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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