People - 11.10.2019 - 00:00 

On the award of the Nobel Prize to Peter Handke: literature and management

On 10 October 2019, Peter Handke (*1942) received the Nobel Prize for literature. Since the 1960s, he has dealt intensively in his work with the role of language as a means of communication in society and art. By Serge Honegger.

11 October 2019. At the University of St.Gallen, Peter Handke’s work was recently analysed as part of an interdisciplinary research project about the issue of how language and writing control actions. Just as management can be understood as a communicative discourse, authors want literary texts to have an impact. They guide the perceptions of those who deal with their texts and attribute authority to them.

Peter Handke’s work

Peter Handke’s work is characterised by an extremely high degree of reflection. His novels, drama texts and poems regularly address the ambivalent impact of spoken communication. Management, which can be practiced with language, ranges in its perspective from violence to an aesthetic game with ambiguities. In his stage plays in particular, Handke highlights a different understanding of leadership. This is also reflected in today’s entrepreneurial forms of organisation. This "post-modern" understanding of leadership is a departure from the principles of organisation, which tend to have a hierarchical structure. Predictability and control concepts give way to a productive way of dealing with the conflicting issues of "dictating" and "leaving things open".

Language dependency of leadership practices

In my dissertation ("Lenkung und Ablenkung" - "steering and deflection"), which I wrote at the University of St.Gallen in 2018, I used Handke’s work as an example to draw attention firstly to the fundamental language dependency of leadership practices and secondly, the ambivalence of all control processes. This phenomenon becomes the literary object of representation, for example, in Handke’s stage plays "My Foot My Tutor" (1969) and "The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other" (1992), which only consist of director’s notes. Those who are steering must realise that in reality it is not them at the helm but those who receive their commands. And the fact that you can never unambiguously predict the result of an action is repeatedly made clear by Handke in an entertaining way in playing with the oracular ambiguities of his literary texts.

You don’t just see these effects in literature. They are effective in all concept and strategy papers as well as all planning processes. The results of each future design are determined through achievements, which we then call “reality”.

Handke’s work won’t help you deduce how to run a business and be a manager. But his texts are able to shed light on the blind spots that cloud the view of those who are in positions of leadership. And this includes authors, directors and conductors as well as all those women and men who hold leading positions in business, politics and education.

Serge Honegger has worked as a dramaturg for the Zurich Opera House, St. Gallen Theatre and the Unter den Linden State Opera. He did his doctorate in 2018 at the University of St.Gallen under Prof. Ulrike Landfester and Prof. Jörg Metelmann with a work on postmodern directional remarks ("Lenkung und Ablenkung" published by Schwabe Verlag). Today, he works in communications and management consulting and runs the All Might Change agency in London, a HSG spin-off.

Image: Keystone / Julien de Rosa

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