Selections from Antidosis, On the Sublime, Against the Sophists, Dao De Jing

I pulled quotes from our readings this week that seemed to illustrate mastery of language aesthetics in terms of text construction and reception.


  • emphasis: language/speech as mastery of insight/knowledge – but what does this illuminate about how philosophy and language function? as distinct from rhetoric? sophistry?
  • antidosis: an exchange
  • “we are in no respect superior to other living creatures…there is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish”
  • of geometry, astronomy, and studies of that sort: most men see nothing but empty talk as it has no useful application either to private or public affairs—these studies can be of no benefit after they have been mastered unless they are how one makes their living. study, knowledge, as mastered skills.
  • “it is not in the nature of man to attain a science by the possession of which we can know positively what we should do or what we should say, in the next resort I hold that man to be wise who is able by his powers of conjecture to arrive generally at the best course, and I hold that man to be a philosopher who occupies himself with the studies from which he will most quickly gain that kind of insight”
  • men who have been gifted with eloquence by nature are governed what they say by chance, while those who have gained this power by the study of philosophy/exercise by reason never speak without weighing their words

Longinus On the Sublime

  • emphasis: illuminates aesthetic appeal in the construction/delivery of literary texts (distinct from speech?) for a more nuanced look at their affects on audience. what function would this text serve? was it instructional?
  • treatsie on aesthetics in literature
  • sublime: authors have moral excellence in their writing that arouses emotion in audience: “a certain loftiness and excellence of language…which takes the reader out of himself”
  • words as “truly noble and sublime which always please and please all readers. For when the same book always produces the same impression on all who read it, whatever be the difference in their pursuits, their manner of life, their aspirations, their ages, or their language, such a harmony of opposite gives authority to their favourable verdict”
  • sublimity is a faculty natural, but is worthwhile to train up souls to sublimity
  • encourages “copying from fair forms or statuses or works of skilled labour”
  • oratorical image: digression of energy and reality in adding passion to the practical, argumentative parts of oration
  • five sources of sublimity: great thoughts, strong emotions, certain figures of thought and speech, noble diction, dignified word arrangement
  • “in art we admire exactness, in the works of nature magnificence; and it is from nature that man derives the faculty of speech. Whereas, then, in statuary we look for close resemblance to humanity, in literature we require something which transcends humanity”

Isocrates Against the Sophists

  • emphasis: distinguishing philosophy from sophistry on the premise of oratory instruction – why this distinction with philosophy instead of rhetoric?
  • “they promise they will make their disciples such orators, that they shall omit nothing in the nature of things; 10 nay, that they will teach them eloquence, like grammar; not considering the nature of each, but thinking, that, on account of the excellence of their promises, they will be admired, and the study of eloquence seem of higher value; not knowing, that arts render not those famous who insolently boast of them, but those who can find out and express whatever is in them” –  philosophy could effect this. Isocrates contrasts the teachings of sophistry with philosophy.
  • “But let no one think, that I imagine justice can be taught; for I do not think there is any such art which can teach those who are not disposed by nature, either temperance or justice; tho’ I think the study of popular eloquence helps both to acquire and practice it.”

Dao De Jing

  • emphasis: some elements of mastery as a points of comparison. The impulse is to compare it to the other texts (Western) to look at similarities/differences in how mastery of language is discussed and the structure of the text’s language. A focus on the dao as essence or virtue seems comparable to treaties on rhetoric as justice, though built on different premises.
  • Attributes of the Dao
    • (Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the Dao) did not (seek) to show them, and therefore they possessed them (in fullest measure). (Those who) possessed in a lower degree those attributes (sought how) not to lose them, and therefore they did not possess them (in fullest measure).
    • (Those who) possessed in the highest degree those attributes did nothing (with a purpose), and had no need to do anything. (Those who) possessed them in a lower degree were (always) doing, and had need to be so doing.
    • (Those who) possessed the highest benevolence were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had no need to be doing so. (Those who) possessed the highest righteousness were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had need to be so doing.
    • (Those who) possessed the highest (sense of) propriety were (always seeking) to show it, and when men did not respond to it, they bared the arm and marched up to them.
  • All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement). The work is done, but how no one can see; ‘Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.
  • Dexterity in using the Dao
    • The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the skilful closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has shut will be impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or knots, while to unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In the same way the sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he does not cast away any man; he is always skilful at saving things, and so he does not cast away anything. This is called ‘Hiding the light of his procedure.’
    • Therefore the man of skill is a master (to be looked up to) by him who has not the skill; and he who has not the skill is the helper of (the reputation of) him who has the skill. If the one did not honour his master, and the other did not rejoice in his helper, an (observer), though intelligent, might greatly err about them. This is called ‘The utmost degree of mystery.’

Rough Cut: Arts, Crafts, Gifts, Knacks

Young, Richard. “Arts, Crafts, Gifts, Knacks: Some Disharmonies in the New Rhetoric”. Visible Language (14)4 341-350.

