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ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 4, Number 1 (January 2007)

The Neutral: Session of March 25, 19781

Roland Barthes
(Chair of Literary Semiology, Collège de France, Paris, deceased)

Text established and annotated by Eric Marty
(Professor of Contemporary French Literature, University of Paris VII, France)

Translated by Rosalind E. Krauss
(Meyer Shapiro Professor of Modern Art and Theory, Columbia University, New York, USA).


Denis Hollier
(Professor of French Literature, New York University, USA).

Supplement IV

During the week, some observations were sent to me, documents were submitted to me: a very beautiful page by Henry Miller on Parisian gray: "this immense world of grey which I knew in Paris ... " (Quiet Days in Clichy) (Carole Hoveler);2  a poem by the Brazilian poet Manoel Bandeira, translated on the spot by the person who gave it to me: a poem that plays with adjectives applicable to a young lady, Cecilia (Ligia ... Leite?)3 = all this tied in a very per­tinent way to the figures "Color" and "Adjective." The letters, as well, prolong some of the figures, or even the supplements: taking up certain themes again: the present participle as active adjective, aporia, painting in grisaille, the monochrome. As for anorexia as a mode of the "desire for nothing," cf. below, the "Arrogance" fig­ure. I won't address these new observations because they deal with figures already treated, and I don't want to slow down the flow of the ,new figures too much. But I thank all those who have written to me: letters, texts, and poems →4 today then, only two supplements, one false and one true.



False: a figure that was suggested but which I will not treat: the Voice →  Relation, of the voice and the neutral: obvious, even insistent, and even topical. However, not a figure, and this École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales:5 theme for which I never stopped announdng a clarification that was never truly delivered: wavering theme: seems very important, but one always puts off a real treatment of it → ­category of the "false good subject" (Merleau-Ponty and clothing) → voice = "object" that resists: sparks off adjectives (soft, startling, white, neutral, etc., voice) but nothing more. The "good subject": perhaps to interrogate, not the voice, but the resistances that prevent one from speaking of this "objet petit a"6 in a way that satisfies, that fulfills the intellectual desire (desire for exhaustiveness, lure of exhaustiveness) → perhaps the false "good subject" is the subject whose referent one desires and which for that reason falls prey to the lure of desire → "good subject": dynamic (or even) mechanic of the “mirage”: one beleives to have caught it, it moves further away, and this to infinity: thus with the “voice”, and perhaps with all subjects that relate to the “body”.


[Mythologies, 81]7 In a letter that contains many other things, someone connects the Neutral with what I wrote in a depreciating (“demystifying", as we used to say at the time) manner with regard to "neither-nor" criticism: my target then was these journalistic pieces that set two parties or two attitudes back-to-back in order better to make them­selves the arbiter: the example, taken from L'Express of the time, was a profession of faith concerning literary criticism – announc­ing the kind that the magazine, which was just being launched (± I955), was intending to practice: criticism should be "neither a par­lor game nor a municipal service" (= neither reactionary nor com­munist, neither gratuitous nor political). I then went on to charac­terize this type of argument as a petit-bourgeois feature (ideology of the balanced account, of the scale for which the subject makes himself the "beam," the fair tool).8 → Now, the Neutral has all the appearance of being a form of neither-norism (neti-neti, says a Bud­dhist doctrine I've cited, highlighting its resemblance with negative theology); thus in I956 I discredit neither-norism and in I978 I (seemingly) aim at eulogizing the Neutral. What's going on? Con­tradiction? For once, I will not drift but "reply," that is, take sides concerning the connection of neither-norism and the Neutral.

            Notice first of all: I could very well not do so, without formally contradicting the Neutral.

a. I could take on the contradiction as such → function of the Neutral: to remain indifferent in front of the "trap": to accept to contradict oneself without flinching:

in order, (1) silently to refuse the maché,9 the Law of verbal combat, of jousting instituted centu­ries ago in the West; (2) to allow the possibility of another logic to resonate, another world of discourse.

b. I could, and it is, by the way, what I am doing, recognize that in me there are "petit-bourgeois" elements: in my tastes, in my dis­course are petit-bourgeois features (without going into the discus­sion of this cursed denomination here).

(1) These features are not clandestine (even if I don't myself know all of them): the Roland Barthes exposes them knowingly on many occasions10 (2) In my discourse, there probably are "neither-norish" [niniques] features: sometimes, collapse of the Neutral into an even-handed refusal, an easy refuge in the context of a certain liberal discourse such as ours, and that is often due to weariness (truly to assume the I don't know position requires energy, freshness).

            However, that's not the direction I will take to answer. I will say: the Neutral is connected with neither-norism and nevertheless is absolutely different from it. I will try to be brief in explaining how this dialectic operates: resembling (making one think of) and differ­ent, even contrary:

            I. neither-norism: nothing radical in it, a mere social (even, in our context, professional) tactic: self-serving expression of a politi­cal position = rhetoric (persuasion) of this position → rhetoric of the neither-nor wavering: (myth of the scale, instrument of mea­sure [justesse]): but the neither-norish wavering leaves a remainder: underneath the neither-nor rhetoric, there ends up being a choice → great media provider of the neither-nor rhetoric: Le Monde: perpetually weighing pros and cons; but what Le Monde keeps swinging is not the monstrance, it's the ruler: a blow to the right side requires a blow to the left and vice versa = rhetoric of the Sadian schoolmaster: to punish the two sides and thus to double the pleasure → a remainder = pleasure; in Le Monde as well there, is a remainder: an impression of center left (see Fauvet's op-eds)11 → small research conducted with American students (long ago): article on the university: features for/features against → in the end, there was one more feature on one side → one sees the mythology: great "impartial" newspaper but nevertheless great moral figure of the judge: the judge in the service of a cause: it's the very status of the judge: impartial and partisan (what I am indicting here is not a specific option but a rhetoric) ≠ the Neutral (I will be more brief) is not "social" but lyrical, existential: it is good for nothing, and certainly not for advocating a position, an identity: it has no rheto­ric; the neither-nor speaks the discourse of the master: it knows, it  judges ≠ the Neutral doesn't know (all this moreover should be put in the conditional, since we don't know if the Neutral can be used in a subject position) → one could say, to take up the Nietzschean categories once more: neither-norism is reactive-affirmative ≠ the Neutral is active-negative.

