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79ff. and even Heidegger. Discours.: "Experience is the element in which art dies. For Lyotard's philosophy was by design without doctrine or method. In Hegel aesthetics is absorbed in a higher philosophical "synthesis"-that is what makes it a "melancholy science." in Poetry. it was not even a "theory. an important work still fresh today. aesthetics 1. it was not a methodological aid to historical research or critical appraisal. "The Origin of the Work of Art. Martin Heidegger. pp. taking up this idea. shifts. the notion of aesthetics itself assuming different guises with the rhythm of their unresolved tensions. That is why in the philosophical works that name and work out these tensions. and even in French one awaits several posthumous publications. we find not one philosophy but many talking to one another. Magazine. and unlike some of his more "textualist" contemporaries. Thought (New York: Harper."' For Lyotard. and Massachusetts . but rather embraced a "weakness" he took to be its force and with which he would navigate across and in between all the geographic and conceptual boundaries dividing up philosophy since World War II. 1971). 3-18. would imagine art agonizing for several centuries under the aegis of "aesthesis. Lyotard invented a peculiar style." tied up with the end or dying of art. and complications in philosophical thinking and its relations with society-a way of helping it depart from doxa without the assurances of higher knowledge or even a sensus communis. by contrast. Lyotard was peculiarly concerned with the visual arts. held together without being unified. It was more a tool to expose often unseen just tensions. The dying occurs so slowly that OCTOBER Fall 1998. What sort of oeuvre is it? Perhaps since Adorno no philosopher has worked as directly with "aesthetics". Painting retained its privilege for him. In his hands aesthetics was thus not a high-minded "appreciation" of works. pp. ? 1998 October Instituteof Technology.Ltd.Language. Figure. an original way of doing aesthetics. 86." unless by that one means an attempt to think-and to seewhere one doesn't or can't know. is yet to yet appear in English.Jean-Francois Lyotard's Underground Aesthetics JOHN RAJCHMAN Jean-Francois Lyotard leaves us a large and complex oeuvre we are perhaps to understand. no matter all the computer consoles of the postmodern condition. one might even say with "the visual" in art. His aesthetic writings trace a powerful line that runs through all the more philosophical works for which he is better known-a line of fragility and mobility that accompanies his thought.
while exposing oneself to the singularities of those one nevertheless tries to understand. In this sense. and so on) which. supplanting an earlier poetics."the it takes a few centuries. What. which belongs. to the "paidea" of his work with its languid humor. It is a way of pointing to that strange zone where art and thinking discover secret and unpredictable relations with one another prior to the institutions or practices that serve to circumscribe or prescribe them. I think." concerned with a time to come rather than a compendious "philosophy of history. how did it figure in the work of Klee or Cezanne." In one way it offers a way of reading the beautiful-sublime distinction in Kant. or with the absolute "alterity" of the face in Levinas. aesthetics. would be understood not in terms of its absorption into Spirit or History. in turn. In particular. would in fact be a slow death to all that links "great art" to disclosing truth in the history of being. "presenting the unrepresentable" is one name for a complex problem formulated in different ways within Lyotard's work as well as without."Thus. the themes of transgression and sovereignty in Bataille. appealing to another sense of "public"and "world. We might see Lyotard as pursuing another tack: to rethink aisthesisin terms of a "sensation" (of the unseen in seeing." For Heidegger. but rather in its relation with "events. But in itself it is not exactly part of a doctrine or method. or for those possibilities of action (and "agency") that arise in relation to what he called the event or the time "to come"? But also and at the same time. which. ." he called it) there then goes a whole art-one might say an ethic-of breaking with those with whom one nevertheless identifies. the unheard in hearing. the concepts of the "figural."and what does it mean to inhabit or be-together in the world. since it translates something as yet unspoken and never completely as understood." a restless activity that starts in those "incommensurabilities" in our practices or agreements which ensure that the language one ends up with in thinking is never the same as the one from which one starts. Take. concerns the whole idea of the "aesthetic" in his philosophy. With this "weakness"(this "impouvoir. does it have to do with the invisibility of the "flesh of the world" in the late Merleau-Ponty. for example. with the question of judgment and judgment day in Kant. or with the "plane of immanence" in Deleuze. instead of "disclosing truth. its "showing" (herstellen)reduced to mere "exhibition value" (austellen). or the notion of language game in Wittgenstein? What does it suppose about "sense. or in the way Duchamp would then "transform the field" of the visual in turn? What does it mean for the very idea of an avantgarde and the types of historicity associated with it. It is rather a way of talking about a sort of accomplice and stimulant to the attempt to make thinkable something as yet unthought.4 OCTOBER became more a "gay science. Lyotard's concept of "presenting the unrepresentable."and hence of "aesthetics" itself. for example." it would fall to the art work to "experiment" with what is happening to us and to do violence to the "stupidity" of common assumptions. or for the kind of conception under which the art work falls in Malraux's "imaginary museum"? There is a pleasure in reading or rereading Lyotard that comes from seeing his concepts in this manner as points around which complex themes grow up and then go off in many directions at once. in contrast to Hegel.
