Julia Lupton – “Thinking with Things: Hannah Woolley to Hannah Arendt”

Thinking with Things: Hannah Woolley to Hannah Arendt

Julia Reinhard Lupton


[1] The Queen-Like Closet, a cookbook and housekeeping guide, was published in 1670 by Hannah Woolley. [1] To read Woolley for scenes of thought (rather than for lark pie, or pigs stuffed with puddings, or conserves of roses,) may seem perverse, like reading the PMLA for fashion tips. Indeed, in one of my favorite New Yorker essays, Adam Gopnik writes that you can’t think and cook at the same time. [2] What he means, I think, is that you can’t do higher order thinking – like solving the mind-body problem or understanding your university’s exciting new post-employment policies – while engaging in higher order cooking (which includes any recipe featuring the words “foam,” “emulsion,” “granita,” or “tar tare”).You might, however, be able to do some lower order thinking (such as itemizing the excellence of sabbaticals or the virtues of children without lice) while engaged in some lower order cooking (such as plattering an elegant array of carry-out burritos and left-over pizza on a weary Wednesday eve).

[2] You are certainly doing some kind of thinking, however, whenever you cook, because cooking does require a kind of thought: what Richard Sennett in The Craftsman calls “tacit knowledge” or “material consciousness,” the routine intimacy with materials and techniques that comes from the practice of a craft.  “In the higher stages of skill,” writes Sennett, “there is a constant interplay between tacit knowledge and self-conscious awareness, the tacit knowledge serving as an anchor, the explicit knowledge serving as critique and corrective” (p. 50). [3] In this essay, I’d like to read Woolley’s compendium for signs of this interplay, a dynamic between hand, eye, mind, and the objects and materials on the table that I will call, following her latter-day namesake Hannah Arendt, judgment. Ever since Kant, of course, judgment has been explicitly allied with taste, though I don’t think he had lettuce pie [4] or bullock’s cheek in mind. [5] How do judgments of taste in the higher sense arise out of acts of tasting in the baser sense? How does cooking become a school for thought, and for thought of what sort?

[3] First, a few words about Woolley. Born around 1622-1623, Hannah likely served in the household of Lady Anne Wroth, to whom she dedicated The Cook’s Guide, or Rare Receipts in 1664. (Her first book, The Ladies directory in choice experiments and curiosities, appeared in 1662.) She ran two boarding schools with her first husband, Benjamin Woolley, whom she married in 1646. [6] She began writing cookbooks after his death in 1661. She married again briefly, from 1666-1669, and then resumed her publishing career, with The Queen-like Closet appearing in this second phase of widowhood. An omnibus entitled The Gentlewoman’s Companion or, A Guide to the Female Sex came out in 1673, but Woolley disclaimed authorship, and the modern editor of the book, Caterina Albano, doubts that Woolley wrote much of it. [7]  The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet, which brought together in one volume her first two books, was published midway in what we might call “the Hannah Woolley branding story.” By 1670, she had established a name and a bit of a career for herself, enough that publishers would want to capitalize on her reputation, not only publishing more volumes under her name, but also developing her personality and biography in a quasi-fictional direction. The early books featured images of kitchens in use [8] or no images at all [9]; The Gentlewoman’s Companion added a (fake) portrait of Woolley herself. Woolley thus anticipates later household writers such as Mrs. Beeton in the nineteenth century and Martha Stewart in the twentieth and twenty-first, women who would yoke their knowledge of household matters to the power of print in order to build a niche genre with increasing mass appeal.

[4] Woolley’s books can be read as examples of “shelter writing,” a term retooled by Susan Fraiman to describe not only the discourse of housekeeping and interior design, but also, more poignantly and more pointedly, the writings of “those whose smallest domestic endeavors have become urgent and precious in the wake of dislocation, whether as the result of migration, divorce, poverty, or a stigmatized sexuality.”[10] Both widowhood and her own declining health (Woolley suffered from palsie, as she relates in one volume [11]) seem to have led her to writing as a livelihood. Woolley markets her book as a means of assisting women displaced by the English Civil War: “I find many Gentlewomen forced to serve whose Parents and Friends have been impoverished by the great Calamites, viz. the late Wars, Plague, and Fire and to see what mean places they are forced to be in, because they want accomplishments for better.”[12] In her list of medical accomplishments, she recounts curing a woman “being kicked by a Churlish Husband on her leg,” a brief glimpse into the daily ordeal of domestic violence and the role of women in assisting each other medically. [13]  A series of model letters at the end of the book deliver no shallow exercises in courtesy, but rather micro-narratives of women in distress. In one letter, a “seaman’s wife” informs her absent husband that “our little Boy is dead of the small-pox.”[14] In another, a maidservant updates her mistress on the status of the household accounts, urging that her employer extend patience towards a widow who “hath had great Loss lately.”[15]  In another epistle, “a Woman in Prison” writes to her friend for financial assistance, in a missive that begins, “Suppose you have heard how wrongfully I have been dealt with since my husbands departure; how they have accused me of what I was never guilty of and cast me in Prison to my great Discredit, Charge and Detriment to the world.”[16] For such women, literacy, like cookery, is a survival skill. Responding to personal trials, historical crisis, and the challenges of living both with men and without them, Woolley’s books participate in what Fraiman calls “a history of deprivation or difficulty regarding shelter,” [17] while aiming to ameliorate those deprivations by inculcating habits of frugality, beautification, remedy, and service, which together embed an ethics of care and keeping within the learned techniques of higher housework. Cooking is action as well as activity, unfolding in a social and seasonal scene of nested economies and creaturely vulnerabilities.  If a recipe calls for “morning milk,” a cow must be chewing its cud nearby. [18] A recipe “To make Misers[19] for children to eat in Afternoons in summer” orients the kitchen towards distinct stages of life as well as the rotation of the day and year. [20] The Bills of Fare appended to the back of the collection provide menus for “Extraordinary Feasts,” “Lesser Feasts,” “Familiar Times,” and “Fish Days and Fast Days,” keyed to winter and summer as well as upper and middle classes. [21] Bodily care is always also care for the social body in response to built and natural environments. Woolley founds her medical ethos on an experience that extends from household to neighborhood: “I have been Physician and Chirugian in my own House to many, and also to many of my Neighbors, eight or ten miles round.”[22] Such care is “thoughtful”: considered, responsive, attentive, in short, “full of thought,” but always oriented towards scenes of action.

[5] The title of Woolley’s cookbook borrows some impetus from cognition. The closet metaphor was already common in both cook books and pharmaceutical manuals of the period, the word implying a private study from which secrets might be surreptiously published for the common good, a pantry for the storage of household provisions, and a dressing room designed for beautification. [23] The frontispiece to The Queen-like Closet is divided into five sections, like compartments in a cabinet or cupboard where things might be stored. Yet what the openings frame is not an inventory of objects so much as a set of scenes of engaged and skilled activity. The graphic resembles the elevation of a house, one in which every room is a kitchen (heaven for some, hell for others – there is certainly fire aplenty!). At left center, the cook is brewing medicinal waters and cordials that require the skilled use of stills, alembics, vials, and other implements shared with science and alchemy. Some of Woolley’s contemporaries preferred to call their recipes “experiments,”[24] and the language of the new science recurs in Woolley as well. The other scenes are more culinary, their technologies including the tripod in front the hearth for cooking stews or preserving fruit in large batches (upper left) and a a vessel set in a basin of water for the exacting arts of confectionary (upper right). In the middle right and lower panels, the cook uses the oven for baking breads, puddings and pies, while the hearth houses spits for roasting meat and cranes for hanging large pots.