            2. And now the resemblance: in one sense, it's an awesome re­semblance, simultaneously hideous and ridiculous: neither-norism as the farcical copy of the Neutral: (a) Struck long ago and still obsessed by Marx's idea (I believe in the I8th Brumaire): in History, the great things come back in the form of a "farce":12 French Revolution and Louis-Napoleon. → The Neutral would appear here under the farcical mask (grandiloquent, nobly liberal) of nei­ther-norism. (b) Alas, one must go further: what we love with the choicest, the most rare, the most delicate, the most tender love, what in us asks to be put beyond comparison, we would discover it at one point, abruptly, by chance, under the ostentatious form of a public farce; it's the most painful turn the amorous path can take; the discovery, even fleeting, quickly erased, in the beloved one of something that belongs to the order of the grimace: neither-nor: the grimace of the Neutral. A memory: I who loved Brecht and especially Mother Courage, a play that has endlessly nourished me13 – perhaps because it was the first one I saw – how wounded I felt by Vitez's Mother Courage: true farce, truly farcical copy of the Mother Courage I loved.


The Active of the Neutral

1. Active

Let's recall the fragment of Pasolini's poem already cited twice: "'What can be said in your favor {à votre actif}? ... ' ... 'Me? A des­perate vitality.''' It's in that sense that one must understand "active" {actif}: what does the Neutral have in its favor {à son actif}? Or: what is this desperate vitality that the Neutral has in its favor {a son actif}? With, resonating in the word: the Nietzschean music.

            One could say also: the virtues of the Neutral. "Virtus"? Refer­ence to vir, not so much as male (no machismo of the Neutral!) but in order to baffle the too easy image of the Neutral as space of indifferent sterility → this would be: the active, productive features of the Neutral: that which, being outside glory (outside good reputation), is nonetheless thought-out, deliberate, assumed.

            We saw "Images of the Neutral" (March I8): depreciative im­ages coming from opinion, bad images → here, we would have: good images, coming not from the world but from some isolated "thoughts" (Tao-Blanchot) and above all from images in myself: my own imaginary of the Neutral → I add: having often admitted it already, I leave aside the aporia implied in not advertising the Neutral, in depriving it of images, in not qualifying it {ne pas l'adjectiver}, not dogmatizing about it, and nonetheless recognizing a good image, some virtues in it, and making it desired.

2. Features

As always, within the figure, method of the "features": brief im­agces, glimmerings, the list of which is neither logically conducted nor exhaustive, thus: glimmerings, "negative-active" flashes (par­ticipating in the desire for Neutral):

a. A-correction = Abstention from Correcting

I mean: the Neutral, the subject in the Neutral, abstains from tak­ing on the task of "correcting" the work of others; for example: he doesn't want or doesn't know how to make others work, how to have one "rework" a manuscript → "I spent my life not making others rework" → it's "selfish"? No doubt, for the Neutral doesn't care  to fit our image of altruism, of duty. However, think: (1) the density of dogmatism inherent in all correction; the amount of ap­propriation (substituting myself for the other): under the cover of "correcting," I turn the other, who did the work, into a mere proxy for my own values; (2) East, calligraphy: the master doesn't correct, ... he achieves silently in front of the student what the student must little by little achieve alone.

b. Contamination = Indifference to Being Contaminated

Intellectual world: seems to be ruled by a very strong fear of ideo­logical contamination. For example: the New Philosophers {Nou­veaux philosophes} → myself: too Pyrrhonian to know if my position is one of adherence or of refusal. But what is hard to bear: at the height of their fashion (spring '77): feeling of pack of hounds, of quarry, of the kill among intellectuals against the New Philoso­phers14: manic protests in order to dissociate oneself from them, to stay uncontaminated. → "As for myself, I am not one of them" ­→ "to be one of," homosexual taboo (Proust). Subject in the Neutral: would not fear contaminations.

c. No Ranking

The Neutral challenges the principle – or even simply the verbal reflex (since it might be nothing more than that) – of hierarchical ranking, of the honor roll: verbal mania, off-handed, that makes one affirm by a slight of syntax (it's easy to speak) (here again we are dealing with the arrogance of language) that such or such object, such or such person is the first among all (cf. Cortot: "first, or greatest pianist of the century")15 – and, even worse, the infla­tion that consists of turning "the first" into "the only" → thus, I am told, Lacan, quoting someone else, said in a seminar: "Today in France, the Ecole Freudienne is the only place of research"16 → ­my mental "body" recoils in the face of such "affirmations" (even if I myself can let slip similar ones) → but I take advantage of this "movement" to reflect: in fact, the Neutral might reside in this nuance (this shimmer): it denies uniqueness but recognizes the in­comparable: the unique is shocking precisely in that it implies a comparison, a crushing under quantity; it implies singularity, even originality, which is to say competitiveness, agonistic values ≠ In­comparable = difference, diaphorology.

d. Relation to the Present

[Kakuzo, 44] Neutral: would look for a right relation to the present, attentive and not arrogant. Recall that Taoism = art of being in the world: deals with the present.17 Perhaps it would settle within the nuance (the shimmer) that separates the "present" from the "modern" (in the sloganeering sense of the phrase: "let us be modern"

[Vico, Michelet, 421] {"soyons modernes"}); without forgetting Vico's remark that the present, "the indivisible point of the present,"18 is difficult to grasp even for a philosopher.

