Institutionalising the Individual
An analysis of
‘You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly’
A little bit about the author…
Ursula Aksham Fanthorpe was born in
Her poems seem to question authority and show compassion to people at the same time. Her most successful poems have been in monologue while others have a great deal of humour and dialogue in them unlike the usual structure of poetry we are used to. Most of her poems are of two voices. Other dominant themes in her writings are war and it’s effects on children, the nature of Englishness and the British character and history.
It was in 1989 that she became a full-time writer who gives readings of her work mostly in the
The underlying theme used to analyse the text is the concept of ‘modern’ or rather the factors that complete or contribute to a modern lifestyle. This particular theme has especially been chosen because personally I have been very fascinated with the word ‘modern’ as it has been something that quite frankly has not found an universally appeal. Ask a layman what it means to be ‘modern’ the answer can vary enough to drive a human being mad (unless that is what modernity intends to do), in a general sense perhaps one can classify being modern in terms of a time-span or choose to take another harder stance and explore. And it is in this intention that I hope to explore the text.
Keeping that in mind, we will first look at the poem and try to summarize in relation to the world today with the underlying presumption that we are all evolved human beings living in a modern world. The summary will also lay the foundation to help better understand the different concepts and theories to be discussed.
Having once given a common understanding of the text, it becomes necessary to find different means of being able to engage with the text and this is precisely what we shall be doing in different modes of reading. Of course, the different means provided here are not given as ultimatums rather hope to reveal scope for further models of interpreting the piece. With three different modes of reading established, our focus moves onto the dominant themes that revolve around the poem which will help appreciate the text in various forms.
One of the major revelations of poetry-reading can be achieved by evaluating the title given to it from a generic sense, therefore we shall try and decipher what You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly refers to with emphasis on the word ‘shortly’ as it seems to stick to the original codes of understanding concepts of being modern in terms of time-relevance. It becomes inevitable but to look at the structuring of the text to find hidden meanings (atleast conceivable hidden meanings) once analysed focussing on the word ‘shortly’.
Our concluding part of the analysis throws light on the different layers that exist within the piece aiming to break the traditional moulds of analysing a text. It seeks to prove that a particular writing can be highlighted in more ways than just one especially given the freedom in the Modern World.
A Summarised Perspective:
The poem showcases the concept of an interview, giving prominence to perhaps the negative aspects. The poet challenges fundamental concepts of interviewing and reveals it in a dialogic form. An interesting theory would be to understand that though it is presented in a dialogue form nowhere in the entire poem do we hear the interviewee’s voice although both their mind-sets and personalities are revealed to some extent.
The interviewer focuses on several aspects of the interviewee that makes one wonder if this is the standard norms for how an interview is held. The interviewer somehow seems distracted as he goes about the interview in a manner that can be debated. Once we hear all the questions the interviewer asks we are left with a question ourselves – what is really important? And what does it take for a successful interview? Where is the emphasis given upon in this competitive world?
When analysing these factors we come across the basis: that each one of them are very vulnerable to time. Every aspect that the interviewer focuses on the candidate could differ greatly at different time periods. Someone who graduated first in his class in 1996 could relatively prove “unintelligent” when compared to someone who graduated in 2006. When dealing with such a volatile situation it makes you wonder if Fanthorpe is really trying to project that these constitute the essence that makes what the modern world is and this very necessity to erase the lines drawn between one’s personal and professional life exposes domination of the modern world.
We find this domination becoming crystal clear as the interviewer is able to convince the interviewee that his existence is a pity by the end of the poem. We shall understand this power-play better when we deal with the different themes within the poem but underlying modern concepts of functioning can be seen by psychological manipulation of many sorts.
It often occurs to me that any text is usually dealt in one particular fashion ignoring all the other possibilities. So, starting with the basics I’m hoping to introduce ways of reading the same text in distinctive patterns. Attempting this, here are three patterns my mind was able to lay out.
- A Monologue
Having established very confidently that this is a dialogic poem it would be rather hard to treat it as a monologue but not unimaginable. If one chooses to treat it in this manner we are again provided with two more options; to understand it as a monologue of the interviewer or the interviewee himself.
If we are considering it as a monologue of the interviewer one can assume that social restrictions do not give him the liberty of saying the things out loud and thus it can be concluded as manifestations of his own mind. What we can focus around here are the social implications that could provoke an interviewer to wonder about.
Another monologue perspective could be to analyse it from the point of view of an amateur and his apprehensions about the interview. This can simply be put off as nervousness or understand it by reflecting on the causes for such apprehensions.
Both of these to some level show us an unrealistic perspective and irrational fears one might have. What is crucial here is that what one might consider unrealistic can turn out to be not so and perhaps we are moving towards a rather unrealistic future.
2. The Silenced Interviewee
This mode has been especially chosen due to the lack of representation of the interviewee. We find that there is no voice given to the interviewee, we are left to believe the notions made by the interviewer as the ultimate truth.
