MYSTERY OF THE COMMONS
Dominika Kieruzel and Monika Kostera
This text is closely based on an email exchange between Monika Kostera - a sociologist, etnographer and a poet and Dominika Kieruzel - an artist and curator; winter 2022.
Public benefit. Grammatically it is misleading:
benefit (what kind?) public
Grammatically and intuitively we think of the benefit in the first place, this is where the stress of the term is. But first of all, I want to find out:
what is public?
What is public... who is public...
Publicus - the people - populus
It breathes, it moves, it eats, it swirls, it has its rhythms... but what rhythms? are they like the river, like the sea, or like the lake?
It breathes, it moves, it eats, it swirls. Is the thing called ‘the people’ definable by its doing? Or is it not even a thing, is it an event?
I realise that I do not think of myself as ‘the people’. I think of ‘the people’ as a physical and biological mass, you are right, that breathes, moves, eats. I am trying to backward engineer what we really think a human is, and what people are, read it from the assumptions and obviousnesses. I read that ‘the people’ are an object.
(I am a part of ‘the people’ who love, believe, hurt, have ideas, have a heart. That I feel I could concede to. Can I treat others like that? What position is being defended?)
You tease me, and I like it, but I want to know what is the difference between you and me, and me and us, who are we?
(Annelies left me listening to the ocean waves in my mind at night. Now I listen to drops of rain and think of people. I contemplate those movements.)
Event or doing - event and doing - event by doing by event.
Moon makes tides, water recedes, water floods. Moon and water do event, become in event, flow in and out of event.
And then these rhythms start to grow eyes and souls, millions of eyes and souls... like stars in Cosmos.
What is the difference between you and me? I love this question - I love it so much I refuse to answer now, I will walk around with it for some time, and then I will answer.
What is your difference between you and me?
* * *
How am I different
from you? How are you
Different from me?
The difference is
Not here, not there
We are two sides
of the river
Not making a sum
* * *
If we are undefinable. If public is a phenomenal advance and complication of singular mysteries, how can we know what is a public benefit?
What is the difference between you and I?
You and I are different to I. But I do not lack anything in that togetherness. I don’t think you do either. It is good to be together, to have friends, to talk to each other, to care, to feel the presence, to feel the difference.
Yes - feeling the difference, even though the difference is not here, nor there.
Those quotes hang in my mind, argue with each other:
"I hope succeeding generations will be able to be idle. I hope that nine-tenths of their time will be leisure time; that they may enjoy their days, and the earth, and the beauty of this beautiful world; that they may rest by the sea and dream; that they may dance and sing, and eat and drink. I will work towards that end with all my heart. If employment they must have—and the restlessness of the mind will insure that some will be followed—then they will find scope enough in the perfection of their physical frames, in the expansion of the mind, and in the enlargement of the soul. They shall not work for bread, but for their souls. I am willing to divide and share all I shall ever have for this purpose, though I think the end will rather be gained by organisation than by sharing alone.”
Story of My Heart, Richard Jeffereys
"To treat demons - work" ("Na demony - praca")
Naku*wiam Zen, Jan and Maria Peszek
“Byzantium, then, is something great. It is a time and place in which men lived with an aspiration for the supernatural, for eternity. That is why it has that strange and mysterious peculiarity that is disliked by those whose aspirations do not go beyond measure and natural reason, that is by those who are glued to the commonplaces of material emotions.”
Byzantine Sacred Art by Constantine Cavarnos
What sort of life could we live, for us to see hunger and cold as a discomfort, not a tragedy?
Maybe the link we are looking for, a bridge between ‘public’ and ‘benefit’... - the commons.
The commons are defined by a coexistence of three elements of rights (Benjamin Coriat, 2015):
•Resources are shared (ownership) by the community / community
•Responsibilities and obligations for the good bind the participants
•Management based on shared obligations and rights
According to Elinor Ostrom (1990) communities establish their own rules of managing common resources, including traditions, structures and cultural norms. Organisations of the common good display a horizontal dynamics, consisting of strong relationships with the environment and local roots.
We need to appreciate complexity: byzantine forms, the vital necessity of non-duality for the emergence of anything that is living, anything that can heal dualism and bring togetherness?
“A great deal of the problems with our times stem from our inability to deal with complex problems without resorting to reductionism”
(Andrzej Zawiślak, 1984).
“First, the Anthropocene, or “human age”, is no longer characterised solely by climatic changes generated by traces of human industry; The Anthropocene, understood as a new geological period in the history of the planet,
is also the age of the pandemic. The same cause, rampant extractivism, the looting of the planet, has two effects: global warming and the proliferation of epidemics. The second thesis, forward-looking and positive, concerns the relationship between the Anthropocene and the common good. I argue that we are not without solutions in the face of the Anthropocene. What is required of the Anthropocene is to preserve and defend the common good, starting with the great global natural good: forests, poles, seas, etc. In addition, at stake is a different way of life in the world that will enable both climate change control and epidemic prevention.” (Benjamin Coriat, 2021)
Then, I think about my town, Thamesmead. We have a lot of public spaces, natural spaces, and perhaps they are our shared resources. But our obligations and rights? Could we all meet and talk about what we deem as good?