e. Banality

The Neutral would consist in entrusting ourselves to the banality that is within us → or even more simply in recognizing this banal­ity. This banality (I already suggested it when I said that the great sufferings (i.e., mournings) are bound to be processed through the stereotypes of mankind ) – this banality is experienced and assumed in the contact with death: one never thinks anything about death but banal thoughts. → The Neutral would be the very movement, not doctrinal, not made explicit, and above all not theological that veers toward a certain thought of death as banal, because in death, what is exorbitant, is its banal quality.

f. Weakness

The word is improper. I choose it out of a certain affinity between the notion I. am trying to express and the saying from the Gospel "my strength is in my weakness," but I understand it, however, more in the Taoist sense, which is to say outside all kind of tran­scendence: the Tao man, in fact, tones down his [Kakuzo, 46-47] personal state in order to immerse himself in the obscurity of others: "He is 'reluc­tant, as one crosses a stream in winter; hesitating, as one who fears the neighborhood; respectful, like a guest; trembling, like ice that is about to melt; unassuming, like a piece of wood not yet carved; vacant, like a valley; formless, like troubled waters."'19 → The ex­traordinary audacity of this Neutral (≠  arrogance) comes perhaps from the unexpected beauty of the metaphors? Would the Neutral depend on the metaphor?

g. Strength

Obviously it's not a matter of a strength of the first power (arro­gant). An example

[Kakuzo, 46] of it would be that Zen-inspired art, jiujitsu (= art of flexibility)20: art of defending oneself without weapons: rules much less strict than those of judo. Principle: "to draw out and exhaust the enemy's strength by non-resistance, vacuum < ... >"21 → banal theme. I don't mean to say that the Neutral is a tactical way of pursuing advantage, victory, but that the neutral subject might be able to be the witness of the effects of his strength.

h. Restraint

= That goes without saying, if I may say so. As well, I primarily want to underscore the Zen rule of bodily restraint. Rule laid down by an actor (and that is important, because it articulates the issue with the problem of hysterical [Zeami, 75] behaviors): Zeami (beginning fif­teenth century), actor and author of No and of a marvelous treatise of theatrical doctrine → Zeami's rule: "When you feel ten in your heart, express seven in your movements."22 For example: the actor should restrain a gesture (extending or withdrawing the hand) "to a lesser extent than his own emotions suggest"23; the body is made to work with more reserve than the mind24 → absolute paradox for us, where actors often work, at least traditionally, in the more rather than the less → the Neutral would be the generalized dwelling of the less, of reserve, of the mind's advance over the body. → Perhaps that is what it means to be in tune {la justesse}: cf. Casals's word, profound and technically so true: rhythm is all in the delay25 → to oppose here, as Indian drug [Castaneda, 7] users do: datura: acquisition of a power;≠ peyote, knowledge of the "right way of living" (wisdom).26

 i. Stupidity

[Tao, Grenier, 30] It's obviously a Tao "virtue": "The sage whose virtue is accom­plished loves to display in his face and on his exterior the appear­ance of stupidity"27 → in Tao ethics, in order not to attract atten­tion, avoid noticeability, refrain from clinging to a good image (or, more trivially, avoid being considered by others).

            1. One evening in Cannes, on the Croisette, at night, I was walk­ing probably in a heavy way (very valorized or devalorized theme: heavy/light gait: gait of the gods: "Even when she walks she seems to dance!");28 two young women in the distance made fun of me and between themselves parodied my gait laughingly → far from being humiliated by it, I experienced a sharp feeling of jubilation, for I knew something they didn't: my internal lightness: I was in relation to them in the not-so-much mode, therefore in a "stronger” position than they.

            2. One could imagine a rule (≠ law) of the Neutral: it would consist in finding a way to disseminate intelligent stuff, as though between the lines (cf. the monochrome) of a flat, dumb (verbal) fabric.

3. The Chinese Portrait

We will sketch the following: to subject this party game on the Neu­tral. You know the rule: to guess who has been chosen by the group by means of the objects to which he is compared: "If he were ... what would he be?" Notice:

1. Logically: play on the relation of genus to species: if this were a novel, a country, a color → thus a process of inclusion, of normal­ization, of comparison, and of slight difference. → Besides, interest­ing game to analyze: since, in general, one doesn't find the answer by perceiving a similarity, an affinity, but through an association of ideas. If Napoleon: a literary character? – "Scapin" (Michelet)29: you won't find it; but if a country: "Corsica": you will → That means: "the decoding occurs along the metonymic path, not along the paradigmatic one: the story is more "easy" than the metaphor.

2. Similarly, for the Neutral, it would be easy to find metonymic answers: if it were a country ?-Switzerland (this would be false, by the way, because it isn't certain that Switzerland is neutral and because, moreover, it has nothing to do with the Neutral we're speak­ing of). However, the most interesting answers would be metaphor.

2. Similarly, for the Neutral, it would be easy to find metonymic answers: if it were a country ? – Switzerland (this would be false, by the way, because it isn’t certain that Switzerland is Neutral and because, moreover, it has nothing to do with the Neutral we’re speaking of). However, the most interesting answers would be methaphoric: for, while it is difficult to speak of the Neutral definitionally (that would mean to conceptualize, to dogmatize), it is possible, admissible, to speak of it metaphorically.

            Thus, let start the game:

[Gide, 141, 107]

– A car part?  –  "a tire that deflates," Gide.30

            – A sportsman? – Gide: "I am like someone who skates on an ice that cracks".31

            – A type of food? – I would say (but it is personal): rice: neither bland nor savory, neither tight nor diluted, neither colored nor col­orless.

