LYOTARD ON WRITING AS A (BEAST OF) BURDEN (2): childhood’s (not) end


The text A l’écrit bâté was first published, in French in 1986. It was later published in Misère de la philosophie (Galilée, 2000), a posthumous collection of Lyotard’s texts, most of which were fragments for a projected book Supplement to The Differend.

Lyotard’s « book of philosophy », THE DIFFEREND, seems to emprison us within a closed ontology of phrases, just as stultifying and as stifling as his previous ontology of forces and intensities. The ways out from this prison will be called the sublime, the inhuman, presence, anamnesis, and childhood.

INCIPIT: Eternal Return

The narrator contemplates his son playing in the sand at the seaside. This « scene » is at the same time an objective correlative of the narrator’s relation to writing:

L’écrit cet enfant va d’un pied à l’autre tant bien que mal

“The written this child steps from one foot to the other clumsily” (my translation)

The child carries an unknown burden, away from his parents, from somewhere forgotten to an undetermined destination, where he will put it down. He will grow up, and the waves will efface his footprints, but from that burden a child will come forth himself bearing a burden.

ANAMNESIS: the sea forgets, but Apollo remembers

The child’s footsteps are effaced by the sea, but not right away, only later when he has grown up. The forgetful sea, a maternal element, accompanies the child and the paternal Sun looks on memorising. The child and his shadow are present, the biological parents (« Géniteurs ») are absent from the scene:

The sea follows him she without memory I was forgetting Great sun photographer Apollo has done everything

We, children, writing, stumble between memory and forgetfulness.


Lyotard’s meditations on art and the sensible can often seem élitist, but his childhood turn is something that we can all relate to. Here we consider not the products of High Art available only to the few, but ordinary, universal elements – archetypes. Child, parents, burden, stepping, carrying, sand, desert, sea, sun, effacing, preserving.


This text is much more Jungian than Freudian. Like many good French philosophers of his generation Lyotard grew up intellectually under the (paternal?) influence of Lacan’s return to Freud. Lyotard rejects Jung, condemned to lag behind him, and to repeat his progressive deconstruction of Freud.


« Post-modern is pre-world », according to the poet Kenneth White. Deconstructing Freud, Lyotard tells us that psychoanalytic is no longer credible in its role of legitimation. Lyotard has gone through the post-modern crisis and emerged. He writes experimentally, without legitimation, about a child in relation with worldly elements.

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3 commentaires pour LYOTARD ON WRITING AS A (BEAST OF) BURDEN (2): childhood’s (not) end

  1. I loved this. Yes.


  2. dmf dit :

    the experimental part resonates with me, have learned (well still fall back into it on occasion) not to address this sort of zealous apologetics directly but whatever James might have been thinking (who knows and aren’t we often on about something inchoate rather than just making explicit something that already exists?) I would like to think that he was enough of a pluralist to see that tho his take on pragmatism lead him to experiment with speculations of radical empiricism there is no necessity to such a move:


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