Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Satisfying Ambiguity

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Satisfying Ambiguity

Article excerpt

The unfolding story of 'satisfying ambiguity' is somewhat postmodern. Though it has a beginning and a middle, its ending is indeterminate. Furthermore, we already know this story about a future grounded in the present, in the same way that the audience for Homer already knew the story he would tell them. Ours is a version of The Wizard of Oz in which we are protagonist and audience. There is tension, and suspense, and a hope for resolution, but understanding the nature of this drama is vital to our survival lest we turn unwillingly into the antagonist. We must also become the authors of this story.

The film of The Wizard of Oz oscillates between two modes: black-and-white reality and technicolor imagination. Ambiguity expresses such dual modes, and is similar to the nature of light, both wave and particle at the same time, depending on point of view. Dorothy's trip to Oz happens in the imagination (while she is knocked unconscious), and so occurs at the same time as her Kansas reality. Oz and Kansas are concurrent, not sequential.

Dorothy is a naive and innocent heroine from a sturdy farm in Kansas, the heart of the myth of America. Her little dog Toto digs in Miss Gulch's garden, and that cranky neighbor brings down the full weight of her rage, hatred, and envy. Dorothy and Toto are only saved by a whirlwind flight when the tornado carries them to the land of the Emerald City ("Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore"). From then on, she seeks only to return to her black and white reality. After all, "There's no place like home."

Like us, she wants answers and certainty, and like us she gets ambiguous answers and uncertainty Yet, in a curious way, the ambiguity is satisfying because it is an integral part of the story.

We ask, how can ambiguity satisfy? Or, how can we satisfy its insatiable demand for contradiction, for appeasement, for burnt offerings? Both meanings dwell in this phrase, 'satisfying ambiguity," itself ambiguous and suggestive.

Our version of The Wizard might begin on a sun-drenched day in May in Greece, which we have called the cradle of our civilization. At the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, a long line of suppliants climbs a steep road toward the temple, circles around the impressive treasure house of the Athenians to the sacred precinct in front of the Oracle's home. The first suppliant submits the burning question of the day: "The Persians are coming, what should we do?" The priest takes the question into the gloom of the temple and offers it to the Pythia, a mantic (perhaps mythic) priestess crouching in a hole in the earth, a hole which may or may not have even existed. She may (or may not) have inhaled, or smoked, or drunk some kind of drug for inspiration, but she speaks in tongues, and the priest returns with her answer, correctly, if mysteriously, interpreted in perfect hexameters. The suppliants leave, satisfied, or, if after some consideration they should remain unsatisfied, they can come back for a second opinion.

In the brightly-colored land of Oz, Dorothy makes her way to the Wizard. She, and the companions she collects along the way, seek a heart, a brain, some courage, and a way back to the reality of Depression-era Kansas. They approach the Oracle, an impressive, even frightening, projection in the central room of the central city. They timidly offer their requests.

The Wizard doesn't really have answers, of course. He's just a man, a humbug, kindly but ineffective, hiding behind the curtain, manipulating the symbols, and hoping for the best. All he can do is delay, confound, propose. He can create new ambiguities, ones that, in the end, must satisfy. He can stall for time by sending them on a quest: "Bring me the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West."

Delphi was located in neutral territory, an unimportant region along the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth, far from Athens, from Sparta, from the real centers of political power. …

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