French post-structuralist philosopher, best known for his highly influential formulation of postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition. Despite its popularity, however, this book is in fact one of his more minor works. For Lyotard, this fact has a deep political import, since politics claims to be based on accurate representations of reality. Lyotard deals with these common themes in a highly original way, and his work exceeds many popular conceptions of postmodernism in its depth, imagination, and rigor.
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French post-structuralist philosopher, best known for his highly influential formulation of postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition. Despite its popularity, however, this book is in fact one of his more minor works. For Lyotard, this fact has a deep political import, since politics claims to be based on accurate representations of reality.
Lyotard deals with these common themes in a highly original way, and his work exceeds many popular conceptions of postmodernism in its depth, imagination, and rigor.
His thought remains pivotal in contemporary debates surrounding philosophy, politics, social theory, cultural studies, art and aesthetics. His father, Jean-Pierre Lyotard, was a sales representative. His early interest in philosophies of indifference resulted in his M. In Constantine Lyotard read Marx and became acquainted with the Algerian political situation, which he believed was ripe for socialist revolution.
In Lyotard joined the socialist revolutionary organisation Socialisme ou Barbarie Socialism or Barbarism. Lyotard had met Souyris at a union meeting late in , and they had a long and close friendship, eventually troubled by political and theoretical differences. Lyotard became an intellectual militant, and asserts that for fifteen years he was so dedicated to the cause of socialist revolution that no other aspect of life with the sole exception of love diverted him from this task.
His writings in this period are solely concerned with ultra-left revolutionary politics, with a sharp focus on the Algerian situation the war of independence had broken out in He contributed to and edited the Socialisme ou Barbarie journal, and wrote pamphlets to distribute to workers at protests and at factory gates. He had lost belief in the legitimacy of Marxism as a totalising theory, and returned to the study and writing of philosophy. The publication of The Postmodern Condition brought Lyotard worldwide fame, and in the s and 90s he lectured widely outside of France.
Lyotard died of leukaemia in Paris on April 21, In the second part the focus shifts from Husserl to the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In particular, he is interested in the bearing this problem has on the question of whether phenomenology can think history politically, thus potentially contributing to Marxism. Much of his exposition and discussion is positive, and Lyotard argues that phenomenology can make valuable contributions to the social sciences, where it should serve two functions: firstly, to define the object of the science eidetically i.
Lyotard argues, for example, that sociology has need of a phenomenological definition of the essence of the social before it can proceed effectively as a science.
He argues that phenomenology does not represent progress on Marxism, but is in fact a step backwards. For Lyotard phenomenology cannot properly formulate a materialist worldview and the objective nature of the relations of production; it ends up interpreting class struggle as taking place in consciousness. In the fifteen years between his first two books of philosophy, Lyotard devoted all his writing efforts to the cause of revolutionary politics.
His most substantial writings of this time were his contributions to the Socialisme ou Barbarie journal on the political situation in Algeria [many of which are collected in Political Writings ]. The project of Socialisme ou Barbarie was to provide theoretical resources to contribute to socialist revolution, critiquing other existing socialist strands particularly Stalinism and the French communist party as a hindrance to revolution, and with a particular emphasis on the critique of bureaucracy.
In the essays on Algeria, Lyotard applies this project to the French occupation, trying to determine the potential for socialist revolution arising from this situation. He pays close attention to the economic forces at work in occupied Algeria, arguing that it is in the economic interests of France to keep Algerians in a state of underdevelopment and poverty. The conclusion Lyotard comes to is that the occupation must end if the Algerian people are to prosper, but he remains ambivalent about the possibility of revolution.
He surmises that a nationalist, democratic revolution will only lead to new forms of social inequality and domination, and insists that a socialist revolution is necessary. It covers a wide variety of topics, including phenomenology, psychoanalysis, structuralism, poetry and art, Hegelian dialectics, semiotics, and philosophy of language.
Lyotard begins with an opposition between discourse , related to structuralism and written text, and figure a visual image , related to phenomenology and seeing. He suggests that structured, abstract conceptual thought has dominated philosophy since Plato, denigrating sensual experience. The written text and the experience of reading are associated with the former, and figures, images and the experience of seeing with the latter.
