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Lyotard and the Postmodern Body Cecile Lindsay A S A WRITER in the American Book Review recently noted, “ These days it seems a new scholarly book on postmodernism appears just about every week. It has finally become impossible to keep up with them all.” 1 The saturation of our lives by information, which the sociologist Jean Baudrillard sees as characteristic of the con­ temporary culture so many have called “ postmodern,” is ironically also a glut of information and theories on postmodernism itself.2Whether it be termed a “ moment,” a “turn,” a “ current,” an “ occasion,” a “ cul­ ture,” or a “ condition,” the postmodern has proved to be a label which, though vexed, persists in the discourse of those who would analyze West­ ern culture, literature, art, and architecture since the end of the Second World War and the advent of post-industrial society.3 Perhaps N. Katherine Hayles best sums up the various characterizations of the post­ modern when she asserts that “ The disappearance of a stable, universal context for our texts is the context for postmodern culture.” 4What all descriptions of the postmodern seem to share is a conviction that the global, totalizing, hierarchized discourses of the modern era no longer hold sway. Today we are experiencing a pervasive suspicion of meta­ physics, indeed of metanarratives of all kinds—be they of enlightenment, of progress, of Marxism, or of capitalism—that impose a single explana­ tory scheme upon experience and events. One recognizes here JeanFranfois Lyotard’s formulation of what he at one point calls the post­ modern condition. Concomitant with the recent proliferation of discourse on the post­ modern is a growing interest in and interrogation of cultural, historical, and philosophical constructions of corporality. One reviewer dubs “ Body Criticism” the expanding corpus of works on corporality, iden­ tifies the body as an “ interdisciplinary missing link,” and contends that “ the body has become a problematic ‘gold standard’ in contemporary scholarship.” 5Why has the body become a locus of interest in the post­ modern era? I propose the following hypothesis: given our suspicion of metadiscourses and transcendental subjects, our postmodern sensibility desires to make contact with some ground, with the physical stripped of metaphysical pretensions. This physical ground would be the body. The Vol. XXXI, No. 1 33 L ’E spr it C réa te u r body as “gold standard” would seem to provide a common ground for the exchange of models, methods, and perspectives between traditional disciplines. In her introduction to Literature and the Body, Elaine Scarry links the present critical attention to the body to what Perry Anderson calls “ a sudden zest, a new appetite for the concrete.” 6 Scarry claims that the body is a special site of interest now because we have grown scep­ tical of the referential capacity of language, and yet we yearn to recon­ nect language to the world. For Scarry, “ the primary site of reconnection would not be just this or that piece of material ground, but the most extreme locus of materialization, the live body” (p. xxi). Scarry is right to characterize our current state of mind as a combina­ tion of scepticism and yearning, for while we as postmoderns may have a new zest for the live body, we are also suspicious of the desire for a material ground as being itself a metaphysical urge. As we have learned from Derrida, the desire to end metaphysics necessarily entails a certain continuation of metaphysics—albeit with a difference. Thus the desire for contact with a ground stripped of the metaphysical must be con­ sidered deconstructively, as both striving to throw off the metadiscourses of the past and yet still conserving them, though differently. The post­ modern body as ground would not be the body as construed by our philosophical tradition, as the material container for some spiritual essence; and the way to make contact with such a ground would not be speculative, dialectical, or Cartesian—but postmodern. It is for this reason that I have linked Lyotard, the postmodern, and the body. The importance of Lyotard’s work on the body lies in its complication of the idea of the “ live body,” and in his ability to conceive of the...


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