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200 × 130 mm
208 pages
39 illustrations
27 Jun 2017
Critical Lives

Jean-François Lyotard Kiff Bamford

Jean-François Lyotard is one of the most important, and complex, French thinkers of the twentieth century. Best known in the English-speaking world for his book The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard produced a multi-faceted work that has often been obscured by its sometimes problematic association with the postmodern. His life refuses to follow the clear trajectory common to academics in France: it stalls and hesitates, with Lyotard’s first ‘career’ consisting of fifteen years of militant Marxist political engagement.

Kiff Bamford traces this circuitous journey, unravelling the thrust of Lyotard’s main philosophical arguments, his struggle with thinking and his confrontation with the task of writing and thinking philosophy in a different way. These all take place within a series of very particular contexts: the Algerian war, the experimental university at Vincennes and a sustained engagement with the visual arts.

Lyotard’s own tentative reflections on his intellectual life help to frame his suspicions of easy narratives and highlight his rejection of ‘the delusion that we are able to programme our life’. It is by following these cautions that Kiff Bamford is able to present a compelling portrait of a challenging subject.

‘In this entertaining and rewarding intellectual biography, Kiff Bamford cuts to the chase right from start. Why is it appropriate and useful to write a biography about a thinker whose works contest the very idea of a life retold? . . . The response Bamford offers is also the reason why his book is worthwhile. Instead of giving us a simple biography, or a simple intellectual biography, in the sense of a recounting of the scholarly sources of Lyotard’s work, Bamford plays them off each other . . . In our stupid age of rush to judgement and clamour to punish, aided by our amoral electronic toys, a final reason to recommend this beautiful book is its humanism.’ – French Studies

‘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

‘Kiff 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.’ – H-France Reviews

‘A magisterial introduction to a complex but important thinker that elucidates and contextualises the writer in equal measure.’ – Andy Stafford, Senior Lecturer in French Studies, University of Leeds and author of Roland Barthes

‘An impressively detailed survey of Jean-François Lyotard’s work and cultural milieu, that fills a real gap in Lyotard studies.’ – Stuart Sim, Professor in Critical Theory at Northumbria University, Newcastle

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

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Kiff Bamford is an artist and Senior Lecturer in the School of Art, Architecture and Design at Leeds Beckett University. He is the author of Lyotard and the ‘Figural’ in Performance, Art and Writing (2012).