Supplement: It was quite fitting (and indeed touching) that my mother yesterday handed me a newspaper article on Barthes’s Camera Lucida, which she had saved from the Guardian Review (26.03.11). I shouldn’t necessarily be surprised such an article can still appear in the press – its main point is that this ‘odd volume’, in the 30 years since its publication, has attained canonical status; ‘probably the most widely read and influential book on the subject’. I thought I’d mention it here since the book has been mentioned at various times in our discussions, particularly in the early weeks. But, also I liked a particular quote from the art critic Martin Herbert: ‘I don’t go looking for “ideas about photography” in that book; I read it for a certain kind of vulnerability.’
I wondered how such a response might relate to The Neutral as a book. Perhaps we needn’t go looking for some kind of ‘theory’ of the Neutral, but instead a certain kind of response to the world (…but what might the correct adjective be in this case?). In line with this thought, I might also mention I went to see John Berger speak at the London Southbank last night, following the publication of his new book Bento’s Sketchbook. Taking inspiration from the fact that the philosopher Benedict or Bento de Spinoza liked to draw and also carried with him a sketchbook (but which was never found after his death), Berger produces his own set of drawings and ruminations: ‘The result is … an exploration of the practice of drawing and a meditation on how art guides our gaze to the world … to the pitilessness of the new world order and the forms of resistance to it’. In one of the readings he gave from the book, Berger referred to the adjective ‘inconsequential’:
To protest is to refuse being reduced to a zero and to an enforced silence. Therefore, at the very moment a protest is made, if it is made, there is a small victory. The moment, although passing like every moment, acquires a certain indelibility. It passes, yet it has been printed out. A protest is not principally a sacrifice made for some alternative, more just future; it is an inconsequential redemption of the present. The problem is how to live time and again with the adjective inconsequential. (Berger, Bento’s Sketchbook, pp.79-80)
This problem it would seem to me poses many possibilities… both in its own terms, but also in consideration of Barthes’ Neutral. I shall leave it open to further thought…
Reflection: Last week’s reading mainly covered the topic of Arrogance, which led us again into thinking about forms of engagement, dialogue and argumentation. Also it worked upon the theme of perennial interest to Barthes: Writing. …and writing as a practice, rather than something static. I have belated added a few comments to Anna’s observations last week, in which I use some of the lines from the text to offer an account of John Berger’s practice of writing. In addition James added further explanation on the topic of the Neutral and deconstruction. In noting how deconstruction has been ’employed in quite political ways by feminists, Marxists and others to promote the minor term of a binary’, he suggests the Neutral might ‘resemble this latter (perhaps illegitimate) form of deconstruction in that both, ostensibly, stand outside the binary but, de facto, promote a “very particular position”’. This week’s reading perhaps helps develop this point, and aid a certain de-coupling of resemblance – particularly in Barthes discussion of skepticism and wou-wei or inaction. In connection here, we can perhaps now return to one of the key concerns raised in Barthes’ preliminaries of the Neutral as ethical injunction. This is something Anna wished to highlight last week, suggesting an ’emphasis on diversity and singularity – perhaps in sympathy with Levinas (whom Barthes quoted via Blanchot in last week’s class…’.
Session of May 27, 2011 (Pages 166-181: Supplement VIII / Panorama (Continued) / Kairos / Wou-wei)
This week’s reading marks the penultimate session of the Reading Group! Again, the recurring interests of skepticism and Eastern philosophies are very evident. Building on ‘The Concept’ entry from last week, in which Barthes offers a very neat consideration of the Neutral vis-a-vis philosophy (showing it to be outside of, but not in opposition), we consider this week the concept of kairos, which Barthes develops specifically in terms of skepticism. There is much emphasis upon ‘time’: ‘the neutral stage of kairos is what prevents systematization from reaching the contingent, what prevents the becoming system, the becoming arrogant of worldliness -> one could say: the Neutral listens to contingency, it doesn’t submit to it’ (p.172). Barthes leads the discussion out to eastern philosophies again with a comment on the Zen notion of satori, and then in the final figure of the lecture on the Taoist notion of wou-wei, or the nonaction. Preceding these figures, Barthes also offers a continuation of the figure Panorama, which was initiated last week, though we didn’t really refer to it in our comments. Whilst the panoramic view is concerned with the spatial, much of this entry again brings out interests of the temporal: ‘…image of the palimpsest: interesting, because it’s an image of complexity but not of depth’ (p.167). Perhaps this image is also fitting for this week’s reading in itself, which strikes me as very complex, yet bound upon a level-field. We are now close to the end of the course and it does feel in this week (and last week to some extent too) we are required to hold together a number of difficult ideas – the insistence of the Neutral as ethical and aesthetic injunction; and as a response to the discourses of knowledge and enquiry. It is surely difficult to do justice to the material in the electronic environment we have here, but then equally I wonder how the minds of all those sitting in on Barthes’ actual delivery of the lectures must have spun! …I look forward to all and any of your thoughts Today…