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Facilitation on “Lyotard and
Key Terms and Ideas
By Maricela Jácamo Badilla
Modernity: this term is used in reference to the
converging of the social, economic, and political systems
employed in the West from around the eighteenth century on.
Postmodernity: this time stresses diverse forms of
individual and social identity. It is a movement characterized by
awareness of contingency and ambivalence, and, therefore, it is
full of ambiguities.
Modernization: this concept remits to the stages of
social development based on industrialization.
Modernism: It emphasized experimentation and the
aim of finding an inner truth behind surface appearance, and it
is directly opposed to classicism. It is an aesthetic self-
consciousness and reflexiveness; a rejection of narrative
structure in favor of simultaneity and montage, and an
exploration of the paradoxical, ambiguous and uncertain open-
ended nature of reality.
Postmodernism: The name of a movement in
advanced capitalist culture, particularly in the arts, which
originated in the 1960s. Some of its central ideas are the
deletion of the boundary between art and everyday life, and the
collapse of the hierarchical distinction between elite and popular
The postmodern condition: According to Lyotard
during the last forty years the leading sciences and
technologies have become increasingly concerned with
language: theories of linguistics, problems of communications
and cybernetics, computers and their languages, problems of
translation, information storage and databanks. The
technological transformations are having a strong impact on
knowledge, and knowledge will be the major component in the
world-wide competition for power.
Narrative knowledge and scientific knowledge:
Scientific knowledge does not represent the totality of
knowledge. Narrative knowledge is an important part of every
society, since it comes to define a set of rules that constitute the
social bond. Both types of knowledge are equally necessary
and are to an extent a complement of the other.
The mercantilization of knowledge: The goal in
science – in today's industrial world – is no longer finding the
truth, but the best performing method. That is, the best possible
input/output equation. Scientists, technicians and instruments
no longer work to find the truth, but to augment power.
Performativity increases the ability to produce proof, and
increases the ability to be right. The shift of attention from ends
of actions to its means, from truth to performativity, has been
reflected on educational institutions which are becoming more
functional; the emphasis is on the skills rather than the ideals.
Bourgeois art and its function in society: The
tension between art as an institution and the content of
individual works tends to disappear in the second half of the
19th century. All that which is dissociated from the praxis of life
now becomes the content of works of art. The terminal point is
reached in aestheticism, a movement in which art becomes the
content of art.
It must be seen in connection with the tendency towards the
division of labor in bourgeois society. The artist turns into a
specialist. The negative side is the artist's loss of any social
function, while the positive aspect is aesthetic experience. Art’s
function in bourgeois society is contradictory: it shows forgotten
truths, yet they are detached from reality.
The Main Features of the Avant-garde:
The historic avant-garde has the quality of negating
the autonomy of art (individual creation).
It masters artistic techniques of previous epochs (not
succession but simultaneity of techniques).
It is completely opposed to society as it is (self-
criticism, criticism of art as an institution).
Modernism and Postmodernism: Modernity, for the
philosophers of the Enlightment (18th century), focused on the
development of objective science, universal morality and law,
and autonomous art. However, with cultural modernism, each of
these fields became independent, contrary to the expectations,
which brought consequences like lack of social identification
and obedience and narcissism, among others. Postmodernism
emerges as a reaction against the forms of high modernism,
and it has a wide range of similarities with the post-structuralist
The Main Features of Postmodernism:
In this process, the grands récits (master narratives)
have lost all credibility. “Big stories are bad, little stories are
It is characterized by fragmentation: there is no
metalanguage, no one system of domination.
Postmodernism can be summarized as pastiche
(imitation of dead styles) and schizophrenia (fragmentation of
Totality or Fragmentation: Postmodernists, like
Lyotard, emphasize fragmentation and reject totality, similar to
the avant-garde movements where the organic quality of the
work of art (its coherence and autonomy) was questioned or
On Language Games and the Sublime: Different
discourses are language games; each of them has its own
rules, structures, and moves, and none is privileged. For
Lyotard, this is how the postmodern society works: various
language games struggling against diversity and conflict. Kant's
notion of the sublime remits to expressing the inexpressible. For
Lyotard, the sublime emerges as an indicator of the holes that
inhabit the discourses of truth and value.