- Being Affected
What the work of art demands is that philosophers make the “effort to fold [themselves], with all their alleged philosophical knowledge but also without it, on to the singularity of a canvas, a drawing, an object or a volume exhibited, displayed or performed in fact.”—Lyotard, Writings on Contemporary Art and Artists
In 2009 Leuven University Press published Jean-François Lyotard’s study of the artist Christiaan Karel Appel, Karel Appel: Un geste de couleur/Karel Appel: A Gesture of Colour. It was the first volume of what was initially planned to be a five-volume bilingual collection of Lyotard’s Writings on Contemporary Art and Artists. The collection has now grown to six volumes, including a two-part fourth volume bringing together Lyotard’s shorter, miscellaneous writings on aesthetics and the theory of art and on contemporary artists (Textes dispersés I: Esthétique et théorie de l’art/Miscellaneous Texts I: Aesthetics and Theory of Art and Textes dispersés II: Artistes contemporains/Miscellaneous Texts II: Contemporary Artists). In addition to the volumes mentioned above, a further three have been published: Sam Francis, Leçon de ténèbres: “Like the Paintings of a Blind Man”/Sam Francis, Lesson of Darkness: “Like the Paintings of a Blind Man”; Les transformateurs Duchamp/Duchamp’s TRANS/formers; and Que Peindre? Adami, Arakawa, Buren/What to Paint? Adami, Arakawa, Buren. The sixth volume, L’assassinat de l’expérience par la peinture—Monory/The Assassination of Experience by Painting—Monory, is forthcoming in 2013. [End Page 227]
As Herman Parret notes in his introduction to the first volume, many of Lyotard’s writings that are brought together in this multivolume collection had either “never been published before in French or in English, . . . [while] others [were] dispersed in catalogues or journals that are difficult to access and today often unobtainable, or exist as yet only as manuscripts or typescripts in the Jean-François Lyotard Fund of the Doucet Library in Paris” (Lyotard 2009: 15). Three of the works—Duchamp’s TRANS/ formers, Sam Francis, Lesson of Darkness, and The Assassination of Experience by Painting—have previously been translated in their entirety, and they are republished by Leuven University Press in their original translations. However, the book on Duchamp is difficult to obtain, and while the book on Sam Francis is not quite so rare, it is for the first time published in French, having previously only been published in its English-language translation.
Thus the publisher and the editorial team of Parret, Vlad Ionescu, and Peter W. Milne are to be commended, for in a period of four years they will have made available a set of writings of immense importance not only for Lyotard scholars (the collection will certainly provoke a reassessment of Lyotard’s work) but also to all those with an interest in the arts. And given that these are writings on art and artists, it should not pass without comment that each volume is beautifully designed and produced, and bar Miscellaneous Texts I: Aesthetics and Theory of Art, all contain good-quality reproductions of the pictorial and sculptural works about which Lyotard writes (while some volumes even have facsimiles of select pages from Lyotard’s manuscripts).
Each volume contains a preface by Parret and a postface or epilogue by a notable Lyotard commentator. While the collection does not aspire to be a critical edition—and so is not encumbered by scholarly apparatus—Parret’s prefaces serve to say something about the genesis of Lyotard’s text or texts, about the artist or artists about whom Lyotard is writing, and to situate the text or texts in relation to Lyotard’s works more generally. The epilogues constitute a series of significant responses to Lyotard’s writings on art and artists—including a remarkable set of personal and philosophical reflections by Geoffrey Bennington inspired by the Sam Francis book that he translated. Without doubt, the prefaces and the epilogues will establish the parameters for any...