Lyotard’s libidinal philosophy is developed in the major work Libidinal Economy and in two sets of essays, Dérive à partir. Peter King reviews Libidinal Economy by Jean-Francois Lyotard. Desire stands for emancipation, but it is also permeated by the libidinal economy. What does this mean? Jean-François Lyotard’s research on libidinal economy.

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Lyotard, Jean-François | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

He suggests that science may be undergoing a paradigm shift from deterministic performativity to the paralogy of instabilities. 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 ].

In the second part the focus shifts from Husserl to the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Politics, she believed, became lyltard at best evonomy totalitarian at worst if wedded to notions of truth, such as involved in the metanarratives of Marxist economic theory and its inexorable laws of history, or the racist theories of Nazism.

The libidinal philosophy begins Lyotard’s general commitment to an ontology of events, which also underlies his later postmodern philosophy.

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. 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.

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: Saussure’s linguistics suggests that our understanding of the world is given as a structure to begin with, while Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology suggests that we first encounter an unstructured world, which we must work to structure. The dimension of the libidinality of desire is ambivalent.


Lyotard furthermore asserts that avant-garde art works of the twentieth century do not reinforce the subject, but call it into question through the unsettling effect of the sublime. Such a totalizing attitude towards the instinctive and affective was also characteristic of Deleuze and Foucault. For Lyotard, there is no possible society that is not open to the desire to exploit and hoard libidinal energy in the way the capitalist does.

Jean-François Lyotard (1924—1998)

The point here is that the commodity form is constructed so that it serves and extends the phantasmatic drives of the unconscious. The situation is a double bind because there are two alternatives – either there were gas chambers or there were not – which lead to the same conclusion: In other words, Lyotard does not believe that science has any justification in claiming to be a more legitimate form of knowledge than narrative.

This is the particular transformation of the libidinal band – or the particular dispositif on the libidinal band — that gives rise to representation and theory. Lyotard presents a postmodern libdiinal representation of society as composed of multifarious and fragmented language libidina, but games which strictly but not rigidly – the rules of a game can change control the moves which can be made within them by reference to narratives of legitimation which are deemed appropriate by their respective institutions.

Libidinal Economy

Lyotard uses the metaphors of flatness and depth to refer to discourse and figure, respectively. By contrast, in socialist society sublime and unimaginable phenomena pervade the everyday as if they were common, unremarkable things.

Ultimately, the point is not to privilege the figural over the libidinsl, but to show how these elements must negotiate with each other. The method Lyotard chooses to use in his investigations is that of language games.

Towards a Postmodern Philosophy Cambridge: Lyotard seeks to dethrone the subject from this organisational role, which in effect means decentring it as a philosophical category.

For Lyotard, no just resolution of a differend is possible. However, I want to assert that the shift away from capitalist production led to the termination of surplus value and its libidinal dimension. Lyotard’s philosophy of language and justice is most fully developed through the concept of the differend, in the book of the same name. It means that even when a child is confined to the father-mother nucleus, he or she acquires qualities general for humanity and society, since these qualities have been constructed diachronically over the course of human history.


Systems and affects dissimulate each other. The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable.

In the case of a differend, a wrong is done to a party who cannot phrase their hurt See Postmodernism c The Differend. Lyotard sees reality in terms of unpredictable happenings eventsrather than structured regularities. Hence the anti-critical, anti-theoretical style of the book which attempts itself to create a happening within the reader. However this period saw the production of several anarchic texts, some more notable than others. He sees the performativity criterion as applying not just to science, technology, and capital, but to the State as well.

Lyotard gives us a few examples of types of utterances. In other words, the presentation of the phrase event is not able to be accurately represented by any particular situation.

Lyotard presents various examples of the differend, the most important of which is Auschwitz.