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1. 1 wrote above that the will to explain was a symptom of the desire to have a self and a world. In other words, on the general level, the possibility of explanation carries the presupposition of an explainable (even if not fully) universe and an explaining (even if imperfectly) subject. These presuppositions assure our being. Explaining, we exclude the possibility of the radically heterogenous.

-Gayatri Spivak, In Other Worlds

He [Dorian Gray] used to wonder at the shallow psychology of those who conceive the Ego in man as a thing simple, permanent, reliable, and of one essence. To him, man was a being with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex multiform creature that bore within itself, strange legacies of thought and passion, and whose very flesh was tainted with the monstrous maladies of the dead.

-Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Lyotard's ideas of performance and rusing seem almost ideally located in The Picture of Dorian Gray. With both Lord Henry and his pupil and mimic, Dorian, rusing is one of their foremost concerns. The soul of wit is in retelling, in taking narratives that are established prior to speech, and inverting them to reveal their very constructedness as narrative. They take their obligation very seriously. The sense of comedy achieved in the novel is not unlike that of Oedipus Rex. But rather than being Oedipus, these characters point to bourgeois assumption, a type of acquiescent thought, as the comic figure. At times we laugh at these "others," but more often we are laughing at our own inability to ruse. And in this, we recognize our failed obligation, even if we don't recognize it as such. We are constantly taking narratives from our culture, yet rather than pass them on, we take them as assumption. When these assumptions are revealed as such, and not as truthful as we had assumed, this reveals the comedy of our nature. Over and over, throughout the novel, the characters point to one assumption or another, reverse it somehow in a way that still retains a certain logic, and we marvel at their ability to ruse and attempt to obscure the humiliation of the obligation that we did not fulfill.

But this is not a particularly interesting or novel idea. What interests me is that although these characters are master rusers, why do they maintain such soulless beings. At this point, I will focus entirely on Dorian, whose body is literally separated from the "soul" framed within his portrait. Given the above quote regarding his musings, we can take this issue to task. If we are to take him at his word, Dorian, and we all, are not composed of an essential being. That much has been clear from the very beginnings of the semester, and we can agree on this point. What Spivak refers to as "the possibility of the radically heterogenous" subject allows for much play within any given subject. If we allow ourselves to take Lyotard's interpersonal model of performance, and employ it to think of an innerpersonal politics we can begin to envision possibilities of resolution. It first must be granted that such a politics will not work in the same ways as those between subjects, but it is still a useful model for coming to terms with the "radically heterogenous" subject. I am not purporting to say that we have "personalities" completely separate from one another (this would eventually lead to a form of essentialization), but that there are discourses of power working simultaneously within us that enable us complete or incomplete contradiction with ourselves. Dorian Gray is an excellent example of this. He often completely reverses his opinion on a given matter with it seeming no less true to himself.

Arguably, these reversals are often at work simultaneously. Albeit that these are only opinions, and not necessarily very telling of the forces at work within the subject, but they are nonetheless, a way of beginning to think of heterogeniety within the subject. Taken for what its worth, this notion of the heterogenous can be coupled with Lyotard's ideas of obligation. It is possible to believe that their is a necessary obligation to narrative even within the subject. This is how we imagine what is called a "self." Narratives taken from different discourses are at play within, and with them carry this same obligation that Lyotard attributes interpersonal politics. If this obligation to ruse and pass on is failed, the self begins to fragment. It becomes duplicitous even within itself. This is not to be understood as some psychological "disorder," but as a normal function of being, and one reason why we cannot be referred to as "essential." However, in Dorian Gray, the subject, this is extended and becomes his "soulless" quality. He is an entirely disconnected subject, incapable of absorption beyond the cerebral, and passes on to others little more than that which he represents. He is incapable of tragedy because he cannot continue his obligations within himself. Thus his passing on is incomplete because his rusings fail to bring him properly into the narrative position. This marks an important qualification to Lyotard's "rusing": once obliged, the narrator must not simply change the story, but must interpret it. To do so, the subject must go through a series of "obligations" within itself before passing on the story. The listener/ narrator is free to ruse, but that is not the only obligation.

