From Minneapolis to Oslo

In the last 8 months or so I’ve been finishing up my book, The Psychopolitics of Speech (now drafted and about to be finalised for submission), and giving a few papers from (or around) its contents. My last post on Merleau-Ponty marks out some of the direction I was taking: namely, towards a view of political speech as an embodied practice whose effects lie as much in activating corporeal relations as in signifying. I’ve grown into this view more and more as I’ve worked on the text. Merleau-Ponty’s idea of the flesh is particularly interesting and generative in this regard, perhaps because he didn’t say that much and so it’s all an open question. Anyway, I presented some papers on the idea of the flesh, bodies and speech to the Cardiff PSA conference and at Oxford Brookes University, then flew off to Minneapolis for the Rhetoric Society of America to participate in a panel on ‘civic desire’. That was an interesting event — more like a cultural studies conference that a rhetoric one, largely because rhetorical enquiry in the US is very well advanced and hovers across disciplines such as political science, history, and cultural analysis (or across the Humanities and the Social Sciences). Anyway, it was a very satisfying conference in a very appealing city.

Before Minneapolis, I managed to pull together a paper on cinema and subjectivity, which I then presented to the PSA conference (two papers in one conference!) and sent off to the journal, Redescriptions. This drew on some debates around Lacanian readings of ‘the gaze’ in cinema studies and applied them to the analysis of a couple of recent movies on Winston Churchill. It has been accepted for publication and should be out soon. After all that, I spent the summer getting on with the book, with a sabbatical in the Autumn term to allow me to keep going. It’s only a short book (c. 60k words) but it’s quite dense at times. The draft was eventually completed in November 2018 and I moved immediately on to writing a paper for a lovely symposium in Oslo entitled ‘Irresistible Forms of Interaction: Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Approaches to Media Culture’. My contribution to this was a talk on ‘The Flesh of Argument’ in which I made use of my colleague, Will Davies’ recent book, Nervous States, to talk about online argument and its tendency to polarise. I pivoted to my topic of the flesh (which in this instance is a reference to the bodily unconscious) to argue that public argument — even in social media, which seems frictionless — has bodily dimensions. Indeed, somewhat paradoxically, social media debating might even be said to reveal the corporeal qualities of speech and argument more than face-to-face debates.

The Oslo trip was very pleasurable: my co-participants (proper psychosocial researchers of digital media) were fascinating and the audience was wonderfully impressive — tolerant and intelligent, you couldn’t ask for more. Oslo is also a rather beautiful place, if fantastically cold and dark.

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The Litteraturhuset, Oslo, where the ‘Irresistible Forms’ symposium was held.

Now I’m back to finish up some revisions to the final copy of the manuscript and prepare to return to teaching in January 2019. For all sorts of reasons it has been a very busy sabbatical (no putting my feet up and drinking sherry all day, alas). But it has allowed me to concentrate for an extended period of time on one thing and to work consistently, rather than in the stop-start fashion of term time researching. I’ve also set up my next research project — called ‘Rhetorics of the Flesh’ — which has a number of strands but all follows from insights gathered in the preparation of the Psychopolitics book. Once I’ve got that thought through a bit more (it involves articulating studies of fascism and religion) I’ll write it up in a later post.

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Body Talk With Merleau-Ponty

It’s been a while since the last post. I’ve been working on my book about the psychopolitics of speech, among other things, and making applications for research funding. In the summer of 2017 I also wrote up an article on Gramsci and Post-Marxism. But one of my more agreeable experiences of late has been an introduction to the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I had been fishing around for a way in to the opening chapter of the psychopolitics book and — having already drafted chapters 2 and 3 — I was hunting for a general approach that might focus attention on the oddities of speech. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach to the body is not an obvious starter for thinking rhetorically, nor even psychoanalytically, about speech. But he does provide a general way to think about the affective dimension of human communication in his account of perception. Let me briefly explain how.

