Organisation, Listening and the Aesthetics of Disposal

By Munro, Rolland | Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Organisation, Listening and the Aesthetics of Disposal


Munro, Rolland, Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry


ABSTRACT

Tristram Shandy deconstructs the conventions of the emerging modern novel almost as fast as its conventions were minted on the page by other 18th century writers. In consequence, readers of this early novel could not just consume the words on the page as they might do with a history but they required instead an aesthetics of disposal to help them to manage the endless digressions, the blanks in text, and the ambulation in chronology of this most disorganised of novels. In this paper listening to ruptures and fissures in the text is likened to the work of employees today, who similarly have to manage the inter-plays of convention and invention within the disorganisation of the contemporary corporation.

Writing, when properly managed, is but another excuse for conversation.

Laurence Sterne

It is not the squeal of the newborn that announces Tristram Shandy's birth into the world. It is the squeak of a faulty door hinge that wakes the expectant father.

Every day, for at least ten years together, did my father resolve to have it mended; -'tis not mended yet. No family but ours would have borne with it an hour; - and, what is most astonishing, there was not a subject in the world upon which my father was so eloquent as that upon door hinges; and yet, at the same time, he was certainly one of the greatest bubbles to them, I think, that history can produce; his rhetoric and conduct were at perpetual handicuffs.-Never did the parlour door open, -but his philosophy or his principles fell a victim to it- Three drops of oil with a feather, and a smart stroke of a hammer, had saved his honour for ever. (161)

It is not therefore that technology does not speak. To the contrary, the father of the newborn Tristram Shandy has been listening to this door hinge these past ten years.

As with much of the vast layers of technology that litter our lives, a door hinge might be presumed to hang silent for most of the time. Out of sight and out of mind, at least until the parlour door is brought into use. Yet this is far from being the truth:

. . for the many years in which the hinge was suffered to be out of order, and amongst the hourly grievances my father submitted to upon its account this was one -that he never folded his arms to take his nap after dinner, but the thought of being unavoidably awakened by the first person who should open the door was always uppermost in his imagination, and so incessantly stepp'd in betwixt him and the first balmy presage of his repose as to rob him, as he often declared, of the whole sweets of it. (162)

As it happens, it is this very listening out for its squeak that inevitably robs Father of his repose. The very anticipation of hearing it makes the hinge ever-present to his imagination.

What is striking is that this response to the noisy door hinge is not the expected one of simply eliminating its squeak. As Tristram says, no other family 'would have borne it for an hour'. But instead of availing himself of the requisite technology, by adding 'three drops of oil', Tristram's family incorporates the squeaking of the hinge into their daily life. Drawing on Bourdieu (1990), we might be tempted to say that living with its disorder has becomes part of Father's habitus. But there is something sharper at work here. For the way Father has of disposing of the hinge's protestations is to accommodate these into his sleeping pattern, literally altering his bodily arrangements around the unwonted sounds; much as someone living over a railway line adapts to the rumblings of trains below.

Yet Father's 'tactics of consumption' (de Certeau, 1984) do not quite stretch to putting up quietly with an inconvenient and irritating noise. 'Inconsistent soul as man is his whole life a contradiction to his knowledge' - Father uses his powers of reasoning to set forth his principles, seizing on any event as a springboard for philosophy. In this way Tristram's father illustrates an 'aesthetics' of disposal. …

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