“tell them momma needs her babies” (text from mom to come home, spring 2015)
mom is home, her center. she connects us through our core, my brother and I metaphysically umbilically tied. he says my stomach heart hurts and I say I can feel it too. but then there are butterflies and waves of water and we feel her home that we carry with us center.
I look to my sewing kit as though I could embody knotted string pulled through insides taut. When asked, I already have “I’m okay” poised on tip of tongue and face tight. I make lists so as not to forget; everything gets an annotation tightly kept. At times I get lost looking at photographs; chest relaxes in breath and I remember I can smile. I must inventory and archive. Tick. I receive litanies of food tray items and object markers on slow walks. I thread together combinations of words and phrases sent to me across text strings: tropical atrium, leukocyte count, box of chocolate, Müllerian adenocarcinoma, “mom sends a big kiss”, epithelial tissue, “her spirit is high”, subcutaneous drain. Every update brings loose tears but I type tight statements emphatic. I mark days passed on my calendar and press back those we await. Tick. Tight. I oscillate between detachment through preoccupation and through lying prostrate. Let loose/hold tight. I exist in the limbo that is this room turning into that one, in time that passes without passing. Diagnosis too loose, no time. Tick. My dad sends photos that I can’t differentiate from hospital bed and plastic tube and day; I let the background blur liquid until myopic I see her smile. I try to speak smile on speaker as nurses come in and out, adjustments are made (tight), and utterances become ambience (loose). Tight voice frays, eyes loose. The corners of my mouth too tightly lifted, I talk to the insurance company about BRCA screening and try to laugh about the phrase “genetic counselor”. The joke is on them. I daydream tight string cell borders loose as we become that which flows between shared smiles. Unraveled but bound.
As someone interested in visualizations of information and composing image texts, I have been thinking about what I would create to illustrate (make visible) the cancer that consumed/s the women in my family. It seems morbid, or at least uncomfortable, to want to depict the disease without emphasizing narratives of overcoming or resilience, that letting it be seen as it is disembodies the bodies that have nurtured it. I have watched videos of surgeries on women that exist only as torsos or of cartoon monster cells sneaking throughout the body, and images that are illustrations of tumors forcing tissue into distorted asymmetries and photographs that look like alien fruit. I can see my own diagnosis as typeface and an exercise of balance and white space on the page, as calendar tickmarks taking inventory of days and anomalies in patterns of pain, and as Rorschach bloodblots that I am too fearful to interpret. I could show my family tree with attention drawn to deep bark carved, extending back, to the bough my mother and I now share. I could show each type of cancer with its corresponding woman/body: breast ___________, ovarian _____________, uterine ______________, cervical _________________. Not to forget the nodal tissues connected to these networks of disease as they thrived and spread: pectoralis major, kidney, colon, liver, fallopian tubes—trace the intractions. I could create charts that depict the age of diagnosis, comparisons of treatment undergone, or the duration of the disease. Or perhaps an archive of the women (of which I am living materiality), or poems and paintings of the affective dimensions of the rhetorics of silence and pain and disembodiment. Of strength and resilience. Or faces of women I love.
In our conversations about historiographical work that reimagines rhetoric’s history, I found Debra Hawhee’s article to be a well crafted model of what such work can look like. The subject matter alone diverges from the (re)tellings of history and makes visible/audible perspectives overlooked or unheard—not just because it is a different perspective, but it is an embodiment of rhetoric in figures (physical bodies and semiotic ideas) otherwise excluded. Debra Hawhee’s “Bodily Pedagogies: Rhetoric, Athletics, and the Sophists’ Three Rs” serves as a model that explores ancient rhetoric in a connection not typically discussed in contemporary pedagogy—the masculine and agonistic roots of performing rhetoric in Greek culture. Hawhee traces sophistic activity to the gymnasia and palaestrae (private space for boys to learn wrestling and sporting activities) where rhetorical training and athletic training were bound together—a developing of habit production rooted in movement and rhythm.