            – An animal? – I would say: a donkey (the Nietzschean ani­mal), such as it is described by Leon Bloy when he describes his daughter Veronique (by means of an implicit Chinese portrait) (L’Invendable): "It's the splendor of the spider web in the country dew, when the sun rises, it's the far-off moaning of the goat that is being slaughtered on a peaceful farm in the middle of apple trees in bloom, next to an Eastertime meadow, it's the infinitely sad and sweet velvet of donkey eyes".32

            – Now: a fabric? – Velvet.

– A type of writing? – Suspense: I will disclose it on June 3, Unless you yourselves have already answered.

            Of course, the further one goes, the less one is satisfied by the crude categories represented by the "genuses." Therefore one needs, to close the

[Blanchot, Conversation, 305] figure, the almost unassailable subtlety of Blanchot's suggestion: "The Neutral: that which carries difference even to the point of indifference. More precisely, that which does not leave in­difference to its definitive equalization".33


Ideosphere: word I forge out of ideology: the linguistic system of an ideology, with this caveat from the outset that makes the definition already inexact: in my view, ideology, no matter which, is and is only language: it's a discourse, a type of discourse.

            One could imagine other neologisms: doxosphere: linguis­tic sphere of the doxa. Or again, since it concerns discourses of faith: pisteosphere34; or again sociolect ("writing" in Writing De­gree Zero). Or even, more simply: logosphere: which would recall that for man language is a true biological ambience, the one within which and through which he lives, the one that surrounds him.

            One should be able, in fact, to define "ideologies" through their language, itself structurally defined, when possible, by typical fea­tures of discursivity, and it's only later that one would look for cor­respondences between these types of discourse and specific socio-political determinations → in a given world, one would unfailingly discover several coexisting ideospheres, each one intelligible to the other but not communicating.

            Thus (provisionally, since these are nothing more than research notes): ideosphere: strong discursive, nonidiolectal system (able to be imitated, to be spoken by a large number of individuals without their knowing it), "sociolect" that stems from cultural root languages (for example: Marx, Freud): at the same time, gregarious and nonanony­mous (rather: eponymous). → Problem of the "logothetes”.35

1. Features

I indicate several, general (in my opinion) features present in any ideosphere:

a. Consistency

To explain the consistency of the ideosphere, we will use a concept and a

[Bachelard, 93 Dialectic of Duration] metaphor borrowed, via Bachelard, from Dupréel, Théorie de la consolidation (Brussels, I931) → Whenever something is made, two successive steps: example of the crate: (1) At first, it is the hands of the maker that hold against each other the pieces of wood that he is going to nail. (2) Once the nails are hammered in, the crate holds together all by itself (cf. the mold and the molded object) → cohe­sion of the elements secured first by an external cause; then they succeed in consisting, in sustaining themselves by a cause become interior →  whence the formula: "inside constructed from outside" (≠ expansion of a substance).36 

            In fact, this is the way the ideosphere functions. Moment I: the pieces are placed and held together by the language of the logothete (Marx, Freud): that already resembles a system (the way the crate held by the worker's hands already resembles a crate) = moment of the illusion of system = maya37: magnificent, savory, consumable moment: the pleasure of producing a system without the dogma­tism of the inherited, implemented system, of the ready-made crate, which is a product → self-evident that the subject in the Neutral (≠ neutral subject) intensely consumes the moment I (he loves "to read" Marx, Freud) ≠  Moment II: moment when the crate, the linguistic system is on the verge of taking (cf. mayonnaise): moment of the alibi, of the good conscience: the ideosphere took, it runs by itself, from within: it's an autonomous product of circulation, an independent energetic (periodic attempts by creators to rediscover, to restart moment I: such are the "returns to" [to Freud, to Marx]). Generalizing the theory of the consolidated, Dupréel says: "The external order of interests has been replaced by the internal order of conscience".38 I would correct, thinking about the ideospheres: "The external order of creation, of production, has been replaced by the internal order of good conscience, of faith."

b. The lever

I said (in particular in Cerisy)39: strong linguistic systems (ideo­spheres) use figures of system = tropes of reasoning that allow one to counter an objection or a reservation by incorporating it into the system, by coding it in the terms of the system: venality of the psychoanalytical cure: doesn't belong to an external system (market economy) but to the psychoanalytic ideosphere: coded as necessary to the cure. Cf. Christian discourse: "thou wouldst not seek Me, if thou hadst not found Me,"40 etc. → The opponent, the objector or the spectator always ends up being trapped, loser → compare the type of strength of the ideospheres to the strength of chewing gum: one wants to get rid of the wad, one puts it somewhere, throws it away, it comes back, stuck to the hand, to the sole of the shoe. The ideosphere recycles you in spite of yourself, because it establishes it­self as a total space of language within which it assigns you a place. Or, better, each ideosphere: a system of (linguistic) forces with no external lever to detach oneself from it.

c. Mania

In terms of "subject": it is not a question of being "for" or "against" the "ideas" conveyed, or proposed; or "handled" by an ideosphere but of evaluating one's degree of nearness or distance in relation to the glue (the cohesion) of this linguistic system → if one doesn't constitute oneself as a speaker of this system (but only as a listener, however fascinated, or even as a user by spurts) → the ideosphere: seen, felt (in the others who are entirely within) like a state (of mind), like a pathos. Whence the assimilation (in no way derisory) of the subject carried by an ideosphere to a subject in the grip of drugs or of a mania and from whom I [Baudelaire, 19] feel separated. Cf. the man who has taken H as seen by the one who has not taken any: Baudelaire: "Your playfulness and bursts of laughter <your manias, your "ideospheric" linguistictics> seem the ultimate in foolishness to anyone who is not in the same condition as you"41 → position of otherness → turnstile of the [Bloy, L’Invendable, 219] ideospheres that one can't stop: Léon Bloy, immersed in the "fundamentalist" ideosphere (thus who should strike me as "crazy"), says imperturbably about.the separa­tion of church and state (republican idiolect): "Tomorrow we could find ourselves faced with a case of universal possession".42 → Ideo­spheres have a phantasmagoric dimension (except for the insider) → the ideosphere (perceived as such) rejoins in fact what Bacon calls the idols or phantoms (= for him, sources of error, causes that hinder the reception of truth into the mind; for us, to the contrary, they would be "consistencies of truth" or, if one prefers: [Bacon, Organum, book 7] "convictions"). Bacon = four types of idols (or phantoms): (1) Idols of the tribe (of the race) = errors shared by all men. (2) Idols of the grot­to (of the den): errors particular to each intelligence (derive from tastes) (→ idiolects). (3) Idols of the market (errors coming from the use of language). (4) Idols of the theater = errors coming from the false systems of the philosophers (= fables, plays): these would be our ideospheres.43

