I recently received funding from The Swedish Research Council’s call for International Postdocs. This three-year research project entitled The Return of the Sophists? Democracy, Post-Truth, and Rhetoric in the Populist Moment will be hosted by the Groupe de recherche en Rhétorique et en Argumentation Linguistique at the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. The aim is to develop an understanding of the state of contemporary democracy focusing on the threat that the eloquent speaker poses to the people as sovereign. Today, both the political left and right claim that democracy is under constant pressure from populist demagogues and sophistic ideologues misleading the people to further their own agenda. However, rather than constituting a novelty, the history of this threatening figure is riveted to that of democracy itself. The latest iteration of this theme can be traced back to the late 60s, where these issues were once again formulated in academia under two different headings: populism and sophistry. While populism appears as a problem in the practical political world, thus offering itself up to be studied by the empirical sciences, the sophist as a figure in democracy asks slightly different questions. Already in Antiquity, the political threat embodied in the sophist seems to provoke democracy on a fundamental level, forcing us to question what is in politics, what we can know, and what we can say about it. Rather than offering another attempt to uncover the nature of populism and its threat to democracy, the aim is to trace the other side of this history, focusing on the sophist in contemporary political thought. By tracing how political thought has approached this figure since the 60s, the project will develop an understanding of our populist moment and what it can tell us of the state of democracy in the post-truth era.
Beginning with the spring semester of 2021, I will be working on a new research project which just received funding from The Foundation of Baltic and East European Studies. The project is entitled Post-Communist Communism in Eastern Europe: A Rhetorical History of The Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis and aims at investigating so-called post-communist communism as it is developed by members of the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis in general and Slavoj Žižek in particular. This will be achieved by focusing on how the concept of communism is rhetorically formed through the school’s analysis of the concept’s historical actualization in Eastern Europe and through their critique of our present ailments, relating it to their thoughts concerning the nature of the political idea.