Since athletic training and competition were already deeply politicized in Athenian culture (Kyle; Kurke),what better art to link to, strategically and methodologically, than the practices in the gymnasium, the place where the political, ethical body emerges? (145)
Rhythm produces distinctive movements within a generalized direction; it combines fixity with variability (148). This wrestling treatise illustrates the three Rs of sophistic pedagogy: rhythm, repetition, and response. Hawhee meticulously uncovers the words used to describe attention, engagement, study, intensity, pacing and exertion in discipling the body and dispositions. Practice is not only transformative in developing, learning, but the body is envisioned as mind extension: fitness encompasses both (to counter: an opposing move weak:lacking strength claims).
Estenim actio quasi sermo corporis, by action the body talks (156)
Repetition in sophistic-style rhetorical training is always bound up with responsiveness within particular contexts; rhetoric is an awareness of time and place to continually repeat, transform, and respond. Instead of focusing on material (subject matter), the sophists focused on materiality of learning—the corporeal acquisition of rhetorical movements through rhythm, repetition, and response.
Aside from being struck by Hawhee’s careful illumination down to the word level in seeing differently a historical account of rhetoric, I was captivated by the connection in reading the chapter of Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By on “argument is war” (at least in a western context). Lakoff and Johnson trace through different expressions such as “your claims are indefensible” and “heattacked every weak point in my argument”to not only talk about arguments, but to win and lose arguments—performance in language is associated with physical performance. Although there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument—attack, defense, counter-attack—demonstrates this. It is in this sense that the “argument is war” structures the actions we perform in arguing. The argument is war metaphor seems very much rooted in this western model of rhythm, repetition, and response in shaping verbal/physical performance (I wonder how far the metaphor can be traced back…). I’m left wondering what other metaphors, histories, figures, have been bodied and disembodied and their implications on our ways of knowing.
“In many cases, machinery was used to replace humans in supplying the motive power for various subprocesses of production. In most trades, though, labor-saving machinery developed slowly, and many factors inhibited its progress. Sometimes the new machinery, in amplifying the capacity of the human body to perform a given operation and thus increasing output, could also intensify the human participation that was required and thus exacerbate the problems of physical depletion” (39). I can recall tours and visits to my dad’s plant, huge loud machinery. But there were people alongside the machines at different stages of process, people working and repairing the machines, the machines as extensions of people to build.
“Proponents of scientific management believed that observing and explicating workers’ activity was nothing less than scientific research. Their goal was to slice to the core of an action, preserving what was necessary and discarding the rest as the sedimentation of tradition or, worse, artifice spawned by laziness” (42). The cushy position of the auto worker is something that is talked about with disdain by some outside of the auto industry; these unskilled laborers are given wages and benefits that their work doesn’t justify. Then I think of the layoffs, the forced shutdowns, the worrying of my mom and dad on and off again that they would be replaced or released in the name of efficiency, production, cost-effectiveness, and progress.
Reading Shoshana Zuboff this week I couldn’t help but think of my family – my mom, dad, and brother all work in auto factories back home in Michigan. My mom and brother work in warehouses and pick parts to be shipped to assembly plants, while my dad is a Tool and Process Engineer (by training in an apprenticeship) in an engine plant; he moves from the office working on the phone/computer to find machines and parts needed for production to the floor of the factory to work on machines and with the people who run the machines. They have each told me stories that illustrate the tension examined by Zuboff in the know-how of the body (implicit) vs. the scientification of work as logically constructed they are subjected to by supervisiors.
My mom and my brother’s work is done by their bodies mostly – that is they hand pick parts (from small washers to much larger components of a car) – they bend, twist, lift, pinch, grab, pull. Recently, my mom was chosen to try a new cart/container design (she drives a buggy with a container attached to the front to put parts she picks in) by supervision that was created to make picking more efficient and safe in the workplace. The cart/container was moved to the back of the machine so that the buggy was towing it like a trailer. She reported that she didn’t like the design because it changed the way that she picked parts, and added extra movement and strain to be turning behind herself all the time. Supervision implemented the new cart design because it, on paper/design, was more efficient for work. Productivity went down in the warehouse because of the change in how my mom and other pickers worked; this turned into a larger and more complicated exchange between workers and supervision that took Union involvement to reconcile.
My dad’s plant was one severely impacted by the auto industry crisis in Michigan/Metro Detroit. Because of this, the number of Tool and Process Engineers my dad used to work with/amongst was greatly reduced. Workers were brought in as replacements for the more skilled labor of the Engineers, but it wasn’t an equal exchange, even though on paper it was. While the workers know how to work with their machines well to do work, they do not know the machines.
