English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on J.F. Lyotard's "Defining the Postmodern"

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"Defining the Postmodern"

1. What are the three debates involved in defining the postmodern?

2. Concerning the first argument, how does Lyotard characterize the kind of "rupture" that some theorists of the postmodern say has taken place after modernism? How does Lyotard redefine this concept of a rupture or break from modernist assumptions about art and politics?

3. Concerning the second argument, what is the difference between "progress" and "development"? What implications does the widespread rejection of technology and science as the agents of inevitable progress have for us in the postmodern world? Consider the implications of Lyotard's framework, for instance, in light of relations between the "first world" that confronts but cannot reject its own complexity and the "third world" that is tasked with survival.

4. As for the third argument about postmodernity, what insights does Lyotard draw from avant-garde and postmodernist painters regarding the relationship between past and present? How does he invoke Freud's theory about the "dream-work" to reinforce his claims?

5. Does Lyotard's interest in art as an activity that resists the reduction or annihilation of anything that doesn't "fit" into the modern/postmodern scheme of things amounts to a sufficient answer against critics of supposed postmodern apathy and helplessness?

6. Our editors point out that Lyotard's text Just Gaming (Au Juste) emphasizes the need to prevent one individual or group's "violating another's chosen way of life" (1611). That is a response to those (like Habermas) who consider Lyotard and other postmodernist authors politically irresponsible. Do you think it is a sufficient argument? Why or why not? For example, how should a great power like the U.S. deal with disadvantageous states of affairs (poverty, famine, etc.) that have not been "chosen" by the citizens? On what principle could we justify or not justify a course of action?

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.