even as he came to see structuralism itself as one variant of the many kinds of "formalism"that run throughout the century. or teleology. but rather as three tension points in the unfolding of Lyotard's underground aesthetics. "art"or "aesthetics" thus mattered for the ways they depart from "regularities" of a given archive (e. There is a long "prehistory" the formation in of Lyotard's thought-a of seventeen years separating his first book. inasmuch as they belong to the very idea of "archive. etc. In the '60s. from his second. from rules linking les mots and les choses). The Figural We are accustomed to thinking of the postwar French philosophical atmosphere from which Lyotard was to emerge in terms of a dramatic passage from phenomenology to structuralism. presenting itself as "fiance" to various philosophies. would continue Flaubert's assault on stupidity within a new image-culture.2 Lyotard would. starting in Algeria (where Lyotard went to teach). the frame of the "imaginary"museum. It is in this context that we may read a theme he shared with Deleuze-the problem of "stupidity" (la betise)as distinct from error or knowledge as the element arts must fight against and from which they arise. Roussel. and doing. would go on to ask how it might be extended to the new "debilities" of our television and information environments and related ideas of "communication. ed.g. introducing another sense-another time-of seeing. 1998). . surrounding a cluster of themes (for example. in Aesthetics.Figure (1971). Method. or encyclopedia came to be introduced into the very idea of arts and letters. however. pursue a complicated path. original approach to the "art-archive" library. Michel Foucault. and Epistemology. in introducing small differences into series." In Foucault's writings from the '60s. the phenomenological subject replaced by an "experience of structure" and the related "death of the author"). throwing off questions or problems still with us today. and how arts and letters find ways to depart from them. tied up with different politics or political movements (in the case of the passage from phenomenology to structuralism. or melancholy or else progressivism. there would be the maneuvers through which Marxism. nostalgia. not as postulates of grand theory or principles of a great method. would shift its attractions from one to the other). each with complicated and still unresolved relations with the others." they would belong to that zone of experimentation which keeps our relation to "archival regularities" from the attitudes of historicism. Thus Warhol. for example." trans. That is roughly how Foucault preferred to tell the story." and the "postmodern" may be read in this way. James P. Faubion (New York: New Press. gap (1953). the campus of the University of Paris tied up with the events of '68. and continued later at Nanterre (to which he returned). It was a time of political writings for Socialismeet 2. which remained in some ways closer to phenomenology and in particular to the changes introduced in it by Emmanuel Levinas in the 1960s. Jeremy Harding. drawn to this "diagnostic" activity linking art and archive." which Foucault was developing at the time in his own "archaeological" research. "Structuralism and Post-structuralism. Discours. futurism. Magritte. Blanchot. Today we might see Foucault's own "aesthetic" writings from the '60s (on Bataille.Jean-Francois Lyotard's Underground Aesthetics 5 "unrepresentable. saying. and Deleuze.beyond "form" or "structure. It was a period of Phenomenology militant activity. Foucault was working on an relation-how.) as complicating this story..
