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Lyotard: Differend, Presence Jacob Rogozinski H OW CAN ONE COMMENT on the writings of Lyotard? In his “ Levinas Notice,” one of the most beautiful passages of Le Différend, he writes, “ How can a commentary not be a persecu­ tion of the commented on?” That is to say, a refusal to listen to the “ marvelous thing to which the writing made itself accessible” —like taking hostages.1In this passage he questions, among other things, the possibility of inserting an ethical phrase in writing without immediately damaging or ruining this phrase. What would an “ ethical writing” be? Or an ethics of writing? Is there a passage, in the Kantian sense, from the aesthetic to the ethical, or is there an insurmountable differend? And if there were a “ holy writing,” one which could bear witness to flaws and wrongs, how would one rescue it from such persecution? As soon as the reader gives in to the presumptuousness of commentary, or autonomy, of a meta-narrative, doesn’t he deny ethical dissymmetry and the incom­ mensurability of the phrases? It would be necessary, writes Lyotard, “to present otherwise” (p. 167), to be tuned in to the book, to bear witness to the differend. To try to allow for the fragmentary, interrogating, some­ times aporetic, nature of this book where, precisely, the differend is exposed, where “the sentences are so arranged as to show that this arrangement is not obvious and that one must look for the laws govern­ ing the arrangement” (§180). How can one talk about Lyotard? Does Le Différend belong to a nar­ rative genre? Or indeed to that meta-narration implied in all discourse on the narrative? It seemed possible to read La Condition postmoderne as the epic story of the great narrative of modernity, of its conquering arrogance and decline. Relayed by the seductive fable of the “ short post­ modern narratives,” of the atomisation of the social into pliable webs of language-games.2 From defunct modernity to postmodernity, we don’t leave the universe of Narrative; only the mode of the diegesis changes. This beautiful continuity, this assurance of the meta-narrator, is what comes undone when we come to Le Différend. The analysis of the language-games gives way to a radical ontology of phrases, of those elementary units which tend to be eclipsed by the sequences of narrative plot. Since, he writes, “ Narratives push the event back to the edge” Vol. XXXI, NO. 1 107 L ’E spr it C r éa te u r (§219), they conceal the heterogeneity of the regime of phrases. The dif­ ference makes itself forgotten therein. There is no Lyotardian meta-narrative, not even the apparent con­ tinuity of thought which, book after book, patiently tills the same fur­ row... How does one explain the changes in perspective, the abrupt about-faces, from “ figurai” to “ libidinal,” then on to “languagegames ” and to “ phrases,” which have permeated his work for twenty years? It’s not a question here of looking for the rule above all other rules, or the experience of a Selbst on its way to truth. One looks more for a guideline of judgement, the traces of a way of thought, of a con­ tinued line of questioning. Let’s take for example the title, Le Différend. It suggests “that there lacks in general a universal law of judgement between heterogeneous genres” (p. 9). There is no metalanguage, no last judgement, no Absolute Knowledge. The idea of a supreme genre, of “ absolute victory of one genre over the others,” is offensive to the multiplicity of genres, to the infinity of phrases. In its very title, Le Différend emphasizes the rights of the multiple against the One. Let us now open to the first pages of his first great book, Discours, Figure. He writes: “ We have renounced the folly of the unit [. . .]. Freudian utopia maintains us in the law dic­ tated by the so-called death instinct, which is that the unification of diversity is always forbidden.” It follows that philosophy must “ re­ nounce the ‘I’ as a unitary measure [. . .]. There is no ‘arkhé,’ nor does Good exist as a unitary horizon.” 3 We must abandon...


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