Neutral Life: Reflections on Roland Barthes’ Late Works

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Global Public Life section, Theory, Culture & Society
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Papers are invited for a special ‘Global Public Life’ section of Theory, Culture & Society, to be published in November 2015.

Reflecting back on the period leading up to Roland Barthes’ untimely death in 1980, Michel Foucault is quoted as saying that Barthes seemed ‘completely developed;’ suggesting: ‘he is one of those men whose most important work will be written between the ages of sixty and ninety.’ Such ‘late’ work was of course never to come to fruition. Yet, the lectures, presented in their original note form, present perhaps the clearest affirmative project of Barthes’ entire career. The Neutral in particular is pivotal in understanding an ethics of the late works. Barthes refers to a transposing of structural concerns ‘to the “ethical” level: injunctions addressed by the world to “choose”, to produce meaning, to enter conflicts, to “take responsibility,” etc’. Crucially, for Barthes, Neutral ≠ neutrality; it is not divestment, but ‘an ardent, burning activity’, through which a history of the world (earth) is revealed as an unsustainable will-to-live, untrammeled by our will-to-possess the sustainable. If perhaps we argue Deleuze offered a ‘politics of desire’, understood through models of growth (or out-growing), Barthes appeared to be working towards an ethics of desire that was about making choices of the finite.

Papers are invited for a special ‘Global Public Life’ section of Theory, Culture & Society, to be published in November 2015. Contributions focusing on Barthes’ late writings are particularly welcomed, but broader reflections on the political and ethical dimensions of Barthes’ work are encouraged; along with examination of emergent topics such as Barthes’ practice of painting and drawing.

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Deadlines: First full draft to be submitted 1 December 2014 and final draft due in Spring 2015.

NB. Contributors are invited to form a panel for the forthcoming conference Roland Barthes at 100 (30-31 March 2015) which will provide an opportunity to meet and discuss each other’s draft papers ahead of final submission. For inclusion in the RB at 100 panel, Neutral Life, please supply an abstract by 16 June 2014.

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