Chapter 5: Lyotard and Postmodern Gaming

In many circles, Lyotard is celebrated as the postmodern theorist par excellence. His book The Postmodern Condition (1984; orig. 1979) introduced the term to a broad public and has been widely discussed in the postmodern debates of the last decade. During this period, Lyotard has published a series of books which promote postmodern positions in theory, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. More than almost anyone, Lyotard has championed a break with modern theory and methods, while popularizing and disseminating postmodern alternatives. As a result, his work sparked a series of intense controversies that we address in this and the following chapters.

Above all, Lyotard has emerged as the champion of difference and plurality in all theoretical realms and discourses, while energetically attacking totalizing and universalizing theories and methods. In The Postmodern Condition, Just Gaming (1985; orig. 1979), The Difference (1988; orig. 1983) and a series of other books and articles published in the 1980s, he has called attention to the differences among the plurality of regimes of phrases' which have their own rules, criteria, and methods. Stressing the heterogeneity of discourses, Lyotard has, following Kant, argues that such domains as theoretical, practical, and aesthetic judgement have their own autonomy, rules, and criteria. In this way, he rejects notions of universalist and foundationalist theory, as well as claims that one method or set of concepts has privileged status in such disparate domains as philosophy, social theory, or aesthetics. Arguing against what he calls terroristic' and totalitarian' theory, Lyotard thus resolutely champions a plurality of discourses and positions against unifying theory.

Many of Lyotard's positions are of fundamental importance for contemporary postmodern theory and in this chapter we shall discuss those ideas which we find to be most central to current controversies and debates. Since his career encompasses almost four decades of diverse theoretical activity, our focus necessarily will be selective and will ignore many of his interesting interventions in theory, aesthetics, and politics. While we shall point to some important shifts in Lyotard's works from the standpoint of postmodern theory, there is also a continuity to his development. For at all stages, Lyotard sharply attacks modern discourses and theories, while attempting to develop new discourses, writing strategies, politics, and perspectives.

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