Indiana University Bloomington

Spring 2018


Unaccountable Differences:

Symposium on Jean-François Lyotard's The Differend

Friday-Saturday, April 13-14, 2018, Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall.

Conveners: Johannes Türk (Germanic Studies) and Estela Vieira (Spanish & Portuguese)

Friday, April 13

9:15 am: Coffee

9:30 am: Welcome

9:45: Claire Nouvet, “The Silences of the Differend.”

Abstract: In The Differend, Jean-François Lyotard sets up a task for philosophical thought: to bear witness to the differend that signals itself in the “negative phrase” of a silence. But is there another kind of silence, another kind of “negative phrase” (and of differend) working its way through The Differend? At stake in this exploration will be the emergence (from within The Differend) of what Lyotard will later call the “affect-phrase” and of its differend with articulation. What is the fate of this affect-phrase in terms of the linkages of politics, or the address of ethics?

Claire Nouvet is Associate Professor in the Department of French and Italian at Emory University. She is the author of Abélard et Héloïse: la passion de la maîtrise, 2009; Enfances Narcisse, 2009; editor of Literature and the Ethical Question, Yale French Studies, 1991; co-editor of Traversals of Affect: On Jean-François Lyotard, 2016; co-editor of Minima Memoria: In the Wake of Jean-François Lyotard, 2007.

11 am: Kiff Bamford, “‘No phrase is the first.’§184.”

Abstract: In this paper, I am rewriting a previous presentation on the “power of the word,” given in the context of Roland Barthes’s early writings on rhetoric. Feeling uneasy with this claim to power, I titled my presentation ‘the powerlessness of the word’. Then, Lyotard was the interloper; now, in a context where Lyotard’s The Differend is made the welcome but unusual focus, I am forced to rethink the claim of the weak over the strong. The power or powerlessness is not of the word but of the phrase, in the full breadth of Lyotard’s usage. It is but a chain in the linkage of thoughts which, I will argue, Lyotard necessarily makes us reconsider.

Kiff Bamford is an artist, writer and lecturer, currently Reader in Contemporary Art in the School of Art, Architecture and Design at Leeds Beckett University, UK. He is author of the short critical biography Jean-François Lyotard: Critical Lives, 2017, and Lyotard and the ‘figural’ in Performance, Art and Writing, 2012. He has written several book chapters and journal articles relating both to Lyotard’s writings and to performance art, with a particular concern for issues of documentation and re-performance. He is editing a collection of interviews with Lyotard.

12:15 pm: Lunch

2 pm: Theory Center Reading Group meets with the guest speakers.

Text under discussion: Jean-François Lyotard, “The Affect-phrase (from a Supplement to The Differend).” CAHI seminar room, 1211 E Atwater Ave.

3:45 pm: Hélène Merlin-Kajman, “Is Lyotard’s Theory of the Differend a Relativistic Theory?”

Abstract: I would like to investigate how some of Lyotard’s assumptions, above all his concept of the “differend,” can help us to get out of relativism without renouncing some convictions born from the suspicious attitude Modernity adopted in relation to cultural ethnocentrism and essentialist universalism. I will examine a letter written by students preparing a teaching competition in literature about a poem they identify as a representation of a rape. Their teachers said this interpretation was anachronistic. Therefore, they sent a letter to the jury of the competition itself, demanding what they called a clarification. I will observe the instability of the discourse and its “phrases:” is this letter a dispute or a differend? Then, I will turn to the poem itself and propose what I call a transitional commentary of it, while confronting Lyotard’s warning concerning Winnicott’s concept of “transitional object.”

Hélène Merlin-Kajman has taught in higher education since 1989 and has been a professor at the Sorbonne Nouvelle since 1998. Starting from the notion of the “public” in the 17th century, her research asks what kinds of subjectivity and connections literature and language can build. She created a movement ( that intends to provide researchers, teachers, and creators with a “transitional” space. Her publications include: Public et littérature en France au XVIIe siècle, Belles Lettres, 1994; L’Absolutisme dans les Lettres et la théorie des deux corps. Passions et politique, 2000; L’Excentricité académique. Institution, littérature, société, 2001; La Langue est-elle fasciste. Langue, pouvoir, enseignement ?, 2003; Lire dans la gueule du loup. Essai sur une zone à défendre, la littérature, 2016; L’Animal ensorcelé. Traumatismes, littérature, transitionnalité, 2016.

5 pm - 6 pm: Reception


Saturday, April 14

9:45 am: Coffee

10 am: Margret Grebowicz, “Inner Life and Amnesty: The Case of Cetaceans.”

Abstract: As of today, we don’t know why humpbacks sing or whether dolphins may be said to have language. But by the time the argument for someone’s personhood is intelligible at all, as in the case of The Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans, said personhood already goes without saying. I propose that, if we wish to build a notion of rights on this personhood, we must attend to what Lyotard calls the secret life, the “little parentheses” within the life available to liberal democracy. And here, phenomena related -- but not reducible -- to language re-enter the picture. Adapting concepts from his later work for those modes of cetacean life of particular interest to humans, I revisit Lyotard's claim in The Differend that the animal is the paradigm of the victim.

Margret Grebowicz is the author of Whale Song, 2017, The National Park to Come, 2015, and Why Internet Porn Matters, 2013, co-author of Beyond the Cyborg: Adventures with Donna Haraway, 2013, and editor of Gender after Lyotard, 2007. Her work has appeared in Hypatia A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Philosophy Today, Peace Review, Human Studies, and Philosophy of Science, but also Agni, The Atlantic, Guernica, and The Philosophical Salon, as well as collections such as Re-reading Lyotard: Essays on His Later Work, The Routledge Handbook on Gender and Environment, Addressing Levinas, and The Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis. She is currently co-editing Climbing Theory: A Handbook, and thinking about mountaineering and biopower.


11:15 am: David Ingram, “Disputing Law: A Lyotardian Reflexion on Unresolvable Injustices.”

Abstract: I propose to show that adopting either Lyotard’s or the idealist’s normative thinking about law will likely be seen by some legal subjects as unfairly rigging the game against their own claims to have been denied a just ground for complaint, which is precisely what one would expect if the disagreement between them is unresolvable. I hope to illustrate the political nature of our legal system with some examples from American constitutional law regarding rights to habeas corpus and free speech. After I show why legal idealism fails to resolve these disputes, I discuss a realistic approach. I conclude that Lyotard’s insistence on the ineluctability of unresolvable disagreement as a necessary feature of language is hugely problematic for developing any practical theory of injustice. 

David Ingram is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University of Chicago. He has written extensively on philosophy of law and social and political philosophy, with a concentration in German and French philosophy, in particular, the critical theories of Jürgen Habermas, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard. His most recent research has focused on globalization, global development, international law, democratic theory, and human rights. He is the author of Habermas, 2010; Habermas and the Dialectic of Reason, 1987; and Critical Theory and Philosophy, 1990. His most recent books are World Crisis and Underdevelopment: A Critical Theory of Poverty, Agency, and Coercion, 2018, and, with Thomas Derdak, The Ethics of Global Development, forthcoming in 2018.

The symposium has received generous funding from the College Arts & Humanities Institute, the Office of the Vice-President for International Affairs, as well as the Departments of English, French & Italian, Germanic Studies, and Spanish & Portuguese, all of whom are gratefully acknolwedged.

For older events, see here.