2. Ideosphere and Power (to sacrifice to fashion)

            1. Relation between the ideosphere (between language) and power (singular: political, stately, national) → one or two hasty remarks (because so vast a theme that in reality it would require dealing with the whole category of politics):

            a. The ideosphere tends to establish itself as a doxa, which is to say as a "discourse" (a particular system of language), which is experienced by its users as a universal, natural discourse, one that goes without saying, whose typicality remains unperceived, whose every "exterior" is demoted to the status of marginality, of devi­ance: discourse-law that isn't perceived as law. This, which I pres­ent in a negative, critical, disapproving way, can to the contrary be presented [Maistre, 152] in a triumphant manner: Joseph de Maistre: "All known nations have been happy and powerful to the degree that they have faithfully obeyed this national mind, which is nothing other than the destruction of individual dogmas and the absolute and general rule of national dogmas, that is to say, useful prejudices".44 = One can't say it better: fits perfectly, in particular, with Soviet ideosphere, lived (from within) as “national mind”, “destruction of individual dogmas", "rule of national dogmas", "sum of useful prejudices": outside the ideosphere = "criminal" or "crazy" languages: sued! This suits "strong" States well; but in the "liberal" States" there is a more diffuse ideosphere, on which the power feeds and behind [Maistre, 60] which it protects itself: but outside which it is not, even itself, allowed to "wander": Maistre (once again): "Rulers can exact effective and durable obedience only when supported by opinion, which; they cannot themselves determine".45 Example: a nation with a false calendar that no one dares to change. "You see that there are some subjects, much less essential than war <Maistre has just shown that war is "natural">, on which authority feels that it must not let itself be compromised"46 → Well seen, and in fact deserving more, study, since political science has not (yet) taken charge of linguistic questions (relations between discourse and power: politics fancies itself free of language; of all the "disciplines," it is even, probably, the one that denies, that represses the object-language the most): ideosphere (discourse of the doxa): a kind of regulatory, homeostatic device, which keeps power between optimal poles: power can't cross the boundaries, the norms of the public ideosphere, without danger (to itself).

            b. The ideosphere of a power (accepted, assimilated, integrated = the expression of its ideology) has an effect of gearing up, of relaying: it's like a

[Maistre, 209] wheel that transmits and maintains power → Maistre:"One can claim, as a general thesis, that no ruler is strong enough to govern several million men, unless he is helped by religion or by slavery, or by one and the other".47 For Maistre, partisan of a strong power, that means that power should feel free to use religion and slavery for its own sake. We no longer use such categories, at least such words, but if religion counts as an ideosphere, Maistre's remark is right: no power will ever be strong enough unless it nurtured by a strong language, a linguistic system that in some way takes over for it. Ideosphere: Glucksmann (perhaps following Solzhenitsyn): gearing-down function of ideology, of ideosphere: Stalin: by himself nothing much, "the evilness of a petty police officer"48 + gift for mobilizing an ideosphere, Marxism → "idea", as a frozen form of language, "formula," multiplies the crimes of power: crime is vulgarized, multiplied → Michelet spoke (Sorcière) of "Satan multiplied and vulgarised”.49

2. One should confront the concept of ideosphere, the reality of such or such an ideosphere, with violence. Unfortunately, there are many types of violence: violence of the law, of rights, of the State; violence of the organizations that respond to it insofar as they are themselves organized; violence of unionized strikes; organized vio­lence but whose organization remains clandestine, illegal; so-called “wild violence” (the general strike according to Walter Benjamin).50 To be just noticed here, it seems to me: the explicit presence of an "ideosphere" dampens the effect (the image) of violence: violence of the State: doesn't stand out because heavily verbalized, surround­ed by a vast, uninterrupted ideology ;  violence of terrorism: strikes deeply because very sparsely verbalized: the terrorist ideosphere is barely explicit: one doesn't really know in which ideosphere the act of violence is articulated. Terrorism doesn't talk → impression of madness, of horror.

3. Sincerity

Ideosphere: circle, system of sentences-ideas, of phrased ideas, of formulaic arguments, of formulae → therefore, it's an essentially ­reproducible and/or repeatable linguistic object → hence some very important phenomena of mimicry:

            Mimicry (of a given ideosphere) can be conscious, deliberate, either by Machiavellianism at the level of the State or by careful conformism at the level of individuals when an ideosphere is associ­ated with power.

            But there is also an unconscious mimicry: the ideosphere being inextricably tied to a faith → very formula of intolerances: Catholic ideosphere during the Middle Ages, Lutheran ideosphere (Luther intolerant: he believed in the devil, etc.) (I am sticking to the past) → ideosphere thus has a link (to be studied) with faith (language of gregarious faith ≠ idiolectal faith of the mystic) and even with good faith: it is possible that on the basis of their ideosphere Soviet people believe in good faith, sincerely, what seems monstrous to us, that to oppose the regime is a mental illness, the symptom of a pathological anomaly, thus belonging to psychiatric hospitals ­it's perhaps one of the dramas of the contemporary world, where strong ideospheres coexist (or less powerful, less strong): that it ul­timately runs on good faith, on sincerity (therefore on intolerance); the contemporary world as the exact opposite of Machiavellian­ism: whence the current forms of violence → Machiavellianism as progress? → In any case, in this mosaic of ideospheres, there is no place for a realm of neutral language that socially could only be the field of a pluralistic dust of idiolects, of singular languages. (See for yourself, among your relations, your interlocutors, where you live: do you live in an ideosphere or in a kind of complex symphony of incomparable languages?)