  • “new rhetoricians” divided over rhetorical art as a vitalist theory of art and composing: a technical theory (theories and pedagogical successes of both groups suggest in some sense that both are right in their approach)
  • glamour and grammar were originally the same word – combining the magical and rationalistic aspects of speech (341)
  • qtd. John Genung (The Practical Elements of Rhetoric, 1892) wrote that it concerns itself with the entire process of making literature, in being/embodying, but that in practical application, creatives acts must be excluded – particularly those of the composing process
  • practical = can be taught
  • which turns into the conventions and mechanics of discourse
  • creative = cannot be taught, of a person (342)
  • for Genung, “rhetoric was a body of information about the forms and norms of competent prose and their uses in the later stages of the composing process – the rhetoric of the finished word” (342)
  • longstanding argument = dynamic of conceptualizing vs. creative discovery
  • “traditional rhetoric” skill in expressing preconceived arguments or points of view
  • “new rhetoric” exploration of ideas: the process of composition is discovery
  • new rhetoric is not homogeneous however…almost as divided as new and traditional rhetoric
  • “new romanticism” (Frank D’Angelo): vitalist philosophy with modern psychology blended approach that stresses the composing process should be relatively free of deliberate control (primacy of imagination) – how is mystery taught?
  • art contrasts with craft: art is magic/mystery (cannot be taught) while craft is skill (can be taught)
  • “the teaching of writing as writing is the teaching of writing as art” (qting. William Coles 343)
  • art cannot be taught: when writing is not taught as art, it is being taught as something else — we must make possible what is impossible to do
  • change the role of the teacher (344): designer of occasions that stimulate the creative process
  • The “new classicists” considered the “art” of teaching writing a little differently.  Young claims that they see art as “the knowledge necessary for producing preconceived results by conscious directed action” (344).  In this sense, the new classicists see the teaching of writing as a “knack” or a habit acquired through repeated practice and experience.
  • art contrasts with craft and knack
  • art: knowledge to produce preconceived results by conscious action
  • craft: experiential
  • knack: habit through repeated experience
  • but knacks can turn into arts when they are isolated and generalized as successful
  • “technical theory of art” – art as grammar (R.G. Collingwood, 1958)
  • new classists teach “heuristics” – strategies for effective guessing (345), not rule governed procedures
  • “heuristic”: series of questions or operations whose results are provisional; not wholly conscisous or mechanical; intuition, relevant knowledge, and skill are necessary
  • each situation isn’t unique, but a kind of situation encountered before
  • some phases can be carried out deliberately and rationally
  • nice distinction between heuristic and rule governed in application/execution (345)
  • “If the creative process has generic features, if some of its phases can be consciously directed, and if heuristic procedures can be developed as aids, then it can be taught. Or to be more precise, certain aspects of the creative process can be taught…” (345-6)
  • tagmemic rhetoric informs rhetoric as heuristic application of principles characteristic of tagmemic linguistics (12 principles) – recognizing, knowing features, understanding variance (346)
  • “we do tricks in order to know” (William Stafford, 1962) – coaxing intuitions of reasonable solutions (347)
  • “But I am concerned here not only with what we do when engaged in intellectual exploration, I am also concerned with what we can do to increase our control over the activity, to make it more effective than it might otherwise be” (347)
  • danger of technical theory of art is the over-rationalization of the composing process (348); heuristics can become rule-goverened procedures by ignoring our non-rational powers
  • balancing reason and imagination: “both-and” or “either-or”

The Smart Machine: Man, Machine, or Man-Machine?

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?

In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power

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 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?

The Craftsman: Material Consciousness and The Hand

While I have been enjoying reading Sennett as a whole, I was excited to read this section of the book given my own area of interest, but found that in this moment of thinking through, I have what I can best call “material scraps” of thoughts.

Material Scraps:

I couldn’t help but think about this Gorillaz song (the track layers masterful hip hop beats with audio of what sounds like someone practicing playing the violin – in the process of learning) in reading Richard Sennett’s chapter on “The Hand”. Sennett describes the Suzuki Method for teaching children to play music – habit as ingrained accuracy (and in the method, applying forms to the children’s fingers in order to get the feel of playing):

“What exactly did I do? How can I do it again? Instead of the fingertip acting as a mere servant, this kind of touching moves backward from sensation to procedure. The principle here is reasoning backward from consequence to cause” (157).

Left Hand Suzuki Method Lyrics

“The most important thing, is listening the recording of the music.
It makes them get um musical sense – and, uh – this is the point of the… fast progress!

“And also, everyday, every lesson
We have to make sure
They’re not lying about tunization!”

In recognizing the name Suzuki, I looked up Shin’ichi Suzuki and the Suzuki method and was surprised at the parallels between the philosophy of the method and the description of the guild apprenticeships Sennett describes in “The Workshop”.

In reading, I found myself trying to think of all the metaphors we use that focus on the hands as a means of making meaning. Hands allow us to learn “hands on”, to “get a grip”, to “get a feel” of things we’re doing. These metaphors then broadened to think of procedural metaphors for learning/obtaining knowledge or a skill – “we learn by doing”. These metaphors show a connection between head and hand, which is then absent in metaphors of rote learning, repetition, and mechanization in learning. I wonder if these were only possible after process and procedure changed with Fordist means of production that distanced/expanded the relationship between hand and head as the process of making something in total.