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Lyotard - Political_writings

Lyotard - Political_writings

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Published by Daniel White

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Published by: Daniel White on Nov 26, 2010
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  • Tomb of the Intellectual
  • The Differend
  • For a Cultural Nonpolicy
  • New Technologies
  • Wittgenstein “After”
  • Intellectual Fashions
  • A Svelte Appendix to the Postmodern Question
  • Dead Letter
  • Preamble to a Charter
  • Nanterre, Here, Now
  • Concerning the Vincennes Psychoanalysis Department
  • Endurance and the Profession
  • The General Line
  • The Wall, the Gulf, and the Sun: A Fable
  • The Grip (Mainmise)
  • Europe, the Jews, and the Book
  • The Name of Algeria
  • The Situation in North Africa
  • The North African Bourgeoisie
  • A New Phase in the Algerian Question
  • Algerian Contradictions Exposed
  • The Social Content of the Algerian Struggle
  • The State and Politics in the France of 1960
  • Gaullism and Algeria
  • Algeria: Seven Years After
  • Algeria Evacuated
  • Notes
  • Index


From the classical age to our own day, intellectual fashions have had their
institutions: courts, salons, newspapers, journals, the electronic media. These
are not means of diffusing ideas or works. Words or turns of phrase (rhetorics)
that summarize, crystallize, but above all symbolize these ideas and these
works are put into circulation there at high frequency, at an exceptional level
of agitation. These are passwords. But where do they let you pass? They are
loaded with symbolic value: the community that exchanges them recognizes
itself by means of them, not because of their meaning, but thanks to their
fiduciary value, their power to make distinctions.
From the princely or royal courts to the journals, the manifestos, the avant-
garde publications, from the Renaissance to today, this fiduciary value of
fashionable words has charged its inflection. The credit that fashionable words
lend procures a mercantile power, not just an ideological or political one.
The editors, the movie producers, the television directors, the newspaper
editors, if not the “authors” of these ideas, make money out of the fashions
in words. Mercantile exchange penetrates what is called culture, and imposes
its rule of optimal difference. People speculate on the gaps between ways of
thinking (of speaking) just as they do on those between ways of dressing,
between modes of production, or between currencies. The difference in value
that results from the gap consists in a gain of time. You have to move faster
than the rest, be the first to furnish the words (the clothes, the currencies)
that allow the community that adopts them to differentiate itself for a moment.
One fulfills a desire for difference, and at the same time one destroys difference.
The life of passwords is ephemeral.
Intellectual fashions presuppose the desire to be different from the rest in
thinking. Common culture, if it ever existed, is not enough. It differentiates
itself into subcultures, which focus themselves into currents, families of thought,
sects, villages. The vitality of municipal governments in Italy is eminently suited
to these rivalries. Keeping up. At the limit you can die for the latest word—
dandyism. The Peloponnesian War was perhaps the effect of fashions: people


Intellectual Fashions

died for the glory of the name of the city and its eponyms. Fashion makes
terms that signify ideas (sign, structure, pragmatics) count as proper names.
But this rivalry only takes place on the basis of a common culture in which
difference is valued. There is agreement that this discordance, if not this
discord, is desirable. There is consensus on an interest in dissensus. Each
village is made up of a unified people, the “intellectual class.”
The opposition of the modern to the classical is not chronological. The
classical is not the ancient. Modernity is a temporal manner, like a kind of
table manners or manner of thinking. It does not consist only in a particular
attention paid to the future rather than to tradition. The perspective is classical,
and there is a tradition of the new (understood as innovation). The modern is
a feeling for the event as such, impromptu, imminent, urgent, disarming
knowledge and even consciousness. The event is an absolute performative: it
happens. Fashion is affirmed by the desire to be the event.
As soon as it happens, it ceases to be an event, it becomes a piece of
information, which circulates and which loses its destabilizing force. The
detective novel makes crime the paradigm of the event, time’s surprise.
Fashion has an affinity with aesthetics. The latter develops in the middle
of the nineteenth century at the same time as poetics declines. The value of
the work is determined by its evaluation by its addressees (the “public”), and
not by the respect that the sender (author, artist, thinker) displays for the
rules of the genre. Taste ceases to be a common sensibility fixed by rules. The
community of taste is appealed to only as a horizon of universality. When
one says “this is beautiful,” one means everyone ought to find this work
beautiful, just, and so forth. Fashion in matters of thought, at least of theory,
means that even the works that place truth at stake (and that in principle
elicit arguments) fall under the regime of feeling and its undisputed sharing.
But this sharing has to remain minoritarian and elitist.
This requirement of minority is essential to modernity. Modernity consists
in working at the limits of what was thought to be generally accepted, in
thought as in the arts, in the sciences, in matters of technology, and in
politics. A modern painter is a painter for whom the nature of painting is at
stake in the picture he or she is making. Philosophy, at least as critique, has
probably always been modern. This work of testing limits also bears the
name of the avant-garde. In the contemporary epoch, fashions often shield
themselves with the title of the avant-garde. This is not always accurate.
Sometimes it is. The right to bear this name can be judged on the basis of
the disruption resulting from critical activity in thought. It may well be the
case that one has to wait a long time to find out whether the title of avant-
garde is deserved.



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