Little Narratives

Perhaps we could agree, for the moment, that the arborescent project narrative isn’t an action and say that it’s simply a report.

Now look at this:

Sir Cyril, emphasising that he spoke with the full authority of the absent Minister, got straight to the point which was that only one military aircraft project had (so far) survived the 1957 White Paper, and that was OR 339—the Canberra replacement. There was no certainty of further military aircraft projects and, assum­ing OR 339 went ahead, the contract would only be placed with a group of firms, or with two or three firms acting in co-ordination and with one designated as the leader. The Government hoped for eventual rationalisation and amalgamations. . . . How the in­dustry so grouped itself was its affair, but group itself it must.

The reaction of the heads of industry to this ultimatum was strong and virtually unanimous. For the industry to remain viable at all in any form, there had to be an on-going military pro­gramme, not just the rather dubious carrot of a possible Can­berra replacement. Further, the airframe industry could not (re­peat) not possibly exist on civil work alone. Sir Cyril said that there was certainly no hope on the military side unless there were major amalgamations or rationalisation on the lines he had 178 Arborescences sketched out as a condition for submissions for OR 339. He could

only repeat that it was, therefore, up to the industry to arrange their own affairs and pick their own partners if they wished to put in a submission. (Gardner 1981, 23-24)

So here we have another aircraft story, a smaller narrative. It is a narrative that interacts with the arborescent story with which I started this chapter. It describes, as they say, ‘‘in more detail,’’ the mo­ment when the government told the aircraft industry that it should rationalize.4 One of the branching points. So it’s another report, an­other constative.

But shift focus. Attend instead to the story told to the industrialists by the big-shot civil servant, Cyril Musgrave, for this too is a story, a narrative. ‘‘It will,’’ he was saying, ‘‘be like this. My story, the Musgrave story, is that this is how it will unfold, the future history of the British aircraft industry.’’ These are constative words, but they are words that are also actions. They are words that will make and distribute, indeed redistribute social, economic, and industrial relations.

So there is a difference between my story and Gardner’s on the one hand, and Musgrave’s on the other. To say it briefly, Musgrave’s story makes a difference, it’s performative, whereas mine doesn’t and isn’t, and neither does (or is) Gardner’s. They don’t (as is sometimes said)

‘‘belong to the real world’’ but rather seek to describe it (though what we mean by the ‘‘real world,’’ what counts as ‘‘reality,’’ is precisely what is at stake).5

Well, perhaps Musgrave’s story makes a difference, but only per­haps. Because the passage continues so: ‘‘After the meeting had ended, Denis Haviland, who was present as Under Secretary (Air),

Ministry of Supply, recalls that Sir Cyril Musgrave turned to him and said two words, ‘We’ve won’’’ (Gardner 1981, 24).

Interesting, isn’t it? Musgrave watched the big-shot industrialists leave and then turned to his sidekick and said ‘‘We’ve won.’’ This tells us, as is obvious, that he wasn’t sure he was going to win and that things might have been different, that Musgrave’s story might not have been performative in the way he intended. His story might not have redistributed the world, it might have had no effect or indeed had some other unintended consequence. We’re discovering that at the time he gave it, his little speech didn’t necessarily fall into the ‘‘I do’’ category but rather into the class of‘‘I love yous,’’ into the class Arborescences 179

of the ‘‘I love yous’’ that aspire to be turned into ‘‘I dos.’’ Or the class of‘‘the government will fall tomorrows’’ that hope to turn themselves into ‘‘the government has fallens.’’ This is an aspiration that, as his­tory (or the narratives that make history) tells us, was achieved by Musgrave. But this wasn’t clear, not beforehand, not at the time.6

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