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Posts Tagged ‘Dr Jonathan Miller’

This was one of the things Dr. Jonathan Miller talked about  in a biographical Arena documentary aired recently on BBC.  An after-life is when an idea has gone beyond its original intention or purpose, or has escaped from the clutches of what Miller called “the custodians of the orthodoxy”, but is nevertheless imbued with new meaning, or new purpose. 

I think the interesting thing about the power of the after-life of an idea is that it cannot come directly from the past “itness”  of the thing in the orignal,  but rather from the extension into the now “itness”, or “the idea of it now”, or even (since the fact of an observer enables an infinite regress of abstraction) “the idea of the idea of it now”.

The programme reveals how Jonathan Miller’s lifelong interest has been one of carefully observing the world around him. The purposes to which that talent can be put have been extremely varied. In the documentary at one point we follow him along some of the narrow side streets in Florence, where he gleefully points out several examples of how framing the everyday creates novelty. He sees a large, red door held shut by a curved metal bolt, and then for him the re-frame of the bolt appears.  “What is so interesting,” he says “you pass by these things and you don’t notice them, and then your attention is drawn to one of them. And then you see that one as an example of a type, and then the type draws your attention and you think ‘I could do a whole exhibition devoted to 20 or 30 of these ways in which a lock is framed by the door…”

Our ability to see and then to categorise and re-categorise is the source of novelty and invention. Miller distinguishes between the ‘autographic’ and the ‘allographic’ in art, terms coined by Nelson Goodman.  Autographic works are those that are made, and “the extent to which they survive depends on the survival of the material of which they are made”, as opposed to allographic works, “in which nothing exists until the work is re-performed.”

In management, do we find examples of all of these things also?

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