Academic journal article The Comparatist

"Neutrality" as Nomos? Paradigm, Nuance, and the Politics of Coterritoriality in Late Barthes

Academic journal article The Comparatist

"Neutrality" as Nomos? Paradigm, Nuance, and the Politics of Coterritoriality in Late Barthes

Article excerpt

I've spoken of the nuance as a fundamental practice of communication a number of times; I even risked giving it a name: diaphoralogy.

Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel 45.

The territory's generic function ... [i]sn't just a matter of security, it also has to do with a constraint of distance: the spacing of subjects between one territory and another within the territory itself. Intra-territorial spacing is reduced whenever the territory is under threat ...

Barthes, How to Live Together 117

There are two references in my tittle that call for some clarification upfront. The most obvious is, of course, to Roland Barthes, specifically to his 1976-1980 College de France lectures and seminars. For these, the critic either took detailed notes that he used and left as such--fragments showing various degrees of elaboration, "bulleted" lists serving the usual mnemonic purpose, and the like--or prepared lengthier, more complex, and more fluid presentations. Also available in English, they came out from Seuil in a series of three volumes more than twenty years after his death: in 2002, Comment vivre ensemble: simulations romanesque des quelques espaces quotidiens (How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces), which covers Barthes's 1976-1977 classes; also in 2002, Le Neutre (The Neutral), 1977-1978, which, the reader will discover, is the most pivotal to my essay; and, in 2003, La Preparation du roman, I etII (The Preparation of the Novel), 1978-1980.

The other reference is to Der Nomos der Erde im Volkerrecht des Jus Publicum Europaeum (The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum), a book Carl Schmitt wrote between 1942 and 1945 and published in 1950. Before the war and mere months prior to joining the Nazi Party, as Martin Heidegger did the same year (1933), Schmitt had also published Der Begriff des Politischen (The Concept of the Political). Intriguingly enough, this remains the single most debated work on political antagonism in recent critical theory. The text is, sometimes for the same reason, as popular with the Right as it is with the Left, including its leading philosophers and theorists--Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Chantal Mouffe, and Seyla Benhabib are some of the names that come to mind right away. I might add that "popularity" here runs the whole gamut from sophisticated critique such as in Derrida's Politics of Friendship (especially 104-37) to endorsement by strange bedfellows drawn to Schmitt by his unapologetic antiparliamentarism, antipluralism, and antiliberalism. Equally unrepentant is his anti-Semitism, but it too has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of Slavoj Zizek, who declares in an interview that he "ha[s] no problem with Schmitt" ("Divine Violence and Liberated Territories").

Others, however, have had problems with Schmitt. My goal here is not so much to dwell on these problems but to rehearse them cursorily and only as a contrastive prolegomenon to the next and main step taken by my intervention: an inquiry into Barthes's convivial logic of coterritoriality and into the ontological, political, sociological, and hermeneutic ramifications of this logic as theorized and tested in the College de France teaching materials. For, it seems to me, the "antiparadigmatic," ethical, political, and, last but not least, geopolitical implications of reading, criticism, and textual-contextual analysis in late Barthes come into sharper relief when assessed over and against Schmitt's antagonism-driven view of people, polities, cultures, and their places in the world. Albeit indirectly, Barthes counters--inside and across fictions, social groups, and nations--Schmitt's antagonistic principle with a philosophy and pedagogy of togetherness in turn manifestly founded in How to Live Together and especially in The Neutral on the "neutralizing" yet multiply empowering imperative of nuance. What I propose in what follows, then, is something like "Schmitt before Barthes," if not exactly "Schmitt with (or versus) Barthes. …

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