[6] In each of these views, the kitchen appears as what anthropologist Tim Ingold calls a taskscape, a layout defined by the purposeful movement of human and nonhuman actors through its layered terrain of affordances. Woolley’s frontispiece is closer to genre painting than to still life: as a menu or interface announcing the contents of the pages within, the image declares the preeminence of embodied thought to the project that follows. In The Queen-like Closet, like most recipe books of the period, the verb predominates over the noun. The word “Recipe” itself comes from the Latin for “take,” the word that jumpstarts most of Woolley’s recipes. (“Take sweet Almondes blanched …,” [25] “Take twelve of the fairest Limons,” [26] “Take lavender flowers stripped from the stalk,” [27] etc.) The titles of Woolley’s recipes are usually infinitives: “To make a most precious water,”[28]  “To take away the signs of small pox,” [29] “To keep flowers all the year.” [30] The title of her first book, The Ladies directory, refers not to a list of persons, like a phone directory, but rather to a compendium of directions. [31] The title page to the Second Part of the Queen-like Closet describes the book as “directing a very true and excellent way for all manner of Cookery” and promises to deliver “Directions for two or three several things in one, not confounding the Brains with multitudes of words.” [32] The recipe is a kind of script, in both the dramatic and the software sense: the forms of thinking it “directs” are pragmatic, unfolding as a series of what game theorist Ian Bogost calls “unit operations,” consisting of discrete,  portable, procedure-based bits of media whose aim is to do things to things in the world. [33] The unit formed by the recipe can take its place in a number of different procedural systems, such as daily meal preparation, preserving and candying, cosmetics and hygiene, medicines, minor surgery, housekeeping, and banqueting. [34] Although I will refer to Woolley as the author of her recipes, it is the nature of the cook book itself that formulas be copied from one collection to another, reflecting the repeatability of the recipe as a “procedural artifact,”[35] a crystallized set of iterable commands. Our own age is dominated by celebrity cookbook writers on the one hand (the legacy of Woolley’s early branding efforts) and the infinite google-worthiness of the recipe on the other (which maximizes the operational nature of the recipe as such).

[7] Words in The Queen-Like Closet that tag the kind of procedural thinking cultivated by cooking include “Experiments,” [36] “ingenious,” and “Practices.” [37] Such words indicate the pragmatic, thing- and action-oriented character of the cook’s discourse: pragmata, as Bruno Latour points out, means things, circumstances, or affairs. [38] They also share shelf and counter space with the new science, whose stills, alembics, vials, and gally pots overlap with those of cooking, especially when medicinals are at stake. The closet harbors secrets in its depths, mysteries that Woolley has dared to publish: “I am blamed by many for divulging these Secrets, and again commended by others for my Love and Charity in so doing.” [39] Such claims are conventional: her contemporaries William Rabisha and Robert May mount similar defenses of their publishing of secrets. Such apologia serve to establish the professional character of cookery as a “mystery” affiliated with other arts and sciences (“the Astronomer, Navigator, Physician, Chirugion, Faryer, and many hundred more”.) [40]  To be in possession of trade secrets is to be master or mistress of skilled knowledge, and hence steward of a special kind of thinking.

[8] Although such meta-descriptions demonstrate Woolley’s self-understanding of the cognitive resources cultivated by cooking, I am more interested in the evidence of thought sloughed off in the minimal scripts of the recipes themselves. Woolley’s books assume some familiarity with basic techniques; this tome is no “Blood Puddings for Dummies,” but rather what she calls a “Memorandum,” whose brief notations build upon the considerable skills already commanded by most of her readers: “All you who are knowing already and Vers’d in such things, I beseech you to take it only as a Memorandum.” [41]  Early modern cook books unfold in a hermeneutic circle spun from hands-on training conducted in real kitchens; the resulting recipes are highly laconic, their taciturnity bespeaking the depths of knowledge that the reader brings to the table. (Imagine, for example, making “Pumpion pie” from scratch in exactly fifty words. [42]) The repetitiveness of the recipes precludes the need for detailed instruction – most roads, it seems lead to either pie or pudding, [43] thrifty, stalwart receptacles for lesser meats and older fruits in an age when funeral baked meats furnished forth the wedding tables: pragmata in gravy. [44] Moreover, the details left out of the recipes do not only reside “in” the memories of her readers, like a hard drive, but also in the space of the kitchen itself, whose shelves, surfaces, implements, and heating sources invite their own use. [45]

[9] Yet some of the more elaborate recipes, especially those in the demanding art of confectionary, lead Woolley to caution her readers against possible mistakes, in the process developing their culinary judgment. It is this cultivation of judgment as a form of thinking that is based on experience and intuition rather than objective measures or rules that interests me here. A key word for such acts of tact in Woolley’s vocabulary is “enough,” equivalent to modern cookery’s “done”:

“boil [green walnuts] very leisurely until they are enough” [46]

“when you do perceive [the cornelions] to be very clear, they are enough” [47]

“and when you judge they [candied angelica] be enough, put them on a Pie-plate, and open them with a little stick …” [48]

“boil [cordial syrup] till you think it be enough” [49]

“stir these well together till you think they be enough, over a slow fire” [50]

“stir [eggs and cream] least [lest] they turn, then when it is almost enough, put in some candied Eringo root, Orange or Limon Pill….” [51]

“when you think your meat is enough …” [52]

Sometimes “enough” occurs by itself, a simple directive to the cook to follow her experienced intuition. Often the word is accompanied by words for thinking: “when you think your meat is enough,” “when you do perceive them to be very clear, they are enough,” “when you judge they be enough.” “Enough” often appears as the sweet spot between too little and too much:

“fill them but not too full” [53]

“bake it, but not too much” [54]

“keep it stirring over a slow fire till you see it will jelly, but do not let it boil” [55]

“till the sugar all be melted, but do not let it boil” [56]

“Bruise ripe Gooseberries with an Apple Beater, but do not beat them too small” [57]

Cooking appears here as a set of graduated processes that require the cook to know when to stop. Cooks and other lovers call it timing, which is a situated form of judgment, of “knowing when.” Behind each direction that warns against an extreme lies the experience of a failure: a fine currant jelly ruined by boiling the sugar; gooseberries crushed to a molten bloody pulp by an overeager beater; an orange pudding disastrously separated into sodden leavings by careless over-baking in an era before temperature controls. We don’t get the narrative of these failures, but they lurk behind Woolley’s directives, schooling her judgment so that she can school ours. As she works her way through seas of molten sugar and liquid fruit, skillfully navigating [58] between the Scylla of too little and the Charybdis of too much, Woolley exercises something like the form of anticipatory attention that Richard Sennett attributes to the recipes of Julia Child: “she knows what comes next and where danger lies … sympathy and prehension combine.” [59] “Prehension” eschews the suffixes that accommodate “apprehension” and “comprehension” within higher orders of thought in order to grasp the anticipatory alliance of hand, eye, mind, tools, and materials achieved in the exercise of craft. [60]

[10] When Woolley speaks of perception, visual indicators play a major role, but there is also a clear tactile dimension as well, whether vision is actively supplemented by forms of touch, or one is looking for texture, using the eyes to sense how something feels. The direction, “when you perceive your Apples clear, and Syrup thick, then take them up” bundles transparency and viscosity into a single evaluative snapshot, likely by means of the spoon, an instrument for seeing feelingly. [61] A directive like “when you see that they [the barberries] are well plumped” [62] combines a visual word (“see”) with a more tactile description (“well plumped”) that implies manual familiarity with the items at hand. Only rarely does Woolley enlist metaphor to describe a moment in culinary process, which is also a moment for judgment: to make “Syrup of Ale,” boil ale wort “until you do perceive it to be as though it were full of Rags,” [63] a visual image that maintains a tactile dimension. To make “a most excellent cake,” you must learn to “knead it until it rise under your hand,” a phrase that grasps the living character of yeast and the active collaboration between dough and hand in the baking process. [64]  In a recipe for “the best sort of Harts-horn Jelly to serve in a Banquet,” Woolley musters a range of artefactual and sensory tools in support of an evaluative, action-oriented process of perceiving: “boil it up quick, and when you find by the Spoon you stir it with that it will stick to your mouth, if you do touch it, and that you find the Water to be much wasted, strain it out.” Here the act of judgment coalesces around the relative resistance met by the spoon, the mouth feel of the jelly, and the visual evidence of reduced liquid in the pot. See Merleau-Ponty: “Each contact of an object with part of our objective body is, therefore, in reality a contact with the whole of the present or possible phenomenal body.” [65]

[11] Sometimes judgment occurs in conjunction with taste, which is closely allied with touch both etymologically and in practice, as well as with the history of judgment. In a recipe for Almond Ginger-Bread, Woolley invites the reader to add “Ginger and Cinammon finely pearced, so much as by your taste you may judge to be fit.” [66] Taste is alimentary here, a function of the mouth, but it works in cooperation with judgment, which draws upon personal preference (“sweeten it with sugar according to your taste” [67]) in response to a normative sense of decorum (what is “fit”). The mouth is also an instrument for judging whether a jelly has reached the right viscosity: “do not let it boil, but when you find it to be very thick in your mouth then put it softly into Glasses.” [68] Modern tasters might speak here of the “mouth feel” of a food, which bears on texture rather than flavor, and is a crucial component of gustation. [69]

