Disagreement, Judgment, and Universality in the Work of Jean-François Lyotard

Dr. Javier Burdman

Laufzeit des Forschungsprojekts: 01/2018 – 12/2019

The project examines the tension between universality and disagreement in the work of Jean-François Lyotard. Lyotard is well known for his diagnosis of a “postmodern condition,” in which a multiplicity of discourses interact without the mediation of a meta-language. Yet the implications of this diagnosis for his conception of politics is often simplistically interpreted as a nihilistic denial of universality, communication, and agreement. My goal is to show that, for Lyotard, universality and disagreement are not mutually exclusive, but essentially intertwined. In order to do so, I will pursue three specific objectives:

1) To compare Lyotard’s conception of disagreement and universality with that of three influential figures in contemporary political theory: Habermas, Laclau, and Rancière.
2) To situate Lyotard’s conception of political judgment, which is influenced by Kant’s judgment of the sublime, within contemporary discussions around this topic, which have focused mostly on Arendt’s reading of Kant’s judgment of the beautiful.
3) To develop a better understanding of Lyotard’s conception of politics in postmodernity, or what I will call a “postmodern politics,” which is based on the preservation and orientation of disagreement, rather than on its overcoming.

My interpretation of Lyotard’s work will be informed by four methodological approaches: 1) Tracing its philosophical influences; 2) Relating it to its political context; 3) Identifying explicit and implicit discussions with other contemporary political theorists; 4) Systematizing the meaning of its central concepts.

The main aims of the project are therefore:

1) To clarify Lyotard’s conception of politics in response to his diagnosis of a “postmodern condition.”
2) To situate Lyotard’s thought within contemporary debates in political theory.
3) To develop a new understanding of the relationship between disagreement and universal judgments in contemporary politics.
By analyzing the tension between social fragmentation and universal political claims, my project contributes to the research on pluralism, social integration, and contemporary crises of legitimacy developed at Normative Orders.

Selected publications related to this project

Burdman, Javier (forthcoming): “Knowledge and the Public World: Arendt on Science, Truth, and Politics,” Constellations (available Early View).
Burdman, Javier (forthcoming): “Between Banality and Radicality: Arendt and Kant on Evil and Responsibility,” European Journal of Political Theory (available OnlineFirst).
Burdman, Javier (2016): “Necessity, Contingency, and the Future of Kant: Review of Catherine Malabou’s Before Tomorrow: Epigenesis and Rationality,” diacritics 44.1, 7-25.


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