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for example. Mass. a long and complicated task with many ramifications. Logiquede la sensation (Paris: Difference."With the figural. in the last pages of his study of Bacon. In Lyotard's late writings. Deleuze takes up Lyotard's distinction between the figural and the figurative to describe how Bacon recasts the history of painting and the role of abstraction in it. there is a return to themes of "sensation" and to what. by contrast. but also at the same time a departure from a kind of linguistic bias in structuralism-its tendency. Deleuze shared Lyotard's attempt to depart from the notion of an unconscious structured like a language. would take him on what. it is not by rejecting pure "opticality" in favor of purely "conceptual" contents." . For we all know that in Clement Greenberg's at-first Trotskyite view of "modernism. With this concept and problem. and so remains in fact quite "classical. 1981). he would call a derive ("swirl"or "drift"). 1998). for Lyotard the form-content distinction on which such a conception of "modernism" rests in fact stays within precisely the assumptions of "representation" from which he was trying to extract the "figural"-it remains tributary to a traditional notion of "good form" that ties it to "discourse" after all (in particular that of the critic). to take another example. In Bacon we should not see a "return to figurations" but rather a reinvention of the figural that helps us see abstraction-first in Kandinsky and Mondrian. which Deleuze develops in his own terms by distinguishing "diagram"from "code. Deleuze calls "lefait pictural. And it is perhaps precisely through aesthetics that this drive would assume a distinctive form. later in Pollock-from another point of view. in fact.and later Pouvoir Ouvrier. we find another notion of the "visual"in the arts.: MIT Press. 63ff. precisely. pp. in Lacan's formula that "the unconscious is structured like a language. its relations with literature." the reduction that Greenberg (among others) made central to his account of abstraction. I discuss Deleuze's views on abstraction and diagram in my Constructions (Cambridge. as if in 3. to subordinate "figure"to "discours."3In fact. Thus. The figural is thus not to be confused with the "figurative." as." the visual or the "optical" is to be obtained by removing all "literary content" in an act of purifying reduction or abstraction that would first be carried on in painting. we see not only Lyotard's "way out of" phenomenology. Gilles Deleuze. in his study of the "logic of sensation" in Francis Bacon. tied up with a first concept and a first problem-that of the figural. then in all the other "mediums" of art. but rather by exposing "incommensurabilities" to shake up the notion of seeing supposed by the very idea of "opticality" and its ties to good form. It belongs to another logic of pictorial space-or pictorial sensation. and if (as Lyotard would later say) Duchamp transforms the field in turn. By contrast. using a term dear to the Situationists. introducing into it a time of delay. and the paths taken by abstraction in modern painting. and one way of seeing it is in contrast to the "formalism" that grew up in New York also in relation to painting and its vicissitudes." To rescue "figure" from its subordination to "discourse" was thus.Jean-Franfois Lyotard 's Underground Aesthetics 7 but also of a questioning of that activity which Barbarie.
or shifting attention from representation to its means or medium. and more generally sensation. On the departure of cinematic seeing from the idea of the imaginary. more generally. For the problem of the figural is a problem of "spatialization. in short.4 "virtuality." prior to code or discourse. gestures. As such."5 For the "libidinal body" is not in the world (or space and time) in the same 4. we in fact find in cinema something that challenges the whole idea of a film code-a "shock" that knocks seeing out of the movements of its usual habits linking it to a time or irreducible to the movements of veridical narration. Thus.8 OCTOBER libidinal processes figurality would always come in nice codable or discursive forms. Lyotard wanted to rethink seeing and its role in aesthetics. the sensible. 1995). therefore everything is permitted.FigureLyotard then develops this new problem in and of aesthetics along two general lines. Logiquede la sensation. postures.p. only then does it depart from the functions of communication and conciliation. rather than giving rise to "bad forms" or "un-forms. Martin Joughin (New York:Columbia University Press. . In this space the body is submitted to forces that seem to "disfigure"or "disorganicize" it."even "inhuman. 5. For associated with the discovery of perspective would arise the space of "figuration" from which a space of the "figural" in Klee or Cezanne would later have to free itself. trans."in Negotiations."Deleuze would say that starting with Neo-Realism. which puts the discursive-figural relation before the figurative-abstractone. What happens in such cases is not a move to eliminate figuration and narration so much as the discovery of another logic of pictorial space and time. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. thus it departs from the nice "flesh of the world" in which phenomenology enclosed it at the same time as it brings out something already at work within the classical world of figuration and narration-rather along the lines Deleuze suggests when he says. It was rather freeing the visible and. His problem was not that of purifying "the optical" of literary content. Seeing." irreducible to any code or discourse." With his concept of the figural." concerning the body and the "world"of its movements.from "representation" and the kind of "discourse" traditionally associated with it. Gilles Deleuze. 1989). Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. see also "Doubts on the Imaginary. then becomes "experimental" just when it thus encounters or presents something "unrepresentable. "God exists. 14. attitudes.trans. preserved in more classical forms and formalisms. In Discours. The space of the body is no longer held together by a nice compositional gestalt. against Christian Metz and the whole category of the "imaginary." and with it from the gestaltist side of phenomenology and already from the geometric forms for which Husserl already sought the genesis. but rather by a kind of "informal matrix". there is a departure from horizontal-vertical "orientation" or "coordination. or the aisthesis. in pictorial (and architectural) terms it may be formulated in contrast to ideas that go back to Alberti. In particular we see a departure from figure-ground relations and a corresponding discovery of interstitial spaces.