[12] Whereas modern cookbooks rely on objective time and temperature measures as supports and sometimes substitutes for judgment, Woolley must instead train her cooks in the exercise of an embodied and situated discretion. Indeed, the body itself becomes a reference point, as when the reader is instructed “to let your water be blood warm” or to make a roll of dough “as big as your Thigh.” [70] When I am boiling apricots in a skillet “very tender and gently” while “bruising them with the back of a Spoon, till they be like pap,” my tactile thinking does not unfold “inside the mind,” as an interior place and process, or rather somewhere between my hand, the spoon that extends it, the skillet that receives and resists the pressure of my motions, the radiant fruits that tremble and dissolve beneath my able touch, and the embers releasing their deal-changing heat below the tripod. [71]

[13] In other words, cooking demonstrates the validity of “distributed cognition,” which emphasizes the interactive, spatial, embodied, and object-driven character of thought. [72]  Alva Noë defines “enactive perception” as “a kind of skillful activity on the part of the animal as a whole” rather than a process that occurs inside the brain, on a simple input-output model. [73] Bruno Latour emphasizes objects as “actants,” co-agents on the scenes of both thought and action. [74] My own path into this material has been through affordance theory, developed first in environmental psychology by James J. Gibson and then remastered for modern product design by Donald Norman (and a bunch of guys at Apple). Affordances concern the possible actions that an object or environmental feature solicits in the animal that perceives it. [75] Affordance theory accounts for how we think with things, not in the broader speculative and reflective sense in which things become models for conceptual relationships, [76] but in a narrower, more pragmatic and immediate sense. How do the shapes and colors of particular objects (say, the slight dimple on a raised red key) invite pushing when in a state of panic? In the affordance-based thinking that philosopher Eric Reitveld calls “skillful coping,” thought unfolds between the human agent and the objects in her immediate environment. Objects in the taskscape prompt thoughtful action through their particular affordances, indicators that can be enhanced by designers attuned to their cognitive potential.

[14] Take, for example, the use of the ladle in candying seeds and citrus peel. This art involves the kind of complex apparatus depicted in the upper right compartment of The Closet’s frontispiece: a vessel holding sugar sits in a water bath supported by a tripod above a heap of glowing embers on the hearth. The goal of the confectioner is to keep the sugar melted while not letting it burn, a procedure that requires constant attentiveness mediated by the skillful use of the ladle, which is used both to test the flow of the sugar (“Melt [the sugar] very well until it will stream from the Ladle”) and to cool the water bath through the addition of extra water as needed: “See that you keep your Sugar in the Basin always in good temper, that it burn not in Lumps, and if at any time it be too high boiled, put in a spoonful or two of water, and keep it warily with your Ladle.” [77] “See that …” is a judgment phrase: seeing is visual, but it is also cognitive, anticipatory, and evaluative, and it involves an engagement with tactility. “To keep it warily with your Ladle” means to join with the ladle in an act of attention, wielding its long-handled bowl in response to changing conditions in the volatile microclimate created by water bath and sugar pot.  Like the blind man’s cane, the ladle is an instrument for seeing feelingly and hence a tool for judgment. [78] The cook thinks with her ladle, using it to make material adjustments that are also mental adjudications, achieved simultaneously and through the very same means and motions. Merleau-Ponty: “tactile experience occurs ‘ahead’ of me, and is not centred in me.”[79]

[15] “Keep it warily”: this, too, is a judgment phrase. “Keep” means keep watch, by engaging in an expanded, tangible, anticipatory practice of embodied, action-oriented perception. The word “keep” stands at the heart of “housekeeping,” as an art and office of mindful mindlessness, a repertory of forms of environmental attentiveness and curatorial concern embedded within a set of repetitive labors. Judgment, of the limited and situated kind I have been pursuing here, is the turn in the Moebius strip formed by mental and manual life in the tasks of housekeeping.  It is not that there are no truths in cooking, but rather that once something is determinable, judgment is no longer required, or at least its exercise becomes more automatic, more like breathing than thinking. “Enough” is always variable, yet not infinitely so; indeed, “enough” eschews infinity for this collop of bacon in sweet meats, [80] or this fricasse of sheep’s foot, as well as the moodiness of this hearth, oven, or chafing dish. [81] Moreover, in an oikos defined by the imperatives of conservation, “enough,” the watchword of culinary judgment, becomes both moment and method, an ethic born of exigency.

[16] How, finally, do we bridge the distance between Hannah Woolley and Hannah Arendt? The first Hannah is fiercely immersed in the domestic sphere, which reveals a public edge only in the more reflective and programmatic apparati of the book. For the second Hannah, the polis names the sphere of the most authentic and achieved human action, while the oikos that makes political action possible is itself the site of privation; in Arendt’s writing, appreciations of domestic labor occurring only sporadically and as if by accident in a project dedicated to public life. [82] Woolley finds herself at home in the object-lined laboratory of the kitchen, a scene of fabrication, manufacture, and confection, while Arendt pursues the revelation of who we are in public speech, in evanescent scenes of human appearing constituted by the presence of other people. Yet judgment is crucial to both Hannah’s, and may form precisely the bridge between object worlds and political spheres for each writer. Yoking the two Hannah’s together, across the centuries, continents, and genres of their very different spheres of thought and action, creates a double palindrome, an epochal chiasmus. In Woolley, the polis exists at the far edge of the oikos, barely visible from the inward-looking precincts of the kitchen-laboratory; for Arendt, the oikos constitutes the necessary but excluded grounds of the polis, the behind-the-scenes support system for public forms of appearing.  Focusing on judgment in both writers may help bring forward the political potential of Woolley’s discourse alongside the resources for domestic thinking in Arendt’s, allowing us to infuse the spheres of making and doing in each other (like folding whipped eggs into cream for a sillibub [83] or cold soufflé).

Here is Arendt on judgment:

Judgment may be one of the fundamental abilities of man as a political being insofar as it enables him to orient himself in the public realm, in the common world – these are insights that are virtually as old as articulated political experience. The Greeks called this ability Φρόνηοις, or insight, and they considered it the principle virtue or excellence of the statesman in distinction from the wisdom of the philosopher. The difference between this judging insight and speculative thought lies in that the former has its roots in what we usually call common sense, which the latter constantly transcends. Common sense – which the French so suggestively call the ‘good sense,’ le bon sens – discloses to us the nature of the world insofar as it is a common world; we owe to it the fact that our strictly private and ‘subjective’ five senses and their sensory data can adjust themselves to a nonsubjective and ‘objective’ world which we have in common and share with others. Judging is one, if not the most, important activity in which the sharing-of-this-world-with-others comes to pass. [84]

[17] Arendt identifies judgment with Aristotle’s phronesis, practical wisdom. She emphasizes the world-building capacity of judgment insofar as it draws on and builds up a horizon of “common sense,” of shared objectives as well as shared objects whose validity is continually tested and reconfirmed through acts that ascertain and evaluate. Her example of a world-building thing is the table: “To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as a table is located between those who sit around it.” [85] Shadowing this image is the scene of hospitality, in which the table, product of artisanal work, holds up the fruits of kitchen labor in order to solicit human appearing across its boards. In another passage from The Human Condition, Arendt writes that the freedom bought by the Greeks through slavery harbored a “violent injustice,” not only to the slaves but also to the citizens, who were henceforth deprived of a certain mode of living: “the price for absolute freedom from necessity is, in a sense, life itself” (that is, the life of labor, the life of the oikos). [86] The good life surfaces here not as that which separates itself from labor but rather as those praxes that draw forms of action and activity together in a variegated yet coherent vitality. [87] As Victoria Kahn notes, ” Arendt’s defense of a Kantian idea of culture is thus at the same time a defense of the realm of politics … Arendt turns culture from the merely contingent product of historical conditions to the occasion for the critical analysis of society as well as the precondition of politics.  ” [88]

