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Discourse, Figure

Discourse, Figure

Jean-François Lyotard
Antony Hudek
Mary Lydon
Introduction by John Mowitt
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Discourse, Figure
    Book Description:

    Now available in English, Discourse, Figure is Jean-François Lyotard’s thesis. Provoked in part by Lacan’s influential seminars in Paris, Discourse, Figure distinguishes between the meaningfulness of linguistic signs and the meaningfulness of plastic arts such as painting and sculpture. Discourse, Figure captures Lyotard’s passionate engagement with topics beyond phenomenology and psychoanalysis to structuralism, semiotics, poetry, art, and the philosophy of language.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7330-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-x)
  3. INTRODUCTION The Gold-Bug
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
    John Mowitt

    On 21 April 1998, Jean-François Lyotard succumbed to an aggressive form of leukemia. Shortly after, at the annual meeting of the International Association for Philosophy and Literature hosted by the University of California, Irvine, an impromptu commemorative event was organized that included several “witnesses,” among them Dalia Judovitz, his colleague at Emory University, who read from his then-unpublished manuscript on Augustine, and Jacques Derrida, then in residence at Irvine. Among the several somber remarks made by Derrida, two bear repeating here. First he shared with us an anecdote, meant I suppose to underscore his vulnerability, his sense of exposure, an...


    • The Bias of the Figural
      (pp. 3-20)

      For the eye “to recognize sound,” as Paul Claudel put it, the visible must be legible, audible, intelligible. The “second logic,” which he opposed to the first—the one that determined the nature and function of words—teaches “the art of fitting [them] together and is practiced before our eyes by nature itself.”¹ “There is knowledge of each other, obligation between them, thus relationship between the different parts of the world, asbetween the parts of speech[discours],so that they may constitute a readable

      This book protests: the given is not a text, it possesses an inherent thickness, or...


    • Dialectics, Index, Form
      (pp. 23-50)

      With negation, reflection positions itself at the juncture between two experiences: speaking and seeing. A juncture, because each of these crosses paths: on the one hand the mouth sees—just as Claudel said that the eye listens—otherwise one speaks of nothing, even if one says something, for linguistic reference points to the depth of the visible. On the other hand, how would this depth itself, constituting things in thickness, with a front and a back, be at all possible were there not in human language an arbitrary principle, the self-sufficiency of a system entirely dependent on its internal intervals,...

    • Recessus and Hyper-Reflection
      (pp. 51-71)

      Reflection, which thought itself comfortable in the negative, having set up camp there as if on a peak from which to contemplate both sides of language, now finds itself—after the structuralist critique of showing, and the dialectical-phenomenological critique of the system—turned out and apparently doomed to nomadism. It realizes that it is invested from both sides, by the unconsciousness of language as system [langue] and of sight, and that it cannot take possession of these two kinds of elementary intervals—one constituting signification, the other, reference. Captive of language [langue], in the absence of which it would be...

    • Linguistic Sign?
      (pp. 72-89)

      One could start (again) by stating that language is not made of signs. It would be the same discussion as the one on the symbol in Hegel, but taken from a different vantage point. Turning around the object that interests us is far from useless; it is a task we cannot shirk as long as we remain in the order of signification. We only always perceive one side of this object at a time; it never changes, but if we have gone around properly, what we observe from the newly revealed side introduces us to a new discourse. Different repetition....

    • Effect of Thickness in the System
      (pp. 90-102)

      Once evacuated from the spoken and written chain through the elimination of the expressive function of sounds and lines, does opacity not retreat to a higher level, in signification? Is there not a thickness of the signified, in the very existence of words; for example, in the possibility of breaking them down into monemes?¹ And is this not what the theorist stumbles upon when discovering that the lexical system, as opposed to the syntactic system, has the property of being an “open” inventory, of taking on new terms and abandoning old ones—all of which suggests the metaphor of a...

    • Thickness on the Margins of Discourse
      (pp. 103-114)

      A decade before Saussure, Gottlob Frege had understood and developed this effect of positionality, establishing that the words’ opening onto reference belongs to actual discourse and not to the virtual system of language [langue], suggesting moreover that there is silent meaning or thickness on this side of significations, lodged this time at the heart of discourse itself, in its form. The separation of the two vectors that allowed Benveniste to locate the arbitrary nature of linguistic signs overlaps exactly with the distinction Frege posits betweenSinnandBedeutung.¹ This last remark is more than a mere anomaly, for Frege’s reflection...

    • The No and the Position of the Object
      (pp. 115-128)

      Not by chance did Freud’s reflections on negation lead Émile Benveniste to recognize “the fundamental property of language” in the presumption of reference involved in all discourse.¹ By drawing on Freud’s work, one can clear a path toward an essential aspect of the constitution of transcendence: the interlocking of the impulse’s silence with articulated language, which all at once erects desire, its object, and the dream or art.

