‘Napoleon. A Life’, by Andrew Roberts

Written on October 7, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Literature

C04Y3G Art Napoleon BonaparteNapoleon would have approved of Andrew Roberts’s title. Like Louis XIV, he encouraged his subjects to call him great even during his lifetime. It is surprising that biographers have done it so seldom before, since most of them have been quite as much his fans as Roberts. And there have been hundreds of them. Probably no figure in history has had so many books devoted to him. In English alone he has had five very substantial biographies since 2010. Partly this is owing to seemingly inexhaustible public fascination with one of the greatest soldiers ever. Partly too, it is because we are living through years of Napoleonic bicentenaries, culminating next year in that of Waterloo. After that, there might be a respite, at least until the anniversary of his death in 2021.

Roberts has written about Napoleon before, both in a volume comparing him with Wellington, and in a concise survey of the battle of Waterloo. Now he gives full rein to his admiration. In preparation, he has visited most of the Napoleonic battlefields, and sites of memory as inaccessible even as St Helena. He has been shown innumerable relics great and small, held often by eminent persons whom he carefully lists in a star-studded preface. He even signs these acknowledgments from a street in a smart Parisian district named after a Napoleonic marshal, and a stone’s throw from the great man’s tomb.

Like other recent biographers Roberts draws on the new scholarly edition of Napoleon’s general correspondence, now nearing completion, which offers a trove of reliable information. One thing that stands out from using this, repeatedly emphasised by Roberts, is how many balls Napoleon could keep in the air at once. On any given day he might be planning (or fighting) a battle, giving instructions for public works back in France, checking accounts or military statistics, and issuing warnings or reprimands to obscure underlings. His memory and passion for detail were prodigious, as were his appetite for work and self-discipline. He was formidably well-read and impressively numerate. It was these all-round qualities that made him so much more than a successful general. It is possible to deplore or despise what he achieved with the power he enjoyed, not to mention the influence of his posthumous reputation. But the world has seldom seen such an amazing concentration of abilities in one man.

Continue reading in Financial Times


Cultivating Taste Improves Management Skills

Written on October 6, 2014 by Santiago Iñiguez in IE Business School, IE University


By Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, Dean of IE Business School and President of IE University

Nothing is so improving to the temper as the study of the beauties, either of poetry, eloquence, music, or painting”, wrote David Hume (Wikipedia), one of the most influential philosophers of all times. His brief essay Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion (1),published in 1777, easily and quickly readable, is very recommendable, particularly for managers. The main tenet of this essay is that the cultivation of the liberal arts and the humanities leads to sound happiness and builds the necessary resilience to face the adversities of life.

To develop his point, Hume distinguishes between two types of delicacy that shape human’s personality. The first is delicacy of passion, which refers to the degree of emotional intensity experienced towards fortuitous events and misfortunes. Those with a higher delicacy of passion may feel much happier at joyful circumstances, and much sadder at adversities, than those with cool and sedate temper. The ‘passionate’ humans may forge ardent friendships at the smallest attention and value enthusiastically honors and recognitions. However, they may also become severely dejected and offended when criticized even slightly. On the opposite end of the delicacy of passion’s spectrum are the tempered and cool, who react with detachment when experiencing the ups and downs of life. Hume concludes that, all things considered, it is better to be tempered than passionate, given that life is filled with more sorrows and pains than pleasures and joys, and that the arrival of good or bad fortunes is not solely dependent on us.

The second type of delicacy proposed by Hume is the delicacy of taste, developed by cultivating knowledge and the liberal arts. Those with a deeper delicacy of taste are able to value and enjoy good literature or music, for example, and experience real emotional pleasure from this experience. On the other extreme, people lacking delicacy of taste may feel indifference and even dullness when exposed to works of art or poetry.

Hume goes on and states: “delicacy of taste is as much to be desired and cultivated as delicacy of passion is to be lamented, and to be remedied, if possible” (2). His conclusion is based on the fact that we can choose the objects of taste, while the ill or good fortunes affecting our delicacy of passion are uncontrollable by us. Moreover, the delicacy of taste can be cultivated and grown voluntarily, and philosophers have long defended that wise people place their happiness on those things that depend on themselves and not merely on chance or external circumstances.

