“NAUSCOPIE” of writing

“NAUSCOPIE” (the alleged capacity to detect the appearance of a sailing ship beyond the horizon by visual means only) and my own feeling that I can detect good and bad writing –discern the one from the other– by merely looking at it: that is, not by reading or comprehending it, but just looking at the words as one might look at a drawing to discern whether it is good or bad. Nauscopie of writing: by which art the space between the words indicate the quality of the writing.

As ridiculous as this sounds, and surely is, I remain half serious about it, having noticed about my bad writing a certain ‘look’ — though by ‘good and bad’ probably something like ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ is meant, or ‘beginning and advanced student’, rather than the more or less interesting works of a professional, for example. As if the spacing of words held a clue. (Could I tell from looking at a latin text, which I don’t understand, which was the work of Horace and which the work of a Roman teenager? Or does my special ability of logoscopie apply only to English?)

In sum, I don’t think I could distinguish between the major and minor works of Kant, or between the stronger and weaker arguments of a supreme court case just by looking, but perhaps between the work of a better and worse student? or the work of a student when he has tried more and tried less?

This might be an interesting experiement: present subjects with the closing arguments of legal cases (or even the majority and dissenting opinions of supreme court cases) and ask them “just by looking” to say which they think has the stronger argument, and which they thought won the argument, and which argument they thought most agreed with their own sense of justice. (1) do their glances have any predictive power? (2) supposing not, how do their glances inform their judgment? (3) supposing so, is their glancing more predictive than their reading? That is, does their glance tell them more than their reading does?

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