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Dialectics Beyond Dialectics

Translated by Cain Elliott and Jan Burzyński


Malgorzata Kowalska

Dialectics beyond Dialectics is a study of contemporary French philosophy from Bataille to Derrida. It analyses, on the first level of generalization, the decomposition of Hegelianism understood as philosophy of totality. Many French philosophers of the 20 th century deconstruct Hegelian dialectics and harshly criticize the very idea of totality as either dangerous or impossible. The thesis of the book is that, on doing so, they do not really break with dialectics, but transform it. On the second level of generalization, the issue of the book is modernity and the thesis is that transformations of dialectics reveal transformations of modern consciousness which – despite hasty declarations on the end of modernity – still remains ours.
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Chapter 1: The Differend as the Stakes of Thought


Chapter 1

The Differend as the Stakes of Thought

Even if, or perhaps because, Lyotard is one of the leading “postmodernist” thinkers, he does not believe that philosophy is “dead.” What has ended is just a certain mode of philosophical thinking – namely, that of metaphysics, theory, grand narratives, meta-language etc. – that has claimed to subjugate, synthesize, and legitimize other discourses. This crisis is the most obvious context for Lyotard’s philosophy. In fact, it is not even a problem, since “most people have lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative”2. However, it is precisely this crisis – the crisis constitutive of the “postmodern condition” – that becomes the “hour of philosophy” for Lyotard. It is as if the liberation of philosophy depended upon the end of certain philosophical paradigms; as if true philosophy could emerge only from the wreckage of old hopes and delusions; as if anarchy were the only genuine driving force of philosophy.

One may wish to call out: “Philosophy is dead, long live philosophy!” But does it not mean that, in fact, nothing has changed? Is the new philosophy really as new as it claims to be? Or perhaps, it deserves to be called “new philosophy” precisely because it is inextricably bound to its disgraced predecessor. In other words, is the allegedly new philosophy not the true heritage of modern philosophy or the modern philosophical project expressed by Hegelian dialectics?

I have already discussed Lyotard’s critique of meta-narratives, and especially capitalism.3...

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