[18] For both Hannah’s, the exercise of judgment functions to disclose and maintain – to “keep,” if you will — a common world that exists beyond sense impressions and yet is built through them, not passively but through acts of tactical and tactile engagement with tableaux that solicit evaluation, prompt decision, and stimulate fancy. For both, moreover, this common world requires our care, since it has proven vulnerable not only to wear and tear by natural processes, but also to the violent displacements of war. The sphere of praxis delimited by Arendt’s acts of judgment unfurls in a wider, more public circle of objects, activities and conversations, whereas Woolley remains for the most part very close to the trestle table, the chafing dish, and the hearth stone. For Arendt, taste is aesthetic, and for Woolley, alimentary. My point is not to reduce either moment to the other; I want neither to claim the physiology of taste and the drudgery of the oikos as the disavowed corporeal truth of aesthetic ideology and its politics, nor to force Woolley’s frugal cookery to steward arts finer or politics higher than those modest ones that it is in fact capable of cultivating. Yet I think it’s worth calling attention to what these very different scenes of judgment have in common. For both Hannah’s, judgment issues from a subject endowed with senses that are keyed to the capacity for action, an embodied and embedded subject for whom thinking can be a kind of doing. For both Hannah’s, judgment involves a level of uncertainty, a striking out with reference to norms limned by experience in concert with others, but not achieving the consistency of “demonstrable facts or truths proved by argument.” [89]  Between the two Hannah’s, judgment and taste publish their intimacy, as forms of thought that involve the testing, maintenance and transmission of common worlds. For both Woolley and Arendt, moreover, writing is “shelter writing,” in the distinctive sense developed by Susan Fraiman. Her sample letters, too, are recipes – recipes for disaster that instruct Woolley’s readers in the ABCs of succor and survival.

[19] Arendt engages in a different kind of shelter writing in her essay “Thinking and Moral Considerations”:

We can use the word ‘house’ for a great number of objects – for the mud-hut of a tribe, for the palace of a king, the country home of a city dweller, the apartment house in the town … [‘House’] implies ‘housing somebody’ and being ‘dwelt in’ as no tent could house or serve as a dwelling place which is put up today and taken down tomorrow. … The word ‘house’ is something like a frozen thought which thinking must unfreeze, defrost as it were, whenever it wants to find out its original meaning … This kind of pondering reflection … is entirely without results; it might, however, be that those ….who have pondered the meaning of the word ‘house’ will make their apartments look a little better. [90]

Arendt tests the word “house” for a sense of place and boundary, of fragile security and provisional endurance. Although hardly autobiographical, Arendt’s disparagement of tents recalls her years of statelessness and even her temporary internment during the summer of 1940 at Gurs, a detention camp in southwestern France. [91] “Defrosting” the word house, unlike defrosting the refrigerator, accomplishes no task, yet the act of cleaning up one’s mental furniture, Arendt suggests, might well flow into a makeover of one’s living space. This too is “shelter writing” in Fraiman’s strong sense: a discourse about housing that records and repairs “a history of deprivation … regarding shelter.” [92]

[20] Occasionally, just occasionally, Woolley moves into something like an aesthetic realm: in a recipe “To preserve Orange or Lemon Pill [peel] in thin slices in Jelly,” she instructs the reader to “Take the most beautiful and thickest Rinds.” “Thickest” helps ground “beautiful” in an objective measure, while the appearance of beauty emphasizes the discerning eye of the cook in the culinary process. In an appendix on the attributes of service, Woolley writes that the successful cook “ought to have a very good Fancy.” [93] And various recipes invite aesthetic variation: biscuits can be made “into pretty Fancies,” [94]  while dried apples can be “glistered” to “look like Crystal.” [95] The Queen-like Closet ends with a candyland fantasia: entitled “To make a Rock in Sweet-Meats,” this virtuoso production, assembled in a basket, includes fountains of wine, mountains made of cake and biscuits, colorful plantings of dried fruits and flowers, and a menagerie of “Snakes and Snails and Worms, and of any venemous Creature you can think of,” crafted from sugar plate. [96] Here the fancy of the cook has truly run wild, creating a whole environment out of sugar, a table top Land of Cockaigne. Whoever holds or beholds this glistering cosmos of sweet meats will, like Timon of Athens, have “the world as [her] confectionary” (Scene 14, 261). Coming at the end of a cookbook ceaselessly moderated by a frugal sense of “enough,” the surplus energy provided by all those glittering calories floats into a distinctly aesthetic realm, playing on the culinary imagination of the reader and writer alike. Modern food and shelter writers would describe this final project as “aspirational,” its extreme instructions intended to inspire and stimulate rather than instruct. These are the extravagant conceits of courtly banqueting, and Woolley represents her creation as a gift made on behalf of a patron “for a Present to a Person of Quality.” Yet it is also a gift from her to us, the circle of “ingenious ladies and gentlewomen” [97] assembled by the book and initiated into its secrets.

[21] Adam Gopnik recently published a piece on ambitious desserts, “techno-emotional” productions engineered in kitchen-laboratories as taste and fragrance adventures that boldly criss-cross the sweet/savoury line. Like Woolley’s sugar garden, many of these speculative pastries are modeled on the follies of landscape architecture. [98] (Example: “A coconut iceberg floats on a sea of lemon gelatin and water ice, with squash confit, mint-and-vanilla ice cream, broken chocolate cookie, and grape syrup oil slick.” [99]) Chef Adam Stupak confides, “I happen not to like sweets…. It’s an idiosyncrasy of mine. I decided to become a pastry chef because it gave me autonomy. … Pastry is infinitely exciting, because it is less about showing the greatness of nature, and more about transmitting taste and flavor. Desserts are naturally denatured food.” Dessert borrows its autonomy from the work of art and the judgment of taste. Dessert is art and technology, imaginative display and alchemical demonstration, thinking bodied forth in almond paste and rose water and then shaped into tiny peacocks. [100] It is no accident that most of Woolley’s occasions for judgment occur in the more rarefied, technical, and demanding realm of dessert and cordial cookery, where volatile sugars and temperamental eggs test the intuitions as well as the imagination of the cook. Desserts also belong to the highly ritualized banqueting course, its alimentary function outstripped by medicinal, aspirational, amatory, and theatrical impulses. From kitchen to table, the banquet course is a scene for multiple judgments of taste.

[22] In the prologue to The Craftsman, Richard Sennett accuses his one-time teacher, Hannah Arendt, of too sharply distinguishing animal laborans from homo faber. Wheareas the laboring animal (cook, milkmaid, janitor, laundress) finds herself mindlessly absorbed in meeting the needs of life, the human maker (blacksmith, potter, painter, poet) engages in “making a life in common” that is always linked to collective discussion and judgment. Contra Arendt, Sennett proposes that “thinking and feeling are contained within the process of making” and that the mastery of a craft builds virtues that are portable to other public spheres. [101] I have argued here that Woolley’s cookbook offers a phenomenological prospect into the emulsions undergone by thinking, making and doing in the laboratory-studio of the kitchen. I have also suggested that Hannah Arendt was far less oblivious to the fruits of this continuum than Sennett suggests. In the great double palindrome drawn by their names (hannah – hannah), judgment and taste involve the testing, maintenance and transmission of common worlds, against the threats posed by world war, absent husbands, infant mortality, and the ruthless shelters of prison and camp, dramas played out against the daily specters of burnt sugar, fallen puddings and iced appliances.  Woolley’s recipes are addressed in print to a broad readership and thus bring the secrets of the oikos into public view. But meals are already in their way a public thing, a res publica designed for common consumption in accordance with the order of courses, the rules of seating, and the seasonal rhythms of feast and fast. “Culture and politics,” writes Arendt, “belong together because it is not knowledge or truth which is at stake, but rather judgment and decision, the judicious exchange of opinion about the sphere of public life and the common world, and the decision what manner of action is to be taken in it, as well as how it is to look henceforth, what kind of things are to appear in it.” [102] What better place to exchange such judgments than over a fine venison pasty, followed by a “dish of Chickens rosted,” “two or Three dried Tongues,” and a banqueting tray of “Cream Cheeses,” “small Fruit,” “a Dish of Jellies of several colours,” and “some of your fine Drinks, what[ever] may be most pleasing”? [103] For today at least, I think we can say: enough!

[1]EEBO lists editions in 1670, 1674, 1681, and 1684.

[2] Adam Gopnik, “Cooked Books: Real Food from Fictional Recipes,” New Yorker (April 9, 2007), 85.

[3] Philosopher Eric Rietveld, working between cognitive science and phenomenology, speaks similarly of “unreflective skillful action” and “embodied skills” in response to the affordances of objects in the environmentEric Rietveld, “McDowell and Dreyfuss on Unreflective Action.” Inquiry 53.2 (April 2010): 183-207.

