Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chaos and Creation

As I wrote a week or so ago, I once worked at a dysfunctional university.  This was many years ago but the memory remains fresh.  On most days my colleagues and I would complain bitterly about the university's almost complete absence of policies and procedures.  We couldn't believe how little structure the organization had.  Wherever we turned, we uncovered bureaucratic lacunae.  If you asked a colleague if you could see a copy of the university's registration policy, you were likely to meet with an amused look of astonishment.  If you asked the administrative assistants for the web address of the university's official refund schedule, your answer might well be little more than an embarrassed silence or a pair of rolling eyeballs.  The organizational immaturity was a constant source of irritation.  We couldn't help but wonder why people had failed to adopt even the most rudimentary standard operating procedures that were necessary to serve students and protect the faculty and staff from potential lawsuits.  On some days, we were worried by the chaos;  on others, we were afraid that it would lead to institutional collapse.

One day, I tried to look at things differently.  While it was certainly true that our workplace was extraordinarily fluid, there was an upside:  we were lived richly creative lives, at least compared to other administrators.  In fact, we created more policies in one month than most administrators would create in the course of several years.  Within the space of a week or two, I might well find myself inventing a new tenure policy, launching a distance learning endeavor, or revising a rudimentary faculty handbook.  Every day was an adventure, witness to countless acts of self-definition and creation.  What better work environment can one have than one in which one is allowed to invent new artifacts on a daily basis?

What's the tie in to Soviet history?  Well, one day it occurred to me that this was how most revolutionaries must feel.  Although revolutions often coincide with human tragedy, there is an upside to the anarchy--the opportunity to create dozens if not hundreds of new institutions. Notwithstanding their vertigo, revolutionaries undoubtedly feel like gods, empowered to create new worlds.  Just as administrators in immature institutions create policies without the usual constraints of time or due diligence, revolutionaries suffer through street violence, bureaucratic chaos,  and civil wars, but also enjoy the thrill of building new educational systems, military hierarchies, political mechanisms, urban planing schemes, economic policies, policing philosophies, and religious structures.  

The Russian Revolution was an awful event.  Its consequences were much worse than the event itself.  But the Revolution cannot be understood without acknowledging the joyfulness of creating brand new things in a vacuum.  Political leaders like Derzhinsky, and creative leaders like Mayakovsky, all got lost in the joyful if disorienting act of revolutionary creation, where everyday was a new beginning. In this sense, there's a mythic component to revolution.  As we all remember, every myth of origin centers around order emerging from chaos.  Revolutionaries are therefore modern-day gods in an almost literal sense, emerging only after World War I had created a mythical void of almost primordial disorder.  

No comments:

Post a Comment