I realize this are very specific examples and are limited to auto manufacturing. But I couldn’t ignore the connection Zuboff made not only to the auto industry, but to plants and factories I know well (they’re by my house, my friends and family and neighbors have worked in them, they form the landscape/the architecture of the city(s)) because of growing up around them and through them with my family’s work and the absolute prevalence of the auto manufacturing industry in and around the Motor City. Reading Zuboff sparked a curiosity to find old film footage from around the time automation was becoming the standard in manufacturing. I’m sure there are better examples, but I found two old films that depict automation in ways that echo Zuboff’s argument and the experience of the workers in her research.
(particularly first 1:40 and last 1:00)
(particularly first 1:25 and last 30 seconds)
I’m left questioning automation. It is obvious to me the ways in which it can remove human agency that used to be present in work as a means of translation, but it is equally obvious that machines function as extension. And again, with a personal example, my brother was (and I hope is soon again) going to school to design programs and systems that orchestrate manufacturing processes. Where is craft? What is craft? Is it, in this context, diminished? Translated? Extended? Invented?
And Latour! What of Latour? Is this a matter of either-or? Or can it be a matter of with?
Zuboff, S. In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. New York: Basic Books, 1988.
Shoshana Zuboff (profile from Harvard Business School site) is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School (retired), where she joined the faculty in 1981. One of the first tenured women at the Harvard Business School and the youngest woman to receive an endowed chair, she earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University and her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Chicago. She has been a featured columnist for BusinessWeek.com and for Fast Company Magazine.
This video is more geared toward her computer-mediated work – “the relationship between information technology and work: 1) technology is not neutral, but embodies intrinsic characteristics that enable new human experiences and foreclose others,2) within these new “horizons of the possible” individuals and groups construct meaning and make choices, further shaping the situation, and 3) the interplay of intrinsic qualities and human choices is further shaped by social, political, and economic interests that inscribe the situation with their own intended and unintended opportunities and limitations” (from Wikipedia dot org).
Overview of Argument
We read two chapters from the book – “The Laboring Body: Suffering and Skill in Production Work” and “The Abstraction of Industrial Work”. In “The Laboring Body”, Zuboff sets out to construct better understanding of the relationship between automation technology and the body in the industrial/manufacturing setting.On the one hand, industrial technology have simplified and reduced physical effort of work, and Zuboff discusses work as effort and skill, but because of the relationship that exists between effort (doing) and skill in work, technology have tended to eliminate knowledge, or know-how, that is implicit/intuitive in the physical working if the sentient body. In “The Abstraction of Industrial Work”, Zuboff looks at computerization and its impact on intellective skills and action-centered skills. Zuboff summarizes the tensions associated with the body as interface versus data as interface -“Accomplishing work came to depend more upon thinking about and responding to an electronically presented symbolic medium than upon acting out know-how derived from sentient experience” (95).
“Technology represents intelligence systematically applied to the problem of the body. It functions to amplify and surpass the organic limits of the body; it compensates for the body’s fragility and vulnerability” (22)
“Information technology, however, does have the potential to redirect the historical trajectory of automation. The intrinsic power of its informating capacity can change the basis upon which knowledge is developed and applied in the industrial production process by lifting knowledge entirely out of the body’s domain” (23)
“work was above all the problem of the laboring body” (24)
bodies as instruments for acting-on: body as instrument for producing calculated effects on material and equipment and acting-with: body as instrument for interpersonal influence (30)
paradox of the body:
“But the body as the scene of effort, the body to be protected, held a special paradox. For it was also through the body’s exertions that learning occurred, and for those who were to become skilled workers, long years of physically demanding experience were an unavoidable requirement…Where the skilled worker was concerned, the body’s sentience was also highly structured by a felt knowledge of materials and procedure” (36)
“Skill and effort finally seemed to be uncoupled” (51)
“As long as their knowledge is concrete and specific rather than conceptual and technical, workers will tend to be confined to a certain set of roles” (55)
“knowledge was first transferred from one quality of knowing to another-from knowing that was sentient, embedded, and experience-based to knowing that was explicit and thus subject to rational analysis and perpetual reformulation” (56)
action-centered skill (61):
Sentience. Action-centered skill is based upon sentient information derived from physical cues.
