Supplement: This morning as I tried to prepare this week’s session of the Neutral Reading Group I was struck still by the pictures coming out of Japan and surrounding region following the huge earthquake there and subsequent tsunami. The forces of nature displayed are staggering and throw into question the too often unsaid precariousness of life. Fredric Jameson has once written: ‘It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thorough-going deterioration of the earth … than the breakdown of late capitalism, perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations’. At the opening of the session of March 11, 1978, Barthes reflects back on the entry of Tact, to emphasise it as something that ‘allows life to be felt, of what stirs the awareness of it’. The thoughts perhaps pale in comparison to the ‘awareness’ today’s events bring to us. But, equally, Barthes notes, ‘one must agree on what one means by “life”…’ It strikes me, we are at a point in time when consensus has still yet to be reached, but that we are increasingly aware some kind of new ‘settlement’ is vital…
On a separate note, I would like to share a link to an article I have been sent. Monika Szewczyk’s ‘Art of Conversation, Part I‘ discusses the interest over “the conversational” or “the discursive” in the field of contemporary art. The article draws substantially on the writings of Blanchot and Barthes to offer an account of the Neutral with respect to a range of examples in the visual arts (which is very pertinent to this week’s entry on Color).
Reflection: Last week’s session brought to light two important technical matters. Firstly, our discussion on the entry on Tact revealed varied responses and notably a significant query over the translation. As Anna highlighted, the translation of ‘délicatesse’ as ‘tact’ is problematic; a point we need to hold on to, not least this week, since Barthes offers some further thoughts on the entry with his opening ‘supplementary’ remarks. Secondly, the recurring difficulty to explicate the Neutral through language, and through a ‘course’, was given further scrutiny with the entry on Affirmation. Whilst Barthes frequently alludes to the difficulty, if not impossibility, of any definitive account of the Neutral, this particular entry on Affirmation can be considered the most significant philosophical entry in the text so far – and reveals tremendous problems, or at least tensions with the undertaking of the lecture course (and its form). A point was also raised about the body as a site of the Neutral in relation to the entry on Sleep. There was some difficulty over Barthes’ notion of ‘utopic’ sleep and implications which arise in relation to a potentially ‘docile’ body (with all the echoes of Foucault’s work here intended).
Session of March 11, 2011 (Pages 47-61: Supplement II / Color / The Adjective)
Barthes’ opens this week’s session with Supplement II, which includes a useful clarification on the entry of Tact and also the wonderful vignette, ‘a personal incident’, in which Barthes spills the bottle of Sennelier ink labelled ‘Neutral’. The episode opens up a line of thinking about a more material and/or visual account of the Neutral, which is picked up in the first proper entry in this week’s session, on Color. This week also includes a lengthy entry on the Adjective – which from a more technical, linguistic perspective can be said to continue with the problematic of last week’s entry on Affirmation.