Walter Fekete

2. It seems that Lyotard's use of the Oedipus tale in Just Gaming augments (or perhaps is the prelimaries of) his denial of the metanarrative. By attempting to challenge metanarratives with a series of "little narratives," Lyotard philosophizes a discourse which makes no claim to finality and does not seek to put an end to narration. That Oedipus surrenders to his own grand narrative might indicate that he could not or does not discern the "differend" inherent to his situation. More specifically, Oedipus refuses to create a "case of conflict" by which to expand the possibilities of self. Rather, Oedipus becomes circumscribed by the text, bound within the narrative through the "fate" inflicted upon him. Lyotard contends that Oedipus neglects his "obligation" in two ways: first, he fails to negotiate the identity scripted for him by Apollo's oracle. Unable to recognize what Lyotard calls "the privilege granted to the pole of the narratee," the hero does not "ruse" or perform an identity other than the one he is written into (43). According to Lyotard, the "justice" of an interpretation depends upon the rethinking of reading as a singular act (a kind of rewriting) rather than as an attempt to mirror the text read. Oedipus does not rewrite himself or his situation, but images the oracle's text, and in doing so, falls victim to it.

Second, the hero's inability to revise his "fated" identity is followed by his failure to pass on the narrative, or to maintain what Lyotard calls "tradition". Yet, Oedipus fails to see that even the gods are scripted: "they just have their stories" that, like human narratives, hold possibilities for revision or reinterpretation (43). Lyotard argues that the relations between gods and humans should be thought of in terms of boundaries that are the site of "ceaseless negotiations and ruses. Which means that there is no reference by which to judge the opponent's strength; one does not know if s/he is a god or a human" (43). The relation between gods and humans, then, is "metamorphic" - with no criteria established to determine the privileging of identities; they are written and therefore subject to change. Unlike Apollo's oracle, which sees and predicts all, Oedipus is blind to the potential mutability of the story - both his own and that of Apollo. In The Differend, Lyotard refers to the "genre" of his work as a series of "reflections," stating: "The differend does not bear upon the content of the reflection. It concerns (and tampers with) its ultimate presuppositions. Reflection requires that you watch out for occurences, that you don't already know what's happening" (xv). If this is the case, Oedipus is unable to ruse as narrator because he is unable to "reflect" on the narrative. With the oracular knowlegde of his fate, his only option is reproduction.

Laura Fletcher

3. Even though in his Just Gaming, Lyotard wants to make a distinction between his idea of our power to invent criteria and Nietzsche's will to power, his concept of the performative is very tightly related to the Nietzschean becoming, or more precisely in both cases the process of "self-overcoming." This immediately implies an active process and the possibility of its negation (rusing and its failure), novelty and a known limit, actualizing and realizing. On the scale of our own subjectivity, but far beyond it in a more abstract way as well, the main difference between rusing and existing according to some script imposed on us (by others or by ourselves) from outside is the difference between actualizing our potential or simply realizing our essence - where one is generative and creative while the other is an existential inauthenticity. Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can only discover what already actually exists in Hamlet and is, at least virtually, part of their play. Therefore, their fate is certain to happen sooner or later - they just have to uncover it. They absolutely are not part of the game of judging. Deleuze says in Bergsonism that true freedom lies in a power to decide, to constitute problems themselves, which is very similar to Lyotard's position and to some extent to Derrida's undecidability. Derrida's or deconstruction's undecidability understands decision to be truly free only if it had to go through the ordeal of undecidability - a stage where we had no external criteria to base our judgments upon. While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are doomed systemically, someone like Kafka's K in the Trial or his man who stands "Before the Law" do exactly the same thing and "have a choice."

Perhaps we could say that Lyotard's judging without criteria, his definition (and appropriation) of Levinas' sense of the other and the obligation that results from the mere awareness of the other, is a clear attempt at balancing extreme Nietzscheanism similar to Foucault's and Bataille's - with a dose of Kantian universalism. Both Foucault and Bataille will posit the problem of self- actualization - self-performance - into the aesthetic realm1, and the only way to perform (and construct) our subjectivity is by liberating ourselves from the prescriptive2 systems of the society and our own personal tradition In a setup like theirs we can only operate transgressively (or we will not be actualized). Freedom here is truly a "freedom from" while Lyotard's freedom is more explicitly social. Lyotard promotes an ethics which goes beyond aesthetics, beyond "living a beautiful life" but he still calls it pagan which is the way Nietzsche and Foucault refer to their ethics of aesthetics. Shakespeare's Hamlet is pagan in Lyotard's terms which involve: revision, judging (perhaps even undecidability) obligation to the other and to the tradtion (?) if this extends to the foundation of justice (the opportunity to ruse). Stoppard's Hamlet is probably in the same position as his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - in Stoppard's play Hamlet can only (without any new, real rusing) be Hamlet. If Stoppard did not deny the freedom of judging (reevaluating-acting) to all of his characters he would not have had any basis for another (other than "Hamlet") play. His own act of writing is performative, he takes a play which already belongs to the realm of cultural history and enacts it with innovations. It is easy to agree with Lyotard on the generative aspect of the act of writing. Every act of writing including fiction, philosophy and criticism (unless it is a straight forward act of copying) creates degrees of novelty at the same time that it appropriates and uses tradition.