He proceeds to deconstruct this opposition, however, and attempts to show that discourse and figure are mutually implicated. Discourse contains elements of the figural poetry and illuminated texts are good examples , and visual space can be structured like discourse when it is broken up into ordered elements in order for the world to be recognisable and navigable by the seeing subject.
He develops an idea of the figural as a disruptive force which works to interrupt established structures in the realms of both reading and seeing. Ultimately, the point is not to privilege the figural over the discursive, but to show how these elements must negotiate with each other.
The mistake of structuralism is to interpret the figural in entirely discursive terms, ignoring the different ways in which these elements operate. In the second part of Discours, figure , structure and transgression are related to Freudian libidinal forces, paving the way for the libidinal philosophy developed in Libidinal Economy.
After his break with Marxism and rejection of totalising theory, he sought to develop a theory that will take account of multiple and different forces and desires at work in any political or social situation, from the writing of theory to revolutionary politics to global economics.
Libidinal Economy is an unusual and difficult work, and encompasses a complex set of theories concerning politics, economics, theory, academic style, and readings of Marx and Freud.
It is written in a bewildering combination of styles at times reading more like an avant-garde novel than a philosophical text , a method Lyotard uses in an attempt to overcome the limitations he sees in traditional academic theory.
Lyotard sees reality in terms of unpredictable happenings events , rather than structured regularities. These events can be interpreted in different ways, and no single interpretation will capture events accurately.
In the libidinal philosophy Lyotard uses the idea of libidinal energy to describe events and the way they are interpreted or exploited, and he develops a philosophy of society and theory in terms of the economy of libidinal energies. These intensities and affects are, in more common terminology, feelings and desires. In particular, Lyotard focuses on sexual desire.
He uses these terms metaphorically, however, to describe the workings of reality and society as a whole, divorcing them from their usual attachments to human beings. Lyotard describes the wholly impersonal as well as the personal in terms of feelings and desires, and paints a picture of the world that moves and is moved in the ways that feelings move people.
Metaphysically, Lyotard is a materialist, and for him affects must be understood as concrete material entities. Affects are structured and interpreted in systems made up of dispositifs , libidinal dispositions or set-ups, and society is composed of multitudes of different dispositions that compete to exploit the energies of libidinal events.
Lyotard develops a complex set of figures to describe how this process takes place. Libidinal Economy begins with the figure of a body ambivalently sexed , being cut open and spread out to form a flat, band-like surface. Lyotard is here beginning to describe a region on which libidinal intensities take place and on which they meet with the dispositifs that channel libidinal energy.
This region is material like the body, but it is not yet organized , thus the figure of dismemberment. The flat band that the body has become is then given a twist and joined end to end, forming a moebius strip a circular figure which has only one surface due to the twist it contains; a line traced along one side of the strip will end up on the other side without breaking contact with the surface. This strip is then set in motion, circulating so fast it glows red with heat.
This is the libidinal band sometimes called the libidinal skin. Because the libidinal band is a moebius strip, desire circulates on only one surface; there is no inside or outside. As the bar slows, sometimes it invests this region, sometimes that. It becomes disjunctive, distinguishing this from not-this. This stage in the transformation of the libidinal band represents the formation of rational thought, dominated by binary logic and the law of noncontradiction.
Finally the bar stops and forms a stable disjunction. Lyotard describes the bar as then turning around on itself and creating an enclosed space, a theatrical volume. This is the particular transformation of the libidinal band — or the particular dispositif on the libidinal band — that gives rise to representation and theory. The theatrical space has an inside and an outside, a clear disjunction between this and not-this. The theorist is like a spectator who views the representation of the world outside the theatre on the stage inside the theatre.
The band is the space on which libidinal intensities meet dispositifs , or libidinal set-ups. These set-ups channel energy into more or less stable systems and structures, and therefore all dispositifs, all systems and structures, can be described in terms of the slowing and cooling of the band.
An example would be the way political institutions channel desires to change society away from violent, disruptive eruptions towards more moderate, less disruptive modes of action.