What does this signify? Giving absolute power to the interviewer who represents a major part of the organization whose words we blindly believe. This casual scenario exposes personal invasion made by the modern world, where individuals are given fewer opportunities to showcase themselves from their point of view rather forced to accept it in relation to societal norms.
This of course leads to what I like to call “virtual representations” of each of us. Projection of ourselves in a corporate world changes from what we are to what we are suppose to be and this hopeful process of changing reflects the virtual representations that we make of ourselves every single day. And during this struggle to meet the ideal virtual representation we encounter a loss, loss of our personal identity that seems trivial in comparison to the large organization that exists.
3. From A Young Interviewee
In a rather simplistic sense one can read it as nothing but apprehensions that a young interviewee has, a reflection of general concerns that one might have before his first interview. When analysing it from this mode we are forced to consider the social pressures that lead one to dwell under such tension.
I have chosen to treat it in this specific manner mainly because the idea of the poem being apprehensions of an amateur does not seem absurd but what contradicts this simple explanation is the interviewee being –married, children- in the poem. This is the intriguing aspect of which I wish to explore where perhaps it is meant to show that everyone is treated as an amateur and it does not change much for an older experienced applicant or a new-comer and how both are treated in the same manner. Either that or it could simply be seen in terms of time-relevance as mentioned in the summarized perspective.
Three themes have been chosen keeping in mind the most irrelevant concepts or rather the most ignored aspects of this poem. Not claiming that no one has understood this piece of text in this manner but attempting to bring together seemingly irrelevant pieces of information to form what can be called one important perspective.
1. Power Relations
“Power is everywhere…becomes it comes from everywhere” – Michele Focault
The above quote shall serve as the foundation for the rest of my argument. It seems only obvious to pick power relations as one of the dominant themes in the poem after having mentioned everything above. The entire concept of power requires no historical background or knowledge to analyse as in every sphere of human act there have been power; of course some more preferable than the others. And power can be understood in many ways, all of which can be applied to the text.
In relation to the poem, power relations needs to be understood in terms of the corporate world where hierarchy and monitored functioning are in their zenith. It would seem rather stupid to ignore such a concept in the corporate world. Power relations become interesting especially while trying to relate to the corporate or modern world from the past, as we have evolved we have evolved within ourselves the very ideals of how we use or abuse power. One such understanding can be achieved by Alvin Toffler’s theory of power in historical sense; the beginning of power can be recognized as barbaric, where man could portray his domination only in primitive expressions or in other words through violence. This of course went through many changes although even today we find this dominates our impulse and history stands as the book of truth to reveal to us how exhibition of being powerful transformed from violence to wealth. Although one can argue very confidently that for quite a long period of time they both worked closely with one another to great lengths. As time passed by, we now arrive to our present state where power is displayed through a fluid concept termed as “intelligence” otherwise known as knowledge or information.
The transformation that has taken place over the years makes power relations especially a delicate topic to engage with as it has now moved from a plain one dimensional model to a three dimensional functioning aspect of a society. Where at times all the three previously mentioned tools of power are used but in greatly differing indirect means. Another mode of looking at it comes from the Classic Study by French and Raven (1959) where they introduced five bases of power; positional (where power is issued based on the position you hold), referent (power understood as how influential or how convincing one is able to build loyalty around him), expert (power based on the expertise one holds over a subject), coercive (in terms of primitive means, violence) and reward (if one is able to give or withheld rewards of any kind). An additional base was added a little later rightly termed as the Informational base that reflects a society in the face of an aftermath of information explosion.
Thus, information becomes power and power is very generously available to anyone who chooses to find it. Understanding power relations in this mode becomes increasingly difficult to define in precise terms. We can perhaps say Foucault’s quote finally establishes itself in modern society. When everyone has equal opportunities to find the power that they want, it becomes a universal characteristic of man. Now, it becomes dangerous as trends in power change drastically leaving man completely vulnerable to the dictates of the modern world.
2. Abstract Nature
It seems absurd to look at this poem as abstract in nature by any means but there are much vital information withheld by the writer that makes one wonder, if it is meant to be read from a metaphorical stance?
As we explored earlier, one can question if this poem is actually a depiction of reality or just manifestations of someone’s mind? As we continue ahead with the text, we find that there are several additional information that aren’t revealed although the conclusion is noticeably established as far as character revelation is concerned. It would be intriguing to ask – how can one’s personality be drawn without analysing other necessary factors?
In order to realize this better I would like to draw from a mathematical concept of hypostatic abstraction which is famously used even in literary expressions where the essence of a certain subject or object is believed to be within a particular word although objectively the word might mirror no such real meaning of it’s own. Keeping that in mind, we can look at certain words Fanthorpe employs to differentiate between the layers of the text. The conception of application form, qualifications, position etc are all products of a strict structure we call home or society today. All of which are highly relative to particular social setting; a degree obtained in an underdeveloped country could be conveniently disregarded in a developed nation or a certain position held within a particular community might be regarded at a higher level while might prove otherwise simply by a change of location. When we try to scrutnize it from this angle we find Fanthorpe could actually be mocking the highly complex structures of society. It’’s irrelativeness is proven again in the text by being a middle aged man who is still is struggling and being subjected to the mockery of another.
