Guide Postmodern avant-garde - A comparison of the different movements

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Photographers took pictures of the world around them. And industrialization led to an increase in urban photography, particularly a great variety of street scenes. The style was widely promoted by Alfred Stieglitz as a more pure form of photography than Pictorialism which he first heralded, but later moved away from. Ultimately, Straight Photography served as the foundation for the majority of photographic innovations over the next 60 years, encompassing Photojournalism, Documentary Photography, Street Photography and "The Snapshot Aesthetic".

It seemed at first that still photography would not suit the artistic goals of the Italian Futurists who were in thrall to speed, dynamism, and violent energy. It was only with the invention of "photodynamism" in that Futurism made its own contribution to modern photography. The term was introduced by brothers Anton Giulio and Arturo Bragaglia who used their camera to induce a sense of "visual vertigo" by creating photographic movement through multiple exposures.

Indeed, Anton had published the first of three editions of his book Fotodinamismo Futurista in and his theories were well received in photographic circles and widely adopted by other European avant-garde artists. These early experiments in movement and portraiture - Fortunato Depero, for example, produced a series of "gestural" self-portraits during the first wave - more or less defined Futurist photography until Marinetti and Tato published the "Manifesto of Futurist Photography" in April The manifesto gave birth to a decade that is widely considered the most productive in Italian photographic arts.

It was a decade that saw photography merge with other Futurist art forms including dance, painting, and performance art. Filippo Masoero for instance developed novel conceptions of space and movement by photographing Italian cities from the cockpit of an aeroplane. And, like other European schools, the Futurists were drawn to the moving image too: "the expressive medium most adapted to the complex sensibility of a Futurist artist" as its manifesto put it.

Though little remains of early experimental Futurist cinema, Anton Bragaglia's full-length futuristic melodrama Thais stands as a widely exhibited testimonial to the movement's cinematic legacy. The artistic method of both Constructivism and Bauhaus embraced the idea of a new technology for a new world. Their photography like their art generally was characterized by a precision and geometric simplicity that saw the artist assume the mantle of technician. While a large group experimented with the medium, the two outstanding figures in Russian constructivist photography were El Lissitzky and Aleksander Rodchenko , both of whom were invested in the idea that modern art should help "construct" hence Constructivism rather than merely reflect or represent the real world.

El Lissitzky was a qualified architect who had produced "modern" self-portraits that equated the role of the photographer with that of an engineer.

List of literary movements

In his famous Self-portrait , known as The Constructor , for instance, El Lissitzky forms the centre of a geometric montage featuring a superimposed hand with compass, a drawn circle produced by the compass presumably and modern san serif typography. Rodchenko, on the other hand, was widely regarded a photojournalist but, having submitted six photographs, including Mother and Courtyard of Vhutemas Seen From Above, to the Ten Years of Soviet Photography exhibition, he was awarded a special prize for inventing a new genre altogether - "technical photography" - which was a blend or construction of documentary and art photography.

Until their appointment to the Bauhaus School in , the Bauhaus camera had been used simply for documentation purposes. Having established a dedicated photography school within the advertising department the two men developed a culture of avant-garde experimentation based on the School's two aesthetic positions known as the "Nueue Optik" New Vision and the Neue Sachlichkeit New Objectivity. In this spirit, Moholy-Nagy produced a series of still life compositions that he called "photograms" making images by placing objects on photographic paper and exposing them to light that were inspired by Man Ray's well known "Rayographs".

Peterhans, meanwhile, was best known for his still-life images of everyday objects whose shapes and textures he revealed through painstaking lighting strategies that lent his objects an otherworldly effect. Driven by the devastating effects of World War I, the large and international movements Dada and Surrealism sought to create a new kind of art that reflected the chaos and absurdity of modern life.

More preoccupied with concepts than aesthetics, they broke down the traditional barriers between different types of art, utilizing photography as an important medium for expression Surrealist Film was a force and a deeply explored topic as well. Photographs followed the tenets of the movements presenting objects which had been disassociated from their usual context, distorted human forms, and photographic composites. These images aimed to invert viewers' understanding of what was normal and offer new perspectives on social and political issues.