The most interesting proposal in Hume’s essay is that the cultivation of delicacy of taste can counteract and even suppress the negative effects of delicacy of passion: “Nothing is so proper to cure us of this delicacy of passion, as the cultivating of that higher and more refined taste (…) a new reason for cultivating a relish in the liberal arts. Our judgment will strengthen by this exercise: We shall form juster notions of life: Many things, which please or afflict others, will appear to us too frivolous to engage our attention: And we shall lose by degrees that sensibility and delicacy of passion, which is so incommodious.” (3) At the heart of this is the ever-standing belief that education and the nurturing of knowledge improves one’s character and develops an autonomous and freer personality.

The reading of Hume’s essay commented here has practical implications for our lives that can be formulated in the following three takeaways:

-First, cultivating the liberal arts and the humanities may develop a balanced personality and skills like resilience, flexibility, humanity and temperance, all key to good management practice. I have written elsewhere about the idea of the “Illustrated Manager”, the model of leader who is knowledgeable, cosmopolitan, versed in the cultural contributions of different civilizations. I believe that illustrated managers of this sort exercise a more effective leadership in the long run than those having just pure charisma or passion, because they are able to motivate others more on rational grounds thus assuring a more sustainable commitment from them.

Obviously, achieving delicacy of taste is a lifelong journey: it would be ridiculous to expect instantaneous effects from just reading a classic or attending an opera. However, you may experience the benefits of cultivating the liberal arts as you go along and it is recommendable to track progression and keep records of your findings and experiences. Developing a plan to expand your wisdom, which may be changed and may derive to unforeseen topics, along with persistence in its execution is essential. I, for example, have a collection of notebooks where I write the insights from my readings, collect quotes, elaborate ideas or just include names and facts. This effort enhances the understanding and retention of the ideas and sentiments flowing from my readings, and I recommend that you follow this exercise, writing down thoughtful notes or filing them in your computer.

Expanding the delicacy of taste also improves cross-cultural management skills. In another of his essays, Hume explains: “You will never convince a man, who is not accustomed to Italian music, and has not an ear to follow its intricacies, that a Scotch tune is not preferable” (4)

-Second, I believe that the joint development of delicacy of taste with one’s couple, spouse and family members strengthens intellectual affinity and friendship among participants and contributes to a sustainable and durable relationship. In the words of Hume, “a delicacy of taste is favourable to love and friendship, by confining our choice to few people, and making us indifferent to the company and conversation of the greater part of men”. (5)

-Third, educational programs at business schools could ideally include courses on the liberal arts and the humanities to instill the delicacy of taste in students. I can tell that the experience of this practice over the past seven years at my business school has been amazingly positive, particularly in terms of the satisfaction of students.

Notwithstanding all of the above, I guess you will agree with me that a life without passion is dull and boring. I believe that Hume would have agreed with this too. Perhaps those who excel at delicacy of taste, being the more balanced, could also behave as the more passionate too.

(1) www.davidhume.org/texts/etv1.html

(2) Ibid., DT 3

(3) Ibid., DT 4

(4) The Sceptic, in The Philosophical Works of David Hume, edited by T. H. Green and T. H. Grose. 4 volumes, London: Longman, Green, 1874–75, p. 217.

(5) www.davidhume.org/texts/etv1.html , DT 7


Maps to the Stars

Written on October 3, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Film

maps-to-the-stars-posterFilms that purport to satirise, examine, or eviscerate the vacuous horrors of Hollywood often end up as fatuously empty and self-involved as their subject. Look at Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis’s pitiful The Canyons, a classic case of people in glass houses merrily throwing bricks at themselves. Good job, then, that perennial outsider David Cronenbergclearly isn’t the least bit dazzled or seduced by the cultural cesspool of his latest movie, a tale of terminal Tinseltown wastrels with the twisted structure of a Greek tragedy and the rictus grin of a freshly poisoned sitcom.

On the contrary, Cronenberg observes the assortment of pestilential players in Bruce Wagner’s self-reflexive script with characteristic detachment, like a scientist watching bacteria multiplying in a Petri dish. The symptoms may be cultural rather than physical, but as with early films such as Rabid and Shivers, Cronenberg’s primary response to the display of disease is one of wry detachment – fascination rather than infatuation.