6. in which identification and "good form" are linked to one another. . starting from another view of sensation closer to Bergson and changes in neurological discourse. It exposes something "indigestible"a public can't easily "consume. and the ways in which. in turn related to tensions or differences among philosophies through which he navigates and tries to find a way out. and indeed they may be read as exposing the limits of a view of "fantasy"one still finds in Freud. already with Mikel Dufrenne. and.pp. 27ff. Deleuze's contrast between "the being of sensation" in Cezanne and Bacon should be read together with his reservations concerning phenomenology in What is trans. phenomenology needed in order to "disclose"the "flesh of the art world. 178ff. Cezanne and Klee help show this.Figurethere is some vacillation on this point. in his forthcoming book Thresholds Perception.Jean-Francois Lyotard's Underground Aesthetics 9 way as is the phenomenological one. art acquires another function or potential: to prevent the satisfaction of desire in "good form" and the sense of propriety. There is a sort of a "radical connivance of desire and figure" through which art departs from the functions of conciliation and communication society depends on from it-for example. in the facelessness of Bacon's figures? In Discours. Philosophy? pp. As such. In this case the divide is not between formal "structure" and phenomenological "lifeworld." For the problem of the figural is at the same time a problem as to what art does or is. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press. for example."6 Lyotard's way out of phenomenology was thus through such a libidinal body given in a figural space or through an informal matrix rather than through a space of gestaltist or perspectival composition. it points to a heterogeneous "figural" element within discourse itself. it is inseparable from a second problem-that of the function of "the figural. and beauty that goes with it. It encounters a certain "violence of sensation." David Lapoujade has developed Deleuze's suggestion with Bacon that "the being of sensation" frees itself from the formation of the "confessions of the flesh" which Foucault was trying to analyze Jonathan Craryexamines (unpublished manuscript). in its great "museum without walls". which art would nevertheless have the power to let us see and sense. and especially painting." which Deleuze contrasts with the cliches of "sensationalized violence"-Bacon's "meat" contrasting with the more pious "flesh" Merleau-Ponty had found in Cezanne."appealing to another public or another view of what is public. which serves to introduce a second concept and problem in Lyotard's thought."but rather between transcendence and immanence in this figurality we can't represent or code. or in the problem of "faciality" raised by Deleuze and shown. and with the figural. Logiquede la sensation. which cannot be reduced to an object given to a subject (or intersubjectivity) of representation. we might derive a new and non-phenomenological view of the world of "sensation"in Cezanne himself. brought out in writing or literature. taste. 1994). a potential that problematizes the supremacy accorded to representation and discourse in Western thought. These reservations concern the pieties of phenomenology. But what exactly is this other function that the figural introduces into art and its relation to discourse? Is it a matter of "transgression"?Is it seen more in Levinas's notion of the "face" of the absolute other. closer to the "inhuman. It allows us to see in art. if not Husserl himself. of how.
for example. 1991). (Paris: Eclat." in GillesDeleuze:Un Viephilosophique. sometimes in uneasy alliance. 186ff.7 But the situation is perhaps more complex than Janicaud's call for a return to "things themselves" would suppose.a montage or assemblage of heterogeneous elements working together with the disjunctive logic of a "libidinaleconomy. which Deleuze sees at once in Foucault and postwar cinema? These sorts of questions seem to have a peculiar importance in French philosophy after the war. "L'Immanence absolue. Le 7burnanttheologique la phenomenologiefrancaise ed.8 In any case. as in Agamben himself. 8. with the art exposing something unseen and intolerable. associated not so much with the question of life."or should we see it as "incarnating" an invisible "flesh"or else some absolute or radical "transcendence"? In this regard." amorphous." he declared. with which philosophy is nevertheless alwaysbound up. DominiqueJanicaud. Thus Dominique Janicaud worries about a "theological turn" in French phenomenology after Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. as a dispositif. Eric Alliez (Paris: Institute Synthelabo [PUF]. Foucault and Deleuze on the other. with Levinas and Derrida on one side. for example. or the "void" or "nudity" Loos obtains by reducing unnecessary ornamentation? Is it a matter of the great aesthetic negative theology of the "blank page" or the "empty canvas"-or rather of the violent humor of the endlessly deferred Law in Kafka? Does it suffice to substitute for a mysticism of silence." Should we think of that work. as if the philosophy were in search of a piety found in several religions at once. the "plane" of which is imagined as a "great ephemeral pellicule. or to think of art as showing it? Is it like the "silence" Wittgenstein arrives at after throwing away the ladder of his logic of pictures of states-of-affair. . and more recently Giorgio Agamben has drawn a line running through French philosophy. For. through a piety of thought. we may count Economielibidinale (1974) as Lyotard's fullest embrace of immanence." and.10 OCTOBER The Unrepresentable What does it mean to speak of theunrepresentable. though it goes back to problems Derrida had already detected in Husserl. 1998). Giogio Agamben. for which one might count as its starting point the publication of Levinas's Totalityand Infinityin 1961. all of these different lines or tendencies are to be found at once in Lyotard. one can never pose questions of judgment and injustice. learn to be thankful when "it gives" and patient when it does not? Or should one move in a more experimental (Lyotard might say "pagan") direction and see it as a "pragmatic" part of seeing and acting-as. as with the issue of oeuvre-of the "work"in a work of art and the place of that in what Foucault had called "the absence of oeuvre. shifting according to "tensors" or with the emergence of singularities and vital differences. sometimes in tension. a mysticism of "the event. pp. or deferred law. and even come to see Economieslibidinales as a melancholy work. starting from such vitalist "intensities. between transcendence and immanence. But Lyotard would later recoil from this joyful embrace. void. de 7.
