Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Differend: Phrases in Dispute

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele.
Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

At the onset of Lyotard's book, he defines the differend as a “conflict, between (at least) two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule or judgment applicable to both arguments” (xi). To demonstrate how the differend functions, Lyotard applies the concept to phrase regimens, which are “heterogeneous [and] cannot be translated from one into the other” (xii); since there is an irreducible space between phrases, one needs to construct “genres” as bridges between “the abyss that separates” (123) phrases and “inspires a mode of linking” (128) them together. Of course, such linkages suppress the differend, and hence, difference, by attempting to reconcile the incommensurate and repressing alternate possibilities for the sake of those aforementioned linkages, is mitigated; or stated in other words, genres involve “forgetting the nothingness...[and] filling the void between phrases” (138). Additionally, social-political judgments that function as tribunals and create norms, ultimately, determine the linkages and their corresponding rules within a particular genre that bridge the differend, thus dictating the manner in which future linkages may occur. Lyotard relates these judgments made by tribunals to both “war and commerce” (151) and are most prevalent, yet also most inconspicuous, in the form of narrative, specifically with national myths and the way they universalize a particular tradition. In the end, Lyotard claims that the most ethical manner in which to proceed amidst phrases and genres is to employ “love as the principle operator of exemplary narrative” (159). Unfortunately, material conditions act as an obstacle for love because “humanity is not made of creatures in the process of redeeming themselves” (161), but instead of creatures seeking to authorize their own narratives.

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