For M-P (it’s too long to write each time!) the body as a whole is the site of perception, not some conscious part of the brain. The body, he argues, is receptive to its environment and apprehends its situation far beyond the partial attentions of consciousness. Think, for example, of riding a bike or whizzing down the escalator to get to the tube train — none of this requires microscopic attention to every moment but is achieved mostly effortlessly. Bodies are, to a great extent, way ahead in sensing and coordinating our behaviours, anticipating dangers or feeling for opportunities. For M-P, the ‘body subject’, not consciousness, is our ‘pivot’ in the world. Indeed, for him the body discloses a ‘world’ for us. This Heideggerian term is used to say that our bodies place us in a meaningful situation before our speech or consciousness does; and the latter tends to follow the former in making sense of what we already ‘know’ in our bodies. If anything, speech is an expression of this sense of being in a world rather than a detached view from outside it. Our words, we could say, supplement and attend to what our bodies are already doing or expecting – often speech mirrors (in terminology and style) the manoeuvres of the body. Of course, we think and talk beyond the immediate situations given by our bodies, but only because our bodies as whole are themselves always anticipating what is coming and how we might develop our ongoing perspective. Speech is a specialisation of the body.

M-P offers an agreeable way to start thinking about rhetoric and speech as bodily practices rather than as emanations of the mind alone. Not only does he remind us of the embodied dimension of discourse — that is, the way speech necessarily involves bodies affecting each other in various ways — but also that human awareness and its attentions are bound up with body possibilities that lie beyond consciousness, or what he calls ‘the Flesh’. This, as scholars such as Diana Coole have pointed out, invites attention to the way politics and political discourses play out in terms of conflicts over corporeal experiences and the possible worlds these permit and refuse. Obviously, this is something already and to a great extent explored by feminists, not least Coole, Elizabeth Grosz and Judith Butler. But M-P is a great starting point for thinking the corporeal politics of rhetoric. More on this later, perhaps …

The Man Without an Unconscious

The work of Massimo Recalcati is not much discussed in Anglo-American culture or academia. His writing is barely found in English translation (I know of only one article translated into English on hate in the journal Qui parles?), although he has produced a number of very popular (and pleasingly short) works as well as some more philosophically dense books and articles. Recalcati is an Italian psychoanalyst, philosopher and writer (you can see his web site here. He’s quite the looker). Over the last two decades he has published a number of reflections on Lacanian psychoanalysis and its enduring value for thinking about emergent clinical problems. In addition to some heavy duty volumes explicating the work of Lacan, he has authored volumes on the changing experience of masculinity, Italian politics, personal relationships, the value of education, and on art. He has developed an agreeable style of popular psychoanalytical observation that might be (roughly) compared to the work in the UK of Darian Leader. His short books sketching the experience of desire and the importance of being ‘a subject with an unconscious’ are accessible and enjoyable crystallisations of a general position he has staked out over the years as a psychoanalytical writer. Unlike many Lacanian writers, Recalcati has the virtue of writing cogently and directly about both Lacan’s work and how it illuminates our contemporary situation.

I find Recalcati very helpful not only in clarifying Lacan’s thought (which is notoriously opaque) but also in articulating psychoanalytical observations — which are by necessity of a clinical origin — to prevailing social and political issues. One of his most interesting texts is L’uomo senza inconscio (‘The Man Without an Unconscious’), published in 2010. Here Recalcati explores what he views as the emergence of a type of cultural persona: a subject without a deep well of unconscious desire. The classic image of the neurotic developed by Freud in the 20th century was of the repressed, emotionally aberrant subject, whose unconscious desire seeped out in the form of symptoms (slips of the tongue, hysteria) that served as a kind of protest against the constraints of repressive civilisation. This was the ‘subject of the unconscious’, overwhelmed by desires it could hardly contain, perpetually at odds with its own place in the social order. This subject (or person) could be treated by psychoanalysis, which gave it a way of acknowledging its desire and finding a way of living with it, sublimating it in some way.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries this awkwardly desiring subject is under threat by contemporary capitalism. Recalcati borrows Lipovetsky’s reading of ‘hypermodernity’ to discuss the way subjectivity is increasingly encouraged to bypass the unconscious and to evade the dissatisfactions of desire in order to encounter ‘enjoyment’ instead. Increasingly, he argues (in tune with ideas also explored, for example, by Slavoj Zizek and Todd McGowan) individuals are invited to seek intensive experiences of fulfilment rather than the compromises of mere pleasure. Whereas pleasure (in a Freudian sense) always entailed a compromise with the social order, a delayed or partial gratification (get your exams, save up, choose the car you can afford, etc), enjoyment (the translation of the French ‘jouissance’. In Italian it’s ‘godimento’) entails the thrilling prospect of full exposure to a corporeal satisfaction (go directly to Bali, live authentically, have the things rich people own, be recognised for your talent, etc).

