Lyotard, Jean-Francois. Discourse, Figure. Trans. Antony Hudek and Mary Lydon. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011.
Jean-François Lyotard is recognized as one of the most significant French
philosophers of the twentieth century. Although nearly all of his major writing
has been translated into English, one important work has until now been
unavailable. Discourse, Figure is Lyotard’s thesis. Provoked in part by
Lacan’s influential seminars in Paris, Discourse, Figure distinguishes
between the meaningfulness of linguistic signs and the meaningfulness of plastic
arts such as painting and sculpture. Lyotard argues that because rational
thought is discursive and works of art are inherently opaque signs, certain
aspects of artistic meaning such as symbols and the pictorial richness of
painting will always be beyond reason’s grasp.
A wide-ranging and highly unusual work, Discourse, Figure proceeds
from an attentive consideration of the phenomenology of experience to an
ambitious meditation on the psychoanalytic account of the subject of experience,
structured by the confrontation between phenomenology and psychoanalysis as
contending frames within which to think the materialism of consciousness. In
addition to prefiguring many of Lyotard’s later concerns, Discourse,
Figure captures Lyotard’s passionate engagement with topics beyond
phenomenology and psychoanalysis to structuralism, semiotics, poetry, art, and
the philosophy of language.