Communication

I just got an “aha” from a certain person’s book. It gets right at the heart of why I am so interested in Agile. I will give some conceptualizing about it here a shot, even though actually even writing down such concepts seems a bit fishy to me. Fishy because it means I’m creating meaning, forming concepts, and maybe it is best to leave such things in themselves, pure, undisturbed by my own pondering. And I haven’t really “cooked” on these thoughts so much, yet, so in a way, it is a disservice to write them down, rough and unrefined through editing and sorting. But perhaps I can think through by the exercise, itself, of expressing such ideas.

So here I go.

This series of concepts all trace back for me to “The Idea of Order at Key West” and “The Palm at the End of the Mind.” It ties back to The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and to Roland Barthes and S/Z. It ties back, finally, to Buddhism. It’s why the fact that certain person’s interest in poetry and this kind of odd massage technique makes *complete sense.* The Palm at the End of the Mind

What the person says in their book is: “If communication is fundamentally impossible, how can people on a project manage to do it?”

How do we communicate meaning to each other?

Wallace Stevens, in his poem, “The Idea of Order at Key West,” talks about a woman by the sea and notices “it was she and not the sea we heard.” Check this out:

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

What this says to me is that the person conceptualizing is present when describing reality and as a result, you don’t hear the reality that the writer or singer attempts to describe. You just hear the writer/singer as a phenomenon, an appearance.

S/Z by Roland BarthesRoland Barthes in S/Z talks about this when he describes “readerly” versus “writerly” texts. Wallace Stevens poems are an example of “writerly” texts because they demand the one reading to “write” their own meaning, that they inspire in that way. “Readerly” texts are like this essay. Something with a more definitive meaning that is intended, pretending to have the ability to describe reality, which, at the end, may be totally indescribable.

Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting talks about that strong desire to communicate out our concepts about reality to each other. His book takes place during the time that the Czech and Slovak republics were united under the iron fist of Russian Communist rule and free speech was curtailed. He observes about a very popular Czech village bartender:

Because all of man’s life among his kind is nothing other than the battle to seize the ear of others. The whole secret of Tamina’s popularity is that she has no desire to talk about herself. She submits to the forces occupying her ear, never saying “It’s absolutely the same with me, I…”

Tamina in this chapter encourages bar patrons to talk about themselves, to express and freely formulate all of their concepts about reality chatting with her. And so, because she leaves the communications she receives as they are, she becomes popular.

So now, for Buddhism, the Heart Sutra says:

Beyond words, beyond thought, beyond description, the profound perfection of wisdom (Prajnaparamita), unborn, unceasing, the very essence of space, yet it can be experienced by our own discriminating awareness wisdom.

Relative and absolute truth: the appearance and how we encounter the appearance and react to it – and then the nature of such appearances. Phenomena appear before our senses, one level of mind in a flash names that appearance and before we know it, silently, swiftly, we’ve passed judgment even if we choose to examine the appearance more thoroughly. That immediate judgment is there.

Understanding this, consider the Scrum meeting, constrained to 15 minutes and no stories. Just the essential points. When it is working and there is no grand ego there to take over in a way that lessens the rest, there’s a kind of warmth that glows between team members.

OK, so the person whose book I am reading is Dr. Alistair Cockburn, but I had avoided naming names because, well, I have become tiresomely slavish to the Agile Expertocracy, which is normal at the beginning of any knowledge journey, I think. The book of his I am reading has a less-than-enticing title: Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game. Second Edition. It is nothing as dry or “texbook-ish” as the title would make you think. If more concepts arise in my mind to share, sparked by this book, will try to come back here to hold onto them. This tumblr seems to be a convenient container. [Note – legacy comment from when this blog was on Tumblr. 2/6/11]

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