Dispositif, Matter, Affect, and the Real: Four Fundamental Concepts of Lyotard’s Film-Philosophy

Ashley Woodward (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)
    370 Downloads (Pure)


    Jean-François Lyotard’s work remains a largely untapped resource for film-philosophy. This article surveys four fundamental concepts which indicate the fecundity of this work for current studies and debates. While Lyotard was generally associated with the “theory” of the 1980s which privileged language, signs, and cultural representations, much of his work in fact resonates more strongly with the new materialisms and realisms currently taking centre stage. The concepts examined here indicate the relevance of Lyotard’s work in four related contemporary contexts: the renewed interest in the dispositif, new materialism, the affective turn, and speculative realism. The concept of the dispositif (or apparatus) is being rehabilitated in the contemporary context because it shows a way beyond the limiting notion of mise en scène which has dominated approaches to film, and Lyotard’s prevalent use of this concept feeds into this renewal. While matter is not an explicit theme in Lyotard’s writings on film, it is nevertheless one at the heart of his aesthetics, and it may be extended for application to film. Affect was an important theme for Lyotard in many contexts, including his approaches to film, where it appears to subvert film’s “seductive” (ideological) effects. Finally, the Real emerges as a central concept in Lyotard’s last essay on cinema, where, perhaps surprisingly, it intimates something close to a speculative realist aesthetics. Each of the fundamental concepts of Lyotard’s film-philosophy are introduced in the context of the current fields and debates to which they are relevant, and are discussed with filmic examples, including Michael Snow’s La Région centrale (1971), Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli (Stromboli, terra di Dio, 1950), Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), and neo-realist cinema.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)303-323
    Number of pages21
    Issue number3
    Early online dateSept 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


    • Affect
    • Dispositif
    • Jean-françois lyotard
    • New materialism
    • Speculative realism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Communication
    • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
    • Philosophy


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