Jean-François Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979–) [IT, EN, BR-PT, CZ, GR, LV, CR]

15 February 2011, dusan

The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge is a short but influential philosophy book by Jean-François Lyotard in which he analyzes the epistemology of postmodern culture as the end of ‘grand narratives’ or metanarratives, which he considers a quintessential feature of modernity. The book was originally written as a report to the Conseil des universités du Québec. The book introduced the term ‘postmodernism’, which was previously only used by art critics, in philosophy with the following quotation: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives”.

Among the metanarratives are reductionism and teleological notions of human history such as those of the Enlightenment and Marxism. These have become untenable, according to Lyotard, by technological progress in the areas of communication, mass media and computer science. Techniques such as artificial intelligence and machine translation show a shift to linguistic and symbolic production as central elements of the postindustrial economy and the related postmodern culture, which had risen at the end of the 1950s after the reconstruction of western Europe. The result is a plurality of language-games (a term coined by Wittgenstein), without any overarching structure. Modern science thus destroys its own metanarrative.

In the book, Lyotard professes a preference for this plurality of small narratives that compete with each other, replacing the totalitarianism of grand narratives. For this reason, The Postmodern Condidtion has been criticized as an excuse for unbounded relativism. However, Lyotard suggests that there is an objective truth, but because of the limited amount of knowledge that humans can understand, humans will never know this objective truth. In other words, Lyotard advocates that there is no certainty of ideas, but rather there are better or worse ways to interpret things.

The Postmodern Condition was written as a report on the influence of technology on the notion of knowledge in exact sciences, commissioned by the Québec government. Lyotard later admitted that he had a ‘less than limited’ knowledge of the science he was to write about, and to compensate for this knowledge, he ‘made stories up’ and referred to a number of books that he hadn’t actually read. In retrospect, he called it ‘a parody’ and ‘simply the worst of all my books’. Despite this, and much to Lyotard’s regret, it came to be seen as his most important piece of writing.”

First published as the report Les problèmes du savoir dans les sociétés industrielles les plus développées, 1979; consequently as La Condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1979.

English edition
Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi
Foreword by Fredric Jameson
Publisher University of Minnesota Press, 1984
Theory and History of Literature series, Volume 10
ISBN 0719014506
135 pages


La condizione postmoderna (Italian, trans. Carlo Formenti, 1981/2014, 5 MB, added on 2015-5-4)
The Postmodern Condition (English, trans. Geoff Bennington & Brian Massumi, 1984, updated on 2012-7-24)
O pós-moderno (Brazilian Portuguese, trans. Ricardo Correa Barbosa, 1986/1988, 8 MB, added on 2015-5-4)
O postmodernismu (Czech, trans. Jiří Pechar, 1993, added on 2015-5-4)
Η μεταμοντέρνα κατάσταση (Greek, trans. Κωστής Παπαγιώργης, 1993, added on 2015-5-4)
Postmodernus būvis (Lithuanian, trans. Marius Daškus, 1993, 4 MB, added on 2015-5-4)
Postmoderno stanje: izvještaj o znanju (Croatian, trans. Tatiana Tadić, 2005, added on 2017-7-27)

One Response to “Jean-François Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979–) [IT, EN, BR-PT, CZ, GR, LV, CR]”

  1. Tweets that mention Jean-Franc̨ois Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979/1984) at Monoskop/log -- on February 16, 2011 12:32 am

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