For Recalcati, contemporary capitalist discourse promotes a personality type primarily directed at enjoyment. But the command to enjoy is deeply damaging both socially and psychically. Above all, bypassing desire renders subjects unable to cope with the scale of enjoyment. In Lacan, unconscious desire is always formed in relation to the symbolic law – that is, it is always a relation to the Other (eg the external rules that we internalise but never fully master). To experience desire (as a kind of longing for something more or better) is simultaneously to feel the limits of the Other (love, school, family, society) and to take some measure of one’s behaviour by its constraints. This can be discomforting but its virtue is that it also produces creative responses anchored in our social reality. But the pursuit of enjoyment evades any sense of responsibility to the Other. As a consequence, Recalcati notes two distinct forms of psychopathology, which he meets personally in the clinic: (1) the ‘chaotic’ but compulsive search for enjoyment via ‘unregulated drives’ that produce, inter alia, drug dependency, addiction to consumption, obesity, panic attacks and so on that reflect the absence of strong symbolic mediation; and (2) ‘hyper-identification’, a form of narcissism that involves rigid attachment to disciplinary regimes of the body, apathy and a refusal of difference. Both are forms of evading the travails of desire by reproducing a sameness: for (1) it is a constant enjoyment; for (2) it is a rigid conformism. Each refuses to ‘form alliances’ with the unconscious and negotiate its relation to the Other. In his book, Recalcati goes on to examine the psychic logics supporting anorexia, bulimia, panic and anxiety disorders, drug additiction and so on: all of which he calls the ‘new symptoms’ of the hypermodern age.

Some day, a publisher might translate into English Recalcati’s work as a whole. But they would certainly do us all a favour if they started with The Man Without an Unconscious.

Talking of Excess

I have been trying to distill the things I’ve been working on of late to a clearish principle. Having spent some time exploring various Lacanian and pyschoanalytic ideas (see the last post for a rather dense version of this), I think it timely to identify a vocabulary that is more amenable to expanded discussion. 

My principle (for now, at least) is ‘excess’. I wrote a number of short things last year about Brexit and excess in argument, on hate speech, and I was also looking at elements of religious preaching and evangelising (where a certain kind of excess is welcomed). And I was, at the same time, thinking through the way Lacan’s concept of the real (the unsymbolizable dimension of experience that has a traumatic effect but can also be something of a captivating lure) might be important in understanding modes of speaking and arguing. All of these things are really about rhetorical excess: when clear boundaries in cultural and political reasoning collapse and enable intense and often exaggerated claims, hostility, or fantasy to become salient. It strikes me that, in an age of Trump and Brexit, resurgent far-right populism and so on, the character of debate and argument is increasingly one of excess. Exceeding established parameters of discussion, willfully invoking dangerous and threatening ideas that destabilise the terrain on which conflicts are played out, the persistent censure and hostility of social media communications, anti-semitism on the left and right, and the emergence of anxieties about ‘post-Truth’ strategies; all these can be conceived as symptomatic of an excessiveness in public culture in recent years. Forms of excess in rhetoric also reveal the ways that established modes of arguing once functioned as barriers to hold off difficult, painful or just unacceptable feelings and attitudes. Once those are gone (and how easy that has been!) a rich stream of vituperation and hostility comes to the fore. This is not necessarily all a bad thing, but it does suggest that speech is never entirely disconnected from violence. 

I’ll post some more items on this as the ideas crystallise.

Rhetoric, Psychoanalysis and the ‘People’s Princess’

