Rhetoric, psychoanalysis, and the imaginary

Randall Thomas Bush*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This essay poses some questions for Ernesto Laclau's conception of rhetoric with respect to the theory of hegemony and the concept of 'the people'. Through reference to Lacanian psychoanalysis - in particular the category of the Imaginary - I note the tendency of rhetoric to be 'ontologized' in Laclau's most recent work by the now-familiar claims of the 'rhetoricity of the social' and the attendant constitution of the people. The psychoanalytic Imaginary, I argue, offers a theoretical propaedeutic for rhetoric. It provides an opportunity to consider rhetoric not merely as the quasi-ontological (i.e. 'failed') constitution of political subjects, but rather as a specific and crucial moment of affective ambivalence between language (langue) and speech (parole). Consideration of the Imaginary is important not, I claim, because of the specific Lacanian language; rather, it shows how rhetoric's productive power may lie in the ambivalences of speech and language, rather than under the auspices of rhetoric as a quasi-ontology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)282-298
Number of pages17
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012


  • Imaginary
  • psychoanalysis
  • rhetoric
  • rhetoricity
  • the people

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences


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