Working in Paris between and , Eugene Atget viewed himself as a documentary photographer, capturing the sights of the old city. Man Ray purchased a number of his photographs in the s and was inspired by his use of light and reflection and his images of shop mannequins. As one of the most prolific photographers of the Surrealist movement, Man Ray created some of its most famous photographs including Le Violon d'Ingres Additionally, he experimented with a range of techniques including solarization and photograms which he called Rayographs in which objects were laid directly onto light sensitive paper.

Photomontage also became an important technique and this was pioneered by artists including George Grosz , John Heartfield , and Hannah Hoch who were all associated with the Berlin Dada branch. Photomontage first appeared in and early works pointed out the futility of war; the medium continued to be used for political and social comment throughout World War I.

Although there are earlier examples of high fashion being depicted in photographs, the first modern fashion shoot is attributed to Edward Steichen, who photographed gowns designed by Paul Poiret for the April issue of the magazine Art et Decoration. These images were genre defining in that they did not just record the appearance of the clothing but also conveyed a sense of the garment and its wearer. The field of fashion photography grew rapidly during the s and '30s, with magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar leading the way and employing famous in-house photographers including Horst P.

In the post-war period new names in the field emerged such as Lillian Bassman, Norman Parkinson, Richard Avedon , Irving Penn and David Bailey with many of these photographers favoring a more spontaneous and energetic approach. Irving Penn noted his role was "selling dreams not clothes" and consequently images became increasingly focused on modern women and their activities. Penn's statement also captures the tension between art and commerce which is apparent in fashion photography and this overlap continues to drive creativity and innovation within the field. Photojournalists relied on photography to document and tell a news story, sometimes as part of a journalistic written account and sometimes independently in a photo-essay.

Proponents adhered to strict standards of honesty and objectivity to record events. Documentary Photography has close links with Photojournalism, bearing many of the same hallmarks with both terms being used to describe photography that chronicles people or places, recording significant historical events. Documentary photographers, however, tended to be less influenced by the need to capture breaking news or to explain and entertain through their photographs. This enabled them to engage in longer term projects, recording what they saw and experienced over a period of time and this often allowed them to highlight the need for reform in some capacity.

Although in existence much earlier there is a large body of documentary photographs relating to the American Civil War , this style of photography came to popular attention around , when the Farm Security Administration in the USA recruited notable photographers including Walker Evans , Dorothea Lange , Gordon Parks , Russell Lee, and Jack Delano to document the American way of life.

The program ran until and amassed an extensive pictorial record of Americans during the Great Depression. Abstract photography refers to non-objective images that can be created by using photographic materials, processes, or equipment. Like all works of abstract art, the resulting images do not represent the object world, yet may have associations with it. The earliest examples of abstract photography appeared in the mid th century in images of scientific experiments that were later viewed from an artistic standpoint.

The first intentionally abstract photographs were Alvin Langdon Coburn's Vortographs in Street photography depicts spontaneous encounters or situations on the city street. An early pioneer of the genre was Paul Martin who shot unposed images of people in London during the late th and early 20 th century.

She operates by eliminating layer after layer of surface levels until she lets the deepest level emerge: the white Lady below the profusion of madonnas and God-father figures is the end of the thread, displayed——in reverse order——from full consciousness to the deepest part of the subconscious.

Visually, this operation is a linear one. Intertextuality as practiced by modernists is no longer possible because the cultural background is no longer unique. This can be observed in another poem from Next Life:. Sun lights up a pelt of dust on the receiver. Being unexpected, this is a kind of call. Cross names out and things are all made up. In an American context, it also unavoidably brings up the popular beverage of the same name, in a clear hint at pop culture. A technological device is thus turned into a receiver for an unknown form of communication. But the real trial comes with the second stanza, juxtaposed to the first one below an asterisk:.