When Lyotard talks about tradition, it is something like our cumulative and social consciousness, but he does not address what is traditionally thought of as ethical. One has to agree that Lyotard attempts at dealing with the existential as well as the social but I would argue that in both cases he does not address the richness of these aspects of our existence. How does the obligation toward the other oblige us? It would be contradictory for Lyotard to give us any value judgment, it would automatically corrupt the freedom which we have via the possibility of participating in a criteria-free judgment process. It follows from this that even when we are completely aware of the other and the other is privileged from our position, the awareness alone is not enough to ensure that we can coexist with this other.

Perhaps the relationship between the addressee and the addresser can only exist in specific realms - of language and the textual - without becoming problematical. When we know that Lyotard does not believe that a metalanguage can exist - his part of the philosophical discourse is not meant to ground any political actions or ethical decisions - is it meant to have any effect on them? Or does it only pertain to the language games played around these topics? This is where I find him the weakest. Even though disclaiming the attempt at setting the ground from which we might be more able to ruse into our actions makes sense in terms of saving the integrity (freedom) of the (language) game itself - what we might need from Lyotard is to fail at it and actually make a judgment, show us the criteria that he invents for it and then allow us to judge his result in the same (free) way. There could be, somewhere deeply embedded in his concepts of tradition and his reworking of Levinas' Other, some ethical basis worth making more explicit, at least in a form of a soft framework for the exchange between the addresser and the addressee. Something like the framework of the Kantian maxim - that we should act only in such a way that we could will our actions to become universal laws - combined with the Nietzschean self-overcoming would potentially give us such a framework without negating any of Lyotard's ideas of the ethical and performative, and it would add another (more concrete) dimension for problematizing the existential and the social.

Ana Miljacki

1. We can draw a parallel here to Oscar Wilde's attitude to life and art, or the art of living and the living art.

2. This prescriptive is not in Lyotard's terms but Foucault's idea of the actual and virtual institutions which control our lives and, therefore, the construction of our subjectivities.

4. Since "one can never reach the just by a conclusion" (17), Lyotard proposes that social, political, and ethical decisions should be rooted in a network of various "obligations." For him, our response to the concept of "obligation" determines whether we are "stuck" (like Oedipus) in prescriptives that come to us from "somewhere," or, alternately, whether we choose to "ruse" under a given prescriptive, and thus modify (or perhaps eliminate) such obligation. The complexity of post-modernism, then, is that both the prescriptives and the obligations are "subject to discussion" (17).

To "ruse" is to "set the imagination to work" (61) at playing multiple language games with multiple obligations, all simultaneously. If Oedipus were to properly ruse with regard to Apollošs prescriptive, he would renegotiate his role and thus his fate. (Perhaps he could fashion himself to be a god, in which case his actions would be evaluated differently.) According to Lyotard, Oedipus should have been more watchful of what the Apollonic prescriptive might obligate him to be or to do; through "ceaseless negotiations and ruses" (43) he could have altered the obligation.

A possible implication of Lyotard's stance here, however, is that only those who are smart enough, creative enough, and who act quickly enough can "ruse," while those less smart, creative, or quick must blindly follow the prescriptive that binds them to an obligation. In fact, this implication could alter Lyotard's "paganism" since, for him, such paganism (which implies the ability to ruse) must be universally evident. Lyotard claims that he can "always avoid" (70) prescriptives, but can everyone?

Matthew Colin Moody

5. Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, like Oedipus, unable to escape their prewritten deaths, Lyotard's description of Oedipus as "stuck in Apollo's text" has only a limited application to Stoppard's characters. True, they are unable to alter the timing of their deaths; however, they do succeed in offering "a variant in the form and even in the story" (41). Lyotard writes of the pagan as wanting, in conflicts with the gods, to ruse with moderation, to make "a show of one's strength rather than conquering. Instead of reducing the opponent to silence, it is better to have him acknowledge that one is subtle" (41). He speaks of translating this appraoch into narratives, arguing that the retelling should be a recognizable alteration of the original story. This is exactly what Stoppard produces; he preserves Rosencrantz and Guildensterns' deaths as a defining and unarguable aspect of their character, while manipulating the spaces between Shakespeare's text to give their existence a new meaning. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's escapades with the coin and with the players highlight the inevitability of their death; the thematic focus of Stoppard's play thus deviates from the thematic focus of Shakespeare's. Oedipus fails to ruse because he can't alter his fate or its meaning; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern use the mandate of their deaths to create whole new meanings to their lives. Stoppard, like Lyotard's pagan, respects the dictates of the previous narration but adds and manipulates in order to transform the story's meaning.