4. Perpetuity

­Ideosphere = a system of language that is functioning, i.e., that has the power to last: the duration of a system doesn't prove its "truth" but precisely its "endurance," which is to say, the quality of its functioning, the performance of its language as engine → one must pay attention to the power of the durable or (I'd rather say) of the indefatigable.

            1. Within the ideosphere, the indefatigable language, the indefatigability of language, its infinite perpetuation somehow stands for the very hardness of power: it's the inexorable: the language that "runs," that one can't "pray." Don't forget that in Latin (even if it is just an etymological coincidence that I overinterpret): dicto: repetitive = to repeat, to say in insisting, and to prescribe, to [Blanchot, Conversation, 75] order → dictator → beautiful citation of Blanchot on the terrifying perpetuation of language as a properly fascist ordeal: "Someone who speaks without pause. (Let us recall Hitler's terrible monologues.) And every head of State participates in the same violence of this dictare, the repetition of an imperious monologue, when he enjoys the power of being the only one to speak and, rejoicing in possession of his high solitary word, imposes it without restraint as a superior and supreme speech upon others".51

            2. Extending the concept of ideosphere, one could say that each subject has his own = idiosphere: the linguistic system never stops speaking inside his head. This inexhaustible aspect of language impresses me: it is, coming from man, something like a perpetual adoration of language.  → Two notations, one serious, the other comical: [Tao, Grenier, 23]

a. Tao: "Why do we have to distinguish entities by means of words that express nothing but subjective and imaginary views?  If you start naming and counting, you will never stop, the series of subjective views being infinite",52 a view that within myself I find profoundly true: there is a weariness of the language, and, like all weariness, it is endless: language as a kind of hard labor.

[Sophistes, 59]

            b. Funny Greek expression: there was égcheirogastor: who feeds himself with his own arms → Aristophanes (Birds, v. I694): "there is in Phanè <...> a busy nation of workers of the tongue: égglat­togastor"53 (it is about the sycophants, those who uncover the figs, who denounce the thieves of figs). Dantesque feeling that we are all language workers and that even our inner language ceaselessly feeds off a permanent state of denunciation of the others, of the other, of ourselves, in short: of error → the human subject as im­placable record keeper → the perpetuation of language would thus coincide with what the German romantics called the demonic char­acter of life {Nachtseite der Natur).54 Boehmian theme of the hid­den, obscure life, perpetual movement with neither brake nor goal, life that runs after itself, eats away at itself, devours and flees [Boehme, 200] itself; upset life, life of endless, unenlightened despair = quaal: "atrocious torment that is at the bottom of being and of life".55

            3. Out of quaal comes the deliverance through Nirvana (Scho­penhauer)56 → this feeling of a driven langage is infallibly coupled with that of a suspension of

[Blanchot, xxiii] language. Such a suspension (if seri­ously fantasized) is suicidal (cf. Nirvana): Blanchot:

How had he come to will the interruption of discourse? And not the legitimate pause, the one permitting the give and take of conversation, the benevolent, intelligent pause, not that beautifully poised waiting with which two interlocutors, from one shore to another, measure their right to communicate. No, not that, and no more so the austere silence, the tacit speech of visible things, the reserve of those invisible. What he had wanted was entirely different, a cold interruption, the rupture of the circle. And at once this had happened: the heart ceasing to beat, the eternal speaking drive stopping.57


→ The interruption of language: big theme, big mystical request: mysticism oscillating between "positing" language (naming): cata­phasis, and lifting it, suspending it: apophasis.58 (All my life long, I've been living this back-and-forth: caught up between the exalta­tion of language [pleasure taken in its drive] [ → whence: my writ­ing, my speaking are glued to my social being, since I publish and I teach] and the desire, the great desire for a respite from language, for a suspension, an exemption).

Roland Barthes was one of the most influential critics and philosophers of the twentieth century. His works include Mythologies, S/Z, A Lover’s Discourse, and Camera Lucida. Many echos of Barthes thought occur in the writings of Baudrillard. On Barthes writing Baudrillard has said: He “is someone to whom I felt very close, such a similarity of position that a number of things he did I might have done myself, well, without wishing to compare my writing to his”.59


1 The Neutral: Lecture Course at the College de France (1977-1978) by Roland Barthes. Text established, annotated, and presented by Thomas Clerc under the direction of Eric Marty; translated  by Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Reprinted here with permission is the sixth session. IJBS expresses our sincere gratitude to  Columbia University Press for this reprint. See: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup

Marty has retained the symbols used by Barthes. For example, those used to condense a logical construction [→ ≠ ]. Marty has also remained faithful to the classical philological style of endnoting and we have reproduced these here. Marty’s endnotes are also extremely insightful and serve to fill in gaps contemporary readers may not be aware. The “Supplement” or Barthes reflections on comments or letters he has received on the previous lecture during the week, appears at the beginning of the lecture in italics.

2 “I was thinking of this imense world of gray which I knew in Paris...” opening sentence of Henry Miller. Quiet Days in Clichy (1956; reprint, New York: Grove, 1987).

3 The poem is “Improvisio”, by Manoel Bandeira. It’s opening lines are: “Cecilia, es liberrima e exacta / como a concha./ Mas a concha e excessiva materia / E o materia mata”. (Poesia e prosa [Rio de Janeiro : Editora Nova, Aguilar SA, 1993], p. 275.