Mia Wasikowska stars as burn-scarred Agatha, returning to the alienating womb of California after a lengthy period of enforced separation. Via the vagaries of social networking (a very Cronenbergian viral malaise), Agatha lands a job as “chore whore” for fading actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore, looking like Lindsay Lohan’s wicked stepsister) whose broiling neuroses are being treated by self-help media quack Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack). Havana longs to land the lead role in a remake of a film that originally starred her mother (Sarah Gadon), a Hollywood legend who died in a fire and who now haunts her embittered, twisted daughter. Meanwhile, Bieberesque brat Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) finds his star-crossed path inevitably intertwined with that of Agatha despite the best efforts of his mother, Cristina (Olivia Williams), to preserve and exploit the precocious monster whom she and her charlatan husband have spawned.

If The Brood (an early body-horror gem starring Samantha Eggar) was Cronenberg’s Kramer vs Kramer, then Maps is his Sunset Boulevard, with sprinklings of ChinatownBeyond the Valley of the Dolls and Mommie Dearest thrown in for good measure. At the centre of it all is Moore, magnificently horrendous as the needy-greedy Havana, wallowing in the amniotic fluid of her own narcissistic self-loathing – a sick, siren-like performance of parasitic perfection. There’s something of Eggar’s Nola Carveth in Moore’s Gorgon-like creation; watching Havana sitting in the lotus position, screaming in fury at the world, you half expect her to sprout boils from which the ravenous children of her rage will spill to wreak bloody havoc in the Hollywood hills.There’s more than a hint of The Brood’s “Psychoplasmics”, too, in Dr Weiss’s hands-on therapy, which physicalises Havana’s fury with no discernible benefit beyond the financial; the genre and shape of rage may have changed, but Cronenberg’s core psychodramatic concerns remain a constant.

Continue reading in The Guardian


The Destruction of Mecca

Written on October 2, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies

old_islamic_pictures-mecca__00When Malcolm X visited Mecca in 1964, he was enchanted. He found the city “as ancient as time itself,” and wrote that the partly constructed extension to the Sacred Mosque “will surpass the architectural beauty of India’s Taj Mahal.”

Fifty years on, no one could possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.

The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.

The “guardians” of the Holy City, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the clerics, have a deep hatred of history. They want everything to look brand-new. Meanwhile, the sites are expanding to accommodate the rising number of pilgrims, up to almost three million today from 200,000 in the 1960s.

The initial phase of Mecca’s destruction began in the mid-1970s, and I was there to witness it. Innumerable ancient buildings, including the Bilal mosque, dating from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, were bulldozed. The old Ottoman houses, with their elegant mashrabiyas — latticework windows — and elaborately carved doors, were replaced with hideous modern ones. Within a few years, Mecca was transformed into a “modern” city with large multilane roads, spaghetti junctions, gaudy hotels and shopping malls.

The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium-old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders. The house of Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, has been turned into a block of toilets. The Makkah Hilton is built over the house of Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the prophet and the first caliph.

Continue reading in The New York Times


MNAC’s modernist makeover

Written on October 1, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies

mnacThe National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) in Barcelona is best known for its medieval art, particularly its collection of Romanesque murals, which is considered one of the most important in the world. But a significant chunk of the museum’s holdings of around 30,000 pieces is modern art, dating back to the beginning of the last century, and up to the 1950s. Now, around 1,300 pieces, half of them never exhibited in public before, are to go on display in a specially prepared space covering 4,000 square meters of the museum’s first floor.

The walls of the space, formerly a neutral off-white, have been painted in bright colors, while the paintings have been hung seemingly willy-nilly.

One of the MNAC’s main tasks is to showcase Catalan art through the centuries, but the collection now on display also includes work by Juan Gris, Julio Romero de Torres, Alfred Sisley and Edvard Munch. “These all form part of the collection and help to put it in context,” says the museum’s director, Pepe Serra.

When Serra took over three years ago, he made it clear that he wanted to break with tradition, and put the modern art collection in context. As a result, painting, sculpture, posters, cinema, illustrations, furniture, advertising, photography, and particularly architecture are all on display. Together the pieces tell the story of the beginning of modern art, and how realism gradually emerged as the dominant trend in the early 20th century. Paintings such as Mariano Fortuny’s The Battle of Tetuán, which harks back to the styles of the 19th century, become superseded by more lifelike depictions of events.

The exhibition brings the period to life through the faces of the artists as depicted in their self-portraits, as well as those of their wealthy patrons. “We have tried to avoid focusing on styles such as Impressionism, Futurism, Cubism, Expressionism, etc., and have instead presented a big picture of what society was like, with all its contradictions,” says Serra. “The major works are there as well, and are enriched by being seen alongside others created at that time.”

Continue reading in El País

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