The open vowel peek-a-boo pelvis. So the Bible is definitely present in this poem as well, but in ways much more indirect and heterodox than in H. We cannot decode meaning here through intertextuality, but through hypertextuality. For them, avant-gardism is not simply an aesthetic response to the artistic impulses and demands available in their time, but a conscious search for the poetic language that can address the fundamental quests of life without sounding worn-out or deceitful. If they differ in their forms, means and even ideological starting points, they coincide in the way they interact with the traditions available, and for similar purposes.

This can be observed in their prose writings as well. But she also wrote a short essay, Notes on Thought and Vision, published as early as 3 , in which she reflects more directly upon her method of composition. The essay is quite allusive, even visionary in style. Albert Gelpi identifies, in the preface to this essay, the influences on this concept:. In her interviews she also discusses the nature of her poetry. Asked about the sliding issue of transcendence in her poems, she answers as follows:.

Experience feels somehow incomplete to me. I sense that it feels that way to most other people as well. We always think there must be something more , something else. If, in the poetry and thought of H. The work I like best sees itself and sees the world … The writers I like are surprising, revelatory. They spurn the facile. In literature, where language is not subject to the impositions of the outer world, the choice of one or several possible meanings is open to the reader, but reference is always preserved.

Celebrated critic Marjorie Perloff tries to untangle the knot:. But it is reference, not representation, that we cannot do without: words, after all, must point to something, even if that something is only a small part of their structures of meaning For our purpose, however, it can be affirmed that such predominance very probably constitutes the most visible signal of the shift from modernism to postmodernism, as has been analyzed in the path taken from H.

In it, the machine that prefigures postmodernity is compared with God Apollo. The weight of the virtual world, the simultaneity of discourses it allows and the new, unstable episteme it imposes are all present in her poetic praxis. Metaphor is ritual sacrifice. It kills the look-alike. No, metaphor is homeopathy. A healthy cell exhibits contact inhibition.

But they may also be read as a declaration of principles, as doubtful and unfixed as any other. Nothing is perdurable any more, the poem seems to echo. But predecessors like H. 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 mother's maiden name was Madeleine Cavalli. His early interest in philosophies of indifference resulted in his M. Lyotard describes his existence up until the Second World War as a 'poetic, introspective and solitary way of thinking and living. 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. In a schism erupted in Socialisme ou Barbarie over Castoriadis' new theoretical direction for the group. Lyotard, along with Souyris, became a member of the splinter group Pouvoir Ouvrier Worker's Power , but resigned in He had lost belief in the legitimacy of Marxism as a totalising theory, and returned to the study and writing of philosophy.

There he took part in the May political actions, organising demonstrations for the "March 22 Movement. 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, Lyotard's first book, published in , is a short introduction to and examination of phenomenology.

The first part introduces phenomenology through the work of Edmund Husserl, and the second part evaluates phenomenology's relation to the human sciences particularly psychology, sociology, and history. In the second part the focus shifts from Husserl to the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Throughout, Lyotard is concerned with phenomenology's attempt to find a "third way" between subjectivism and objectivism, avoiding the problems of each.

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. This theme the relation of phenomenology to Marxism was a prime concern for French thinkers of the fifties, and Lyotard's book is a useful documentation of the issues at stake.

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.

Lyotard, Jean-François | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

While he sees the usefulness of phenomenology in many disciplines, however, Lyotard's conclusions about the usefulness of phenomenology to Marxism are largely negative. 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.

Lyotard rejects phenomenology's attempt to find a third way between subjectivism and objectivism, and asserts Marxism's superiority in viewing subjectivity as already contained in objectivity. 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. Furthermore, Lyotard introduces a notion of 'terror' that he develops more fully in his later works, indicating the suppression of Algerian culture by the imposition of foreign French cultural forms.

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. This ambivalence was reflected in Socialisme ou Barbarie 's debate about whether or not to support the Algerian war of independence, fearing that its democratic and nationalistic leanings would not bring about the result they desired. In "Algeria Evacuated," written after the end of the occupation, Lyotard regretfully asks why a socialist revolution did not take place, concluding that the social and political upheavals resulted in an opportunistic struggle for power rather than a class-based action.