4 For the meaning of this symbol [ → ] (see endnote 1).

5 One of the sections for Barthes seminar for 1973-1974 was devoted to the “socio-semiological analysisof the human voice” (Oeuvres Complètes, 3:55-56. One of his unused cards mentions Edouard Garde, La Voix, Que-sais-je ? no. 627 (Paris: Presses Universities de France, 1960); Roland Barthes Bequest/IMEC Archives. During the discussions at the Cerisy conference, Barthes would say: “I don’t know my voice” (Prétexte: Roland Barthes. College  de Cerisy, Ed. Antoine Compagnon [Paris: Union Générale d’Edition, 10/18, 1978], p. 251; (See also endnote 39).

6 See André Green,  “L’Objet (a) de Lacan: Sa loquique et la théorie freudienne”, Cahiers pour l’analyse, no. 3 (1966).

7 Editors note: Marty’s establishment of the text leaves room for Barthes’ margin notes at the left, I have placed these in square parentheses “ [ ] “ as in this instance. In the original text they appear on their own in a separate left margin.

8 Roland Barthes, “Neither-Nor Criticism”, in Mythologies, Translated by Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977) p. 81 Oeuvres Complètes, I :161.

9 Maché: “combat”.  See Roland Barthes “The Image” (1978) in The Rustle of Language, Translatred by Richard Howard (New York: Hil land Wang, 1986) pp.350-358: Oeuvres Complètes, 3:870.

10 See “Partitif – Partitive”, in Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes, Translated by Richard Howard (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977), p. 144, Oeuvres Complètes, 3:205.

11 Jacques Fauvet, editor-in-chief of Le Monde from 1969 to 1982.

12 Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce” (opening sentence of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte [1852], New York: International Publishers, 1963. p. 15).

13 Barthes first saw Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children: Achronicle of the Thirty Year’s War (1939) in 1955, performed in Paris by the Berliner Ensemble (see “Mother Courage Blind”, in Critical Essays, Translated by Richard Howard (Evanston Illinois : Northwestern University Press, 1972) pp. 33-36The French director Antoine Vitez staged it at the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre in January 1973.

14 The New Philosophers : a group of then young French philosophers (Alain Finkielkraut, André Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Lévy, etc.) who put first on their agenda the denunciation of Soviet and Soviet-like totalitarianism, as well as the defence of the dissidents. In a preparatory notecard, Barhtes writes that “everybody attacks them ” (Roland Barthes Bequest/IMEC Archives).

15 See page 48 of the text (Session of March 11, 1978) for more on Cortot: Roland Barthes. The Neutral: Lecture Course at the College de France (1977-1978) by Roland Barthes. Text established, annotated, and presented by Thomas Clerc under the direction of Eric Marty; translated  by Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005:48.

16 The École Freudienne de Paris, the psychological society Lacan founded in 1964, after his break with the International Psychoanalytical Association and its official French representative, the Société Française de psychanalyse. Lacan was going to dissolve the École Freudienne in 1980 (Elizabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan and Co, Translated by Jeffrey Machlman [Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1990], p. 373 ff.).

17 “The cheif contribution of Taoism to Asiatic life has been in the realm of aesthetics. Chinese historians have always spoken of Taoism as ‘the art of being in the world’, for it deals with the present – ourselves” (Kakuzo, The Book of Tao, p. 44).

18 “The indivisible pointof the present, so hard to understand, even for philosophers” (Barthes quotes Michelet’s 1827 translation of Princples de la philosophie de l’histoire, traduits de la scienza nuova, by the Itlaian Philosopher Giambattista Vic, republished in Jules Michelet, Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Paul Viallaneix [Paris, Flammarion, 1971], I:486).

19 Okakura Kakuzo, The Book of Tea (1906, reprint, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle, 1956), pp. 46-47.

20 “Jiu-Jitsu, the Japanese art of self defense, owes its name to a passage in the Taoteiking” (Ibid., p. 46).

21 Ibid.

Editor’s note: Marty uses the angle brackets < > to mark Barthes own interventions into the text.

22 Zeami, On the Art of the No Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami, translated by J. Thomas River and Yamazaki Masakazu (Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 75.

23 Ibid., 75. Zeami’s French editor, René Sieffert, adds a footnote: “This principle defines the stylization of the gesture proper to the No” (Zeami, La Tradition Secrète du No, Ed. René Sieffert [Paris: Gallimard-UNESCO, 1960], p. 115.

24 “In terms of general stage deportment, no matter how slight a bodily action, if the motion is more restrained than the emotion behind it, the emotion will become the Substance and the movements of the body its Function, thus moving the audience” (Kakuzo, The Book of Tea, p. 75). (See endnote 19).

25 Barthes already cited this saying of the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals in Roland Barthes, p. 157; Oeuvres Complètes, 3:215. (See endnote 10).

26 Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), p. 7.

27 Lao-tzu, quoted in Jean Grenier, L’Esprit du Tao (Paris: Flammarion, 1973), p. 30.

28 Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal, Translated by Richard Howard (Boston: Godine, 1982), poem 28, p. 33.

29 In the posthumous XIXe siècle section of his Histoire de France, Michelet comments on the portrait of Napoleon that M. de Pradt gave in L’Ambassade à Varsovie: de Pradt, he writes, was “the first to show, to make one understand the unbelievable contradictions, the clashing contrasts of this character. What Vigny, Mario Proth, would later express by means of the word that would become so successful: comediante, tragediante, de Pradt expressed it with a risqué but true word: Jupiter Scapin” (Historie du XIXe Siècle, in Ouevres Complètes, Edited by Paul Viallaneix [Paris: Flammarion, 1982], 21:638. Scapin: the main character of Molière’s farce, Les Fourberies de Scapin.

30 See page 16 of the original text: (Session of February 18, 1978) for more on Cortot: Roland Barthes. The Neutral: Lecture Course at the College de France (1977-1978) by Roland Barthes. Text established, annotated, and presented by Thomas Clerc under the direction of Eric Marty; translated  by Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005:16.

