the world, coming to define a kind of engagement with ideas and politics – and writing.

I don’t have time or space for a ‘reassessment’ of Sartre, nor the philosophical knowledge. But I found this book of essays so stimulating I wanted to share a few tangential thoughts relating to arts and culture inspired by it, as well as letting those interested know about its existence.
  1. Making choices is central to authentic life, and always difficult. But avoiding them is childish romanticism. As Gerassi describes in an afterword, this is the essential difference between the two big existentialists Sartre and Camus. Camus refused choice – said No – which leads to the archetype of the rebel. (I prefer Marx’s formulation myself: ‘Whatever it is I’m against it.’ The Marx in question being Groucho, obviously.) Sartre said, in Gerassi’s words, ‘what we must do instead is commit ourselves over and over again. No act is pure. All acts are choices, which alienate some. No one can live without dirty hands. To be simply opposed is also to be responsible for not being in favour, for not advocating change.’ The relevance to today’s environment of cuts and choices is obvious. Especially for leaders, using commitment to avoid cynicism is especially key. What are we saying yes to? Also integral to Sartre’s reflections here is that you will get some of the choices wrong – but this is part of the process , just keeping making decisions in good faith. Acknowledging and respecting this is important.
  2.  ‘There is no I without the we.’ This sums up my main argument with Richard Eyres’ recent article about cuts to the arts. Eyre says ‘Art is about the "I" in life not the "we", about private life rather than public. A public life that doesn't acknowledge the private is a life not worth having.’ I would say the reverse is more urgently true given this government’s policies – and much of the way we act as a society, to be fair to them for one second. Private life needs to acknowledge the public life more. And yes, people who spend your kids to private schools, I do mean you, sorry. So that sense of the social and collective I find very powerful.
  3.  Sartre and De Beauvoir are famous for having an open relationship – they committed to each other as young people, saw each other every day, are buried next to each other, but had other lovers. They termed their own relationship as ‘necessary’ and the others as ‘contingent’, a term rich in meaning for Sartre. This was not always easy for them or their lovers – the great American novelist Nelson Algren famously couldn’t deal with being ‘contingent’ - but gave clarity if nothing else. In a recent discussion about partnerships and collaborations in the cultural sector it struck me that the idea of ‘necessary’ and ‘contingent’ partnerships might be helpful in at least managing conflicted feelings people seem to have about working with others. Which of your partnerships are for the long-term, even when they evolve, and which are contingent? A side thought is these interviews reveal Sartre to have been much less doctrinaire in who he would work with than one might suspect from his image – so long as they were working on the same cause. His emphasis on choice made him less rather than more ‘politically correct’ in his collaborations.
  4. A line that both Gerassi and Sartre refer to several times in their conversations is a quote from The Age of Reason ‘You don’t fight fascism because you’re going to win. You fight fascism because it is fascist.’ This links somehow to Havel’s distinction between hope and optimism: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” I find that a reassuring and enabling thought just now: pragmatic but the opposite of cynical.
Ok, enough. I will now go directly to Pseud's Corner, without passing go or collecting 200 francs...

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Marketing and resilience: predictability, curiosity and transformation

(image by Stuart Caia from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyz/3340435464/ under Creative Commons.)

I recently took part in an AMA discussion day where 10 people (who had to apply for the privilege!) discussed the relevance or otherwise to marketing teams of the 8 characteristics of resilient arts organisations identified in Making Adaptive Resilience Real , and how marketing teams could help build them.

For me it was a fantastic opportunity to hear how people react to that framework, and how they might use it. (Writing anything is, in my experience, a bit like putting a message in a bottle, so to be part of a really engaged conversation where people apply their experiences to something you’ve written was really great, so huge thanks to all who took part.)

One things I came away with particular ‘need to think about’ was the notion of ‘predictability’ and the sense or otherwise of either aiming for it – or indeed believing it can be achieved. Is a greater degree of predictability - in some of your income lines, say – inherently conservative? My initial reaction is sometimes, but not necessarily. Having some predictable income can help you to take risks and to invest in things which make take some time to see a reliable return either financially, artistically or organisationally. This is why I place particular emphasis on building up strategic reserves – this allows you to move away from an activity-budget based approach to one of investment. And of course predictions are always only that – guesses, in other words - and need to be constantly assessed against reality.

The need for balance between change and continuity runs through my thinking on adaptive resilience – and indeed my thinking on other ‘ecology’ matters. The challenge though is whether adaptive resilience is ambitious or radical enough. Do we need transformative resilience? My view now, as when writing the paper, is that ‘transformative resilience’ is a sexier term, undoubtedly, but also suggests the kind of permanent revolution I think spins the adaptive cycle too quickly and threatens the baby/bathwater balance. There are times for transformation, of course, and this is probably one – but that is often best done from a base of resilience as well as danger or excitement. 

A third notion came up I want to ponder on, which is the role of curiosity in the arts and marketing the arts. Should one add curiosity into ‘situation awareness’ – looking for what we don’t know we need to know, as well as what we do? (Rumsfeld Alert! Rumsfeld Alert!) This sits well with another word I like which Susan Royce threw into the resilience mix, ‘agile’. How do we use our collective intelligence, curiosity, data and persuasive powers – all things marketers bring to organisations – to strengthen organisations and the sector as a whole?

Answers on a postcard, please...