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Lyotard and the Inhuman ConditionReflections on Nihilism, Information and Art$
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Ashley Woodward

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780748697243

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748697243.001.0001

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Nihilism and the Sublime: The Crisis of Perception

Nihilism and the Sublime: The Crisis of Perception

(p.105) Chapter 4 Nihilism and the Sublime: The Crisis of Perception
Lyotard and the Inhuman Condition

Ashley Woodward

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter explores the subtle relations between the themes of nihilism and the sublime in Lyotard’s works. One of the puzzling shifts in Lyotard’s work is from the castigation of nihilism in his earlier “libidinal” philosophy to the elevation of the sublime in his later philosophy of “the differend.” The puzzle is that nihilism and the sublime are identified with each other in Lyotard’s work: they have the same basic structure, and are elaborated through the same examples. This chapter argues that in his later thought, the sublime acts as both a trope of nihilism and as a minimal response to nihilism. The apparent reversal in Lyotard’s thought may be understood as a case of his employment of the sophistical strategy of retorsion (turning an opponent’s argument back against them). Lyotard employs this technique to find, within nihilism itself, a resistance to nihilism in the aesthetic of the sublime. The value of Lyotard’s “sublime” response to nihilism lies in its very extremity: he sketches a liminal possibility for meaning at a point where it would appear that all hope for meaning is lost.

Keywords:   Jean-François Lyotard, Nihilism, The Sublime

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