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This report is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

Jean-François Lyotard Nicolas Tredell

The French writer Jean-François Lyotard died of leukaemia on 21 April 1998; he was 73. Lyotard won fame as the godfather of postmodernism, but the many books and essays he published between 1954 and his death comprise a complex body of work that exceeds any limiting label. Born in Versailles on 10 August 1924, Lyotard considered becoming a Dominican monk, an historian, or a novelist, before opting initially to work as a teacher of philosophy. Studying in Paris, he formed friendships with Michel Butor, François Châtelet and Gilles Deleuze; his first significant publication, 'Nés en 1925', appeared in Sartre's journal Les Temps Modernes in 1948. Obtaining the agrégration in philosophy, he taught at a boys' high school in Constantine, Algeria between 1950 and 1952, thus gaining personal experience of the country which was soon to go through a bitter anticolonial struggle. Between 1952 and 1959, he taught at the Prytanée militaire de la Flèche, and his first book, La Phénoménologie, was published in 1954. In that year, he joined the group Socialisme ou Barbarie, which was independent of the French Communist Party but critical of Western capitalism from a revolutionary socialist perspective. Its openness to psychoanalysis was to be important for Lyotard's later development, but his primary concern in the group was the Algerian struggle. In 1955, he took over the Algerian section of its journal and wrote regular commentaries on Algeria, but became increasingly dissatisfied with orthodox Marxist interpretations of the situation. When Socialisme ou Barbarie split in ...


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