" or between philosophy itself as "tribunal" and as tension that is then refracted and "investigation. pp. or at least the sort of "arch-obligation" toward the "other" associated with it. 1991). and in The Differend. for example. PictorialNominalism(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. And yet in taking this "linguistic turn" he rather loses the whole side of "the figural" concerned with body.10 For the sort of introduce into pictorial practice seems to need "delay" such incommensurabilities no mystical authorization or to involve the sort of "verticality" that Lacoue-Labarthe. for example in and Repetition. I try to indicate the element of humor (not to be confused with irony) in this operation. distinguishing differends from litigations. Paul Patton [New York: Columbia University Press. But this sort of question. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. .9 There arises a new tension in Lyotard's thought between the philosopher as a 'judge" and an "experimenter. p." "experimentation"-a elaborated through aesthetics. perhaps the most intense zone in Lyotard's thinking in the '80s. trans.il an immanent materialism might just as well suffice. where he declares: "in the case of the sublime. 1994]. It is as if. A number of concepts then grow up from this point. 178 ff. where it formed part of a further derive. we have something more like a "pictorial nominalism" given through a gay "an-artistic" humor. or an embrace of "messianicity". 321). Thierry de Duve. 11. appealing to experimentation rather than judgment. even another sense of possibility. the recognition model and the Difference form of common sense are found wanting in favor of a quite different conception of thought" and Repetition. With such a problematizing "expansion of the field" we seem at some distance from a theology or mysticism of the unrepresentable. We may see Duchamp as introducing into the "common sense" of pictorial practice a series of "incommensurabilities" which serve to introduce another sense of time than the that accompanies the avant-garde.Jean-Francois Lyotard's Underground Aesthetics 11 For such questions. 10. But (Difference Deleuze develops this other "conception of thought" in a somewhat different manner. 1985). In my introduction to this book. is happy to find hovering over the various "incommensurable" sentence types in The Differend. experimentation-in a word. "sensation"-and it is not clear that identifying the unrepresentable with the sublime in Kant resolves the problem. especially in Paris. lay in politics. Lyotard would go on to try to formulate the problem of injustice in terms of heterogeneous genres of sentences or phrases." "essay. which would yet have a moral face. capable ofjudging in the case of those "wrongs" or "injustices" for which the rules of judgment are not already given. he sees Kant in his late years as undoing the "rules" governing the various faculties (which Lyotard would seem to that preserve as "phrase genres"). following the enthusiasms of '68. Let's take the problem of "incommensurability" and its relation to the idea of "event" as Lyotard formulates it in his study of Duchamp. affect. opening that progressivism practice (and painting itself) to other possibilities. we should rather turn to the radical transcendence one finds in Levinas. a Levinas-like responsibility of otherness. in La Facultedejuger (Paris: Minuit. he wanted a "gay science" of art. introducing into them a kind of indeterminate dereglement would also belong to the "other conception of thought" to which the sublime points. The problem of the sublime in Kant had already been discussed by Deleuze. leading to the 9.
