Libidinal Economy

Libidinal Economy (French: Économie Libidinale) is a 1974 book by the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard. The work has been compared to the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus (1972). Critics have argued that the work lacks a moral or political orientation. Lyotard subsequently abandoned its views and developed an interest in postmodernism.

Libidinal Economy
Cover of the first edition
AuthorJean-François Lyotard
Original titleÉconomie Libidinale
TranslatorIain Hamilton Grant
SubjectsSex, psychoanalysis, economics
PublisherLes Éditions de Minuit, Indiana University Press
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages275 (English edition)


Lyotard explores the psychoanalytic concept of the libido, and the relation of libido to the human body and human behavior. He also discusses the work of authors such as the philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. He also discusses and criticizes the work of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, and the sociologist Jean Baudrillard; he points out both similarities and differences between his work and that of Baudrillard.[1]

Publication history

Libidinal Economy was first published in 1974 by Les Éditions de Minuit. In 1993, it was published in the philosopher Iain Hamilton Grant's English translation by Indiana University Press.[2]


Commentators have compared Libidinal Economy to Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus.[3][4][5] The philosopher Peter Dews argues that the book, while part of a phase of Lyotard's thought less well-known than Anti-Oedipus in the English-speaking world, is important for its "treatment of the problem of the appropriate reaction to the erosion of the traditional" caused by "the incessant expansion of capitalist economic relations"; he also praises Lyotard's critique of Lacan. However, he argues that because Lyotard rejects Deleuze and Guattari's idea of opposing "good" revolutionary desire to "bad" fascist desire, Libidinal Economy is "bereft of any political or moral orientation". He notes that Lyotard subsequently rejected ideas he had advocated in the book, in order to discuss a "post-modern concept of justice", arguing that this could be considered an attempt by Lyotard to "make amends" for its "implicit amoralism". Dews suggestes that Lyotard too quickly rejected the perspective advanced in the work.[6]

The philosopher Douglas Kellner writes that Libidinal Economy and Anti-Oedipus were both key texts in the "micropolitics of desire" advocated by some French intellectuals in the 1970s; according to Kellner, the "micropolitics of desire" advocates revolutionary change in practices of everyday life as a way of providing "the preconditions for a new society". He contrasts Lyotard's views with those of Baudrillard, noting that the latter eventually abandoned the "micropolitics of desire".[3] Grant compares Libidinal Economy to the philosopher Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology (1967), the philosopher Luce Irigaray's Speculum of the Other Woman (1974), and Baudrillard's Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), as well as to Anti-Oedipus, noting that like them it forms part of post-structuralism, a response to the demise of structuralism as a dominant intellectual discourse. He writes that the book is less well-known than Derrida's work, and that Dews's critique of it reflects a widespread view of it, that it drew a hostile response from Marxists, and that Lyotard himself was subsequently critical of it. However, he also notes that Lyotard is reported as having seen it as one of his key works, alongside Discourse, Figure (1971) and The Differend (1983).[7]

Simon Malpas suggests that the book is Lyotard's most important early work available in English translation, crediting Lyotard with providing "fascinating discussions of Freud, Marx and capitalism." He observes that as of 1993, the book was generating increasing interest among critics who have given attention to the work Lyotard produced before becoming interested in postmodernism.[8] Anthony Elliott argues that Lyotard's ideas are problematic from the standpoint of critical psychoanalytic theory, and involve questionable assumptions about human subjectivity and agency. In his view, Lyotard's "celebration of the energetic component of the unconscious is achieved at the cost of displacing the vital role of representation in psychic life" and his contention that representation is a local effect of libidinal intensities "erases the fundamental stress upon representation in Freud's interpretation of the self." Endorsing Dews's criticism of the work, he concludes that Lyotard's concept of libidinal intensities is not useful for "critical social analysis".[5] Alan D. Schrift writes that Libidinal Economy reflects the passion surrounding the events of May 1968 in France, as well as disappointment with the Marxist response to those events.[9]


  1. Lyotard 1993, pp. 1–262.
  2. Lyotard 1993, pp. iii–iv.
  3. Kellner 1989, pp. 46, 223.
  4. Grant & Lyotard 1993, p. xvii.
  5. Elliott 2002, pp. 163–166.
  6. Dews 2007, pp. xix, 167–170.
  7. Grant & Lyotard 1993, pp. xvii–xviii, xx.
  8. Malpas 1993, p. 133.
  9. Schrift & Audi 2017, p. 619.


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