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Jean-François Lyotard is generally acknowledged as the theoretical spokesperson for postmodernism. In 1979, his seminal work The Postmodern Condition challenged the presumption and orientation of modern political philosophy. In particular, Lyotard repudiated the notion of grand narratives and promoted a postmodern acceptance of difference and variety and a skepticism towards unifying metatheories. Yet The Postmodern Condition is just one work by a prolific author whose life and work involved close theoretical engagement with Kant, Hegel and Marx and who played a prominent role in the events in Paris of May 1968.
This study combines a careful reading of Lyotard's texts with a critical review of his theoretical ploys to demonstrate the incapacity of theory. Lyotard's variety of styles, ranging from the incandescent Libidinal Economy to the economical lucidity of The Differend, are recognized as posing questions for those who defend the rationality of the status quo and for those who undertake general critiques of society. In this book, Gary Browning takes issue with Lyotard's approach to Hegel and Marx and his generalized notion of social development as proceeding according to a one-dimensional, instrumentalist logic. Nevertheless, Lyotard is shown to be a disturbing theorist who challenged the assumptions of classic theorists of modernity as well as opposing mainstream attitudes prevalent in contemporary political theory.