[KB] Burke, Rhetoric of Neutrality

wessr at onid.orst.edu wessr at onid.orst.edu
Sun Apr 19 15:45:24 EDT 2015

Dear Pierre,

In response to your formulation: "If I should define, what neutrality  
is, I would say: 'Information seems to us neutral, if we can't see  
other motives behind the information (and the act of informing), than  
those we, by ourselfes, put inside.'"

I would say that this formulation is a variant of what Burke says in  
the passage from the GRAMMAR that I referenced. This is a variant  
because it is limited to a specific context (e.g., timetables, etc.).  
But within this context, you're identifying a level of motivation  
shared by both sides in the information exchange. Evidence of the  
sharing is that there appear to be no motives other than those that  
"we" (the receiver) would "put inside."

All best,


Quoting Pierre Smolarski <pierre.smolarski at fh-bielefeld.de>:

> Dear Bob,
> you really remember our talk in Ghent? Great. I really enjoyed  
> talking to you.
> Thanks for your advices. Those let me think about nautrality in a  
> bit different way. If I should define, what neutrality is, I would  
> say:
> 'Information seems to us neutral, if we can't see other motives  
> behind the information (and the act of informing), than those we, by  
> ourselfes, put inside.' (think of the term: usability)
> This definition is much more helpful (I hope), than simply saying:  
> a) There is no neutrality, since every act of information is only  
> possible on the basis of specific motives. or b) pure information is  
> quite neutral and in that way not rhetorical. What a) and b) miss, I  
> guess, is that neutrality is not a property of information, but an  
> assumption/attribution to information made by their potential users.
> This definiton does also allow to see 'neutral' Information (of  
> course only in respect to a specific audience in a specific  
> situation) independently from decoration, levels of pathos or  
> content assumptions made by the orator. Neutral in that  
> understanding might be a kind of 'pure persuasion'.
> What do you think?
> Best regards,
> Pierre
> Am 17.04.15 19:55 schrieb wessr at onid.orst.edu:
>> 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
>> >>
>> >>
>> >

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