Seeing voices: cinema, rhetoric, and subjectivity

Martin, James. 2018. Seeing voices: cinema, rhetoric, and subjectivity. Redescriptions, 21(1), pp. 7-22. ISSN 2308-0914 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

What can film teach us about political rhetoric? Although many different types of speech and argument are to be found in cinematic productions, films rarely present a single or clear-cut argumentative case like a formal oration. Instead, dialogue conforms to a wider narrative process, anchoring speech in cinema's visual form of storytelling. But if, as Richard Rushton claims, films can present narrative arguments that depict the tentative formation of subjectivity, we still need to account for the way audiences are lured into identifying with those narratives. In this paper I draw upon Lacanian film theory – specifically the notion of "the gaze" – to explain how film enacts a form of rhetorical "exigence" that disrupts the visual field to stimulate spectators' desire and invite resolution. Two recent films about Churchill are used to illustrate this point. Political rhetoric, I conclude, might therefore usefully be conceived as a visually oriented practice.

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The article was first published in December 2018 in an issue dated 1 March 2018 (despite the article being accepted for publication on 18 May 2018). The initial publication contained the unrevised version of the paper and the correct version was finally published online in May 2019.


Winston Churchill, cinema, psychoanalysis, rhetoric

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18 May 2018Accepted
1 December 2018Published
1 May 2019Published Online

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24 May 2018 14:16

Last Modified:

12 Dec 2019 11:03

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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