[KB] Burke, Rhetoric of Neutrality

Clarke Rountree rountrj at uah.edu
Fri Apr 17 15:02:21 EDT 2015


May I suggest another literature that might be useful. There is a line of
argument concerning "antirhetoric" or rhetoric that pretends not to be
rhetorical. An early discussion of this is found in an essay by Michael
Calvin McGee and John R. Lyne, "What are Nice Folks Like You Doing in a
Place Like This? Some Entailments of Treating Knowledge Claims
Rhetorically" (in John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and Donald N. McCloskey, *The
Rhetoric of the Human Sciences: Language and Argument in Scholarship and
Public Affairs*, pp. 381-406). They note: "The dialectic that undergirds
the turn to rhetoric in contemporary letters lies in an opposition between
passionate and prejudiced social reason (traditionally associated with the
rhetoric of marketplace and forum) and an antirhetoric of cool, comfortably
neutral technical reason (associated in the public mind with computing
machines and sterile laboratories)" (389). Later they admit "there is a
sense in which antirhetoric's appeal to objective knowledge and its
accompanying denunciation of rhetoric is one of the most effective
rhetorical strategies available. No one was a greater master of the
strategy than Plato. In our time, masters of the rhetoric of science
command the most formidable rhetorical *ethos*. Theirs is the chaste
rhetoric that pretends not to be rhetorical" (393, endnote omitted).

Neutrality draws upon the ideals of science--or perhaps even a commonsense
perception that one is not "placing a thumb on one side of a scale" in
communicating. It is powerful BECAUSE it denies its rhetoricity. It draws
on a sensibility that suggests "that's the way it is--the plain,
unvarnished truth."

Of course Burke points out that any terminology necessarily draws attention
to some things and not other things (not to mention often carrying
connotations and other values with them); in this sense, there is no
neutral vocabulary (for why should we attend to this rather than that?).

Good luck!


On Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 12:55 PM, <wessr at onid.orst.edu> wrote:

> Hi Pierre, good to hear your project is progressing. I remember our talk
> in Ghent.
> Here are a few Burke texts that come to mind:
> (1) "Our Attempt to Avoid Mere Relativism," the final section of
> "Terministic Screens."
> (2) RHETORIC OF MOTIVES, p. 201 (juxtapose with Bentham)
> (3) GRAMMAR OF MOTIVES, p. 442.
> Of these, (3) might be most useful for creating, as you put it, an
> "atmosphere of neutrality in specific contexts."
> I think Burke would oppose any theorizing of neutrality that eliminated
> motive on the ground that that is a kind of dramatistic self-contradiction
> (such theorizing is itself an act, so must have a motive). But there is an
> alternative: (3) suggests the possibility of "a level of motivation which
> even wholly rival doctrines of motives must share in common." A motive
> shared by all is in a sense neutral to all.
> Good luck with your project.
> Bob
> Quoting Pierre Smolarski <pierre.smolarski at fh-bielefeld.de>:
>  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?
>> Burke 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 value.
>> 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,
>> Pierre
>> Am 17.04.15 16:53 schrieb Gregory Desilet  <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.?
>>> Greg
>>> On Apr 16, 2015, at 5:58 PM, Pierre Smolarski <
>>> pierre.smolarski at fh-bielefeld.de> wrote:
>>> > Dear Burkeans,
>>> >
>>> > 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 work.)
>>> > 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 neutrality)
>>> > 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 helpful)
>>> >
>>> > 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
> _______________________________________________
> KB mailing list
> KB at kbjournal.org
> http://kbjournal.org/mailman/listinfo/kb_kbjournal.org

Dr. Clarke Rountree
Chair and Professor of Communication Arts
342 Morton Hall
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Huntsville, AL  35899
clarke.rountree at uah.edu
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://kbjournal.org/pipermail/kb_kbjournal.org/attachments/20150417/a8e55c0f/attachment-0002.html>

More information about the KB mailing list