- Lacan in Public: Psychoanalysis and the Science of Rhetoric by Christian Lundberg
Christian Lundberg’s Lacan in Public is an intellectual treat. This fresh and exciting book invites its readers to taste an unusual fusion of theoretical and critical flavors. Following Barbara Biesecker’s call for rhetoricians to venture contact with Lacanian psychoanalysis, the author explores the utility of Jacques Lacan’s scholarship for the purposes of contemporary rhetorical theory and criticism. Although a discussion of Lacan’s work comprises the bulk of the book, readers of Rhetoric & Public Affairs will find Lacan in Public appealing because it addresses a number of principal questions pertaining to the theory and criticism of public discourse. To explicate major contributions of the book to rhetorical studies, I focus, as much as space constraints permit, first on Lundberg’s discussion of the rhetorical impulse characteristic of Lacan’s psychoanalysis, second on Lacanian theory of the public(s), and, finally, on the functions of rhetorical theory and criticism. [End Page 374]
Throughout the book, Lundberg fairly emphasizes “Lacanian psychoanalysis’s inextricable commitment to and dependence on rhetoric” (192). Lacan’s theory is built on a basic deconstructive principle that there is lack in the center of any identity. This lack is brought about by the failure of language to adequately represent what Lacan calls the Real, or the world external to discourse. The discrepancy between the discursive and extradiscursive realms, which results in the ultimate incompleteness of the subject and his/her experience of the social world, is compensated rhetorically, in the Symbolic and Imaginary registers of the human psyche. As Lundberg explains, the Lacanian Symbolic is much more than a system of differential relations (a view on language most commonly associated with structuralist linguistics). The Symbolic is tropologically charged and affectively driven. In other words, it is characterized by the insistent reassertion of metonymic connections. When some signifier-to-signifier links produce greater affect or create more enjoyable identarian attachments than others, they transform into metaphorical relations. The Symbolic is the formal condition of possibility of the Imaginary, the dimension where metaphoric condensations acquire specific content.
Lundberg describes the speaking subject as a site where, because of the subject’s persistent affective movement toward identity wholeness, the referential inadequacy of language and, by extension, the radically lacking nature of subjectivity are “recovered” by adopting supposedly coherent images of the self and the social world (which in their turn are figured by formal symbolic mechanisms). The subject, to use Lundberg’s terms, is a compromised, or failed and feigned, formation. Rhetorically constructed subjectivity is the primary focus of psychoanalytic theory and praxis. Just as the rhetorical critic, the psychoanalyst attends to the Imaginary or conscious narratives the analysand tells about himself/herself and others. The goal of psychoanalysis, however, is not to decipher the analysand’s Imaginary, but to expose the Symbolic or unconscious mechanisms responsible for organizing the analysand’s Imaginary. Thus, Lundberg brings the reader’s attention to the close affinity between psychoanalytic and rhetorical practices and, as I discuss further, pushes rhetorical criticism beyond its purportedly excessive focus on the Imaginary.
The discussion of the rhetorical character of psychoanalytic theory and practice sets up Lundberg’s account of Lacan’s “systematic theory of rhetoric, grounded in public speech” (1)—a theory of how the subject and the [End Page 375] subject’s experiences are constituted in an inseparable connection to others. Whereas Lundberg’s account of the public(s) is not a primary focus of the book, it can nevertheless serve as a starting point for a productive consideration of the ideas of the public and the private as they are viewed from a Lacanian perspective and compared to a vast array of theories of the public(s). According to Lundberg, Lacan’s understanding of the public(s) (the term used by Lacan quite rarely) runs counter to the traditional idea of communication as an exchange of messages between given subjects. Instead, Lundberg proposes to understand the Lacanian public(s) as speech, both symbolic...