The end result of Lyotard's work on Algeria and the disappointment at the failure of socialist revolution to take place led him to an abandonment of revolutionary socialism and traditional Marxism on the grounds that social reality is too complex to describe accurately with any master-discourse. Lyotard's second book of philosophy is long and difficult.

It covers a wide variety of topics, including phenomenology, psychoanalysis, structuralism, poetry and art, Hegelian dialectics, semiotics, and philosophy of language. The main thrust of this work, however, is a critique of structuralism, particularly as it manifests itself in Lacan's psychoanalysis. The book is divided into two parts: the first uses Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology to undermine structuralism, and the second uses Freudian psychoanalysis to undermine both Lacanian psychoanalysis and certain aspects of phenomenology.

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. Part of Lyotard's aim is to defend the importance of the figural and sensual experience such as seeing.

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. In the early s Lyotard developed a philosophy based around Sigmund Freud's theory of the libido. For Lyotard, libidinal energy can be used as a "theoretical fiction" to describe the transformations that take place in society. 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.

The libidinal philosophy begins Lyotard's general commitment to an ontology of events, which also underlies his later postmodern philosophy. 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. Events always exceed interpretation; there is always something "left over" that an interpretation does not account for.

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.

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In the terms of Freudian psychoanalysis, they are the "primary processes" of the libido, the forces that exist in the body on a more basic level than the "secondary processes" of the conscious mind. 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. Lyotard admits that this description of everything in libidinal terms is a "theoretical fiction," merely a way of speaking which gives us useful terms for theorizing about what happens in the world. Metaphysically, Lyotard is a materialist, and for him affects must be understood as concrete material entities. An affect might be a sound, a color, a smile or a caress: anything which has an ability to "move," to produce feelings and desires.

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. It represents the "primary processes" of desire and libidinal intensity in which libidinal energy circulates in an aleatory fashion, not yet investing anything. Because the libidinal band is a moebius strip, desire circulates on only one surface; there is no inside or outside.

In time the band begins to slow and cool, and forms what Lyotard calls "the disjunctive bar. 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. Lyotard's image of theory as theatre is based on the etymological relationship between the two terms; they are both derived from the Greek theasthai , meaning to look at, contemplate, or behold.

The theorist is like a spectator who views the representation of the world outside the theatre on the stage inside the theatre. Lyotard's description of the transformations of the libidinal band is a theoretical fiction which provides an account of how the world works through the interplay of intense, excited libidinal energies and the stable structures which exploit them and dampen their intensity. 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. In theory, politics, and cultural conventions, structured dispositions take themselves to be the actual structures of reality or "correct" interpretations, thus limiting the possibilities of change. For Lyotard change is life affirming, whereas the stable structures that inhibit change are nihilistic and life denying.

However, Lyotard does not simply assert libidinal intensity as an affirmative "other" to nihilism. 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.

Lyotard's response to the nihilism of structure takes place through the concept of dissimulation, which suggests that libidinal energy must work within structures. 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.

Lyotard's libidinal philosophy prescribes a "freeing up" of structures, so that events may be allowed their maximum potentiality of expression in competing interpretations and dispositions.


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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. However, we can "act passively" so as to encourage the maximum release of intensity within structures.

Lyotard's own style of writing in Libidinal Economy is one attempt to do this: by multiplying genres of discourse, there is no overall dominant structure in the text and it is open to several competing modes of reading, interpretation and application. 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.

Jean-François Lyotard (1924—1998)

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. Whereas in the libidinal philosophy the focus was to see that a single interpretation of an event did not become hegemonic, in Lyotard's later philosophy he is primarily concerned with the problems of justice that arise between competing interpretations of events.

Lyotard's philosophy of language and justice is most fully developed through the concept of the differend, in the book of the same name. Lyotard develops the notion of paganism in "Lessons in Paganism" reprinted in The Lyotard Reader , Just Gaming and various other short works of the late seventies. The term "paganism" refers to a way of thinking that takes into account and strives to do justice to incommensurable differences. Just as pagan religions believe in a number of different gods rather than just one God, Lyotard's pagan philosophy represents a concern for pluralism and multiplicity terms he uses synonymously to oppose the idea of universality.

