EP9: Nathan Stormer: Rhetoric by Accident


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By Ryan Leack & Ellen Wayland-Smith, Ryan Leack, and Ellen Wayland-Smith. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Nathan Stormer, a professor of rhetoric in the Communication and Journalism Department at the University of Maine, discusses with us his article “Rhetoric by Accident,” published in Volume 53.4 of the journal Philosophy & Rhetoric. Here, he articulates a view of accidents that shape rhetorical work, but which themselves are not purposive, motive-driven, directed, or ethical. As extra-moral events and material and/or discursive happenings, accidents are indifferent to purpose. Staying with accidents and our material openness and vulnerability to them, Stormer sustains a space in which to think about accidents, and the accidental, apart from their agential and ethical usefulness, thereby disentangling the accidental from core rhetorical formulations that orbit intentionality on the human stage. In doing so, Stormer illuminates the power of accidents beyond our responses to and appropriations of them.
Nathan Stormer
Vorris Nunley
Ryan Leack
Ellen Wayland-Smith
Selected References
Alfred North Whitehead
Barbara Cassin
Baruch Spinoza
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves (1989)
Diane Davis, Inessential Solidarity (2010)
Édouard Glissant
Emmanuel Levinas
Eric King Watts, Hearing the Hurt (2012)
Friedrich Nietzsche
Gaston Bachelard, Intuition of the Instant (1932)
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
Hannah Arendt
Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology (1966)
I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936)
Jordan Peterson
Kenneth Burke
Leonard Susskind
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1927)
Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster (1980)
Niels Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (1932)
Peter Elbow
Rainer Maria Rilke, “On the Edge of Night”
Thomas Rickert, Ambient Rhetoric (2013)
W. E. B. Du Bois
Notable Quotes from Nathan
“You cannot explain how rhetoric is the way it is—even if you understand it as language use among individuals and people, and in social contexts—and at the same time say every experience, every feeling that I have is intended for me and meant for me as an audience. It is not. It cannot be that way. That’s literally impossible as a statement. So, you’re left with this problem that we are in fact influenced by things that were never meant for us, that don’t even know that we exist.”
“The point is that if you’re going to explain that rhetoric is driven by human interests you’re left with the fact that you can’t explain all the things that shape people through those interests, which means there’s a problem of the accident that goes unexplained. We just don’t have ways of talking about that… If you’re concerned with that issue, I think you confront the fact that there’s a lot things that just happen without any interest in an outcome that shape people.”
“Part of the issue is that you can’t think about the accident without destroying it as an accident… To recognize the accidental as accidental, you have to just leave it alone… You can’t do a rhetorical criticism of an accident without not really talking about an accident. You’re going to talk about what it did to people, why it mattered to them. Well, now you’re in the purposive again, which is perfectly fine, but, again, conceptually the accident’s still there. The accidental still exists. So, I think we do run into the ethical because that’s what people are concerned with, and rightly so, but conceptually we don’t actually engage the problem of the accidental.”
“[Accidental rhetoric does not] displace our understanding of rhetoric or what we think of as intentional. It’s to argue that the intentional, and the design, and the directed and the purposive, is always feeding out of accidents. It has to.”

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