Action-dependence. Action-centered skill is developed in physical performance. Although in principle it may be made explicit in language, it typically remains unexplicated-implicit in action.
Context-dependence. Action-centered skill only has meaning within the con text in which its associated physical activities can occur.
Personalism. It is the individual body that takes in the situation and an individual’s actions that display the required competence. There is a felt link age between the knower and the known. The implicit quality of knowledge provides it with a sense of interiority, much like physical experience.
“Computerization brings about an essential change in the way the worker can know the world and, with it, a crisis of confidence in the possibility of certain knowledge” (61)
“Accomplishing work depended upon the ability to manipulate symbolic, electronically presented data. Instead of using their bodies as instruments of acting-on equipment and materials, the task relationship became mediated by the information system” (62)
“It is as if one’s job had vanished into a two-dimensional space of abstractions, where digital symbols replace a concrete reality” (63)
“”We are simply providing you with new tools to do your job. Your job is to operate the equipment, and this is a new tool to operate the equipment with.”” (65)
embodied knowledge to “scientific inference” (72)
in mind vs. in body (embodied)
“Intellective skills are necessary when action is refracted by a symbolic medium. They are used to construct appropriate linkages between a symbol and the reality it means to convey” (79) – external and referential worlds
“new control technology had the parallel effect of informating the operators’ task environment. Accomplishing work came to depend more upon thinking about and responding to an electronically presented symbolic medium than upon acting out know-how derived from sentient experience” (95)
Zuboff poses the question “Will effort and skill, indeed the very presence of the worker, be wiped out altogether?”, going on a few sentences later to pose the question “While it is true that computer-based automation continues to displace the human body and its know-how (a process that has come to be known as deskilling), the informating power of the technology simultaneously creates pressure for a profound reskilling. How are these new skills to be understood?” at the end of “The Laboring Body”. Zuboff’s work with this text was conducted in the 1980s, do we understand these skills now? Has the context changed ?
Do the selections we read from Bruno Latour’s Pandora’s Hope about the action that is made possible by human and nonhuman actants, and about the influence of actants on each other – how they change because of their interaction (mediation) – allow us to approach Zuboff’s computerization, from action-centered to intellective skill, differently?
Where is craftsmanship/what is craftsmanship in this context?
In Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, he says of the workshop that the “workshop is the craftsman’s home. Traditionally and literally so” (53). In previous posts, I have mentioned the not so desirable workspace I have for printing – my (low) kitchen table in my kitchen.
My last round of prints, which were of two small designs, took a total of seven hours from start to finish: sketching, painting drawing fluid, drying, painting screen filler, drying, making the prints, washing the screen (this doesn’t include the amount of time it takes for me to convert my “workshop” back into my kitchen, or my “washing station” into my shower. Both spaces need to be cleaned and reassembled after this process.) During this time I am on my feet. I’m not sure of the physical/body reasons for this, but sitting to print seems improbable to me. Here is where a technical account should occur, but I haven’t the language for it, so put crudely: I don’t have the same control and dexterity of my hands (and what they’re doing is remarkable in range) and arms sitting, especially at my low table. And given that this workshop is actually my kitchen and is small (and occupied by two curious cats that watch on), I am back and forth washing my limited amount of tools, my hands so as to not sully the process or product, and the screen as it advances in the process.
When I print, I am enjoying myself. I am listening to Radiolab or music and I get absorbed into the process, that is until physically I am pulled out of my head and made aware of my body: back ache. Printing in my workshop space is grueling on my back, but for the most part I do not focus on this, I instead focus on the progress of the print. I typically take a break about halfway through the move to the living room to stretch and lie on the floor a minute to give my back a break. This last time though, despite feeling just about everything that is able to crack in my neck, shoulders, back and wrists pop, one side of my back and neck went into a state of cold numbness and I was forced in that moment to think about my workspace. Printing requires much from my body for the process, not just my hands, but movements that involve my arms, wrists, shoulders, and back. Craft does require the body as an integral part of the making, and I had never been made so aware of my own body then I was in this moment. I thought, this is why space matters, this is why workshops aren’t often transferable to any space – there are conditions that must be attended to. Craftspersons have established workplaces because the process is involves and requires certain material conditions. While I have been able to make without some of these elements, if I am to continue doing this (and I would like to) I have to envision the space and conditions of doing it as I view the process of making – with care. While I don’t think this quite gets to the naturalism of John Ruskin, I do find myself uninspired by my transitory kitchen workshop, which I feel in my craft. Each part of the process becomes felt, no longer embodied, I am aware of time passing and time left to take, and begin thinking about the transformation back into cooking and eating space and the scrubbing of paint and Speedball Cleaner from my bathtub before it can be used again. This is hardly the imagination necessary for designing and making.
