Conrad Black, Corporate Governance, and
the End of the Economic Man.
by Adrian Stein and Olga Stein
originally published 12/2006 Books in Canada
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“Yes, I know it’s not the truth,” the philosopher explains, “but in a great
history little truths can be altered so that a greater truth will emerge.”
Do not worry, the blind philosopher assures the historian, for “one day,
sooner or later a greater liar will come around and will restore the tale.”
AT A BLACK TIE PARTY at the Four Season’s in Manhattan last November 2005, the literary, social and business elite of New York gathered to mark the annual Kenyon Review award for literary distinction. The propinquity of New York wealth and philanthropy, with the glitterati of the publishing and literary world made for a special frisson. The atmosphere was further excited by the presence of Michael Bloomberg who had just won a landslide mayoral victory. In his exuberance he composed a short poem: “On the Campaign, the question arose/What big second term plans proposed/Said I, ‘First thing I’ll do—Toast the Kenyon Review’/After that, really who the hell knows.” The melange of pearl-covered and bejewelled women and prominent tuxedo-clad names erupted in a frenzied, excited applause, putting aside the foreboding of recent years.
The host for this special evening was the Kenyon Review, a sixty-year-old quarterly, with a long and well established pedigree. Founded in 1939, by the poet John Crowe Ransom, the review was associated in its early years with Robert Penn Warren, Mark Van Doren, Delmore Schwartz, Robert Lowell, Flannery O’ Connor, and other American literary lions. The publication reached its apogee during 40s and 50s. After a hiatus of
ten years in the 70s, the publication was relaunched with a small staff. Its current editor is the Kenyon English professor, David Lynn. In recent years, the publication has garnered much attention with its annual literary award, now in its fifth year. Previously awarded to E.L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates, and Seamus Heaney, the 2005 award was offered to two celebrated literary figures: Roger Angel and Umberto Eco. Angell is the longstanding New Yorker fiction editor and essayist, whose lapidary pieces on baseball and autobiographical reflections are well known to readers of the publication. His recent memoir, Let Me Finish, is the culmination of a long and open conversation about his family and life with the readers of the New Yorker. Umberto Eco, the other honored writer, and the original subject of our interest in the Kenyon event, is the world renowned Italian philosopher and semiotician. His labyrinthian and complex works have garnered him an international audience. His oeuvre includes: The Name of the Rose, The Island of Day Before, Foucault's Pendulum, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Baudolino and many non-fiction books on literature, semiotics, and criticism Umberto Eco’s novels are a sustained meditation on the nature of meaning, and the close proximity of invention to falsity, counterfactuality, prevarication and dissimulation in all of its multiform profusion. His novel, Baudolino, is a magnificent interleaved story, that has a honeycomb of other stories nested within it. The main narrative takes place in the year 1204 during the looting, pillaging, and raping of Constantinople that accompanied the fourth crusade. Baudolino, the eponymous protagonist of the story, is a fantastic liar, fabulist and saint, named after the “only saint who [has] never committed a miracle.” The adopted son of Emperor Barbarosa, Baudolino is sent to Paris for schooling. The story relates in a reverse narrative the adventures of Baudolino’s fearless “band” of Parisian friends, a motley crew consisting of the Poet, Abdul, Boron, Kyot, and Rabbi Solomon. This merry band sets out to find Prester John, one of the descendants of the Magi, who, as legend has it, rules a lost land of Christians in the far reaches of Asia, a phantasmagorical place of exotic animals, eunuchs, and hypatias, beautiful virginal she-creatures with goat like bodies, whose eyes change color with their emotions. Umberto Eco’s story takes place within the ‘history’ of the “Letter of Prester John”, an actual epistolary wonder tale that circulated in Europe from the 12th century onwards. The fictional and historical are intricately knitted together in this marvelous confabulation. Many knowing readers have averred that Baudolino is as close as Umberto Eco has come to writing a self-portrait, with many tell-tale references to his own life, origins and family. Towards the end of Baudolino an extraordinary conversation takes place between a blind philosopher, Paphnutius, and a historian who is writing an account of the sack of Constantinople during the last crusade. The historian is surprised by the philosopher’s suggestion that he, whose craft depends on the veracity and accuracy of sources, omit certain key details from his historical treatment. “Yes, I know it’s not the truth,” the historian is surprised by the philosopher’s suggestion that he, whose craft depends on the veracity and accuracy of sources, omit certain key details from his historical treatment. “Yes, I know it’s not the truth,” the philosopher explains, “but in a great history little truths can be altered so that a greater truth will emerge.” Do not worry, the philosopher explains, “but in a great history little truths can be altered so that a greater truth will emerge.” Do not worry, the blind philosopher assures the historian, for “one day, sooner or later a greater liar will come around and will restore the tale.”
* * *
New Yorkers are astute observers. In a city attuned to minute social gradations, and where status has been reified by Tom Wolf and others as the defining sociological measure and cognitive ordering principle, it would be hard for any of the cognoscenti attending the Kenyon Review award party to escape the seating arrangements and pecking order at the Four Seasons. Nothing is coincidental and everything is carefully arranged. In the competitive world of New York culture, a seat at the ‘table’ comes at steep price. Sponsorship arrangements likewise yield immediate and vital social information; power and culture are more deeply intertwined in New York City than anywhere else in the world. The cultural milieu of Manhattan is defined by subtle gradations of wealth, with ascent and descent carefully marked and calibrated. Along with Bloomberg Inc., the Mayor’s information powerhouse, there were three other big-name event sponsors. Second on the ‘list’ was a new star on the cultural firmament, Richard Breeden of Richard C. Breeden & Co., the rising and prominent corporate governance company. The other major sponsor was the Chicago Sun Times , represented by the executive Paul Healy, manager of investor relations for Hollinger International, and the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers. (to continue reading download the PDF)