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Jean-François Lyotard (1924—1998) French philosopher and literary critic


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A wrong or injustice that arises because the discourse in which the wrong might be expressed does not exist. To put it another way, it is a wrong or injustice that arises because the prevailing or hegemonic discourse actively precludes the possibility of this wrong being expressed. To put it still another way, it is a wrong or injustice which cannot be proved to have been a wrong or injustice because the means of doing so has (also) been denied the victim. Jean-François Lyotard, who coined this term in his book Le Différend (1983), translated as The Differend: Phrases in Dispute (1988), took as his key exhibit Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, whose position is that the only person who can legitimately testify to the existence of gas chambers is somebody who actually died in one. One might also point to the situation of the detainees at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay who as suspects or persons of interest in the so-called ‘War on Terror’ are denied the right to a trial on the grounds that they are neither enemy combatants (which would be covered by the Geneva convention) nor on US soil (which would place them under jurisdiction of the US judiciary). The language, the opportunity, and the means to articulate any wrong that may have befallen them is also denied them. See also bare life; biopower.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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