This concern for difference, multiplicity and pluralism is related to Lyotard's basic commitment to an ontology of singular events: if reality is constituted by unique happenings, then there will be no universal law of judgement which will be able to take account of each and every event in a way which does them all justice. 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.

In his writings on paganism, Lyotard analyses politics in the form of a justice of rhetoric. In "Lessons in Paganism" he claims that all discourse is narrative; all theory, all politics, all law, are merely a collection of stories. In Just Gaming , he analyses situations where questions of justice and judgement arise in terms of language games.

Lyotard rejects the claims of any discourse to be grounded in truth. He rejects the idea of a master-discourse later called a metanarrative that is thought to provide the basis for judgement in all situations. Marxism, Hegelian philosophy, and Kant's ideal of unity or totality as regulating justice are examples of master-discourses that have dominated the philosophical tradition. Instead, Lyotard suggests that paganism is the most appropriate response to the desire for justice. Paganism is godless politics; it is the abandonment of universal judgement for specific, plural judgements.

This means giving up the idea of a single, law-like theoretical schema which could be applied to any situation in which judgment is required. Lyotard asserts that a justice of multiplicities requires a multiplicity of justices. Paganism is the attempt to judge without pre-existing criteria, in matters of truth, beauty, politics and ethics. Paganism rejects any universal criteria for judgement, yet Lyotard claims that we must judge, that justice demands this of us.

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So how do we judge, without criteria? Lyotard invokes both Kant and Nietzsche in his answer.


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  5. In Kantian terms, we judge through the constitutive imagination. For Kant, this ability to judge, and to invent criteria, is mysterious, and there is little we can say about it. In Nietzschean terms, Lyotard says that judgement is an expression of the will to power. It is perhaps misleading of Lyotard to say that paganism is judgement without criteria; for it is judgement only without universal criteria. What he is denying is the possibility of a discourse that will give us adequate criteria for judgement in each and every case.

    Instead, what we must do as pagans is meet every circumstance that requires judgement anew, and create criteria specific to that case by an affirmative act of the imaginative will. Thus we will get a plurality of criteria, a plurality of judgements, a plurality of justices. In this sense, paganism can be thought of as a plurality of rules of judgement gods , as opposed to belief in just one rule or set of rules God.

    Somewhat paradoxically, perhaps as Lyotard himself admits , the justice of this pluralism is assured by a prescriptive of universal value - the prescriptive that the rules of individual language games be respected; that they are not subsumed under a single criterion of judgement. Lyotard famously defines the postmodern as 'incredulity towards metanarratives,' where metanarratives are understood as totalising stories about history and the goals of the human race that ground and legitimise knowledges and cultural practises.

    The two metanarratives that Lyotard sees as having been most important in the past are 1 history as progressing towards social enlightenment and emancipation, and 2 knowledge as progressing towards totalisation. Modernity is defined as the age of metanarrative legitimation, and postmodernity as the age in which metanarratives have become bankrupt.

    Through his theory of the end of metanarratives, Lyotard develops his own version of what tends to be a consensus among theorists of the postmodern - postmodernity as an age of fragmentation and pluralism. The Postmodern Condition is a study of the status of knowledge in computerized societies. It is Lyotard's view that certain technical and technological advancements have taken place since the Second World War his historical pin-pointing of the beginning of postmodernity which have had and are still having a radical effect on the status of knowledge in the world's most advanced countries.

    As a defining element with which to characterise these technical and technological advancements, Lyotard chooses computerization. Lyotard identifies the problem with which he is dealing - the variable in the status of knowledge - as one of legitimation. For Lyotard, this is a question of both knowledge and power. Knowledge and power are simply two sides of the same question: who decides what knowledge is, and who knows what needs to be decided? According to Lyotard, in the computer age the question of knowledge is now more than ever a question of government.

