The slopes of Monte Rebello

It was with the torn landscape and tortured soul of post-World War I Europe as his inspiration that, in 1925, T.S. Eliot set his pen to paper and wrote of the lost living, and of the unquiet dead, and of times past and passing and to come:

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper

It was with the blood of innocents on their hands and the smoking ruins of rich towns in their wake that, in 1307, the adherents of the Dulcinian reform movement followed their leader, Fra Dolcino, to the slopes of Monte Rebello and erected the fortifications they hoped would protect them from the armies that pursued them. They hoped in vain. Rebello fell on March 23, 1307: its positions overrun, its defenders slaughtered, Dolcino captured and later publicly executed by the Church he’d warred against in the name of change – by the society that took notice of his and his followers’ despair only when they took up their swords.

Those of you who are regular readers of the blog will recall that we’ve been discussing, for some time now, the communications insights to be gleaned from Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose. This post marks the culmination – at least for now – of our discussion, and though we don’t want to muddy the literary waters too much by adding another author to our mix, we think Eliot’s excerpted words (and indeed, the entire poem from which they come) offer a fine harmonic to Eco’s general theme: it is as inevitable as the rising of the sun or the changing of the seasons that the outcast will channel his anguish and his rage into loyalty to a leader who has only his own interests at heart, and the society the outcast rages against will misinterpret his motives, and the outcast’s justifiable concerns will lead to unjustifiable outcomes, and the reassertion of society’s prerogatives will leave the outcast where he’s always been: outside the flock, outside the family, outside the community of the whole.

And his attempt to upend the world that he believes doesn’t want him will have ended in squalor and silence – until another leader comes along, and it all begins again.

We asked, this past New Year’s Eve, if the circle can be broken. Call us optimists, but we think it can. Call us optimists, but we think it must. It starts with a willingness to listen. It starts with a willingness to understand. It starts with a willingness to abandon the communications paradigm of Us vs. Them and believe, truly believe, that there is no Them – there is only Us.

This is the way the new world begins.

Elsewise, we remain what a poet described, amid a torn landscape, burdened by tortured souls.

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rats’ feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar