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“Most critics would agree that a work of art does not “contain” a certain amount of content (or function—as in the case of architecture) embellished by “style.” But few address themselves to the positive consequences of what they seem to have agreed to. What is “content”? Or, more precisely, what is left of the notion of content when we have transcended the antithesis of style (or form) and content? Part of the answer lies in the fact that for a work of art to have “content” is, in itself, a rather special stylistic convention. The great task which remains to critical theory is to examine in detail the formal function of subject-matter.”
-- Susan Sontag
(“On Style.” Against Interpretation, and Other Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966.)
The aim of this work is to investigate the technology of rhetoric in corporate and conventional lecture performance— that is, how the words used, the method of delivery, and the aesthetics of presentation all collaborate to shape an audience’s relationship to what is being shared. And though the words and delivery can be roughly seen as the content and the style of the piece, this binary is a slippery one.
Through this work, I ask:
How can specific rhetorical style reinforce a hierarchy of knowledges?
How are expertise, professionalism, and social power — as visioned in the neoliberal imagination — performed and aestheticized through this style?
How can Artificial Intelligence and machine learning models help illustrate the formula of this rhetoric, abstract it, and bring us to the very content of the form itself?
Script created using direct quotations from ABC's Shark Tank (Season 12 Episode 13), Edward Tenner’s 2019 talk “The Paradox of Efficiency” and Elizabeth Holmes’ 2014 talk at TEDMED.
Additional material produced by a Runway ML machine-learning model trained on 2,464 transcripts of TED Talks.
Read an extended statement on the work here.
Digital photo collage
Photo support from William Toney