Here are some notes on what I’ve been up to in my research over the last few years. This has been concerned with how we analyse public speech by combining rhetorical enquiry with the insights of psychoanalysis. Apologies for the length.
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    We need to think rhetorically about public speech. That is, we need to see public speech — in all its varieties — not simply as the sending of a discrete ‘message’ from A to B but, moreover, as a way of crafting the message such that it positions subjects towards each other and/or the world in a certain way. This is not to diminish the idea of speech and communication having a message but to say that part of what the message does is contained in its linguistic and argumentative formulation. If we attend simply to its overt content, abstracted from its form, we miss the force it exerts and what effects it may render possible. For example, to call the late Princess Diana ‘the people’s princess’, as Tony Blair did in 1997, was not just to invite you to think of her as a princess ‘for’ the people; rather, it evoked all the romantic associations of princesses (beauty, virtue, vulnerability) and merged them with the idealisations made of the universal ordinariness of ‘the people’. Her tragedy thereby became ours and we could thus ‘own’ our part of her story. This practice of shaping speech is what I would call ‘rhetorical’. While rhetoric is present in all speech, its crafting (and amenability to strategy) is most salient in its public and political forms where particular ‘demands’ and messages are explicitly fashioned to be in some ways desireable.
    But we also need to think psychoanalytically about rhetoric. The reason for this is that much of what happens in the reception of speech can be understood as unconscious. That is to say, the effect of another’s (or even our own) speech upon us often falls outside our conscious awareness as we listen and digest it. Certainly it is possible to halt some interpersonal conversations, to go back and correct troublesome phrases, inaccurate terms and so on. But to ‘get’ the message, we have to surrender ourselves to what is said and allow our thoughts to be directed by the words we hear. Moreover, the deeper, affective or emotional dimension of what is said is not always overt. Even when we know that we like or dislike what we hear, we do not always know why we do. Psychoanalysis points us towards the unconscious effects and possibilities in experiences that are, in other respects, seemingly conscious. For instance, we remember our dreams, but we do not always know what they mean or why they trouble us.
    Part of what I’ve been working on of late has been the connection between rhetoric — understood as the investigation of the forms of public speech — and psychoanalysis — the investigation of how the unconscious is manifest. Bringing the two fields together involves conceptualising speech as a means to shape and sustain desire. Drawing upon Lacan, we may conceive speech (the construction of ‘chains of signifiers’) as a means to position the subject (i.e. the person with an unconscious) in relation to the ‘Other’ (not so much another person but the ‘place’ from which they speak; the assumed source of authority and meaning ‘in’ them and from which we seek recognition: e.g. we talk to police officers not as ordinary people but as expressions of legal authority). In so far as the Other confers recognition, it stabilises our desire (our longing for some satisfaction via the objects we seek out). It is not that the Other actually satisfies our desire: dissatisfaction is central to desiring. But articulating our desire via the Other (who is in our unconscious and only occasionally external) legitimates it and, as our normal (‘neurotic’) mode of being, enables us to structure our lives with some prospect of finding more objects to desire. Intertwined with the overt (or ‘manifest’) content of spoken messages, therefore, is the unconscious motivation to position ourselves towards the Other so that we may desire.
    In politics and public culture, we call upon these Others frequently through public speech and oratory. Rhetoric is visible in the choices of words that connect and disconnect — by means of metaphors and argumentative techniques — pathways to the Other and our achievement of recognition. Thus we may hear spoken the good deeds of citizens whose labours are celebrated as contributions to some ‘national purpose’, ‘civic virtue’, ‘human improvement’, and so on. Equally, we hear often of the dangers of certain practices (drug taking, bullying, excessive greed) that receive no recognition from the Other. Often the Other is a pure abstraction (a normative principle or an imagined object like ‘the nation’ or ‘common sense’), at other times it may be embodied in some one or thing in particular (the Monarch, President, Mayor, the Law). The virtue of these Others lies in how they help coordinate who we are and what we want in relation to everyone else; essentially by saying that what we want is what the Other wants.
    Outside of the praise and blame of ceremonial speech, we also find public debate competing to identify what it is the Other wants of us. Does a working economy demand lower or higher wages, greater cooperation or greater competition?; does a commitment to freedom bestow recognition primarily on entrepreneurial behaviour than on social solidarity, more on self-responsible citizens or social experimentation?, and so on. Ideological conflict and debate aims to figure the relation between the Other and subjects (understood in a generic way as ordinary citizens, nationals, ‘hard working families’), often berating an existing government or authority for not aligning with the Other’s desire. In these ways and more, the subject is viewed from the perspective of its relation to the Other.
    Public speech thus aims to coordinate desire; it identifies the goals and the dangers, the definitions and justifications (or the structure of prohibitions), by means of which auditors are encouraged to articulate their wants. Of course, speech (especially political speech) identifies objects and relations that purport, eventually, to actually satisfy us: promising greater wealth, fewer immigrants, more housing, and so on. But these objects are only the overt part of the message (the underlying implication perhaps being: living in abundance and reducing reliance on the Other, eradicating the anxiety of difference that confuses what the Other wants, helping the needy to demonstrate our worthiness of the Other’s recognition): psychoanalysis invites us to make explicit the unconscious motivations in an argumentative stance that supports the explicit message by articulating the subject/Other relation. Tellingly, much political speech revolves around the question of prohibition: what do we need to prevent in order that something acceptable or desirable might then occur? The Other (as a substitute parent) always restricts and selects ‘acceptable’ desires.
