* * *

This nexus attempts to tie together all of the strands we’ve left hanging elsewhereonly to find a tension inherent to synthesis. I begin by setting the stakes of such an impossible synthesis with a review of Lyotard’s concept of the differend. Then, in the Energeic Rhetoric page, I review four innovative theories of preoriginary rhetoric and articulate my own position: a preoriginary nonsymbolic figuration. Throughout this section I link to three sidelong investigations of Greek words: aletheia, apophasis, and apeiros. In a strange way, these four very textual pages (“Energeic Rhetoric” and the three Greek pages) operate through visual rhetorics, layering and shading the “Energeic Rhetoric” page. In doing so, this nexus operates through Groensteen's general arthrology and Murray's layering. The hope is to create a new idiom that bears witness to the impossibility of synthesis revealed by the differend.



Lyotard tells us that a differend occurs whenever two parties face off in a litigation in which there can be no common idiom. When faced with a differend, we have an ethical duty to resist synthesis. The differend asks us to create new idioms. The creation of new idioms is a kind of catachresis or metalepsis:

The differend is the unstable state and instant of language wherein something which must be able to be put into phrases cannot yet be. This state includes silence, which is a negative phrase, but it also calls upon phrases which are in principle possible. This state is signaled by what one ordinarily calls a feeling: “one cannot find the words,” etc. A lot of searching must be done to find new rules for forming and linking phrases that are able to express the differend disclosed by the feeling, unless one wants this differend to be smothered right away in a litigation and for the alarm sounded by the feeling to have been useless. What is at stake in a literature, in a philosophy, in a politics perhaps, is to bear witness to differends by finding idioms for them.

In the differend, something “asks” to be put into phrases, and suffers from the wrong of not being able to be put into phrases right away. This is when the human beings who thought they could use language as an instrument of communication learn through the feeling of pain which accompanies silence (and of pleasure which accompanies the invention of a new idiom), that they are summoned by language, not to augment to their profit the quantity of information communicable through existing idioms, but to recognize that what remains to be phrased exceeds what they can presently phrase, and that they must be allowed to institute idioms which do not yet exist. (Differend 13)

In many ways, this is the issue in Diane Davis’s argument about Burkean identification. Lyotard carries Burke’s identification further. Whereas Burke sees difference and identity as opposites in continual flux (neither pure identity nor pure difference have any need of rhetoric), Lyotard shows us where we go when the common ground is lacking. The differend is a situation in which there is no common ground, no common language, no common idiom. From the initial psychoanalytic primary identification we have drifted into opposition. Interestingly enough, Lyotard sees this as a problem for which rhetoric is uniquely capable.

Rhetoric creates new idioms. That’s what it runs on: catachresis, metalepsis, bricolage, figuration, transgression. The new idiom bears witness to the differend. This witness is a kind of common ground, almost like agreeing to disagree. But it is a dialectic that resists synthesis. To synthesize a differend would be to reduce one side to another, to translate (and therefore to betray) one side into the other’s idiom. This is precisely what Levinas tells us we cannot do: the face says, thou shalt not kill. Lyotard’s figuration is a response to Levinas’s (dis)figuration. Levinas tells us what the face says; Lyotard asks us to make new masks that bear witness to the differends created by prosopopoeia.

In comparing The Differend with Discourse, Figure, we might wonder how we got from the phenomenologist-cum-psychoanalyst Lyotard interested in language’s other to a book that seems to be concerned with language exclusively. Geoffrey Bennington points to a seemingly unimportant clause in an unimportant essay to explain away both Lyotard’s preoccupation with psychoanalysis and his later move toward language games:

As Lyotard notes in an essay written very shortly after Economie libidinale, these notions of energy and libido are a “façon de parler” [manner of speaking], a way of speaking, a turn of phrase. This unobtrusive and off-hand comment has enormous consequences for the whole project of a “libidinal economy.” On the one hand, it implies that that energy, the libido and so on have no particular epistemological or ontological privilege, and on the other, that energy and libido are always posited by language, by “ways of speaking.” (46; quotation from Lyotard, Rudiments païens 130)

Bennington goes on to argue that Lyotard seems to be arguing for some kind of equivalence between language and energy: “if energy is a ‘façon de parler,’ then it rapidly follows that, in a sense, there are only ‘façons de parler’” (50; italics in original). But if there are only ways of speaking, then this would seem to put us right back in the naïve reading of Derrida against which Lyotard argues in the opening of Discourse, Figure: “the given is not a text.” Once again, I see Bennington as conflating Lyotard’s position with Derrida’s.

Bennington, of course, ends his book on Lyotard with two quotes from Derrida—his basic argument being that the two are not really so far apart as they would like to think. I would like to be careful here to note that I think Bennington is one of the most skilled and careful expositors of both Derrida and Lyotard. However, I think in this instance it is important to keep the two distinct in ways that he overlooks: namely, in the importance of a nonsymbolic density of figuration.

To be more accurate, though, Lyotard’s casual aside about energy being a “manner of speaking” makes an equivalence not between energy and language but between energy and rhetoric. Lyotard does not say that energy is speech but that it is a way of speaking. As I often stress to my students, rhetoric is concerned less with what we say than with how we say it (form rather than content).

“What is at stake in a literature, in a philosophy, in a politics perhaps, is to bear witness to differends by finding idioms for them.”