Lyotard’s Post-phenomenological Aesthetics
Dr Ashley Woodward (Dundee University)

July 19, 2016, 12:00pm - 1:30pm
European Philosophy and the History of Ideas Research Group (EPHI), Deakin University

221 Burwood Hwy
Burwood 3125


  • School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Deakin University


This paper argues that unity can be given to the great diversity of Lyotard’s writings in aesthetics and philosophy of art if the itinerary of his thought is seen as a post-phenomenological arc. His reflections in this area take off from an encounter with the phenomenological aesthetics of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Mikel Dufrenne (supervisor of his Doctorat d’etat) in the late 1960s, traverse various approaches to art and aesthetic perspectives, and significantly return to some reflections on phenomenological themes in his late works. This arc can be seen as almost neatly delimited by two critical reviews of Dufrenne’s works, one from 1969 and one from 1996. From both Merleu-Ponty and Dufrenne, Lyotard inherits a concern with the sensible materiality of artworks. Yet with both, he is critical of a philosophy of nature which seems to ground their approaches to aesthetics. Lyotard’s post-phenomenological arc can be seen as taking him increasingly further away from such a philosophy of nature, which to him seems to mark the phenomenologists’ works with a romantic aesthetic which he believes is out of step with the times, and with which the artworld has definitively broken. This is reflected in his increasing interest in constructivist and conceptual strategies in artworks, where rational composition seems to take precedence over gestural immediacy, and conceptual meaning seems to dominate over sensible presence. This break from the romantic aesthetic in art, Lyotard suggests, is mirrored by the crisis of foundations in science, in which rational knowledge can no longer be grounded in perceptual givens. Together, these views cast doubt on the idea that there is a ‘nature’ which might be expressed through art or science. Lyotard’s commitment to the sensible materiality of artworks persists, however, and is reasserted in his late aesthetics, where we see themes from Merleau-Ponty and Dufrenne re-emerge.

Ashley Woodward is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Dundee, Honorary Fellow at Deakin University, and a founding member of the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy. He has published widely on contemporary European philosophy and his most recent book is Lyotard: The Inhuman Condition. Reflections on Nihilism, Information, and Art (Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

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