    But public speech is also persistently vulnerable to the contingencies of events, the oddities of their speakers and audiences, and the presence of counter-arguments disrupting and diminishing efforts to figure desire. This vulnerability can be understood in terms of what Lacan called the Real. This refers to the register of unsymbolized desire that exerts pressure on the subject’s symbolic and imaginary formations (the rationalisation of its symbolic status and the self-image it bears as its identity). For Lacan, the Real is what, clinically-speaking, gets excluded from unconscious desire via repression but also, moreover, by way of the inherent selectivity of any language and cultural system. It is the unspeakable force of excluded sensations and desires that is generated when one builds one’s self-image and adopts ways of rendering the world meaningful. These unassimilated energies have no symbolic form and so their presence is often felt as an undefinable threat or anxiety impressing itself upon the subject. The Real makes itself present not as a definable thing but as the disruption or distortion to our symbolic frameworks. In some ways, the Real accounts for our singularity as individuals – the peculiar inflections and unique personal aversions that form our personalities by shaping how we comport ourselves in our social roles (see Ruti 2012). Managing the Real is the constant underside to having a sense of self and it is present primarily at the limits of our capacity to symbolise (i.e. connect with the Other) and to imagine ourselves as integral, autonomous agents. As ‘raw’ unprocessed desire, the Real is sometimes felt as an unmanageable, visceral excess; a confusing bodily disorganisation that cannot be processed. When things begin to ‘fall apart’ in our psychic lives is the moment when, quite individually, the Real intrudes into — and so disfigures — our existence. Typically, we resist the alluring force of the Real and stick to our symbolic code as closely as we can. This refusal can be extremely discomforting (which is why people choose to do pyschoanalytic therapy), revealing our symbolic frameworks as inadequate, unable to process the force and scale of our feelings.
    In public speech the Real presents itself in various ways as the limit to rhetorical symbolisation. It is the persistent excess in the situation that gives rise to speech and — at the same time — the impossibility of ever fully controlling that situation. It is only because established patterns of rhetoric are disrupted or disabled by external events such as catastrophes, crises, policy failures, election results, wars and so on that more rhetoric is supplied to restore the subject/Other relation damaged by these events. Chains of signifiers are usually produced to recapture desire so that the Other can be restored and subjects reoriented towards it. The Real is here experienced as the pressure of unknowable desires whose parameters cannot be calculated. Public rhetoric in such circumstances must find its way to restoring the question of the Other’s desire following this disruption and restoring the investment of desire in it. This is done not necessarily by resolving the problem such that it goes away altogether but by assimilating it into the way speech is organised — altering its usual stance, finding new phrases to define a common purpose, and so on. But speech never exhaustively ends this task and there is always a lingering stain of unassimilated desires in circulation that threatens the capacity of governments and authorities to control the impact of any situation.
    So public discourse is never really just about the subject/Other relation — it is always asserting this relation in light of the ever-present potential for it to fall apart. It is common, then, for speech to incorporate an element of the Real — a distorting gap — into its net of signifiers. Here the Real shows itself as the true ‘engine’ of desire. Public and political speech is persistently feeding off the breakdown in the symbolic order where such gaps appear. In these gaps — between saying and doing, expectation and reality, etc — lies a threatening disruption that can be figured as a psychical ’cause’ of new desires. That is, the cracks and fissures in the symbolic order, the inconsistencies and disturbances that, inevitably, rise to the surface are places from which a new, more visceral experience of desire comes to the fore.
    Much public speech is concerned with avoiding such circumstances and returning the same compromised formulations of the Other’s desire; but at the same time, speech is compelled to encounter the gaps in the symbolic order and use them as spurs to more intense kinds of identification. Often this done by figuring the Real in the form of a ‘lost’ thing, some quality of plenitude that resides in the Other: national prestige, moral virtue, true leadership, justice, and so on. The actual Other (or its embodiment) may fall short, but the qualities towards which it is aimed are presented as eternal — if, as yet, unfulfilled. Speakers will often identify elements of an actual tragedy as the irruption of that lost quality into brief presence (the bereaved servicemen, the brave public servants, the dedicated teachers and so on). Here, the lost object invites a profound psychic attachment that overrides the inconsistencies of the symbolic order. The profitless dedication to service exemplifies its incalculable fullness beyond measurement — a manifestation of what Lacan called ‘enjoyment’ (a painful pleasure beyond any personal gain).
    Loss and enjoyment go together because the sacrifice of plenitude — an intimate and profound connection with the Other — is the founding experience of all subjectivity. Blair’s eulogy to Princess Diana — referred to above — exemplified precisely this. It briefly transformed one person’s tragedy into a universal loss, thereby permitting the public not simply to ‘know’ of Diana’s death but to ‘enjoy’ it. To invoke such a loss is to return subjects to an all-encompassing experience of plenitude that the symbolic world of words can normally never adequately capture. Invocations of loss and sacrifice are vital for public rhetoric. Unlike the managerial talk of ministers and office holders, they bring us closest to our own raw underside of desire. Thus so many memorable moments of speech concern (or try to appeal to) bereavement, death, catastrophe, war and other circumstances that invite us to psychically enjoy and not merely to desire (on this, see McGowan 2013).
    So, in summary, I think rhetoric has two, contrasting but overlapping ‘psychic’ functions: to coordinate desire by articulating the subject’s relation to the Other AND to structure the subject’s enjoyment through that relation. The first points to the positive principles or norms by which our desires are legitimated (and contested); the second highlights the negativity that supports desire (an actual loss or a looming, future one). These functions are in dialectical tension: one tells us how to desire, the other tells us that we are incomplete. Normal public speech aims to make the first an answer to the second, allowing us to feel pleasure (at the legitimacy of our desires) while permitting us, simultaneously, to enjoy our loss.
    I hope to develop these themes (with a few more examples) and I’ll try to put them up on this site as I progress.
References
McGowan, Todd. 2013. Enjoying What We Don’t Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis. London: University of Nebraska Press.
Ruti, Mari. 2012. The Singularity of Being: Lacan and the Immortal Within. New York: Fordham University Press.