A parting word on ventilation: it’s critical. I think about my dad’s workshop in the garage – “industrial” surfaces that are easy to clean, high ceilings, many windows and or/door to open, waist high and lower chest high work surfaces. It’s part in the garage because we don’t have room in our tiny house for a workshop, partly because of the nature of much of my dad’s work – wood work, welding, working on cars and the like, and part because of the materials and solvents he’s working with. Printing itself, although using chemical materials, isn’t as noticeable, but the cleaner is. In my tiny bathroom with a functionless (it lets some light in) window, the steam created from cleaning the screen fills the room. I have yet to clean a screen without getting a headache, and I think it’s attributed to the cleaning agent. While this isn’t a universal requirement of printing, I think there is a reason many print workshops are in more open industrial settings aside from space to set up the many materials – air circulation and ventilation. This, like my workshop space, has been something I’m dealing with because I don’t have other resources available, but it is not sustainable space.
Next apartment criteria: a workshop space (and a taller table) so I can live in my living space and in my working space and not an uncomfortable transitory space in between that seems to be at odds with both.
Pamela H Smith’s The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution is a dense and interesting history of the influence of art and craft on the formation of science, or “new philosophy” in the early seventeenth century, that I can’t begin to unpack just yet. But I am interested in questions that are surfacing about natural knowledge, the focus of the scientific revolution, on the basis of observation and depiction. I’m not sure how (or if) questions of seeing help me get footing in the text, but I couldn’t get the work of Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida and James Elkins in The Object Stares Back out of the back of my mind. I can make a loose connection their work to create a language/way to talk about images and art beyond aesthetic qualities to the work of theorizing from drawings/paintings – a way of communicating knowledge orally (or in alpha. text). But the connection I find more interesting what knowledge is and isn’t able to move from nature, or from embodied practice, as a representation (a re-presentation). I feel like in posing this thought it seems like I’m trying to get a some philosophical real world beyond, but it’s really a matter of curiosity in how this knowledge (embodied or tacit) traveled because of graphic depiction (and what couldn’t). And in terms of engaging with nature, sight (reasonably so) is the sense that is appealed to/through; while it highlighted to the eyes, I wonder what was left unseen.
“Well, what is it like?” (In the Laboratory with Agassiz): It reminds me of a short account I read in a tech comm class before, In the Laboratory with Agassiz on Learning to See. A student enters Agassiz’s lab wanting to learn zoology , to which Agassiz responds with leaving the student alone with a fish to analyze. He asks the student what he sees in the fish but is dissatisfied with the student’s observations of the fish’s appearance. After days of looking at the fish, the student describes it as “symmetrical sides with paired organs” which pleases Agassiz as a connection between facts and general law – not just observations in isolation as facts. While this is distributed throughout Smith, I thought these related:
“The pursuit of natural knowledge became active and began to involve the body; that is, one had to observe, record, and engage bodily with nature” (18).
“Images came to be known as witnesses to facts. Images that increasingly invoked claims of factuality reinforced the techniques of observation and eyewitness as modes of inquiring knowledge” (150).
as disciplined observation and engagement to construct knowledge in objects and physical, observable phenomena. This enaction is what made scientific inquiry and the construction of knowledge possible. Making allowed people to make themselves, or the material of their culture; “Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis, not mechanism” (James Elkins The Object Stares Back). These depictions seem of a small scale though, or perhaps singular – how did this knowledge circulate? (particularly when its origins were in craft and art that was embodied knowledge unto singular persons that moved through apprenticeship). What is the relationship between the body of the artisan and the body of scientific knowledge?