50 words for 50 days

My fellow Dark Angel, John Simmons, responded to my last week’s post by adding ‘the pretence of objectivity’ to the list of ingredients that I suggested might be swilling around in the toxic soup called management speak – or Manglish as I heard someone so brilliantly describe it the other day.

Objectivity is a word that often stands in for truth when truth itself is too uncomfortable, or too difficult to get at. But as John pointed out, it seeks to ignore everything that’s human and messy, passionate and unmeasurable, so it can hardly ever offer an accurate representation of the human endeavour that characterises all working life.

Objectivity may have its place in the cold, hard reaches of science and mathematics – although there are plenty who would argue that as human constructs, even those disciplines can never be as free of subjectivity as they would like to think they are. But the idea that work, which occupies so much of our waking lives, can or should be described in language from which conviction or emotion is absent, is patently ludicrous, not to say against nature.

In effect, ‘the pretence of objectivity’ is a form of control. Which, of course, is why tyrants since the beginning of time have sought to stifle writers and impose their own regimes of so-called objectivity on language and ideas.

As I write, International PEN is celebrating 50 years of support for imprisoned writers. It has teamed up with 26, the writers’ group that champions a greater love of words in work and in life. Fifty writers from 26 have 50 words each in which to write a tribute to the PEN member they’ve been assigned. These are being published, a tribute a day, for 50 days at http://26-50.tumblr.com/

Please read them – and as you do, try really hard for a few moments to imagine what it would be like to be locked up for what you have written; to live in constant fear of torture, further torture, or execution.

As a testament to the human spirit, these short pieces of writing are very fine. They’re wonderful too as an example of the creativity that can result from a constraint such as fifty words. But best of all they stand as a metaphor for the beauty and clarity of thought and language that prison bars themselves can engender. The one thing you will not find in any of them is the slightest whiff of objectivity.

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About Jamie Jauncey

Author, writer, blogger, facilitator, musician, co-founder of Dark Angels and The Stories We Tell
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2 Responses to 50 words for 50 days

  1. Objectivity does, as you say, have its place: and in those places, we do need to *try* to have it (I don't think it reall exists in any kind of pure form). I need to be able to aim for objectivity in making treatment decisions and recommendations, to think through whether what I am doing would make sense even if it were someone else being treated or providing the treatment. I always have to marry it back to subjectivity, to feeling, in the end, though, because I am too human to stop feeling. Divorcing the two permanently doesn't work.

  2. Objectivity does, as you say, have its place: and in those places, we do need to *try* to have it (I don't think it reall exists in any kind of pure form). I need to be able to aim for objectivity in making treatment decisions and recommendations, to think through whether what I am doing would make sense even if it were someone else being treated or providing the treatment. I always have to marry it back to subjectivity, to feeling, in the end, though, because I am too human to stop feeling. Divorcing the two permanently doesn't work.

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