[4] The Closet, 247.

[5] The Closet, 271.

[6] Supplement to the Queen-Like Closet, p. 12; Albano, pp. 7-8.

[7] Woolley disowns authorship of The Gentlewoman’s Companion in the **** edition of the Supplement to the Queen-like Closet. Two other books were likely published under Woolley’s name but without her authorization or significant authorship: The Accomplish’d Ladies Delight, 1675 and The Compleat Servant-Maid,  1677. Caterina Albano discusses the authorship debate in her modern edition of The Gentlewoman’s Companion, 15-16.

[8] The Ladies Directory and The Closet.

[9] Cook’s Guide.

[10] “Shelter Writing: Desperate Housekeeping from Crusoe to Queer Eye,” New Literary History 37.2 (Summer 2006): 37.

[11] “And for the Palsie, whether Dead or Shaking, I am sure none can give better Remedies, nor know better than I do, having brought my Experience at a dear rate; there is none who have been more afflicted with it than my self, and (I humbly bless God for it) there is no Person more freer from it than my self, nor from any other Disease, and that is very much, I being now in my Two and fiftieth year.” Supplement to the Queen-Like Closet,  p. 16.

[12] The Closet, 348-349. The Accomplish’d Cook, Robert May’s cookbook of 1660, also alludes to the wars, but emphasizes their disruption of the traditions of aristocratic hospitality rather than their displacement of women who must now seek service (A3). He addresses his book to “The Master Cooks, and to such young Practitioners of the Art of Cookery, to whom this Book may be useful,” that is, “to all honest well-intending Men of our Profession” (A4) rather than to “Ladies and gentlewomen.” Although he emphasizes rich and costly dishes “of such high prices, which onely these Noblesse Hospitalities did reach to,” for those with lesser means he has also “descended to their meaner Expenses.” (Preface, two pages in).

[13] Supplement, 12.

[14] Supplement, 166.

[15] Supplement, 166-7.

[16] Supplement, 165.

[17] “Shelter Writing,” 344.

[18] Cook’s Guide, p. 27; cf. p. 29: “Take 3 gallons of milk new from the cow.”

[19] “A kind of sop made with bread crumbs, etc.” OED; cites Nashe  (1594) and Wolley.

[20] The Closet, p. 94.

[21] The Closet, pp. 315-28.

[22] Supplement, “To the reader,” A3 verso.

[23] Woolley is likely capitalizing on the recent appearance of The Queens Closet Opened, first published in 1662 and presented to Queen Henrietta Maria. Closet-books that emphasize scientific and medical discoveries include Thomas Tymme, A dialogue philosophicall. Wherein natures secret closet is opened (London: Printed by T.S. for Clement Knight, 1612). Queen Elizabeths closset of physical secrets, which includes within it “the Child-bearers Cabinet,” published by “A.M.” in 1656, associates its medical secrets with the intimate space of the queen. See also John Partridge, The treasurie of hidden secrets: commonly called, The good huswives closet of provision for the health of her household (London: Henrye Car., 1586); A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen (London: Arthur Johnson, 1608; anonymous). In Hugh Plat’s 1654 cook book, the closet appears as a physical location associated with the lady’s toilet: Delights for Ladies,to adorn their Persons, Tables, Closets and Distillatories with Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes and Waters.

[24] The author of  the 1671 edition of The Queens Closet Opened writes of his offerings that “we shall now rather call [them] Experiments than Receipts” (A4).

[25] Cook’s Guide, p. 94.

[26] The Closet, p. 6.

[27] The Closet, p. 23.

[28] The Closet, p. 7.

[29] The Closet, p. 66.

[30] The Closet, p. 149.

[31] A directory is “something that serves to direct; a guide; esp. a book of rules or directions (OED, “directory” n. 1, 1543).

[32] In this minimalist spirit, worthy of Mark Bitten, some recipes end by announcing the portability of their skills: “in this manner you may make Sugar of any Fruit, Flower, or Herb,” Woolley tells us at the conclusion of Recipe Number 215, “To make Rasberry Sugar.”The Closet, p. 116.

[33] “In systems analysis, an operation is a basic process that takes one or more inputs and performs a transformation on it. An operation is the means by which something executes some purposeful action. … Brewing tea is an operation. Steering a car to avoid a pedestrian is an operation. Falling in love is an operation.” Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 7.

[34] The title page to The Queens Closet Opened announces the publication of “incomparable secrets in Physick, Chirugery, Preserving and Candying, etc.” The title page to A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen presents “the Art of preserving, Conserving, and Candying. With the manner howe to make divers kinds of Syrups; and all kind of banquetting stuffes. Also divers souveraigne Medicines and Salves, for sundry Diseases.”

[35] Bogost, xv.

[36] From “Dedication to all Ladies, Gentlewomen, and to all other of the Female Sex,” The Closet (A2??).

[37] From “Dedication to all Ladies, Gentlewomen, and to all other of the Female Sex,” The Closet (A2??).

[38] Bruno Latour, “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, or How to Make Things Public,” in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, ed. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 23.

[39] The Closet, p. 341.

[40] William Rabisha, The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected, A4.

[41] The Closet, p. 314. See Wall on this phrase.

[42] The Closet, p. 108.

[43] Or both: see “To make a Steak-Pie with Puddings in it,” The Closet, p. 205.

[44] See “To make Gravie Broth,” The Closet, p. 191.

[45] See Tribble, “Distributed Cognition,” for a similar account of the theater as a space for memorization.

[46] The Closet, p. 73.

[47] The Closet, p. 95.

[48] The Closet, p. 98.

[49] The Closet, p. 106.

[50] The Closet, p. 63.

[51] The Closet, p. 152.

[52] The Closet, p. 199.

[53] The Closet, p. 144.

[54] The Closet, p. 46..

[55] The Closet, p. 63.

[56] The Closet, p. 35.

[57] The Closet, p. 50.

[58] See Tribble on navigation as a primary discourse of distributed cognition. “Distributing Cognition in the Globe,” 135-7. She cites Edward Hutchins, Cognition in the Wild (1995).

[59] The Craftsman, p. 186.

[60] “The technical name for movements in which the body anticipates and acts in advance of sense data is prehension… Prehension signals alertness, engagement and risk-taking all in the act of looking ahead.” The Craftsman, 154.

[61] The Closet, p. 74. See  also p. 173: “when you see it very clear and very thick, it is enough” (of marmalade).

[62] The Closet, p. p. 62.

[63] The Closet, p. 37.

[64] The Closet, p. 99-100.

[65] Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, chapter on “TheThing and the Natural World,” p. 369.

[66] The Closet, p. 55.

[67] The Closet, p. 91.

[68] The Closet, p. 88.

[69] Gladwell, What the Dog Saw, p. ****.

[70] The Closet, p. 127.

[71] “To make Marmalade from Apricocks.” The Closet, 34-35.

[72] E.g., Alva Noë, Action in Perception; for an application in Shakespeare studies, see Evelyn Tribble, “Distributing Cognition in the Globe.”

[73] Action in Perception, 2.

[74] Alva Noë, Action in Perception (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004); Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[75] The father of affordance theory is environmental psychologist James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1986). For a phenomenologically-oriented reading of Gibson, see Harry Heft, “Affordances, Dynamic Experience, and the Challenge of Reification,” Environmental Ecology 15.2 (2003): 149-80 and Ecological Psychology in Context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the Legacy of William James’s Radical Empiricism (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001). For an anthropological use of affordances, see Tim Ingold, The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (London: Routledge, 2000). Alva Noë refers frequently to Gibson in the course of developing his account of enactive perception. Eric Rietveld is a philosopher looking at affordances in the context of what he calls skillful coping. Eric Reitveld, “The Skillful Body as a Concernful System of Possible Actions: Phenomena and Neurodynamics,” Theory Psychology 18.341 (2008): 341-63.

[76] E.g., Esther Pasztory, Thinking with Things: Toward a New Vision of Art (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005). She argues that the purpose of art is “primarily cognitive” (p. 4) and emphasizes the role of things in organizing systems of thought. Woolley is after something more immediate.

[77] The Closet, p. 138, 139.

[78] “There is no feeling at the end of the cane, yet it is with the end of the cane that the blind person makes contact with the world.” Noë, Perception in Action, 16.

[79] Op cit., 369.

[80] The Closet, 59.

[81] The Closet, 205.

