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Poetic Configuration of Policy Guidelines

Poetry-making and Policy-making (Part #1)


Part E of Poetry-making and Policy-making: Arranging a Marriage between Beauty and the Beast (1993)


It is assumed here that any higher order of significance and coherence could only emerge if the conventional obsession with "reconciling" policy differences, through reducing or eliminating them, is resisted. The question is whether imaginative use of aesthetic skills can be used to configure strong differences to create a larger pattern of order. It is then the aesthetic properties of that pattern which hold essentially incompatible elements in relationship. This relationship is then to be seen in terms of complementarity, both aesthetic and functional. It is the aesthetic properties that ensure coherence and comprehensibility. It is the functional properties which ensure appropriateness, social relevance and operational sustainability.

But there remains the continuing challenge of the kind of configuration that would be meaningful and useful from both an aesthetic and a policy perspective. To be realistic this configuration would itself have to structured on principles that reflected the inherent "opposition" between aesthetic and policy perspectives.

There is much scope for discovering and exploring suitable configurative structures. Approaching the matter from the aesthetic side, one might consider some patterning based on the nine Muses of Greek mythology, or on the eight Rasas of Indian aesthetics. From the management side, there are many clusterings of 5-10 functions, including team roles, hierarchical functions, and the like. Neither responds to the basic challenge of explicitly configuring both aesthetic and functional dimensions, although it could be argued that functional dimensions are implicit in the set of Rasas.

There is a long tradition of expressing wisdom concerning the future in poetic form, with or without the appropriate policy responses. In the distant past this merges necessarily into expression of religious and philosophic understanding. Sri Aurobindo noted that the rishis of ancient India were knowers of the divine as well as kavis, poet-seers, who expressed the eternal truths they intuitively grasped in poetic hymns that are now known as the Rigveda. The voluminous collection of verses making up the Rigveda is divided into ten mandalas which may be understood as song cycles. A mandala is thus to be understood as the synthesis of numerous distinct elements in a unified scheme. Apparent chaos and complexity are simplified into a pattern.

The musical allegories of the Rig Veda and of Plato, have been intriguingly analyzed by Ernest G McClain (1978) as a coded expression of policy relevance. Thomas Cleary (1990), translator of the Taoist classic the Huananzi, which he renders as The Tao of Politics states: "The book of the masters of Huainan is a record of sayings on civilization, culture and government. More detailed and explicit that either of its great forerunners, Lao Tzu's 'Tao Te Ching', and the 'Chuang-tzu', it embraces the full range of natural, social, and spiritual sciences encompassed in classical Taoism. It links environmental husbandry, personal development, and sociopolitical evolution into a comprehensive vision of human life." (p. vii).

These works, together with the I Ching, all served as sets of guidelines for imperial policy making. Like other Chinese guidelines for action, they make use of poetic form in which metaphor plays a major role. In Europe the quatrains of Nostradamus have been valued at the highest level over the centuries. This approach continues with publication of such books as The Tao of Management by Bob Messing (1989). The poetic text of the I Ching has been adapted as a metaphor for policy-making challenges (Union of International Associations, 1991).

It may well be asked whether the poetic form was deliberately used in order to conceal or because any other literary mode would have been inappropriate. It is more interesting to question whether the poetic mode enabled insights to be communicated which could not otherwise have been communicated. It is possible that "proto-insights" could only be expressed through metaphoric allusion, namely that over-definition was either impossible or inappropriate.

What then might be the dimensions important to any such configuration? Can they be worded so as to be meaningful both in aesthetic and management terms? Consider the following candidates:

1. Thematic choice

Whether art or policy, an initial step common to both is usually a choice of theme. A poem has a theme which is developed and celebrated. A policy addresses a thematic concern which is defined in part by that to which the policy accords attention. The origins of the theme in each case are equally mysterious -- whatever the explanations after the fact. Both poets and policy-makers respond to tensions in their environment for which the chosen theme emerges as the most strategic resolution. The theme may spring "full- formed" into the mind of either or emerge as a unifying theme after much consideration of what subsequently become details.

a unifying theme after much consideration of what subsequently become details.


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