      Let us begin by extracting what, at the beginning and the end of Freud’sDie Verneinung[see Appendix at the end of the present book], constitutes the essay’s theme, namely, the function...

    • Opposition and Difference
      (pp. 129-156)

      Signification does not exhaust meaning, but neither does signification combined with designation. We cannot be satisfied with this choice of two spaces, between which discourse—the system’s as well as the subject’s—insinuates itself. There exists another, figural space. One must assume it buried, for it shuns sight and thought; it indicates itself laterally, fleetingly, within discourses and perceptions, as what disturbs them. It is desire’s own space, what is at stake in the struggle that painters and poets tirelessly wage against the return of the Ego and text.

      In trying to characterize this space, or at least its effects...

    (pp. 157-202)

    The reader will have noted, or will note, that the references upon which the present reflection is based belong for the most part to a European corpus from the period between 1880 and 1930: Saussure, Frege, Freud, Mallarmé, Cézanne, Lhote, Klee . . .

    This corpus rests on a fractured topography that possesses, as Pierre Francastel has demonstrated in relation to pictorial space, a seismic scope and sensibility comparable to that of the Quattrocento, which is what authorizes a study of the latter. Admittedly, the relation between the two is not one of mere comparison. We are products of the...


    • The Line and the Letter
      (pp. 205-232)

      Between opposition and difference lies the difference of the space of the text to that of the figure. This difference is not of degree; it constitutes an ontological rift. The two spaces are two orders of meaning that communicate but which, by the same token, are divided. Rather than space of the text one should speak oftextualspace; instead of space of the figure,figuralspace. This terminological distinction is meant to underscore the fact that the text and the figure each engender, respectively, an organization specific to the space they inhabit. This space is not the container of...

    • “The Dream-Work Does Not Think”
      (pp. 233-267)

      It should come as no surprise that the problematics of work versus discourse is the nub of chapter 6 ofThe Interpretation of Dreams. In the course of this chapter Freud examines the dream-work and enumerates the essential operations by which it proceeds. It is easy to show that each of these operations is conducted according to rules that are in direct opposition to those governing discourse. The dream is not the language of desire, but its work. Freud, however, makes the opposition even more dramatic (and in doing so lets us in on a figural presence in discourse), by...

    • Desire’s Complicity with the Figural
      (pp. 268-276)

      The figure enjoys a radical complicity with desire.¹ This complicity is the hypothesis that guides Freud in his exploration of the operations of the dream. It allows for a strong articulation between the order of desire and that of the figural through the category of transgression: the “text” of the preconscious (day’s residues, memories) undergoes shocks that render it unrecognizable and illegible. In this illegibility, the deep matrix in which desire is caught finds satisfaction, expressing itself in disorganized forms and hallucinatory images.

      Let us take a closer look at how this machinery works. For this, it is useful to...

    • Desire in Discourse
      (pp. 277-326)

      Now I would like to turn to the presence of the figural in discourse. The field of inquiry is restricted to the work of poetry. The latter can be defined, hastily, as constituted by a text worked over by the figure. Here, then, is a paradox: how can a figural discourse—invested by the forms of desire, offering the illusion of fulfillment—perform the function of truth? The properties of a text taken as such have, as it were, their destiny mapped out and their model imposed by the very properties of the linguistic signifier. Just as these properties inform...

    • Fiscourse Digure: The Utopia behind the Scenes of the Phantasy
      (pp. 327-355)

      And that figure I named matrix, is it coherent? Can we say it isone: unified and unifying? What kind of unit does it have? The unity of a language? If so, is its unity that of a language-system [langue] or that of a discourse? What I want to show is this: that the matrix is not a language, not a linguistic structure [une structure de langue], not a tree of discourses. Of all the figural orders it is the most remote from communicability, the most withdrawn. It harbors the incommunicable. It breeds forms and images and it isabout...

    • Return, Auto-Illustration, Double Reversal
      (pp. 356-390)

      Here, then, is the question: if the phantasy is what produces figural effects in the text—transgressions to the norms of signification—can one be satisfied with the argument that the text is aphantasmatic expressionby opposing it to the theoretical or scientific text? And if the text is indeed such an expression, should one allow oneself to posit and treat it as a clinical sign available to the analyst? A discourse with a high figural index does seem at once to be the result of the misrecognition of which the phantasy is the mark, and to result, in...

  8. APPENDIX Jean-François Lyotard’s Translation of “Die Verneinung” by Sigmund Freud
    (pp. 391-396)
    (pp. 397-480)
  10. Plates
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 481-491)
    (pp. 492-502)
    (pp. 503-508)
    (pp. 509-517)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 518-518)