[82] This account of Arendt as anti-oikos is arguable; see Lupton, Thinking with Shakespeare (Chicago 2011).

[83] The Closet, 47-48.

[84] Arendt, Between Past and Future, 221.

[85] Human Condition, 53.

[86] Human Condition, p. 120.

[87] See Miguel Vatter on the reconciliation of life and politics in Arendt.

[88] Points of Departure essay, typescript. Add Markell on cutlure / Arendt / common worlds.

[89] Arendt, Between Past and Future, 222. (True of cooking??)

[90] Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken Books, 2003), 172. For a brilliant reading of Arendt and architecture, see Patchen Markell, “Arendt’s Work: On the Architecture of The Human Condition.College Literature Winter 2011.

[91] Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, 150-63.

[92] “Shelter Writing,” 344.

[93] The Closet, p. 333.

[94] The Closet, p. 130.

[95] The Closet, pp. 73-4.

[96] The Closet, p. 307-11.

[97] The Closet, title page.

[98] Adam Gopnik, “Sweet Revolution: The Power of the Pastry Chef.” The New Yorker, January 3, 2011, pp. 48-57.

[99] Gopnik, “Sweet Revolution,” p. 53.

[100] The Closet, p. 310..

[101] Sennett, The Craftsman, 7.

[102] Arendt, Between Past and Future, 223.

[103] Menu adapted from “A Bill of Service for extraordinary Feasts in the Summer” and banqueting instructions, The Closet, 315-16 and 348-

13 Responses to Julia Lupton – “Thinking with Things: Hannah Woolley to Hannah Arendt”

  1. Charmed: I love the expression “scenes of thought,” and the essay’s tone — or, in the object-oriented world, should I say its choice of objects (children, granita, lice). Thinking thought objects made me attentive to how the pleasure of a reading is founded in the choice of words and objects. Rather pondering the differences between these two, I am led to think that objects and words work very much the same way.
    Morning Milk: The objects and proper names in this essay send me off onto a number of searches, for instance, the proverb “tired cows give better milk;” morning milk is more abundant but thinner, making it a different article from the evening milk, for cooking purposes.
    Leçon des choses/ les mots et les choses/ The Order of Things: Contributing to this essay’s attractions are the richly textured words, like “affordances,” the succulent etymologies (recipe is Lat. for “take,” the obligatory beginning of a recipe), the specifically Luptonesque charm — the author’s trademark — as in: “funereal baked meats.” Funereal baked meats make me think of the (always original) Kristen Alvanson in the second volume of the philosophy journal Collapse, “Elysian Spaces in the Middle East,” that speculates on the ontological difference between doll-house-like four-dimensional cemeteries and Kanto-Hegelian concept of being, versus superimposed flat two-dimensional cemetery spaces and their possible repercussions on the concept of death and being in the Middle East. One dreams of a history of ideas founded on pie structures through the ages, or at least of a Barthesian mythology of foodstuffs (fiches cuisine Elle, in particular). What would be the main exhibit of such a mythology: ontology or epoistemology? Ontology: Continentals are subtle and multifaceted thanks to the formative (student years) diet of quenelles — Mandelbrotian, spongy, airy, with their attendant choice of delicate flavors. Compare and contrast: the Ivy Leaguers’ beans, rice, and ramen. Epistemology: what would a comparative study of diet tell us about the differences between classes and genders, that sensitive spot touched by Lupton where philosophers are not in the kitchen because someone else slaves over the hot stove, literally (ancient Athens) or metaphorically (Arendt’s NYC). A bas Mme de Staël with her theory of climates, bring me an account of the diets of great philosophers and average hours spent in the kitchen, for a new history of ideas.
    Ecology: Another path of possible inquiry opens with the environmental thought: housekeeping and cooking as “environmental attentiveness and curatorial concern.”
    Sex, Gender and Class; and, Physics vs. Philosophy: A gender difference between those who cook and those who merely eat might separate the judgment de cuisine from the Kantian judgment. But, rather than dividing the divine from the human law, Lupton thinks of the kitchen versus the political as two comparable species of tact, as attested by culinary vocabulary: think, judge, perceive, be fit. If culinary thought is object-driven (“solicited”), is gourmand thought likewise? Are political and domestic thinking the same? Lupton asks: how are statesman’s phronesis (practical wisdom or minding that leads to acts, such as ), speculative prognosis, and philosopher’s wisdom (“demonstrable facts or truths proved by argument”) rearranged in the context of a seventeenth century household manual? For one, Lupton distinguishes between judgment and truths” the former does not have the consistency of the latter. That use of “consistency” (phase, as in: phase transition, example: from liquid to gel; also: dependability) is what I like best about Lupton’s essays. Consistency: a word that, like taste etc., is a switch between discrete categories (cuisine/physics and theory). Likewise: emulsion.
    Folly: “speculative pastries are modeled on the follies of landscape architecture.” Miniature and folly: two headings under which different categories (food, architecture, landscape, and possibly also medicine, physics, philosophy) can be examined.
    Phase transition: Reference to “testing intuition” again puts the finger on the nexus physics/theory: dessert-making and jelly-making (one might add, sauce and mayonnaise-making), because they involve working with phase transitions, are the most theoretical of cooking arts in the Aristotelian sense (they test intuition), and yet once one is a “pastry chef” (or French cook), this professional denaturing of intuition brings us back to square one. Our intuition has been retrained. Does that mean that pastry chefs, sauce cooks and philosophers pay dues to the same trade union? Or: If professionalization is the “other” of oikos, then Hannah Wooley like Martha Stewart is, essentially, a mirage (a fiction whose corrupting attraction consists in representing a merger of categories whose distinction and functioning of the society are coextensive; opium for the masses). But Lupton takes instead “shelter writing” as the interpretive category: as if the key was not the impossible merger between oikos and politics (aspirational or not) but the fact that politics is a permanent storm in the eye of which oikos maintains its protective magic by edging closer (but inevitably falling short) of that merger, be it via practice or merely reading of Wooley or Martha Stewart. I would have loved to know more about the former: what did people do with Wolley’s texts?
    Maybe this question is irrelevant; maybe such texts typically have the mixed status of erotic writings: the Aristotelian distinction “practical vs. theoretical” and the contingent distinctions between reality and fiction, representation and presence, virtual and real most amusingly fails to account for the “books one reads with one hand,” as Rousseau called them. While not predominantly manuals in form like Wooley’s, these virtual-reality-and-reality machines overlap with uses of Wooley. If we looked at them from ooo perspective, it would be clear; it also seems ooo would help play with genre and form definitions.
    Envie: Along with attention to Kant’s ideas of gender/sex with respect to judgement, I would have loved a summary of the way these ideas travelled from the Greeks to Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, and Arendt. What is Arendt’s difference? A “rigorous Google search” (to borrow the indispensable phrase from Kelly Robertson) shows that the “Greeks” had different flavors of phronesis, a story I would have loved to hear.
    Animal laborans and homo faber: first is like a slave, the second is political, “making a life in common” (as in Hegel, the political animal=who votes). “meals. . .are a public thing, res publica”: culture or table as a miniature polis with all its wrinkles: the children at their table, men eating first, women sitting down after, maids, cooks, or slaves eating in the kitchen.
    PS. A Personal Aspiration: an essay on one subject, like a musical piece in three movements: 1. representation theory (oikos, table or culture like a miniature polis etc.), 2. phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty etc.), 3. ooo. Show the travelling from most humanist to least (see Graham Harman’s Prince of Networks on the place of phenomenology between Hegel and ooo). Is ooo the intensification of the correction given to the linguistic trajectory by the cultural turn? See also Harman (same text) on Marx and cultural theory.

  2. I really enjoyed your analysis of the cookbook and housekeeping guide–you brought the pages and me back to life.

    I had a bit of trouble connecting the dots between the first and second Hannah. One element of structure I kept looking for was a clear statement of why the “dynamic between hand, eye, mind, and the objects and materials” that you so richly explain in Woolley should really be called “judgment.” It seems like the cookbook phenomenon would be better highlighted with consultation of Arendt’s notion of judgment–which is not very clear to me –rather than comparison to it. Putting Sennett up front might help create the Hannah connection from early on, but for me the Hannah connection is not the most interesting part of the paper.