degradation.12 OCTOBER question of the postmodern. lighter. closer to events. Bergson's notion of a "fabulation" of gods in 7wo Sources might also be read in this way. in their critical sense of what is to come. and how to adjust the analysis of capitalism accordingly. such "injustice" then seems intractable. "Adorno como Diavolo. on the other. For. For example. For this second Marx. and even Kafka's fable of deferred law might be read as a piece of violent humor with similar effect.13 It was. one can introduce the immanence-transcendence divide within the traditions of 12. of course. In his attempts to deal with such "impiety" of indifference or "nihilism" in modern Christianized capitalism. pulsionnels(Paris: Bourgois. violence. "nihilism" toward the poverty. or the "hopes" of their critical theory. a question of practicing aesthetics not as a melancholy but as a gay science. the immanence-transcendence division also applies to the notion of "event" (utopia or conjuncture) in Marx. 1980). In effect Lyotard thought that they still experienced problems of capitalism in too "religious" a manner. in other words. 13. inducing the "impiety" that translates a loss of credibility in all transcendent or teleological values. a Marx who instead sees capital as a force that undoes any such faith or belief. For in the absence of nineteenth-century "alienation-theology" there arises an indifference. there would be a Christian-Hegelian Marx who still puts his hopes in a "theology of alienation". paying closer attention to the world of financial capital and consumerist consumption. too devouring. more attentive to their multiplicities and Of course. cynicism. the whole "politicotheological" notion of a City of God-in favor of an "immanence" of the forces of life and their expression at once in the city and in free thought. Lyotard. tied up with a sense and practice of mourning. too "immanent" a thing to find its "outside" in a disalienated humanity. capitalism is too unstable. and along with the notion of a "libidinal economy" as irreducible feature of oeuvre or work. one might read Spinoza as attempting to overturn the Augustinian system of original sin and judgment-and." in Des dispositifs . they lacked the "pagan instruction" of an affirmation of multiplicity no longer relying on high-minded for which Cage seems to give us a better sense than negation-something Schoenberg. or at least in the way he mattered to Adorno. and the problem then becomes how to rethink the critical Marxist promise of what is "to come" without recourse to a religion of some "essential community" or the "great narratives" through which this community would take consciousness of itself. where they are linked to the sort of "messianism" Scholem helped introduce into the aesthetics of Adorno and Walter Benjamin. Lyotard proposed to draw a division within Marx or Marxism. On the one hand. more generally. and xenophobia that capitalism continues to carry with it. In other words.12 But the same questions of Christianity and impiety recur in relation to aesthetics. how might we construct a "critical theory" no longer based in the theology of an alienation and reification overcome as the international proletariat becomes self-conscious. Judaism itself. Lyotard would turn not only to the transcendence of Levinas's 'Judaism" but also libidinalesin relation to Augustine's to a certain "paganism"presented in Economies City of God as a new figure of immanence. no longer capable of being turned into the object of an emancipation or a politicization.
" . it was the problem of a "postmodern" critical and aesthetic sensibility. we might contrast Jameson's view that all Third World art or literature must assume the form of "national allegory" with the altered geographies and borders in the "global" situation which poses instead the problem of the "transnational" and its links with a new conception of the cosmopolitan. even if played out in different ways in different places. p. For. in his view. while the Germans find a way to become good Americans. xiii." For example. For Lyotard the "postmodern" supplied a way to understand the shock or the shift. It was as if the old postwar divisions and alliances between a phenomenologically minded Continent and an minded "Anglo-America" were undergoing a geophilosophical shock. The Postmodern Today it is hard to remember that "postmodern" once named a problem or question in thinking and aesthetics. the problem was no longer the lifeworld versus structure or immanence versus transcendence. therefore. etc. analytically giving rise to new stories and alliances." for which already for some time it has been supplanted name by talk of "globalization. its politics." Nevertheless. Lyotard'squestion of "event" retrospectively seems to point in other directions than the "utopian allegories" Fredric Jameson sought to hang onto in his once influential theory of the postmodern as a new total stage in "late capitalism. post that.Jean-FranCoisLyotard's Underground Aesthetics 13 closer to Diderot than to incommensurabilities. in vain he tried to dissociate the problem from the sort of "theory and the miserable slackening that goes with it (new this. that is what it was for Lyotard-the of a new "condition" that thinking and. post this. offering an "enlightenment" who had turned Rousseau into the austerities of the "moral law"-an aesKant. the French take over from the bad Germans. thetics no longer in need of a theology of "reason" or."14 We might thus see it as naming a third "point of tension" through which Lyotard's thinking would pass. In a manner at odds with 14. TheDifferend (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. what characterized the French position in the postmodern condition was in fact not relativism or nihilism. associated with a fresh sort of philosophical division. and American philosophical attitudes toward the Enlightenment or modernity. but rather the in place given to the "event" and the "incommensurable" in thinking-whether the form of a responsibility for the "absolutely other" or of a pragmatism of experimentation with the new forces that are acting on us.). German. in particular. of its "dialectics. For Lyotard become concerned with a new set of philosophical differences which took on an international cast. and its time. He not only encouraged the discussion. but invented a particular "grand story" of it consistent with his earlier notions of "figurality" and the "unrepresentable"-he envisaged a scenario in which. The category has long since gone the way of journalistic "common sense. In it. aesthetics. as it were. 1988). but rather French. Lyotard. needed to confront in order to reinvent. new that." In short. Lyotard's philosophical attempt to connect "heterogeneity" and "event"seems to offer a better starting point to get at the questions posed by this "condition.
