The Lyotard Dictionary

The Lyotard Dictionary

The Lyotard Dictionary

The Lyotard Dictionary

Synopsis

Jean-François Lyotard is famed for being one of the most acute observers on the cultural phenomenon of the postmodern, and his ideas resonate throughout the academic world, from philosophy and the social sciences through to literary, media, and cultural studies. Drawing on the internationally-recognised expertise of a multidisciplinary team of contributors, the entries in The Lyotard Dictionary explain all of Lyotard's main concepts, contextualising these within his work as a whole and relating him to his contemporaries. It forms an indispensable guide to this fascinating and hugely influential thinker, demonstrating his continuing significance as a cultural theorist.

Excerpt

Postmodernism and poststructuralism have already turned into historical phenomena, with many of the leading lights of the movements now gone and their legacies under assessment. Jean-François Lyotard (1924–98) will no doubt always be identified with the former movement, and he was indeed one of the most powerful and persuasive commentators on postmodernism – if perhaps not always classifiable as a postmodernist as such himself. He tended to present himself as an observer of postmodernism and could be critical of what it involved on occasion (only too able as he put it, ‘to embrace … conflicting perspectives’); but so influential was he in his observations in works like The Postmodern Condition that he has become one of postmodernism’s definitive voices. For many, postmodernism is above all else, adopting Lyotard’s terminology, a campaign of resistance against oppressive grand narratives/metanarratives that seek to dominate our lives and keep us in a state of socio-political subjection. His intellectual career reveals someone who grows progressively more hostile to the grand narrative ethos, especially after the 1968 événements in Paris, and who takes on great symbolic import for the post-Marxist left in consequence. More than any of his contemporaries, Lyotard wrestles with what it means to have to reinvent one’s politics on the left as the theories on which these were based in modern times lose their credibility and any semblance of mass public support.

Lyotard is the most political of philosophers, always concerned to relate his work to the wider public sphere. His left orientation is unmistakable from the beginnings of his writing career, as is his mistrust of universal theories claiming to possess the complete answer to all of humanity’s problems. His dialogue with Marxism is never less than tortuous, culminating in his spectacularly vicious attack on it in Libidinal Economy: that ‘evil book’ as he saw it from a later perspective. It is certainly a bad-tempered piece of work, suggesting someone at the end of his tether politically; there is not even the pretence of observing the decorums of intellectual debate in its pages which castigate not just Marx and Marxists but intellectuals as a class in general: ‘Why, political intellectuals, do you incline towards the proletariat? In commiseration for what?’, as he acidly remarks at one point. The problem Lyotard is facing up to in this book is . . .

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