It would be good to ask. A very rough sense I get is that this is not wealth. Management based on shared obligations and rights - I like this a lot, because this is living together. Negotiating. Annelies Jahn told me recently, seeing the same place every day, being in the same place in the ocean every day, seeing it change, be wild, calm, feeling its rhythms, smaller and larger, waves, tides, moon cycles, this helps her negotiate life. Complexity.
“A work of art should be as mysterious in its simplicity or its complication,
as every living being is mysterious, of itself and of none other.
Like a flower that grows out of a given plant, so naturally should an artwork come from a human.”
Nature can heal dualism.
Art can heal dualism.
But also risk, to express one’s thoughts. Cherishing skills in clear expression of thought.
Principle of charity.
Some degree of health.
Love. Perhaps what you said before - love and pain.
I saw a man today in despair, as a swan got stuck in the ice and drowned. I saw once a man sweeping the paths around the lake, to prevent foxes from getting cut on broken glass. Friends celebrating birthdays in The Barge Pole, the last birthdays of many, before being resettled, before the pub got demolished. Love and pain. Is it the speed of changes that felt uneasy for them? Or is it a cold realisation that what they deemed home, was owned by somebody else, it was managed by somebody else, not them, somebody else had the last word. Change. I thought about your research about future and how hard it is to imagine complexity in the future. It is as though we just see directions, a good and a bad direction, like a laser beam. In the past we can see how many times directions were changed, all convoluted. Every decision, every consideration, choices, knowledge, regrets, pain, and deep below, love.
I agree that ‘the common good’ is not the same thing as ‘wealth’. The common good is perhaps more connected to the good life, to a sense of goodness that can be shared. Take Richard Rohr’s notion (echoing Origenes) that the only salvation worth the name is one which applies to the whole of humanity, indeed, all life. Or Simondon’s notion of collective self-realisation, where the highest fulfilment of the ‘self” is one which works for the highest fulfilment of the ‘collective’.
In that sense Thamesmead and Park Hill, as well as the Swedish ‘miljonprogrammet’ is about the dream of a common good, a place to share collectively and to enjoy individually.
Management is, as you rightly say, based on shared obligations and rights, and this applies to such spaces / places to a very high degree. They work only when they are managed in a way that is adequate to their character of ‘common’ and as ‘good’. But I also believe that these places are about a dream of collective self-fulfilment, even perhaps a kind of socialist collective salvation where everyone has a place for themselves but is not left alone. There is a potential role to fulfil for each and everyone and it is the duty of the person, as well as of the collective, to find that role.
I love the image of complexity as embodied by the ocean and the way it changes! In a way, this was even reflected in the Ancient myths of Poseidon, the unpredictable divinity. He was said to inspire dreams – and madness.
Emergence: Witkacy’s vision of art. An emergent litany:
Nature can heal dualism.
Art can heal dualism.
Healing is a risk, expression is taking risk.
It is holy.
Charity as principle.
Good will as principle.
Wisdom as emergence healing dualism.
And yes, here we are back with the big question: what is the mystery of the commons? Can we conceive of the mystery of the commons? What a curious question. But it was inevitable – such questions have to be asked but can only be asked when trust begins to blossom...
Monika Kostera is a Polish sociologist and economist. She is also a published poet. She is Professor Ordinaria in Management in Poland, holding a titular professorship in economics (2004) and the humanities (2017). She has authored and edited over 50 books in Polish and English and a number of articles published in journals including Organization Studies, Journal of Organizational Behavior and British Journal of Management . Her current research interests include the imagination and organizing, disalienation of work, organizational ethnography and organizational archetypes. Some of her recent books include:
After The Apocalypse. Finding Hope in Organising (2020, Zero Books)
Management in a Liquid Modern World with Zygmunt Bauman, Irena Bauman and
Jerzy Kociatkiewicz (2015, Polity),
I am not Magritte, 2020 collection of poems, published by Wordcatcher Full CV can be found on kostera.pl
Dominika Kieruzel is a Polish/British artist, living and working in Thamesmead, London. She works accross sculpture, performance, curation and text. Her projects include:
Annelies Jahn at Kosmoss, online exhibition and interview, Kosmoss (2023) https://www.kosmoss.co.uk/annelies-jahn
Byzantine Sacred Art, Constantine Cavarnos; Literary Licensing, LLC (2011)
Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Elinor Ostrom, Cambridge University Press (1990)
Le bien commun, le climat et le marché, Benjamin Coriat; Les Liens qui Libèrent (2021)
L'individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d'information, Gilbert Simondon, Millon (2005)
Naku*wiam Zen, Maria i Jan Peszek; Wydawnictwo Marginesy Sp. z o.o. (2022)
Pułapy i pułapki zarządzania, Andrzej Zawiślak; Glob (1984)
The Story of My Heart, Richard Jeffereys; Longmans, Green (1891)
The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For and Believe, Richard Rohr, SPCK Publishing (2019)