as well as with Heidegger. Adumbrated in Romanticism. or in our "actuality. and the encyclopedia which had haunted nineteenth-century literature and philosophy and whose "stupidity" and related "hysteria" Flaubert was to Events (New York: Columbia That is more or less the view I tried to work out in my Philosophical 15. this other lineage was especially a matter of aesthetics. at least. In contrast to Habermas's "communications community" or Rorty's "conversational liberal solidarity. with another role in the city. one which would later be taken up and elaborated in an original way in contemporary French philosophy. and in this respect. it would accompany the avant-garde in all the guises it would assume in different countries-for example. around the same time. The key. 15 In both cases we see an attempt to find a point in Kant from which a new connection between philosophy and "event"would derive. we might read Lyotard's discussion of Kant's "enthusiasm" for the French Revolution together with Foucault's attempt. German. and Anglo-Saxon traditions. and. which had been so important in postwar French philosophy? That was the question in effect. born of "heterogeneous" sources. it is perhaps no accident that Lyotard found the term "postmodern" in America. . Lyotard's "French" attitude to modernity thus turned out to be quite a complicated thing. and one way Lyotard found to tackle it was not through a book but rather by curating a show at the Centre Georges Pompidou in which computers would intrude into the traditional space of the museum and its tie-in with books. But for Lyotard.14 OCTOBER Habermas." which would then have different destinies in French." there would remain an appeal to a "we"yet to come. might one carry on the and the heterogeneous "we"or "community traditions of the "event"or "modernity." to come" that goes with it. How. this "French" attitude would then find new affinities with Benjamin and Adorno. under such conditions. Thus. which was to receive rather mixed reactions in France itself. the museum. a book that owes much to Lyotard. to isolate a new kind of question in Kant's essay on Enlightenment. But Lyotard also had a diagnosis for the "condition" that had brought on such shifts and differences and the altered geophilosophical landscape to which they testified. In Foucault the question of modernity as "event"is posed not so much in terms of aesthetic judgment as in relation to the new urban "manners of being" of whose artifice and "eternity" Baudelaire wrote in talking about the modern-in other words. never fully given. for example. he thought. one concerned with what is happening to us now. With the "French"attitude to modernity as "event" there would go another sense of community or of public. was to be found in the "new technologies" and the sort of "information culture" they bring with them-in "technoscience" and the ways it alters our image of the relations of thought to knowledge and belief. 1990). in relation to the new "enthusiasms" released by the Russian Revolution. in terms of what Foucault called a "style"or an "aesthetics" of existence. which in turn would trace another legacy and bring out another side of Kant. University Press. disturbing the great framework of the library. already in Kant. of judgment.
too. 1997)." this condition.: MIT Press." See her Privacyand Publicity:ModernArchitecture Mass as Media (Cambridge. but rather fell together in strange. even when armed with the compendious accompanying catalogues. Documenta X. On this point see Lyotard. had become part of the "condition. The nature of the "culture" that goes with the diffuse "zonal city" and the sort of communicational debility it involves is a recurrent theme in Lyotard's Postmodern Fables. among other things. was to give some sense of what it is like to travel in a California "conurbation" with only the car radio to mark the passage from one place to the next. Mass. "Domus et la megapole. there were contributions by Rem Koolhaas. and the problem is one of drawing in architecture.. There was too much "information" to absorb or digest. Moreover." The larger problem was then how to move about in. 19. 1996). where Lyotard raises the question of a Bouvard and Pecuchet of the tele-information age. while there was lots of "theory" in the show. served to complicate things further. its relations with constructivism. The global curator thus started to join hands with the new "conditions" of the zonal city and the type of "culture"that goes with it. and its role in an image-obsessed culture-it was still a moment in architecture before computer-assisted design. with the theme of "inhabiting the inhabitable. 17ff. the exhibition was rather a mad jumble into which we were plunged. Instead. juxtapositions or unforeseen patterns.pp. the show was the largest and most expensive undertaken by the Pompidou Center. it was part of the jumble. In them we don't find the replacement of abstract functional purity with the historicist eclecticism or pastiche often associated with the term "postmodern" in architecture. . one might ask how. Along such lines. In this respect one was at some distance from the notion. with this "postmodern" space in Paris (near the old Halles). And. Theory. 18." we find an implicit move away from the problematic of "abstractspace" and the alienation of "everydaylife" earlier advanced by Henri Lefebvre. then as a new "engagement" of the global curator with "the urban" outside as well as within the museum. But such "bigness"was not monumental. and Peter Eisenman. often associated with the theme of "mechanical reproduction. which. rather it assumed the form of a labyrinthine sprawl as the "condition" of mixtures and heterogeneities. how to "inhabit. Beatrice Colomina looks at the architecture of Loos and Le Corbusier in terms of its relation to an emerging "media culture.19 The nineteenth16.18 One might thus look back on the "sites"in the show which featured architecture. in exposing such "stupidity. 208ff. along with his many books. he declared. Zaha Hadid."17His aim. if anything."such aesthetic figures might alter the design or nature of books or invent more "underground aesthetic" uses of the new media." that capitalism "equalizes" everything. pp. if not quite as consummation."in Postmodern Fables. may be seen. Postmodern Fables(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press." Poe&sie44 (1988). it would prove prescient in many ways. 17.16 We should thus count Les Immateriaux 1985 as an important part of Lyotard's oeuvre.Jean-Francois Lyotard's Underground Aesthetics 15 of diagnose. even surreal. In both cases. all the "data" didn't cohere. as if no longer able to oversee their spread or supply an Ariadne's thread to get out from it. At the time. It occurred alongside or among the objects shown rather than "above" them. and "Zone. Lyotard. this mad "datascape". and in this manner the show helped initiate a theme that Lyotard would later develop in his essays on "domus" and "zone"-the theme of the "urban"or urban "condition.