    Like Anna says, one thing that particularly struck me in your study is your use of the combination “scenes of”: “scenes of action”–I love this idea of “represented” or kind of stymied “action”, why is this key to your argument? –“scenes of judgment.” Other similar dynamics mentioned in your paper that I would like to know more about are the following:

    Thing in Woolley / Thing in Arendt
    Testing, maintenance and transmission (22)
    Action and activity (4)
    The “hermeneutic circle” of the early modern cook book (8).
    The difference between Woolley’s “enough” and modern “done” (9).
    Woolley’s “scene of fabrication, manufacture, and confection” and Arendt’s “evanescent scenes of human appearing constituted by the presence of other people” (16).
    Common sense as the root of Judging insight.
    A horizon of “common sense and “world-building” (17).
    Disclose, maintain, and to “keep” (18).
    “These very different scenes of judgment have in common” (18).
    Testing and maintenance of “common worlds” (18).
    Arendt’s house and Fraiman’s “shelter writing.”

  3. I enjoyed this immensely, Julia. The treatment of ladle mixing and “microclimate” is subtle. I might have made a stronger but riskier claim: “Like the blind man’s cane, the ladle is an instrument for seeing feelingly and hence a tool for judgment.” — adding: for survival. Just thinking how to distribute agency here. This passage is very moving: “judgment and taste involve the testing, maintenance and transmission of common worlds, against the threats posed by world war, absent husbands, infant mortality, and the ruthless shelters of prison and camp, dramas played out against the daily specters of burnt sugar, fallen puddings and iced appliances.” Talk of taste calls to my mind not Arendt but Gadamer (see, for example, Truth and Method, p. 33), where taste is associated with style vis-a-vis the demands of fashion. Might be useful. Wouldn’t it be nice if reading scholarship were always a guide to style or fashion in that sense. Your own taste, tact, or savoir faire is in good evidence throughout.

  4. Terrific essay, Julia! I’ve just been revising a piece of my own concerning late medieval medical recipes, so I was quite struck by the differences that print seems to make. Since I’m working with manuscripts, the scribes and “users” of the texts are more at the center of my investigations than are the original compilers, translators, or authors. Woolley seems interesting, as you point out, as one of the points at which the recipe-book tradition comes to be re-centered on a coherent authorial personality, rather than on the model of the commonplace book. Do Woolley’s publications therefore represent a move AWAY from the d.i.y. textuality of the miscellany? The medieval texts are actually quite striking for the ways in which they FAIL to be practicable (or to account in their language for the cognitive and practical demands of the actions to which they refer) and also (apparently) fail to be fully comprehensible to many of their readers and scribes — who nonetheless were suddenly demanding and producing vernacular medical writings on a new scale. (More more than two thousand Middle English recipe collections survive from the 15c.) Like Anna, I’d be interested in more information, or reflection, regarding what people did with Woolley’s texts, how they used them or enjoyed them, etc. Also, perhaps a bit more on the history of the genre?

    A small point: I was surprised by your claim in [6] that in Woolley’s recipes the verb predominates over the noun. I’ve had almost the opposite experience of recipe-texts – that there are these simple, repetitive verbs, quite spare, but that the real linguistic energy of the recipes is concentrated in the nouns, the rich food-stuffs, the ingredients whose names congeal within them foreign geographies and trade routes and colors and sensations and ecologies…. In the late medieval recipes I’ve been working with, the nouns often outstrip the energy of the verbs to contain them, so that the recipes become catalogues, jumbles of nouns, not quite mastered by practical activity or even by possession – the pleasures of words outpacing the attainability of things. The verbal “take” that undergirds “recipe” is often left behind, or is hardly adequate to the social and economic and material connotations and implications of the nouns.

    Finally, like Heather, I thought that the passage from first to second Hannah might be strengthened. I would have liked to see a paragraph something like [18] or [22] at the outset of the essay, so that I might have had a sense throughout of the stakes of the oikos-polis distinction and why it might motivate a rereading of works like Woolley’s. I thought you might articulate your choice of Arendt more deliberately – as in [I’m sure this isn’t correct, but perhaps can give you a sense, rhetorically, of what I was reading around for], “The distinction between polis and oikos is definitively established by Aristotle, and it marks almost all subsequent political theory in Western Europe. Statesmen and political theorists in Woolley’s own day were engaged in re-articulating and redefining the division between domestic and properly public spheres for the early-modern period. However, I choose to place Woolley in dialogue with a more recent thinker in this rigorously public and political tradition, who nonetheless can be seen thinking ACROSS the oikos-polis divide and against the distinction of cognitive modes that it implies, Hannah Arendt…” Also, along the lines of hankering for more upfront polemical and methodological statements, I would be interested to read a brief statement from you about the “cognitive turn” in recent literary scholarship. Your essay clearly participates in this turn, but with a difference. Negotiation of Arendtian matters, of commonality, the polis, and the political project, is something phenomenology often isn’t very good at, and much “cognitive-turn” scholarship does not make its way back to such questions. I found it compelling and powerful that your essay does, and I wondered if you wished to mark this move more strongly and to suggest what its stakes are for present scholarly discourse.

  5. jrlupton says:

    My thanks to everyone for these careful and brilliant readings — full of apercus, great questions, and directions for further development. I agree especially that I need to work with more care the transition from Hannah Woolley to Hannah Arendt,and to establish more clearly the difference that Arendt makes when reading phenomenology (both before and after ooo), as well as the difference she makes to cognitive-turn scholarship. I would also like to make the connection to mediality / media stronger than it is now. Allan, I love the point you make about the ladle and the blind man’s cane as instruments of survival. And I would love the write the essay that Anna describes:

    “PS. A Personal Aspiration: an essay on one subject, like a musical piece in three movements: 1. representation theory (oikos, table or culture like a miniature polis etc.), 2. phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty etc.), 3. ooo. Show the travelling from most humanist to least (see Graham Harman’s Prince of Networks on the place of phenomenology between Hegel and ooo). Is ooo the intensification of the correction given to the linguistic trajectory by the cultural turn? See also Harman (same text) on Marx and cultural theory.”

    Let me say right now that having these comments at this stage is really amazing; I submitted my essay a bit under duress, but now I am glad that i did so, as I can work through these terrific suggestions and queries when I return to the essay.

  6. A fascinating piece!

    I was struck by your description of a recipe book as a script, which strikes me as a useful means of drawing out some of the media questions at stake here. Scripts invite a particular kind of social response; they are like Latourean “actants,” helping to determine how their publics are constituted. To pick up on the thread of wanting to know more about the readers (or actors?): this may be possible partly by describing the mediation that the cookbook produces – who is asked to read it, buy it, use it, etc., and what kinds of transactions are at stake between the printing and selling and the reading and cooking?

    To give this comment a bit of context: other scripts associated with women and domesticity during the period are “closet” drama and songbooks – both of which are interesting ways in which media condition the extent to which a space is understood as public (and, in turn, the ways in which the “publicity” of a space conditions its media). The questions that closet drama raise for what constitutes early modern publics has been pursued elsewhere; see for example Maria Straznicky, Privacy, Playreading, and Women’s Closet Drama (Cambridge University Press, 2004). I work on songbooks, and your piece brings to mind a manuscript source of period music including a few songs from Shakespeare, a songbook that belonged to a woman called Anne Twice, which includes several recipes at the end (NYPL Drexel MS 4175). It’s an interesting case, and your essay helps me to re-think it a bit: it may be that there’s more contiguity than I had realized between the domestic performance cultures at stake in that songbook. I wonder where a book like this was stored, for example. If it makes sense to use the same book for cooking and music (if we can generalize from that example), are we to imagine that cookbooks are analogous to playbooks, read apart from performance, or promptbooks, carried and used by actors? Judging from Julie Orlemanski’s comments, they could be read in a variety of ways, differently in different periods.

  7. jrlupton says:

    Fascinated by the connections you draw between songbooks and recipes. This bit on Woolley is part of a larger project on Shakespeare and hospitality, so the theatrical sense of script is key for me, but I am also interested in the more object-like account of scripts developed by Ian Bogost. Song books may be in-between the two? I am just reading now a great collection of essays on cooking and OOO that I will try to integrate into my piece somehow (Volume VII of Collapse).

  8. jenboyle says:

    I have benefited tremendously from all of the essays collected here – all in the “phase space” of this crowd review: orbiting, shifting, extending. In physics (and mathematics), a phase space is not only a graphematic representation of what a system can be (multiplicity, openness), but also a theoretical disposition toward a the unique “state” of a giving agent within a system (judgment of a sort). This idea of phase space has me thinking quite a lot about the network system of this experiment in crowd review, and, indeed, what has energized me so about Julia’s essay is the way in which her explorations have moved in next to my thinking about crowd review more generally.

