Missional Implications of The Differend by J.F. Lyotard pt. 3

Missional Implications of The Differend by J.F. Lyotard pt. 3 October 31, 2012

Jean-Francois Lyotard by Wikimedia Commons - Bracha L. Ettinger

In this third post, there is one more missional implication worth mentioning. Emergence can serve as a restorer and rebuilder in breached relationships in abusive Christian contexts. This is very close to my heart since I came out of abusive fundamentalist communities twice in my life. Once as a child and once as a young adult. I couldn’t get the clue the first time, but as a survivor I see clearly how much room there is for this kind of advocacy in Emergence.

Language games permeate Christian contexts and to some degree are unavoidable. The games are not the problem. The fallout from unhealthy language games is. Open minded or thought provoking dialog is essential to healthy Christian spirituality, but once an idiom is imposed upon a community that dictates the whys, hows, whens, wheres, etc. an inevitable environment for differend arises.

The role for Emergence is even more vital in cases of sexual abuse within churches. Silence of these victims must be rectified by the advocacy of others who will speak the idiom of the abuser and bring forth justice on behalf of the abused. These fear-based contexts manipulate others to exploit leader’s perversions which thrive on control. Such environments are factories for differend. Once we appropriate Lyotard’s language it is easy to see where and how they occur.

Unlike Auschwitz, there are multiple cases where surviving victims of differend are living and are able to be aided. The challenge is calling forth the darkness in the language of the abuser and being a bridge to communicate between the victim and the abuser in a manner that addresses both parties.

French literary studies provide a compelling example of how this can occur:

Moving away from philosophy to French literary studies, Robert Harvey sees the lack of a witness or a “telltale” as a missing link in the case of the differend. In order to fill in the gaps that Lyotard intentionally leaves within his philosophy of the differend, Harvey uses literary methods to address the differend and to propose what he considers to be an ethical remedy to it. “The differend cannot provide an ethical product of work as long as there is no telltale,” asserts Harvey (110). The French word témoin holds a significant double meaning that fills in the perceived gap that Lyotard should have addressed. It means both an item used to repair a crack in a wall and a witness.  Harvey sees both of these meanings as essential components to the mystery of the differend. In order to address the wrong done to the victim, the account of a witness can be an essential component of a legal case.  The bridge that fills in the spaces or cracks of the case of a differend is the person who is an advocate in his or her observation of what occurred. According to Harvey, the survivors of the Holocaust are the témoin who enable the Nazi regime to be called into account for its horrific deeds. This positive insight by a fellow Frenchman contributes positively toward an idiom that promotes justice, such a Lyotard desires. Harvey astutely observes, “At the heart of the theory of the differend, it is just such a witness that is missing” (110).

Victims of spiritual and sexual abuse can be witnesses to the fact that this occurs in Christian communities. We can bring forth light and truth in the darkness and deception of such environments. Rather than promote new areas to fight over language, we have the privilege of reaching out to those who have been victims of extremism, who have left local churches and been ostracized or slandered, who have suffered under the control and perversion of leaders professing to be Christian. Furthermore, Emergence can provide a new idiom for Christian teaching and discipleship to take into account so many areas of past failure and blame. We have a unique privilege of structuring our language games to advocate and to witness these cases. We can be part of the solution that Lyotard was at an impass to resolve in some cases. The key is having the awareness and passion to proceed as témoin.


Here are some resources to consider Lyotard’s The Differend further:

Carroll, David.  “Rephrasing the Political with Kant and Lyotard: From Aesthetic to Political Judgments.” Diacritics.  14.3 (1984): 74-88.

Crome, Keith. “Lyotard and the Greeks: on the problem of nature in the differend.” Journal of the Theoretical Humanities.  II.3 (2006): 93-104.

Derrida, Jacques.  “Lyotard and us.”  parallax.  6.4 (2000): 28-48.

Dunn, Allen.  “A Tyranny of Justice: The Ethics of Lyotard’s Differend.”  boundary 2.20.1 (1993): 192-220.

Harvey, Robert.  “Telltale at the Passages.”  Yale French Studies.  99 (2001): 102-116.

Kotowicz, Zbigniew.  “Notes on Lyotard’s Route to Atomism.”  parallax.  6.4 (2000): 114-126.

Lyotard, Jean-François.  The Differend: Phrases in Dispute.  Trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Lyotard, Jean-François and Georges Van Den Abbeele.  Interview.  Diacritics.  14.3 (1984): 16-21.

Lyotard, Jean-François.  Peregrinations: law, form, event.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Manning, Robert John Sheffler.  Review of The Differend: Phrases in Dispute.  The Journal of Religion.  71. 2 (1991): 282-283.

Raffel, Stanley.  Habermas, Lyotard and the Concept of Justice.  London: Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1992.

Rapaport, Herman.  Review of Le Differend.  SubStance.  15.1 49 (1986): 83-86.

Stivale, Charles.  Review of The Differend: Phrases in Dispute.  The French Review.  63.4 (1990): 722-723.

Strobbe, Nicholas.  “Political Identification or the Differend.”  Law Text Culture.  4.2 (1998): 263-288.

White, Eric.  “Lyotard’s Neo-Sophistic Philosophy of Phrases.”  Poetics Today.  15.3 (1994): 479-493.

Williams, James.  Lyotard and the Political.  New York: Routledge, 2000.

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