Can we start 2016 again?

Since I last blogged, UK citizens have made the regrettable decision to leave the EU. The referendum campaign felt like it had lasted for decades and was, especially in last few months, a hugely disagreeable event as far as its rhetoric goes. So I start the new term in Autumn, like many others, dispirited in all sorts of ways by the nature of our public discourse and not entirely impressed by our stock of politicians. Still the summer was, otherwise, quite a productive experience. I managed to write up some blog(gish) comments on various themes (from Brexit to the emerging authoritarianism in various parts), complete and submit two book proposals (one for a book on ‘hegemony’ with Polity, and the other on ‘the psychopolitics of speech’ with Transcript. Both of these (relatively short) projects have got the go-ahead and will preoccupy me for the next couple of years. I also managed to prepare a book chapter on the UK expenses scandal, revise a chapter on Gramsci and Futurism (that I wrote six years ago!), and present a paper on hate speech at a (perhaps paradoxically) very pleasant conference on ‘Fomenting Political Violence’ at Essex university. So – despite my utter despair at the referendum and, God knows, all the other shit going on in the world – my cogs are still spinning and my levers still functional. Here’s hoping the year ends well (in Syria and in the US election).

Sprung

Thank heavens for Spring vacation. That Spring term (which has nothing to do with Spring btw, it’s January to March!) always wears me down. This year it was hard going because there was lots of committee work to do (loads of new modules to process), new jobs, and just lots of conversation with students (where I feared I talked too much, as ever). Plus the term was a week shorter than usual and a conference was plonked right in the last week! Anyway, all this work delayed some writing projects but I managed eventually to finish some drafts. I wrote up a piece on ‘Marx’s Rhetoric’ which was an interesting return to some very old texts I haven’t looked at in a while. I even had a look at the German version of the Manifesto and ‘On the Jewish Question’, and fished around in Capital volume 1, which is always a treat. And I managed to tidy up a paper on the UK expenses scandal from a (broadly) Lacanian point of view and submit it as a draft for an edited collection. We’ll see about that. It was, at least, a good opportunity to read some Renata Salecl, who writes engaging stuff on contemporary anxieties.

I went off to the PSA conference in late March having cancelled my own paper (no time to finish it off) but taking up the role of panel discussant instead. Actually, it’s good to hear and read other people’s research without reflecting on one’s own. The conference was in Brighton and it was a delight to meet up, if only briefly, with all sorts of people I haven’t seen in ages. I was only there for a day but the sea air was a tonic. On my return — and after some rest following exhaustion — I began to think I need to engage some of my interests in psychoanalysis and rhetoric with various offshoots of political psychology. Actually, this has been on my mind for a while. It strikes me that there are some interesting, if tense, connections between disciplines that have very different concepts of subjectivity and that rhetoric is a possible bridge (should one be needed). I have to think a little more about this. But it’s good to be thinking again, at last!