Systems exploit libidinal intensities by channeling them into stable structures. And yet, these systems deny their own origins in intense and aleatory libidinal energy, taking themselves to be permanent and stable. Systems hide, or dissimulate , affects libidinal intensities. Conversely, however, affects dissimulate systems. Systems and affects dissimulate each other. This means that systems contain and hide affects, and that affects contain and hide the possibility for forming systems. Dissimulation is a concept that allows us to see the elements of the libidinal economy as duplicitous.
That is, they have more than one possibility. It is always possible for intensities to channel into a stable system, or to disrupt a system by destabilising it through intense investment. Lyotard develops a critical but nuanced approach towards theory, politics and economics within the terms of the libidinal philosophy.
His prime concern is that the structures that exploit libidinal intensities tend to become hegemonic. That is, they tend to claim sole right to the exploitation or interpretation of intensities. At the same time, they often deny libidinal intensities themselves, taking themselves to be primary and stable structures. Lyotard sees these tendencies as limiting and nihilistic, in the sense that they deny the full possibilities of the expression of intensities.
For Lyotard change is life affirming, whereas the stable structures that inhibit change are nihilistic and life denying. For Lyotard, there is no affirmative region, no pure outside to nihilism. Lyotard does not propose that we champion affects, singularities, intensities and libidinal energy over systems, structures, theory, concepts and representation.
This is because the only way libidinal energies can exist is within structures. Lyotard does not advocate a simple liberation of desire and does not attempt to set up a place beyond representation which would be immune to the effects of nihilism. Lyotard presents us, rather, with a metaphysical system in which intensities and structures are both essential elements of the libidinal economy. All structures contain libidinal energy as an under-exploited potentiality, waiting to be released and to flow into new structures.
This libidinal energy is the event, which always contains more possibilities for interpretation and exploitation than any single structure can give it. Releasing the energy in structures in turn creates new events, with their own energetic potentialities.
Because the event is unpredictable, we cannot actively control the way it will be released and form new structures. Ultimately, libidinal philosophy suggests a method of subversion from within existing structures through experimentation with the forms of those structures. Lyotard abandoned his libidinal philosophy in the later years of the seventies, beginning a philosophy of paganism that developed, by the eighties, into his unique version of postmodernism.
The turn from the libidinal to the pagan and the postmodern continued a concern with events and the limits of representation, but concerned two key changes: 1. A change in the mode of analysis from libidinal forces to language, and 2.
Paganism suggests that there are irreducible differences in the order of things, and that we must take things on their own terms without attempting to reduce them to universals.
Hence both progressive and conservative political views are found flailing in diagnosing the problems of the political, especially when facing the devaluation of all values in consumer culture. Lyotard produced an M. Lyotard came to Algeria at a propitious time: near start of the Algerian revolution that would ultimately liberate the country from France in , the colony had a revolutionary air that he inhaled in full. After his arrival, Lyotard immersed himself in the works of Marx while updating himself on the Algerian situation. As the revolution began in , Lyotard joined Socialisme ou Barbarie Socialism or Barbarism , which also included Claude Lefort — and Cornelius Castoriadis — , important political thinkers in their own right. Lyotard became an astute and strident political militant over the next fifteen years, writing works that would later be collected in Political Writings Around the same time, he began to attend the seminars of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan —
Jean François Lyotard
Critics have argued that the work lacks a moral or political orientation. Lyotard subsequently abandoned its views and developed an interest in postmodernism. Lyotard explores the psychoanalytic concept of the libido , and the relation of libido to the human body and human behavior. He also discusses the work of authors such as the philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche , Sigmund Freud , the founder of psychoanalysis , and the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. He also discusses and criticizes the work of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan , Deleuze and Guattari , and the sociologist Jean Baudrillard ; he points out both similarities and differences between his work and that of Baudrillard. However, he argues that because Lyotard rejects Deleuze and Guattari's idea of opposing "good" revolutionary desire to "bad" fascist desire, Libidinal Economy is "bereft of any political or moral orientation".
Jean-François Lyotard (1924—1998)
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