- Acts of Enjoyment: Rhetoric, Žižek, and the Return of the Subject
Thomas Rickert had a falling-out with his brother, and this distresses him so much that his disrupted relation is described as “traumatic.” Rickert reports that while listening to a portable CD player during a run on an unexpectedly warm winter day, a song by the now defunct jazz/rock band Morphine reminded him of a happy time at a pool hall with his brother (24). Mediated—or better, medicated—by music, the homological happiness of running in the sun and a positive past memory also resurfaced a painful relational rupture, the reason of which Rickert omits to underscore that mysterious, “little detail or object” of the Real that marks his singular finitude as a writing subject (216 n. 11). We’ll want to come back to this curiously deliberate omission, but for the present we note Rickert is not simply an undead author but a human being with relations and feelings. He is not just a gifted scholar or a bundle of reflections, but a nexus of body and movement and words and affect. If there is anything that Rickert’s study can be said to work through with brilliance, humor, and grace, it is the reality of complex personhood.
Rickert’s brotherly confession comes in Chapter 1 as a way to introduce a psychoanalytic understanding of subjectivity, and more specifically, to help illustrate how trauma works itself out as an afterwardness or “belatedness” ( Nachträglichkeit ): traumatic events from the past are not reckoned with or worked-through until some coincidence or reminder, such as a similar [End Page 183] sensory experience, reintroduces the event in doubled re-presentation (18–27). This implies the “subject” (a paradigm person) is a kind of timedelay, a self-conscious temporal moving that becomes this way through re-presentation. The rhetorical subject is analogously a retrojected reckoning with events past (not all traumatic) that Rickert identifies as a scene of writing, a locus that has important implications for rhetorical studies in general and writing pedagogy in particular. Rickert’s logic is as follows: if we agree that the subject is a belated one in the psychoanalytic sense, then how we teach rhetoric needs to change. Rickert opens the book with the observation that his students are producing excellent cultural critiques but that such critiques do not lead the students to change their actions (1–7), perhaps evidence enough that something is not quite right in a classroom grounded by “cultural studies pedagogy” and ideology critique—or at the very least, proof that something has changed. The opening gambit is simply that a “postpedagogy” premised on an understanding of rhetorical subjectivity as belatedness is better than a status quo rooted in the rational subject of the Enlightenment.
Mostly through a Žižek-filtered, Lacanian lens, Acts of Enjoyment then undertakes a retake of the rhetorical field, frequently scanning from the traumatic ontology of the rhetorical subject to that domain of knowledge that we hold dear, the subject of rhetoric. In Chapter 2, the (primal) scene thus shifts from the slo-mo subject to rhetorical studies, initially through a reassessment of Kinneavy’s “communications triangle,” but ultimately in response to the shock treatment of poststructuralism. The initial theoretical traumas introduced by Victor Vitanza, Diane Davis, Sharon Crowley, and others discussed in Chapter 1 are threaded into an account of “poststructural” redress in Chapter 2: as is true of all forms of trauma, the initial poststructural jolt delivered to the concept of subjectivity was deadened; poststructural theory was eventually used to “shore up rather than challenge Kinneavy’s triangle” (37). To truly work-through our traumatized subject in both senses, we need a second trauma: Lacanian psychoanalysis. Presumably, “poststructuralist thought” is to be opposed because it has no account of the subject (21–24); “Lacan,” after all, “is not a poststructuralist” (48). The remainder of the chapter is then used to deploy Lacan’s conceptual lexicon.