Learnings and yearnings

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I insisted to the Bloke that we must buy Don Watson’s latest book, Bendable Learnings. With zeal, cynicism, and a fine grasp of the English language and its possibilities, Watson has waged a campaign against soul destroying managerialist language. That language that brings us such horrors as ‘performativity’, ‘going forwards’ and ‘key drivers’ and forces out of your head the likes of Auden, Heaney, Woolf and Plath.

We have his previous books (Weasel Words and Death Sentence) and they leave you groaning with the weight of mangled syntax that modern managers and politicians can produce. Bendable Learnings cries to be read aloud, sometimes because it’s the only way you can wring meaning out of a sentence. That and you need to share the pain or go mad. This book is particularly excruciating because it replicates the language and experience of a year’s work with a university on their strategic something or other. A team of people, many quite senior and presumably well educated, adopted this managerial language and behaviour because they were convinced that it was the only way to legitimately reinvent themselves and their institution. It was like watching a snake devour itself as they accepted the behaviour and logic of corporate managerialism without understanding its purposes, used the language without understanding it, and pursued it ever more vigorously as the project stumbled and slid.

From experience, I can tell you that it is madness to be a part of this and to know that the language is obscuring meaning, purpose and intent, making the project an impossiblity even before it began. I remember meetings late in my time with the project where I gave up on making the distinctions between strategic plan and its implementation, between outcomes and their measures of attainment, between an indicator and a metric. When few in the project could discern the differences they preferred to rely on ‘buy-in’, ‘stakeholder relationships’, ‘team building’ and ‘value adding’. Disagreement was dissent and it certainly didn’t count as buy-in. Which is why I bought out, in the end.

Now I have the brain space to yearn for more time in my studio with a new-to-me screenprinting process, some fabric found at a local quilt exhibition, and patterns for spring blouses and skirts.


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