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Discourse, Figure

2010
Author:

Jean-François Lyotard
Translated by Antony Hudek and Mary Lydon
Introduction by John Mowitt

Discourse, Figure

Lyotard’s earliest major work, available in English for the first time

Now available in English, Discourse, Figure is Jean-François Lyotard’s thesis. Provoked in part by Lacan’s influential seminars in Paris, Discourse, Figure distinguishes between the meaningfulness of linguistic signs and the meaningfulness of plastic arts such as painting and sculpture. Discourse, Figure captures Lyotard’s passionate engagement with topics beyond phenomenology and psychoanalysis to structuralism, semiotics, poetry, art, and the philosophy of language.

Lyotard’s Discourse, Figure has been an extremely important work for contemporary cultural theory. Lyotard brilliantly explores the relations between aesthetics, psychoanalysis, and philosophy; his book has changed the way we think about those relations.

Leo Bersani

Jean-François Lyotard is recognized as one of the most significant French philosophers of the twentieth century. Although nearly all of his major writing has been translated into English, one important work has until now been unavailable. Discourse, Figure is Lyotard’s thesis. Provoked in part by Lacan’s influential seminars in Paris, Discourse, Figure distinguishes between the meaningfulness of linguistic signs and the meaningfulness of plastic arts such as painting and sculpture. Lyotard argues that because rational thought is discursive and works of art are inherently opaque signs, certain aspects of artistic meaning such as symbols and the pictorial richness of painting will always be beyond reason’s grasp.

A wide-ranging and highly unusual work, Discourse, Figure proceeds from an attentive consideration of the phenomenology of experience to an ambitious meditation on the psychoanalytic account of the subject of experience, structured by the confrontation between phenomenology and psychoanalysis as contending frames within which to think the materialism of consciousness. In addition to prefiguring many of Lyotard’s later concerns, Discourse, Figure captures Lyotard’s passionate engagement with topics beyond phenomenology and psychoanalysis to structuralism, semiotics, poetry, art, and the philosophy of language.

Awards

Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Discourse, Figure

Jean-François Lyotard (1924–1998) was the author of many books, including The Differend, The Postmodern Condition, The Postmodern Explained, and Postmodern Fables.

Antony Hudek is Mellon Fellow, University College London.

Mary Lydon (1937–2001) was professor of French emerita at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

John Mowitt is professor of cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota.

Discourse, Figure

Lyotard’s Discourse, Figure has been an extremely important work for contemporary cultural theory. Lyotard brilliantly explores the relations between aesthetics, psychoanalysis, and philosophy; his book has changed the way we think about those relations.

Leo Bersani

We have had to wait a long time for the English translation of this seminal book. It was among the first to bring ‘word and image studies’ to a level where binary opposition is no longer the sole mode of argumentation, and complexity of thought allows us to envision that both of these two complementary modes are constantly in operation. The key term ‘the figural’ brings thinking about visual manifestations of thought beyond the opposition between abstract and figurative that continues to predominate even today.

Mieke Bal

The English-language translation, skillfully completed by Antony Hudek but retaining a key portion of the text translated by the late Mary Lydon, permits a pleasurably fluent read; is well supported by footnotes; and offers unobtrusive guidance on some key terminological issues. This treatment should add greatly to the reception that this long-awaited English-language edition will no doubt enjoy.

Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Lyotard’s novel, innovative approaches to art, aesthetics, and language only now are beginning to receive due consideration from scholars. This work... presents the best-developed treatment of many ideas and arguments in his writings. Lyotard’s rich, suggestive examination of contrasting interpretive puzzles presented by word and image in modern art... here receives a fully developed argument, splendidly anchored by its scholarly apparatus.

Choice