Capturing Desire: Rhetorical Strategies and the Affectivity of Discourse

Martin, James. 2016. Capturing Desire: Rhetorical Strategies and the Affectivity of Discourse. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 18(1), pp. 143-160. ISSN 1369-1481 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In this article I argue that psychoanalytical theory can help us understand the emotional force of political rhetoric. I undertake a theoretical enquiry into the method of interpreting political speeches as strategies of affective persuasion. Both rhetorical and psychoanalytical studies converge in their concern with the production of ‘plausible stories’ that aim to fold psychic investments into political judgements. To capture desire, I claim, political rhetoric must articulate ‘symptomatic beliefs’ in relation to wider situational exigencies. I sketch three distinct psychoanalytical approaches, each of which emphasises a different scenario of unconscious organisation where rhetorical strategies are pertinent: namely Freudian, Kleinian, and Lacanian approaches. These are then applied to the example of a controversial rhetorical intervention – Enoch Powell’s infamous Birmingham speech of 1968 – to demonstrate the various potential focii when undertaking analysis.

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rhetoric; psychoanalysis; desire; affect; persuasion

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20 January 2015Published Online
1 February 2016Published

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Date Deposited:

14 Mar 2016 21:53

Last Modified:

08 Mar 2021 11:08

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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