Arabella Lyon – Why Do the Rulers Listen to the Wild Theories of Speech-Makers?” Or Wuuwei, Shi, and Methods of Comparative Rhetoric

  • Lyon recognizes early on in this piece the challenge of comparative rhetoric:  “To read, interpret, and analyze outside of one’s home language and cultural traditions is a problem of ethics, cognition, and identity, more than simply one of method” (177).
  • The problem of translation is central to this piece – I appreciate the care that Lyon recalls with discussing translation and the “language of similarity” that produces mirrored images of ourselves through the translation process.
  • Shi: power/position/potential/disposition/strategic advantage depending on its use in military, political, or moral contexts.
  • Lyon utilizes a historical-textual approach to considering rhetorical terms in this piece, firmly situating the term shi in the writings of Sun (Art of War) and the legalist writings of Han Fei.  This serves to freeze the term and provide a reading of it (even its dynamism) in a particular time frame/context. . . . there is something of a meta-meta lens going on here.  She repeats this method for Wuwei.
  • Lyon characterizes her method as ‘rational reconstruction.’  (193)  This means that the reconstruction is read contextually-historically.


1.       Lyon highlights the difficulty in working outside of one’s cultural context; however, through translators we read and interpret a huge/vast amount of information without really dealing with the complexity of translation.  I guess it is the province of translation scholars like George Steiner (After Babel); however, if we (meaning rhet/comp. as well as lit) manage so well with translated texts – and use them ALL the time in our work – why is the development of a comparative rhetoric so difficult?  I don’t think it is a question of the ease of comparative rhetoric but rather a question related to our unquestioned/uninterrogated acceptance of translation.

2.       I am struck by the amount of socio-cultural historical context goes into the translation of the terms that Lyon is using in this piece.  Obviously that should be the case; however, the complexity of that rendering underscores the hard work of the translator even more.

3.       Are there echoes of epistemic skepticism present in the Dao also haunting Socrates’ position?  (the whole “Man who knows knows nothing” ) – I often think these positions are also undergirding a lot of materialist ontology of becoming (a la Deleuze and through to the political positions of Hardt and Negri on through again to the composition theory of Hawk).  Yay for grand syntheses (without justification/backing)!

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