Supplement: I managed to catch up with listening to some recent episodes of BBC Radio 4’s excellent In Our Time programme. One episode was about the the neutrino, which is an elementary particle that travels close to the speed of light, has almost zero mass and is electrically neutral. It would be wrong to make too obvious a connection with Barthes’ Neutral just because of the basic facts of this particle, but… listening to the programme I was amazed how scientifically we have continued to pursue knowledge, even when our own ‘calculations’ appear to place us at the very limits of our knowledge. The neutrino is barely detectable and yet at any given second about 65 billion neutrinos (emanating from the sun) pass through every square centimetre of our planet. They interact only with ‘weak’ sub-atomic force, which means they pass through great distances of matter without being affected by it. Just as we can see through a thick piece of glass, the neutrino can ‘see’ or travel through a whole light-year of lead without likelihood of being knocked off course. Mathematics has enabled us to conceive of things which at first appear beyond our understanding. Yet we go on to make real findings; and indeed locating the neutrino has enabled significant new ways of understanding the universe and its make-up. It is a stretch, but I wonder if equally, something like Barthes’ conception of the Neutral, which at first appears to have no language with which we might handle it, can eventually enter into our understanding… (For an excellent discussion of neutrinos listen to BBC Radio 4′s In Our Time…)
On a separate note: I read a little earlier today a tweet by Mimei, in which he noted: ‘Sometimes frustrating to read Barthes’ lecture notes in the fragmentary form. I have to learn how to skip here and there in the text’. I couldn’t agree more and it is interesting to think about this comment in the context of the very fragmentary mode of Twitter. What would Barthes have made of it? Would he have embraced it?
Reflection: Last week was a fairly quiet week. I’m not altogether surprised. In terms of the academic year in many places now things are winding down (though generally that means lots of marking to do too!). Also, we are now into the final weeks of this Reading Group. Like any course of study it takes its toll as much as it can be rewarding. Nonetheless, some useful observations. I tried to offer a little more thought on James’ important query as to whether of not we simply equate the Neutral with différance. The Neutral does seem to be more affirmative than deconstruction. Such a view led us to some of Barthes specific observations on place and space and I suppose the whole idea of retreat as a determined action. James also opened up some thoughts on the Neutral as political strategy, which sadly I don’t feel I necessarily responded to, even though I see this as a very crucial question. He remarked on the interesting idea of the Socratic form as ‘a sort of Neutral response to the discourse of the legal authorities’. Perhaps we can take this further.
Session of May 20, 2011 (Pages 152-165: Arrogance / Panorama)
This week’s reading covers the topics of Arrogance and Panorama. Interesting mix! Although to note, Panorama is a short entry this week and continues next week, so perhaps this topic can build more fully next week. The majority of the reading covers Arrogance, or more precisely ‘under what difficult conditions a discourse manages not to be arrogant’. Barthes breaks the figure down into some interesting specifics: anorexia; western frenzy’; obviousness, interpretation; the (philosophical) Concept; memory/forgetting; unity-tolerance; and writing.
The elementary form would be the demand: it may happen that I feel no hunger for the world, but the world will force me to love it, to eat it, to enter into intercourse with it (p.153)
…of course this very blog and its ‘Leave a reply’ comments box does seem to play straight into this ‘elementary form’… but assuming you don’t feel put upon, it’ll be great to hear your thoughts…