Preliminaries

I can just barely perceive the neutral glimmer in which is blended the elusive eddying of stirred-up colours – Proust

The entries posted on this blog are my own personal ‘field-notes’ on the subject of the Neutral. They are not intended specifically for an audience, but I have chosen to make them public for three reasons. Firstly, in order to write on this topic I feel it useful to at least imagine an audience (or the potential of an audience). Secondly, given all the usual constraints in life, the work I have embarked upon is going to take time, hence it is helpful to have a place to gather one’s thoughts, or even to just let some thoughts hang about in case they happen to be useful in the future. Thirdly, I don’t want to write in isolation. One particular avenue of enquiry is the relationship between neutrality and life (see Yes!).  Thus, it would seem pertinent to let the world in… (should it so desire…)

…the Neutral doesn’t refer to “impressions” of grayness, or “neutrality”, of indifference … “To outplay the paradigm” is an ardent, burning activity. –  Barthes

The core intellectual influence and inspiration comes from the late work of Roland Barthes. The Neutral was the subject of Barthes’ penultimate lecture course at the Collège de France in 1978 (though not published until 2002, long after his death). It is defined as the suspension of binary oppositions. As is typical with his later, poststructuralist writings, Barthes is interested in a ‘third term’, something that slips out of the system of symbolic meaning. The Neutral goes against the idea that meaning must come from a ‘violence’ – where one term is asserted over another; the idea that we make meaning always by declining others.

Thus, the Neutral becomes something of an ethical concern, to resist ‘injunctions addressed by the world to “choose”, to produce meaning, to enter conflicts’. Barthes considers the concept through the analysis of language and discourse, noting, for example, of the ‘idea’ of neutral countries such as Switzerland, being those ‘who don’t take sides between contenders’. Importantly, however, he is very firm to say: ‘the Neutral doesn’t refer to “impressions” of grayness, or “neutrality”, of indifference’. Instead it refers to ‘intense, strong, unprecedented states. “To outplay the paradigm” is an ardent, burning activity’. To go beyond, outside of the structures of meaning can indeed be something far more destabilising and experimental.

If, then, the Neutral is somewhat utopian, it is because it supposedly exists outside of the order of meaning and so to try to locate it ‘meaningfully’ is seemingly contradictory. Barthes suggests of his lecture course, that it ‘exists because there is a desire for the Neutral’:

As a general rule, desire is always marketable: we don’t do anything but sell, buy, exchange desires. The paradox of the desire for the Neutral, its absolute singularity, is that it is nonmarketable – People tell me: “You’ll make a book with this course on the Neutral?” … my answer: No, the Neutral is the unmarketable. And I think of Bloy’s words: “there is nothing perfectly beautiful except what is invisible and above all unbuyable.” – “invisible”? I would say “unsustainable” – We’ll have to hold on to the unsustainable for thirteen weeks: after that, it will fade.

It is this placing of value upon the ‘unsustainable’ that I circle upon in the entries on this blog, when exploring two main thematics: (1) Image-Neutral; and (2) Neutral Life. With the latter, I mean to reflect on the very idea of environmental sustainability – very much a buzzword in our present climate of ecological decline. What if we are in danger of putting as much ‘energy’ into sustainability, as we are currently in making an unsustainable world? If we recognise sustainable desires as being a ‘netural’ stake in the world, does that really accord with what we are doing in attempts to redress our environmental problems?

So begins what I hope can be the ardent, burning activity of thinking and writing…