This struggle is further emphasized as no voice is given to the interviewee implying the lost nature of man in the modern world. And his inability to defend falls prey to anyone’s manipulations.
Under this theme we shall try to appreciate words that stand contrary to one another rather than complimenting each other. I have chosen to treat these concrete words as metaphors purely to plough deeper into the text.
Let’s divide all the words used by using two parameters; one where they hold primary relationship with society, as in they become dysfunctional if not for society nurturing them and two where they are not completely influenced by any strict structure. Qualifications, education, application form etc can be decoded using the first method as their existence denotes a structured society and it’s contributions to it. The latter would consists words such as age, looks, accent, personal preference for social status such as being married are not entirely influenced by a restricted manipulation rather flows through natural process of conditioning. As we distinguish them from one another, it makes you wonder why the writer has chosen to deal with both these abstract concepts in the same manner, treating them both alike almost as synonyms.
This unusual pairing brings to light the distinction that is lost in the present times. The preparation for corporate world that disables our ability to understand both these aspects of the self different from one another but makes it not even complimenting each other rather making them represent each other in as many different ways as possible.
It is commonly assumed your accent speaks more about your education than your degree or your looks give away more about your personality than your application form etc. It would be hasty to completely deny it’s significance but keeping in tone of the poem it is possibly for one to interpret it among these lines where these lines drawn between your personal and professional space are erased. Thus we can conclude by saying that the poem brings to light the other face of “modernization” and the intense pressure on one’s professional life that overlooks personal development; nothing can speak better than allowing one to call your very existence a pity, the sole reason being you are not adequate to fit into a fluid social position.
It is my personal belief that most often the direct clues to any text are given in their titles which of course is based on the assumption that a title is given once the entire text has been penned down. In order to apply the same theory here, it struck me to focus on the word ‘shortly’ rather than just the whole title as it applies to what we are currently examining – modern structuring that is very subjective to time.
Of course it is easy to simply conclude that the title hopes to draw attention to the whole poem being dialogic in nature. In an attempt to complicate it a little bit let us try to twist the word into the effects it would have on a layman. The word shortly also seems to express the fundamental characteristic of the modern corporate world where it is often used to ignite certain hopes into you otherwise simply to politely state an indefinite period of time. Let us inspect the effects of both these possibilities; in the first case a hope is created even though your subconscious might speak otherwise and the latter demonstrates something everyone is very familiar with – waiting for immeasurable amount of time only to realize much later that it was all in for vain. These negative attitudes have been incorporated into the analysis considering the unpleasant way an interview is dealt with in the text.
Both of the above mentioned options requires one to be extremely adaptive to whatever they might encounter. It’s seriously disturbing to believe even for a second that Fanthorpe’s poem maybe even in an indirect way suggesting that we are looking at ‘survival of the fittest’ in a whole new arena where the idea of adaptation takes a new turn – for worse or for the better.
Indulging a little more on the new idea of adaptation let’s look at the structure of the poem. You will find that –existence- and –personal status- are found right at the bottom with all the manifestations of a social living status comfortably seated above them. We find Fanthorpe very brutally showcasing what modern life does to you, your very existence is not only piled up beneath everything else but if we study it closely we find that Fanthorpe has also provided us with a pinch of optimism as existence is of course laid right at the bottom, it evidently points at the entire social structures and its manifestations having their heavy ground on the existence of man.
It is a very annoying habit that educational institutes have rubbed off on most of us; a rule of reading a text keeping in mind certain rules that are predetermined without considering the nature of every piece that is typical.
- Critique on the Modern World
This is exactly what we have done all through. The modern world, a capitalist world under attack by information explosion is one format of understanding. And the distance the modern world creates between one’s personal and professional life.
2. Constrains of the Society
There are many limitations expressed in the poem; lack of representation to the interviewee, universality created to disclose constrains of the society such as inability of the interviewee to voice out his opinions and etc.
3. Power Play at different levels
We find power play functioning at several different levels such as psychological, societal in terms of positional power, power play also within an individual who’s personality is hidden within the interviewing process, etc.
4. Questioning Authoritarian Systems
The very structure of an authoritarian system can be challenged by reading the text and understand it as a part of power play and how authorities function.
5. Survival Guide for the Corporate World
This can plainly be read as a stress-buster for those who wish to share a good laugh before entering the corporate world or how and what to expect in it.
The Modern World:
There can be no definite conclusion to understanding either modern structures or the functioning of a corporate world but of course what can be said for sure is that interviews are or what hopefully this text silently proclaims is the process of institutionalising the individual where both the I’s are made synonyms with one another and begin to replicate each other therefore loosing the essential human feature of being ‘unique’.