[KB] Burke, Rhetoric of Neutrality

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Fri Apr 17 14:21:13 EDT 2015

Pierre and Greg,

Greg is certainly correct that Burke opposes the "scientistic" notion of a "neutral" vocabulary.  Yet, at the same time, one of the criticisms of Burke has been that his "comic-frame" respect for the "parliamentary," the democratic requirement to bring into deliberation all the competing voices on a matter, makes for, or induces toward, frozen inaction.  Burke claims, in ATH, that he's not arguing for such inaction, but rather for "maximum consciousness" of oneself and the alternatives, observation of oneself while, and no doubt before, acting.  Burke's demurrer, however, has not altogether solved the problem for many.

Hence Herb Simons' challenge toward Burke on the question of "warrantable outrage," and the essay (in RSQ) by Greg and me on a strategy to resolve this Burkean dilemma in a time of dire crisis, where and when Burkean due deliberation might have ended up with the Japanese occupying our west coast, and the Germans lording it over our eastern seaboard.

Burke's "comic frame" as paradigm for overcoming the blinkered myopia of symbolic action can be seen, and has been seen, as a doubtful prescription for just such a "rhetoric of neutrality."

Don't just "do" something!  Sit there together, talk till you blue in the face, and DON'T do anything about it!


On Fri, 4/17/15, Pierre Smolarski <pierre.smolarski at fh-bielefeld.de> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] Burke, Rhetoric of Neutrality
 To: kb at kbjournal.or
 Date: Friday, April 17, 2015, 1:01 PM
 Dear Greg,
 sorry I didn't express
 myself good enough: Of course there is no such thing as
 neutrality. pure neutrality would be unperceivable or at
 least totally boring. But of course there is the phenomenon,
 or better: the effect of neutrality. To call a house a house
 seems to be very neutral. Scienctific maps look as if they
 where neutral, etc. So do you mean by saying "there
 cannot be a rhetoric of neutrality" that there cannot
 be a strategical, rhetoical use of neutrality (as effect)?
 That there cannot be an attempt to create images or find
 words that will (in the eye/ear of the audience) have an
 effect of neutrality? Being a mediator, for example, is only
 possible if both side trust in your neutrality. Being a
 successful mediator so means, to create an atmosphere of
 neutrality. This creation would imply (I guess) some
 strategies: How to appear as neutral as I can? This
 understanding of neutrality does not contradict the idea of
 terminsitic screens. Moreover: Maybe neutrality has its own
 terministic screen?
 is - by discussing Bentham in his Rhetoric of Motives -
 talking about neutrality: There he points out: "Where
 inducement to action is concerned, a genuinely neutral
 vocabulary would defeat its own ends: for there is no act in
 it. It would give full instructions for conditioning - but
 it could not say to what one should condition." Thats a
 great and right statement so far it reaches. But how far is
 that? Asking a designer of timetables and plans for
 train-stations, he said: "We just deliver (neutral)
 information for the persons, who want to travel by train. We
 give them what they should know." Nearly the same
 answer you can get from almost every information-designer.
 But is information neutral? For Burke, there is no
 'should' in neutrality and therefore no direction,
 no act. In the answer of the designer you see: there is a
 'should' even in the claim of neutrality. It is the
 Information you should know! At least the product
 (timetable, plan, map, whatever) has to persuade of its own
 My kind of thinking
 is maybe to confus and to of course not elaborated enough,
 yet. That's exactly the reason for me to contact you. A
 'rhetroic of neurality' should be an enquiry about
 the strategies used to create an atmosphere of neutrality in
 specific contexts. Even if neutrality does not exist, it can
 be a powerful motive, or not?
 Best Regards,
 17.04.15 16:53 schrieb Gregory
 <info at gregorydesilet.com>:It strikes me that
 Burke would be a theorist providing the paradigm rationale
 for why there cannot be a “rhetoric of neutrality.”
 Burke shows why every use of language is necessarily
 partisan. See his essay “Terministic Screens.” 
 On Apr 16, 2015, at 5:58 PM,
 Pierre Smolarski <pierre.smolarski at fh-bielefeld.de>
 > Dear
 > while
 writing my PhD Thesis on 'Rhetoric of Design',
 I'm now at the point discussing rhetorical dimensions in
 information-desgin (especially in map-design, timetables at
 busstops, etc.) Long story short: This chapter is (or should
 be) embedded in a 'Rhetoric of Neutrality'. My
 question is: Is Burke writing somewhere about this topic?
 > The simple baseline goes that:
 > neutrum = neither of both
 > Since rhetoric is based on 'one of
 both' (metaphorically: 'both' means the
 possibility of choice, the Agon; 'one' means the
 attitude, the partisanship, the aim of persuasion) it is
 contrary to the neutral 'neither of both'.
 Neutrality negates the rhetorical usefulness and/or
 meaningfulness of the Agon. Not in the way of 'neither
 of both, but a third' (this wouldn't break the logic
 of the agon), but in the way 'neither of both as
 third' (this might be the kind of neutrality of
 switzerland) This kind of neutrality is obviously. It is the
 disputatious position of having no position. (The use- and
 meaningfulness of the rhetorical agon is only negated on the
 first level. On the meta-level, concerning the motives of
 neutrality, there are still rhetorical strategies at
 > From there we come to other
 forms of neutrality:  the (sorry or my english) 'one of
 one' (going with terms like: the truth, the causal, the
 logical necessary, the natural, the antipersuasive (close to
 the sense of Kierkegaard) and, maybe: denotation) The
 neutrality is here not obvious, everything seems to be as it
 is: It is what it is. So is it. (Thats maybe the point,
 where scientific maps claim there objectivity and
 > Another form of neutrality
 might be the 'both of both' (going with terms like:
 mediation, diplomatic, etc.) 
 > Mayber
 everything is confusing: So my question is just: Is there
 any rhetorical theory of neutrality? (Kinross is not very
 > Thank
 you much and greatings from Bern in Switzerland
 > Pierre Smolarski 
 > KB mailing list
 KB at kbjournal.org
 > http://kbjournal.org/mailman/listinfo/kb_kbjournal.org
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