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Jean-François Lyotard

Best known in the English-speaking world for his book The Postmodern Condition, Jean-François Lyotard was one of the most important and complex French thinkers of the twentieth century. In this new critical biography, Kiff Bamford traces the multi-faceted, sometimes surprising, journey of Lyotard’s life and work.

Bamford’s book is the first to consider Lyotard’s work and ideas in the wider context of his life and times. He unravels the thrust of Lyotard’s main philosophical arguments, his struggle with thinking, and his confrontation with the task of writing and thinking differently about philosophy. Bamford takes care to situate each of these in their particular context: the Algerian war; the experimental university at Vincennes; and within Lyotard’s sustained engagement with the visual arts. The philosopher’s own suspicion of easy narratives and rejection of self-determination help to frame the book. It is only by following these prescribed cautions that Bamford is able to present a compelling portrait of a challenging subject.

224 pages | 27 halftones | 5 x 7 3/4

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters


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“[An] entertaining and rewarding intellectual biography. . . . Where Lyotard criticizes and mocks our human ages, epochs, and lust for violence, it is never in the name of some non-human, cold-hearted cruelty, but rather to call us back to the effects and affects we share and how we can do justice to them. This book does the same, not least in the moving story of Bamford’s research, in the aftermath of Lyotard’s last years, and among those who still love those many labyrinths.”

French Studies

“Bamford’s Jean-François Lyotard is a high quality, concise, and tastefully illustrated intellectual biography of an important French thinker whose legacy is undergoing a constructive critical reappraisal. It is a text I wish had existed over a decade ago, and I have no doubt that the global community of Lyotard scholars would concur that a book of this kind is long overdue. Bamford’s text is likely on order if it is not already in the hands of his fellow Lyotard scholars. . . . And to the extent that he wishes to teach us something about Lyotard—particularly, about the man himself and about aspects of his life’s work less frequently visited, particularly in Anglophone scholarship—Bamford has achieved a great success with his small book.”

Matthew R. McLennan, Université Saint Paul, Ottawa | H-France Review

“The concise, illustrated titles in this well-curated series ‘present the work of leading cultural figures of the modern period.’ Far less the ‘postmodernist’ that with maddening persistence he is packaged as, Jean-François Lyotard is first and foremost a resolute avant-gardist. That’s why Bamford is truly clairvoyant to begin and end this beautiful little book meditating aloud about Lyotard’s fascination with the life and work of André Malraux. For those readers eager to develop a full grasp of Lyotard’s idiosyncratic contributions to philosophy, this framing is crucial. . . . Although the life of the individual receives ample and accurate profile, it is to the gesture of Lyotard’s thought that Bamford responds. This is why this little book is an invaluable contribution to Lyotard’s legacy and, thus, to the future of cultural politics.”

Cultural Politics

“It was the enigmatic singularity of the work of art—at once inviting commentary and refractory to it, posing questions to which the philosopher is summoned to respond—that provoked Lyotard to engage repeatedly with art. Bamford’s beautifully written book brings this home with passion, conviction, and force, and as a result it is likely to exert considerable influence over future responses to Lyotard’s work.”

Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology

"The book is original not only because it is the first biography of Lyotard but because it relies both on a deep knowledge of his work and on previously unseen documents, including interviews with Lyotard’s family and friends, photographs and other visual materials kept at the Lyotard Archives. . . . Bamford’s story of Lyotard’s life is clear and thorough; it is an original contribution to the history of philosophy and a good introduction to the intellectual milieu that was too hastily and misguidedly called 'French Theory.'"

European Legacy

"Though Bamford makes no claim to definitively fill this gap, his book is the first to offer extensive and reliable biographical information on Lyotard. Taking into consideration the limits set to the author by the format of the series in which this biography appears,one can only admire how Bamford, on the basis of his intimate knowledge of the whole oeuvre, has succeeded in tracing lines between Lyotard’s life, thought, and work."

Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy

“A magisterial introduction to a complex but important thinker that elucidates and contextualizes the writer in equal measure.”

Andy Stafford, author of "Roland Barthes"

“An impressively detailed survey of Lyotard’s work and cultural milieu that fills a real gap in Lyotard studies.”

Stuart Sim, Northumbria University

“In this remarkably astute and thoroughly researched account of a monumental, unrelenting, and tumultuous quest for truth, Bamford manages to capture Jean-François Lyotard’s spirit and ‘manner’ perfectly: that of a modern-day Sophist. An intellectual biography of this caliber, depth, and breadth is hard to come by.”

Roger McKeon, editor and translator of “Driftworks”

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