and in Les Immateriaux aesthetic. How then. closer to the postwar invention of television than to the great industrial art of cinema. in the midst of all this. would celebrate its progress in great "universal exhibitions. "antiaesthetic." But the "zonal"condition of the megalopolis. confronts us rather with a heteroclite landscape of objects and "informations. as if in some airport. is perhaps best understood in the light of this problem. I eclote 1 Corps Toutes !es copies century metropolis. in which the great metropolitan practices of fldnerie or derive no longer make much sense. ." and simply nonaesthetic objects coexisted effortlessly alongside one another." gradually finding its way in older metropolitan centers or contexts. might one again find something of the "modernity" Baudelaire had sought a century earlier in the Parisian metropolis? The problem of "immateriality. Of course. on display or in disarray. industrial and colonial.Mince. The old "bad form" or "un-form" strategies once directed against the "museum without walls"seem peculiarly inadapted to this condition." itself divided up into the many "sites" of Lyotard's show.OCTOBER I I Pein nscorps tre I I Infr.
shown in one way by the cosmeticosurgical body-what he came to call "the artificialization of life. nor was it the Pop problem of the great wired "irrealities"of the "digital revolution." The postmodern condition is one of an "artifice"for which there is no longer any original "nature"to oppose. or in which the artifice-nature distinction itself tends to be blurred. how to "complicate"our relations with it.Tou. rather it is to find new ways to move about in the diffuse space of the postmodern condition-how to "singularize"it. His problem was thus not the "dematerializationof the art object.. and fast electronic transaction that economists now call "globalization".. Lyotard wanted to understand how but it was manifested in physical landscapes and altered ways of thinking and being."and indeed he continued to talk of "sensation..1985.Jean-Franfois Lyotard 's Underground Aesthetics Exhibition plan of Les Immateriaux. financial capital.hapticality." Lyotard in fact seemed to have something else in mind. The problem is thus no longer how to get back to a warm rich lifeworld from our alienation in "abstract space".. .teses peoux / Tovs les bruits Rotion Olimenloire / nabitocl | Mongeur prcsse < 1 tumierederobee Y1 Espoce reciproque 1O I Ombrc de l'ombre Vite-hobilte \ Theatre du non-corps | PreporlePrtcuisine Vestibule d'entr#e tois LLes mers/ ^| \ Acc \ - the problem of immateriality more or less coincides with the "take-off"in the early '80s of the mix of integrated markets.."physicality. Corpshont I L'onge I Deuxien I I .
carrying on the work of "incommensurability" and "bad form. seen on the news. The force of his thought-the peculiar generosity and mobility that went with what he called its "weakness"-is such that it is hard to imagine doing aesthetics or philosophy today without confronting the questions he exposed and the points of tension he traversed. and the question of injustice comes to be distributed along new geographies and in relation to new borders. extending it into the problematic borders of and in our very view of justice." which had supplied the strange force of art and thinking in our pitiless century. apart from the problems he helped formulate: how to continue his "underground aesthetics. has helped art and thinking alike for the past two hundred years to free themselves from the "common sense" of the habitual circuits of classification. we might thus also ask another question. as well as from the control of states. sometimes in extreme distress. they become victims. Lyotard's death has deprived us of a singular presence. and to breathe the fresh air of other possibilities. For Lyotard these were the areas into which we should move. .18 OCTOBER But with this problem goes another. and sale. those outside it. If then in relation to the "artificialization of life" we need to invent new strategies of singularization." how to carry on the strange critical alliance between thinking and the arts which. appraisal. As we read or reread him now. no longer seem part of any hope of emancipation (like the "proletariat" in the last century). under the name of "aesthetics" (or in opposition to it). We find a new division between "zonites" and "victims". For if it is within the "zone" that the philosophies of communicational consensus or liberal solidarity find their appeal. in relation to this new division of zonites and victims we need to reinvent politics. to whom at best we might try to parachute some aid.