31 Maria Van Rysselberghe, 1945-1991, vol. 4 of Les Cahiers de la Petite Dame: Notes pour l’histoire authentique d’ André Gide (1918-1951), Cahiers André Gide no. 7 (Paris: Gallimard, 1977), p. 107 (September 30, 1948).

32 Léon Bloy, L’Invendable (1904-1907), vol. 2 of Journal (Paris: Murcure de France, 1958), p. 315 (October 1905).

33 Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, translated by Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 305.

34 Pistis:  confidence in the other, faith.

35 Barthes’s neologism for the “founders of language” (see Roland Barthes, Sade/Fourier/Loyola, translated by Richard Miller [New York: Hill and Wang, 1976], p. 3, Oeuvres Complètes, 2:1041.

36 “This is clearer still in the moulding process; the duality of time in this process is marked by the duality of the mould and the object that is moulded. Before the cement is poured in, the object’s parts are already placed in the correct order, but the force maintaining this order is external to them, it is the solidity of the mould” (Gaston Bachelard, The Dialectics of Duration, translated by Mary McAllester Jones [Manchester, U.K.: Clinamen, 1950], p. 93). These two examples (the crate and the mould), are quoted from Eugène Dupréel’s Théorie de la consolidation: Esquisse d’une théorie de la vie d’inspiration sociologique (Brussels, 1932), p. 11, devoted to what Dupréel calls the “consolidés de succession”.

37 “The establishment of the sign, i.e., classification (maya)” (Roland Barthes, The Empire of Signs, translated by Richard Howard [New York: Hill and Wang, 1982], p. 74; Oeuvres Complètes, 2:797; idem, The Pleasure of the Text, translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith [New York: Hill and Wang, 1973], p. 27; Oeuvres Complètes, 2:1508; “maya, classification of Names (of faults)” (idem, A Lover’s Discourse, translated by Richard Howard [New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1978], p.357; Oeuvres Complètes, 3:494). “Classification is precisely Maya” (Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen [New York: Pantheon, 1957], p. 39).

38 Quoted in Bachelard, The Dialectic of Duration, p. 94. (See endnote 36).

39 The conference on and around Barthes organized by Antoine Compagnon at Cerisy-la-
Salle from June 22 to 29, 1977 (see Prétexte: Roland Barthes). That’s where Barthes read “The Image” (see The Rustle of Language, p. 353; Oeuvres Complètes, 3:870); (See also endnote 9).

40 Pascal, fragment 552 (Brunschvicg) (“Mystery of Jesus”), in Pensées, translated by W. F. Trotter (London: Dent, New York: Dutton, 1949), p. 149.

41 Charles Baudelaire, Artificial Paradise, translated by Ellen Fox [New York: Herder and Herder, 1971], p. 19.

42 Bloy, Journal, 2:359. (See endnote 32).

43 Bacon, Novum Organum, book I, aphorisms 38-62, in The Advancement of Learning and Novum Organum, edited by James Edward Creighton (New York: Colonial, 1900), p. 319 ff.).

44 Joseph de Maistre, “ Study  on Sovereignty”, in The Works of Joseph de Maistre, translated and edited by Jack Lively (New York: Macmillan, 1956), p. 108.

45 Idem, Les Soirées de Saint Petersbourg, seventh dialogue, in The Works of Joseph DeMaistre, p. 245. (See Ibid.)

46 Idem, Quatre chaptaires sur las Russie, in Textes choisis et présentés par E. M. Cioran (Monaco, Rocher, 1957), p. 60.

47 Ibid., p. 209.

48 André Glucksmann, La Cuisinière et le mangeur d’hommes : Essai sur l’Etat, le marxisme, les camps de concentration (Paris: Seuil, 1975). Glucksmann was one of the “New Philosophers”  Barthes mentioned earlier.

49 Title of chapter 13 of Jules Michelt’s Satanism and Witchcraft: A Study in Medieval Superstition, translated by A. R. Allinson (New York: Citadel, 1946), p. 119. See Barthes, “La  Sorcière”, in Critical Essays, translated by Richard Howard (Evanston Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1972), pp. 103-115.

50 On one of his notecards, Barthes refers to Benjamin, for whom, as he puts it, violence starts “there where a foundation (or maintenance) of law is at stake: the State, the political general strike”. See Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence", translated by Edmund Jephcott, in 1913-1926, vol. I of Selected Writings, edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 236-252).

51 Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p. 75. (See endnote 33).

52 Chang-tzu, quoted in Grenier, p. 23 (See endnote 27).

53 Aristophanes, The Birds, in The Peace, The Birds, The Frogs, translated by Benjamin Bickley Rogers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1924), vv. 1694-1696. A footnote of the tranlator comments on the word égglottogastor: “A parody on encheirogastor, men who fill their bellies by the labour of their hands” (i.e., craftsmen).

54 Nachseitte der Natur: German, “the nocturnal side of nature”. Alexander Koyré. La Philosophie de Jacob Boehme [1929; reprint, Paris: Vrin, 1979], p. 200 n. 2).

55 Ibid., 200.

56 See Artur Schopenhauer, “On The Doctrine of the Denial of the Will-to-Live”, Chapter 48 of The World as Will and Representation, translated by E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1966), 3 :427-428.

57 Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p. xxiii. (See endnote 33).

58 “Affirmation” and “negation”: these words belong to the lexicon of negative theology about which Barthes spoke earlier. See p. 17 of Session of February 18, 1978: Roland Barthes. The Neutral: Lecture Course at the College de France (1977-1978) by Roland Barthes. Text established, annotated, and presented by Thomas Clerc under the direction of Eric Marty; translated  by Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005:17.

59 Jean Baudrillard. Mike Gane (Editor). Baudrillard Live, Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:204.


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