    Thus, I want to focus my comments on the comparison between the judgment of “enough” in the kitchen-laboratory and the emergence of a collective conscience about crowd review, its risks and possibilities. I have been so struck by the parallels to be drawn, and the way in which Julia’s essay really folds together concerns that have a marked connection with the idea of open/crowd review (and, perhaps, the changing phases and spaces of the humanities and academic production): Professionalism vs/or vis-à-vis the amateur; the public and the private; the shelter that is also a fraught and dangerous isolation; the oikos and the political sphere. At the end of my comments I have highlighted and quoted from a specific section from Harman’s Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics, in part because it expands nicely, I think, on some of these connections, and going through OOO, touches on the point Anna made in her earlier comment about the distinction between “political and domestic thinking”: BUT also because Harman brings in a reference to Heidegger that includes geometry and cooking (!). Geometry and Cooking. These two spaces – a connection made possible by Julia’s essay here, have begun to stir my thinking on networks.

    I have spent a bit of time over the last few months thinking quite a bit about open peer review (I will return to an emphasis on “crowd” below in the context of Harman’s section in his book, “On Behalf of the Mob”), and I have also tried to read as much as possible about what scholars and others have to say about this system. This survey has included the important work by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and others, but also the less formal responses that have emerged here and there – on blogs, emails, and in conversation. Two allusions or figures return again and again: the first: references to personal risk and/or theft (1)“Will a tenure committee think I’m engaging in private dallying – a hobby rather than work?”; 2) “I have real concerns that my work could be stolen – it’s so ‘out there’ for everyone to see”). These comments seem to me very much related to the layout of the oikos – one could easily emphasize the suitors tactless consumption of Odysseus’ table; OR, Penelope’s tactile and highly disruptive dallying upstairs – but in any case, there seems to be a fascinating (anxious) relationship that emerges around “open” review and domestic thinking. The second: professionalism at risk under pressure from the amateur, and how this is particularly unsettling for the humanities; and, a related allusion to a fear of the “crowd” becoming a “mob” (impolite and tactless babble; the renegade amateur who stumbles into the professional sphere of trained political and aesthetic interlocutors; the dinner guest who is not yet schooled on when not to reach across the table). Julia’s essay gives me another way into thinking with both of these allusions.

    Though I don’t want to go on at length in this forum about my ruminations on this, I do want to briefly point to two things. First, how Julia’s essay – in conversation with a piece she mentioned and generously sent my way on OOO and cooking (Cochran, “Object-Oriented Cookery”) – offers a subtle re-direction of thinking on “professionalism.” Second, how the “crowd” in crowd review (and the “mob” in Harman’s book) can be thought of as a radically creative “indirect disposition” of things and thought – the “space between Woolley and Arendt” (Lupton)? – that is perhaps not as threatening as we might imagine.

    Cochran: “the professional invents objects with minimal phase space in order to dominate amateur home cooking….But the amateur is free of the restraints of ‘knowledge and skill’ to experience the ‘phase space’ of objects. This is not to say an amateur is ignorant, that he lacks knowledge. No, the amateur acts out of affirmation. Here affirmation is instinct, experience and the acknowledgement of webs of objects that act autonomously and in aggregate” [my emphasis].

    In combination with some tremendous work on network theory (Thacker and Galloway), this notion of the “autonomous aggregate” really opens up some new avenues for me in thinking about the “microclimates” (Lupton) of both professionalism, as we have come to adopt it in academic work, and the image of the network. I also am chewing a bit on the image of the negative space of networks that is a wormhole back into the kitchen [more on the above in later forums].

    The “crowd” and the “mob” (between Woolley and Arendt). In his chapter “Panodora’s Hope,” Harman has a brief section, “On Behalf of the Mob.” In this section, Harman tries to work out Latour’s particularly intense dislike and “surprising criticism of Socrates.” I don’t want to re-tread too much of Harman’s argument here, but this section represents a really interesting tangent within the chapter as a whole, where he looks at how there is little difference between, say, the arguments of Socrates and Callicles, since “[both] have a common enemy: the people of Athens” (88).

    Harman: [for both Socrates and Callicles] the problem with the people is that ‘there is simply too many of them….in both cases, the plurality of actors (‘the mob’) is despised in accordance with a theory of what the real truth is. For Socrates, who here anticipates Heidegger’s ontological/ontic distinction, there is truth in geometry but not in cooking” [last emphasis mine]. Harman then goes on to expand on Latour’s insistence that it is not about one vs. the crowd (professional or otherwise), but “as one in the shape of a crowd of allies.”

    Julia: what a great amount you are able to do in this essay with both geometry and cooking. [And I hope this last quote in particular may be of interest to you in direct relationship to your essay]. You have certainly fired me with this work as I began to think about the shape of the crowd review as a process.

  9. This is lovely. Thanks for the citation from Cochran on amateur affirmation — this resonates so much with my DIY commitments. Aren’t we all amateurs when we are doing this kind of multi-modal work? (See that I avoid “interdisciplnary” here, which is still …. too professional!) The crowd review model is a really interesting enactment of current interests in the commons, and I have learned so much from the process, too. I need to return to Harman on Latour; for my own temperament, I find that Harman goes too far in his claims for objects. I have begun to define myself as “an Arendtian with a thing problem,” and my current essays in progress are all attempts to make sense of what that might mean. Anyway, thanks for these thoughtful and creative comments, and for providing the conditions of all of this rich interaction.

  10. [12]: Speaking from my disciplinary perspective (philosophy), your comments in [12] beg for some connection to Heidegger’s account of the emergence of objective time from originary phenomena of time. The way that we have moved historically from durations internal to and enmeshed with processes (“I am part of the way to my sister’s house, ahead of me lies the bridge and then a lengthy stroll through the neighbor’s field”) to the concept of time as a preexisting medium within which the process occurs (“I am 20 minutes through a walk which takes 35 minutes”) connects very closely with your discussion. In Woolley, we see the same contrast, here between judgment of ‘timeliness’ situated within the process and today’s objective judgment, not of timeliness but of ‘time’. This is even reflected in the contrast between “enough” (which implies a relative measure, and one which has no absolute and exact proper value) and “done” (which, in line with the calculative thought of our world picture, implies an absolute measure and an exact proper point of completion).

    As an aside, it occurs to me that the history of purpose-made, standardized, calibrated measuring cups must parallel the history of clockmaking in some interesting ways, although I must admit to not knowing enough of the history to say anything on the topic myself.

    Should you wish to look into this further, either here or elsewhere, I’m glad to share some passages I have in mind or talk further about the connection here—feel free to look me up.

    [17]: Block quote: typo. “Φρόνηοις” should read “Φρόνησις”

    Thanks for your work here—very interesting stuff.

  11. Very interesting — I love the disction between time and timeliness, and between “enough” and “done.” I bet you are right about the history of the measuring cup (an instrument I only use when baking ,which I don’t do very well ….). The help with the Greek is invaluable!


  12. Bravo Julia on this toothsome essay. Only a soupçon of criticism: too much seasoning–pinch of Latour, spoonful of Gibson, dash of Merleau-Ponty. My palate was distracted (though not confused). Particularly since Arendt’s Human Condition is so foregrounded, I would have liked to have seen you comment on the basics–Aristotle’s theory/praxis distinction; Plato’s episteme/techne distinction, especially since Plato loves to invoke untalented butchers, who hack at meat in the same way bad philosophers arbitrarily divide abstract definitions (Phaedrus, 265D). Here is a quote that fits in with your vision of practical wisdom: “I grew up a witness to the intelligence of the waitress in motion, the reflective welder, the strategy of the guy on the assembly line. This, then, is something I know: the thought it takes to do physical work.” Mike Rose, The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker (New York: Viking, 2004), p. xiii.

  13. Thanks, Valerie! I share your reservations about the eclectic character of the essay, and have been trying to address this in my revisions. All the Merleau-Ponty is cut. I develop some of this elsewhere (long essay on affordances; various pieces on Arendt), and I can’t do it all in here and also address Woolley. But I am trying to deepen the analysis a little. Would love to have time for Aristotle. The waitress in motion is priceless.

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