The Neutral View: Roland Barthes’ Representations of Japan and China


Author: Piers M. Smith, Gulf University for Science and Technology, Kuwait
Published: November 30, 2016

Citation: Smith, P. M. (2016). The Neutral View: Roland Barthes’ Representations of Japan and China. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 5(1).


Roland Barthes visited Japan and China in the 1970s. He recorded his travel experiences in two contrasting books, Empire of Signs (1982) and Travels in China (2012). The second book is written in notebook form, which, as such, was not prepared by the author for publication. The first book can be seen as a highly polished "fictional" or aestheticized rendering of Japan and Japanese culture; the latter, on the other hand, is largely unmediated by the same aesthetic and aestheticizing concerns. This essay reads the two texts through the perspective of another of Barthes’ texts, The Neutral (2005), which deals with the subject of conflict-free or non-judgemental modes of discourse in linguistic and cultural theory. I aim to show how a Neutral take on a region or people can offer a fairer or less prejudicial view than has happened hitherto in travel writing and travel narratives.


travel writing, Barthes, representation, Japan, China, the Neutral, blandness