    With vast amounts of knowledge stored digitally in databases, who decides what knowledge is worth storing what is legitimate knowledge and who has access to these databases? Lyotard points a suspicious finger at multinational corporations. Lyotard then asks, 'who will have access to them? Who will determine which channels or data are forbidden? The State? Or will the State simply be one user among others? The method Lyotard chooses to use in his investigations is that of language games. Lyotard writes that the developments in postmodernity he is dealing with have been largely concerned with language: 'phonology and theories of linguistics, problems of communication and cybernetics, modern theories of algebra and informatics, computers and their languages, problems of translation and the search for areas of compatibility among computer languages, problems of information storage and data banks, telematics and the perfection of intelligent terminals, paradoxology.

    The theory of language games means that each of the various categories of utterance can be defined in terms of rules specifying their properties and the uses to which they can be put. Lyotard makes three particularly important observations about language games. Secondly, if there are no rules there is no game and even a small change in the rules changes the game. Thirdly, every utterance should be thought of as a "move" in a game. Different types of utterances, as identified by Wittgenstein, pertain to different types of language games.

    Lyotard gives us a few examples of types of utterances. The "denotative" is an utterance which attempts to correctly identify the object or referent to which it refers such as "Snow is white". For both Wittgenstein and Lyotard, language games are incommensurable, and moves in one language game cannot be translated into moves in another language game. For example, we cannot judge what ought to be the case a prescriptive from what is the case a denotative. Lyotard's choice of language games is primarily political in motivation, and relates to the close links between knowledge and power.

    In examining the status of knowledge in postmodernity, Lyotard is examining the political as well as epistemological aspects of knowledge legitimation , and he sees the basic social bond - the minimum relation required for society to exist - as moves within language games. Lyotard needs a methodological representation to apply to society in order to examine the status of knowledge in postmodern societies.

    I. Introduction

    Lyotard rejects both of these alternatives on the grounds that the choice seems difficult or arbitrary, and also rejects a third alternative - that we might distinguish two kinds of equally legitimate knowledge, one based on the view of society as unitary and the other on the view of society as binary. This division of knowledge is caught within a type of oppositional thinking that Lyotard believes is out of step with postmodern modes of knowledge.

    Instead of the recently popular or "modern" models of society, Lyotard argues that even as the status of knowledge has changed in postmodernity, so has the nature of the social bond, particularly as it is evident in society's institutions of knowledge. Lyotard presents a postmodern methodological representation of society as composed of multifarious and fragmented language games, 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.

    Thus one follows orders in the army, prays in church, questions in philosophy, etc. Narrative knowledge has no recourse to legitimation - its legitimation is immediate within the narrative itself, in the "timelessness" of the narrative as an enduring tradition - it is told by people who once heard it to listeners who will one day tell it themselves. There is no question of questioning it.

    Indeed, Lyotard suggests that there is an incommensurability between the question of legitimation itself and the authority of narrative knowledge. In scientific knowledge, however, the question of legitimation always arises. Lyotard says that one of the most striking features of scientific knowledge is that it includes only denotative statements, to the exclusion of all other kinds narrative knowledge includes other kinds of statements, such as prescriptives.

    According to the "narrative" of science, however, only knowledge which is legitimated is legitimate - i. Scientific knowledge is legitimated by certain scientific criteria - the repeatability of experiments, etc. If the entire project of science needs a metalegitimation, however and the criteria for scientific knowledge would itself seem to demand that it does then science has no recourse but to narrative knowledge which according to scientific criteria is no knowledge at all.

    This narrative has usually taken the form of a heroic epic of some kind, with the scientist as a "hero of knowledge" who discovers scientific truths. The distinction between narrative and scientific knowledge is a crucial point in Lyotard's theory of postmodernism, and one of the defining features of postmodernity, on his account, is the dominance of scientific knowledge over narrative knowledge. The pragmatics of scientific knowledge do not allow the recognition of narrative knowledge as legitimate, since it is not restricted to denotative statements.

    Lyotard sees a danger in this dominance, since it follows from his view that reality cannot be captured within one genre of discourse or representation of events that science will miss aspects of events which narrative knowledge will capture. In other words, Lyotard does not believe that science has any justification in claiming to be a more legitimate form of knowledge than narrative.

    Part of his work in The Postmodern Condition can be read as a defence of narrative knowledge from the increasing dominance of scientific knowledge.