When, in 1967, I began to lead training sessions in companies, I was intrigued, as the groups followed one another, by the repetition of the same observation. « Intrigued » and « observation » are weak words, by the way. What I had in front of me, which I did not understand well, aroused much more than my curiosity: the question that the trainees asked me was also mine.
The groups were mosaics of differences. Age, gender, education, social background, functions, hierarchical situation, political and philosophical choices, everything contributed to their diversity. Yet the differences were hardly noticeable. Temperaments avoided clashing, and rarely did a debate provoke any confrontation between the participants, unless it was about the soccer championship or the vacation destination. I was amazed to find that a trainee with whom I had struck up an interesting conversation in the hallway would wall himself off in thick silence as soon as we entered the session. What image would capture this climate? The lead cover? The aviary rather, or the net. Different species are locked up there and each of the captive birds secretly congratulates itself on its plumage and bearing to forget that they are all together at the mercy of the birder, and liars enough to pretend to be content with it.
The apparent passivity of the trainees taught me a lot. Their reserve, their prudence, their conformism appeared to me infinitely more interesting than what I could have taught them. By immersing myself with them in the question of expression, it seemed to me that I was getting to the heart of the matter: at the same time I was questioning them, questioning the world in which we lived together, and asking myself why I was so interested in all this. I forgot the teacher I had loved to be, his books, his notes. This job was to be discovered and invented, I would only trust my instinct. Sometimes I had doubts, but the idea of being a compliant trainer, i.e., a flute-playing slave, seemed so hateful that evoking it would instantly revive my flagging energy.
a deSpSed SiTuaTion that’s sPeCialisTiNG
Why are the trainees silent? What are they afraid of? What is this frigid withdrawal, this quibbling with the word? At the time, everyone was more or less influenced by Marx or Freud, so the answer was within reach of everyone: alienation, whose name was sung to the tune of red lanterns, but which did not make it disappear. One could also, to let the great ancestors sleep, be satisfied with more ordinary explanations. To question the structures of the company, the system of domination that they reproduce, the climate of competition and distrust that they maintain. To deplore the constant hold of a servile hierarchy, the explicit or implicit threats it poses. Emphasize the need for workers to turn their tongue seven times in their mouth.
None of this was inaccurate. But there were only reasons, and we never saw the reasons heal the pain. But what I had before my eyes was pain, even though it was considered incurable and preferred to be hidden. A terrible mistrust of oneself, even more than of others. A deep wound of the being. The word, expression and celebration of life, became schematization and ossification. Intelligence degraded to cerebration. The impossibility of thinking as one feels, speaking as one thinks, acting as one speaks. The worm of suspicion that creeps into all these cracks. The false casualness that it imposes. The aggressiveness that it cooks. The haunting of guilt that he scratches like a wound. And, inevitably, violence. And, inevitably, loneliness.
I would not have continued to practice this profession if these ailments had appeared irremediable to me. If I persisted in the path I had chosen while the ideology of management(1) at the same time as it was gradually spreading to the whole of society, colonizing individuals right down to the intimacy of their minds and sensibilities, it was that as I measured the extent of the past, present and future damage, furtive but striking signs showed me that the tribulations of these workers carried in themselves their cure, and that the absurdity in which they were struggling could be dissipated.« If I do not despair of the present time, » Marx wrote in an early text, « it is because of its own desperate situation that fills me with hope. » This is pretty much what I understood among the workers. They would not overcome their misfortune by denying it, nor by pretending to live with it. Even less so by listening to the self-serving lessons of the sophists, jesters, salesmen and other communicants who feed the puny inspiration of politicians, bosses and trade unionists. To overcome their suffering, they would have to make it spit out its truth, to look for what it indicates to them in the negative, what it prepares for them in secret of desirable happiness. And accessible.
Accessible, indeed. When the group was confident, sometimes a participant would bring up an unusual topic in this professional setting. Or that another, while evoking a subject relating to his work, suddenly throws into his speech a freedom or a subjectivity that one did not expect there. For example, the director of a clothing company who, at the end of the 1970s, suddenly admitted her homosexuality in front of her employees, with infinite tact and elegance. Or the trade unionist from a chemical company who upset the group by telling them, with absolute simplicity, the contradictions that were torturing him.
