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Though the use of narrative fiction and ancient mythology has become an important means in my organization consultancy and writing (Sievers, 1989; 1993; 1994; 1995a; 1996a; 1996b), this essay steps on to a new dimension, in so far as the access to its case material is concerned. Whereas on previous occasions I mainly have experienced the predominant psycho-social dynamic directly, having a role in the respective systemic context, this analysis almost exclusively is based on second- or even third-hand material.
The following is a sketch of my contribution to a research project in which we, a group of five colleagues from organization theory and psychology, attempted to share the application of our various perspectives by analysing a quarrel at the Hamburg College of Arts, located at Lerchenfeld (i.e. Larkfield). This quarrel has been going on for the last couple of years about the potential dismissal of the present president, who is under permanent attack because of the total incompetence ascribed to her by part of the academic staff (Sievers, 1995b; 1995c; Volmerg et al., 1995). The material from which the organizational analysis of this ongoing conflict was derived was put at our disposal by the public relations office of the president: huge piles of Xeroxed papers containing press reports about the ongoing quarrel, internal proceedings and documentation, pamphlets, openly circulated letters, etc.
Studying this material, from the very beginning it became obvious to what extent this particular conflict, in which we were not directly involved, resonated memories of previously experienced traumatic sufferings of which we had either directly or indirectly been part at various points in our academic careers. We were almost seized by disgust and struggled against being pulled into this infamous mud fight and against the danger of losing the ground under our feet. But instead of negating these immediate reactions and displacing the related feelings, some of us made use of their free associations by taking them as material out of which further attempts at the search for meaning in this particular case were derived.
But before I elaborate on my own associations to the case material, it appears necessary to give the reader some idea of what the case actually was about. When the 12 years' period of the former president, Professor Dr Carl Vogel, had ended in 1989, he had succeeded - very late in the selection procedure for a new president - in gaining Ms Adrienne Goehler as candidate - a young psychologist and member of the all-women faction of the Green alternatives in the City Senate of Hamburg. Against serious considerations and some resistance from some of his colleagues, Professor Vogel used all his power and reputation in order to let Adrienne Goehler be elected as his successor. Whereas during the first two years of her subsequent presidency Professor Vogel had been quite proud about having done the college an inestimable service, allowing himself to retire in peace, sooner or later, however, he began to join the party of the dissatisfied among his former colleagues. The letter he subsequently wrote to the new president in order to encourage her to resign is an evil product, an incarnation of narcissistic omnipotence and of vengeance from a disappointed seducer. As she resists his attempt to make her resign from the presidency, he no longer hides his contempt for her, but openly joins the official opposition at the college. Though no longer employed there, on various occasions he gets mobilized as their speaker and even tries to intervene at the Hamburg City Senate as the higher authority. All this contributes to reconfirm a fundamental split in the college which again and again is acted out with various means for a couple of years. All this did not leave the present president unaffected and made her part of the ongoing collusion of the quarrelling parties. At the end of her six years' presidency, however, she not only still had the courage and energy to canvass for another six years' period, but, shortly after the end of our research, had been re-elected, if only with the barest majority.
Zeus, Athene and the war for Troy
In contrast to the majority of changes in rectorship and presidency at colleges and universities in Germany, the presidency in this case moved from a man to a woman. This origin and the accompanying escalation of the conflict reminded me at a very early stage of the Zeus/Athene image of the divine daughter who was born as an adult in full armour from the head of the father of the gods. That this image of succession taken from Greek mythology was to become my model in my further work with the case was not a coincidence. Apart from a series of personal interests and experiences, issues of inheritance and succession have increasingly become the focus of my attention and the subject of my work over the past years. Greek mythology taught me how much reading into and understanding old stories can help in putting a different light on central, fundamental conflicts between managers and workers, which was particularly important for me in my work on the correlation between work, death, and life within the context of present-day organizations.
The common perception of Zeus and Athene is often restricted to an image of Zeus as father of the Greek gods sitting enthroned high on Mount Olympus, while Athene, his head birth, somehow managed to become the goddess of Wisdom. Zeus and Athene are, however, inconceivable without the history of a divine dynasty and its legitimization in the usurpation of earlier cultures. Unlike the Christian God, Zeus is not the creator of heaven and earth in Greek mythology, and Athene's mythological origins are not founded on him; she was neither generated nor created by Zeus. Athene existed long before him. Zeus himself is inconceivable without reference to his forefathers, Kronos and Uranus, and to his mothers, Rhea and Gaia. Von Ranke-Graves (1984, 36 ff.) points out that, as it has been handed down to us, the myth of the head birth, is both a clever and, at the same time, a desperate attempt to reinterpret the mythological history of the gods; thereby denying the originally matriarchal base and legitimating the dominant political rulers. Hesiod's masterly achievement in his newly created myth of Athene's birth was to do away with Athene's virgin birth through the immortal Titaness Metis, and to turn Wisdom, originally an attribute of the goddess, into a male prerogative. The result was to convince the Greeks of the necessity of recognizing Zeus' patriarchal sovereignty. Zeus embodies not only a divine genealogy, but also the unstable, final stage of a 1,000 year old dynastic dispute over supremacy in Olympia. The fact that his grandfather, Uranus, had been castrated by his own son, Kronos, and that only Zeus himself had survived his father's greed to swallow the children, which Rhea had born to him, …