Gesamtkunstwerk

I. In the mid-nineteenth century, German composer Richard Wagner, inspired by the ancient Greeks, began advocating for a synthesis of all art forms—drama, music, dance, poetry, spectacle—into what he called a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art. His vision came closest to realization in his 17-hour Ring Cycle and in his Bayreuth opera house, which he had custom-built to stage his epic works. The design of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is innovative and meticulous. Famously, the giant orchestra is nested underneath the stage, which allows the singing actors to project over Wagner’s dense scores without barking or straining their voices. Orfeo…

Trauma center

I think of my professional craft, and my professional interest, as “unlocking human energy.” Over the last decade or so, as the logical continuation of that interest, I’ve become increasingly focused on trauma. Trauma arrests human energy. It prevents individuals, groups, and societies from flourishing. The traumas I am thinking of include a range, from developmental traumas of neglect and abandonment, to extreme violence, to daily mundane dissatisfactions and thwarted expectations, to giant historical injustices. Trauma wants our acceptance and understanding. As an intrinsic part of the human experience, it is both the obstacle and the path. Trauma triggers the…

The Six Centers

All individuals and groups have finite attentional resources. These attentional limits constrain what organizations can do, including their efficiency, ambitiousness, insightfulness, and success. As I’ve said elsewhere: “In his wonderful and occasionally heady book The Ecology of Attention, Yves Citton writes that ‘we never have the means to pay enough attention’ and so we end up paying attention to what preoccupies others. Limited attention leads to groupthink: we pay attention to what others in the group pay attention to, reacting to and in the context of other people’s priorities, in an endless feedback loop. Attention, in other words, is ‘an…

One Hundred Years

One of my favorite books about history is Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: From 1500 to the Present: Five Hundred Years of Western Culture Life. It’s an impressive career summation, published in 2001 when Barzun was in his nineties. I love how he looks telescopically at broad historical trends, while also zooming into the messy details of specific times and places along the way. In the past two years, the long decline that Barzun observed has accelerated into a great unraveling of Western institutions—a breakdown marked by destructive monetary policy, increasing class conflict and geopolitical tension, rapid technological change,…

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