Such interventions were rare. But in those moments, the facticity was gone. They were like lightning: zigzags in the night. When we clumsily tried to hold them back or echo them, their grace quickly sank into the heaviness of commentary. No matter. They had illuminated the dark. The world could not be absurd since that moment had not been. In some way, in some place, the world must have been luminous because that moment had been. There was there, to take up the word of Thucydides that Guy Debord was right to love and to repeat, a definitive acquisition. Of course, the unionist could have been a boss, or the homosexual manager a heterosexual employee. In their words, it was the tone that mattered. The vibration. The note. The level where it sounded, its level of being, as the Taoist masters say. No one was looking for validation of one opinion or another, or promotion of one way of life or another. But each one found much more: the evidence of a singular existence which, by analogy, confirmed to him that his own was also singular, and all the others too. That life, by generous consequence, was therefore livable. And that it was good to live it, perverse not to live it.
I never imagined that I had caused these moments. I know very well, on the other hand, how I could have prevented them from happening, by what mercantile lies, by what neurotic appeals to violence: no power would have convinced me to do that. I was there to share the hope of a birth of which I knew nothing, that of the trainees, mine, ours, certain that despair, as long as one faces it head on and with bare hands, can change into its opposite.
« we live together in segregation ».….….….….….….….…
Now that I am away from the training sessions, I recognize in what I am told about school, university, companies or suburbs, the pretentious and sordid nonsense with which the intelligence of the workers was smothered. What was played out in the unity of place of a training room and in the unity of time of our three days of work was nothing less than the prefiguration of the fight against what is now ravaging the entire surface of our human earth. What is this evil, now everywhere, that I touched so closely?
Of the universal spectacle through which the commodity promotes itself, Guy Debord says: « It reunites the separate, but it reunites it as separate. » This sentence must be taken literally. Just as before the battle the general arranges his troops and regiments in the formation required by the strategy he has devised, so must we present ourselves to the world of money by putting forward the faculties, or qualities, or vices, which will best serve its folly. He wants us to be hierarchical within ourselves, divided according to his interests. He doesn’t want us, he wants pieces of us. It is these pieces that we put together in the tasks that he proposes, these pieces that we juxtapose and add up. Not us. Pieces of us. » We live together separated », wrote Aragon. Twice separated.
Between us, first of all. But between us becausein us. Between us, because of the hierarchy of desires imposed in us by the logic of money, by the primacy of the social role over existence, of the actor over the person. Between us, because of the impoverishment in us of freedom, sinisterly compensated by the granting of illusory enjoyments granted not for the delights they are supposed to procure, but for the disappointments to which they inevitably lead and which, better than anything else, because they discourage the troop more effectively than anything else, ensure its docility. Between us because it is not only the values of the spirit, of creativity, of freedom that are degraded in us, but also the elementary powers of the body, of the sensibility, of the sex, separated them also from the life, more seriously threatened by the consumption than they had been it by the silly prudery. Between us, because this frightful devitalization of our minds and bodies does not allow any more in us, as a channel of relations, that a negotiating cordiality modeled on the algebra of commercial exchanges. Between us, because what really lives in usWe are losing the taste for reporting on these things in a world that has become a gloomy social store. We are losing the taste for reporting on these things in a world that has become a gloomy social store. The evidence that we are greater than this world terrifies us; to justify our submission, we must make ourselves even smaller than it.
And yet, like the trade unionist or the director, it happens that someone, here or there, transgresses the ukase of separation which is the lead rule of the Westerndecivilization and, in front of us, by wild ways that it seems at the same time to discover and to find again as it clears them, reaches really oneself. The way people talk at these times is amazing. A language made of old or ordinary images that seem absolutely new, brilliant, almost triumphant. An eruption, a lava flow so intense that the movement suggests immobility. « Change, change, stay: » says the poet Jean Mambrino. All at once life and the consciousness of life. A music always different that we always recognize.
True speech is when wild thought feeds it. Necessary, familiar. And yet (but why?) neglected, abandoned, snubbed. « A childhood language that suddenly reappears », says Anne Dufourmantelle. Yes. Not the language of an arranged childhood, of which the rear-view mirror of nostalgia sends back a complacent image. The powerful and flexible language of inexhaustible childhood, the one that drills and crosses our lives until we cross death. Marc Richir, when he looks for words that can evoke « the tone, in the musical sense of the term, of the wild passion of thinking », suggests « naivety, generosity, delight ».