Jody Rowan


The Obligation to Terrorize

Where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were, by Lyotard's definition of terrorism, terrorized by the Shakespearean text in that they were not given the opportunity to ruse, or negotiate themselves, Lyotard's theoretical constructions would suggest rather that Horatio is set free, ironically by the obligation given him by Hamlet to tell his "story." Thus, Horatio is given the ability to create a narrative tradtion which will be measured in its variations, and which allows social cohesion, and, (although Lyotard never says this) forms the basis for progress. If this is true, however, the formulation would be true universally. And in the case of another Shakespearean tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, for example, Lyotard's framework seems as misleading as the play itself. Recall Prince Escaluss final words upon seeing the dead bodies of the plays protagonists stretched before him:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings,

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.

Go hence to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardoned, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.


Much in the same way that Hamlet's final speech acts as an obligation for Horatio and gives him the power to establish a tradtion, the physical bodies resulting from suicides act similarly for Escalus obligating him to relate the story of Romeo and Juliet. Yet, in returning to the famous opening prologue, we are reminded that this tragedy has already become a story, and, what's more, it has become a story understood by the advertisement that within the story "A Pair of star-crossd lovers take their life" (Pro. 6). Thus, we can see Escalus's obligation being fulfilled. The story of Romeo and Juliet has indeed become a narrative tradtion. But it is a tradition in which all the action and all the internal moralizing of the play from Romeo's railing against the influence of gold to Juliet's questioning of the unjust power of naming becomes subsumed under the difficult label of a tragedy of fate, and not a tragedy of culture or politics. Therefore, the narrative tradtion in Romeo and Juliet is established in such a way as make itself a perpetually returning structure under which the story must be told again and again without variation or greater understanding, since the sad story Escalus feels compelled to tell will always be a misrepresentation of the tragedy, mitigating the very conditions causing the tragedy. Thus, the obligation to listen and to author, instead of being a thing which invites (even depends upon) variation and which Lyotard suggests is the prescriptive for freedom, actually becomes the prescriptive for more terror.

Corie Schweitzer

7. I am having trouble reconciling Lyotard's description of Sophocle's Oedipus Rex with my own understanding of the play. Although he only mentions the play in passing, there is something unsatisfactory in his classification of it as comedy. What is funny about having one's eyes gouged out, killing one's father and sleeping with one's mother? Clearly, Lyotard is defining comedy in an idiosyncratic way; His definition is something quite different from Frye's thematisation of comedy as a genre of progress and the triumph of life over death. Oedipus's inability to ruse would make his story, in Myth's typology, an ironic one, which includes "myths of recurrence or causal catastrophe" (qtd. In Hayden White "The Historical Text as Literary Artefact," 82).

Lyotard's remarks on Oedipus Rex ignore the specificities of the play's content. Although the play begins with a plot that is traditionally a comic motif (the native son made good returning to his long-lost homeland) this is quickly made tragic as Oedipus's fate is made clear. Oedipus suffers not because he cannot game, but because he games too much. In the opening lines of the play, we see him in the role of nation-father, speaking to his subjects in a style that seems to ruse with their discourse. For example, he addresses the Theban elders as his children, and asks them why they have come to him, only to then tell them that he knew their reasons for coming all along (line 791). Also, when Tiresius arrives, Oedipus claims first to know all things, then to know nothing. Tiresius, in his turn, arrives proclaiming that he has nothing to tell, and leaves, 100 lines later, having implicated Oedipus.

Oedipus must play many roles to many people. Besides being father to the nation, he is also a son to his father, and a husband to his mother. It is not the oracle alone that dictates Oedipus's fate; rather, this fate is corroborated by all. Oedipus is able to engage in gaming with other characters, but this is shown to have no effect on fate, which will manifest itself irregardless of whether one embraces or resists it. This, it seems to me, is in keeping with the classical response to the question of suffering: he has done everything he can to avoid his fate, but it arrives nonetheless. Oedipus, finally, accepts this, and as a result falls in stature from his role as gamester supreme to one who cannot see, or game, at all.

The play can certainly be read as an allegory of gaming, and it reflects a pagan ontology, but I have trouble reading it as comedy in light of the specifics of the play itself.

Andrew Yerkes

Revised: 14 November, 1997

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