Let there be no mistake. Wild thinking is not a disguise for illusion. It does not choose the possible everything of the reverie against the ungainly constraints of the everyday life. When, suddenly, in the patient and ironic workshop of the session, some words bloomed on wild thought, they did not take us away from the company, its tasks, its requirements, the work, the climate that it installed. But all this, they showed it straight, without embellishing it, without cheating. At the height of man, as Senghor said. Producing goods, making them known, selling them, these activities must, on pain of betrayal, be subjected to the judgment of conscience, of the critical spirit, of freedom. The word of a trainee, when extended to his personal experience, testified in its own way to this vital necessity crushed by slogans, strangled by objectives, shot by interests. Ignored, today even more than yesterday, by the political-economic clergy. Despised by the solemn exegetes who inflate his vanity. Ridiculed by the hucksters who court her frustrations. Travesty by the freeloaders of communication from whom he lamely begs for comfort.
« Naivety, generosity, delight. » A naive thought, that is, innate, natural, new like the childhood that makes poets, lovers, the living. Uncertain necessarily, not very sure, so foreign to this hell: So astonished to be there, to dare to express herself, to have a voice: Generous also, without calculation. What she finds in herself, she passes on, that’s all, it comes from everyone, it goes to everyone. These words that belong to us, of which our lives have formed each syllable, our sufferings and our joys, sculpted each intonation, they belong to others as much as to us, they belong to everyone. The more they are to us, the more they are to others. The more they are to others, the more they are to us. Life. A surge of life. Waterfalls of life.
In the great moments of the sessions, we were not delirious. Reality, as we call it, quickly reminded us of the disorder. The reality? Which one is it? Is the amputated leg more real than the patient in bed? We were no longer afraid of this runt called reality; we could, to see what it is worth, go down into the devastated consciences and lift the lids of the souls, dragging in the adventure, if they had the courage, some of those immense competences which comment it so well, the reality, when they have the nose in their cards. If they had a nose, they would quickly turn a blind eye. Not us.
At those moments, the trainees were alone, but their solitude was not lonely. The care of the person, wrote Duns Scotus in the thirteenth century, requires the solitude of the deep. Useful reference: it is the human person who is now threatened. Parties can’t do anything about it, nor clubs, nor teams, nor gangs. The person can only be saved by the person. This subject would be dry, too demanding? I don’t think so at all. A magistrate who had recently had to judge, in various circumstances, people who did not know each other and who had in common only that they had stood up, on their own initiative, against one form or another of globalized debasement, summed up what these hearings had inspired in him thus: « An overall movement in which each person would be alone. » That’s right. In the depths of our combative solitudes, the living are waiting for us, hoping for us.
Jean Sur. French intellectual, writer and trainer in companies for thirty years. He is the author of Les Arabes, l’islam et nous, Paris, Mille et un nuits, 1996; 68forever, Paris, Arléa, 1998. He is also the founder of the website Résurgences (js.resurgences.pagesperso-orange.fr)
Thinking is a wild act
Interviews with Jean Sur
In these filmed interviews, Jean sur shares with us the thoughts he has formed over the course of his life, including thirty years as a corporate trainer. He approaches this analysis from the angle of words, » the best possible way to understand the world. « For him « there is no other « . Because words, proper to our inner world, are the foundations of our thought, but they are also only the fruit of our relationship with others and our social inscription. They form this perfect intersection between oneself and others, between the subjective and objective world.
These words, which evolve in a normal way in society, also know periods where they change in an arbitrary way, of which Jean sur identifies the beginnings in the movement of May 68 which » signs very paradoxically a deep impulse for modernity and at the same time the resistance to this movement « , episode with which he begins his interviews. Jean sur continues on these words of the company, those which little by little imposing themselves on the general sensibility have become the words of the company, taken under the logic of the management company. Openness, culture, tolerance, transparency, thought… He continues on those words that have become internalized and have become those of moral conformity, ending on the way in which, progressively, the language of training has been colonized.
Report directed by chafik allal, co-produced by iteco. It can be ordered at www.iteco.be or at email@example.com
- Le management est, selon moi, l’ensemble des moyens de persuasion, de séduction, de contrainte et de contrôle, constamment renouvelés et souvent contradictoires, par lesquels les responsables s’efforcent de soumettre les citoyens et les travailleurs aux intérêts dont ils sont eux-mêmes les serviteurs.