An Act of Resistance

‘But one day the why arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. Begins – this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery.’

‘To think that the work of art can be considered at last as a refuge for the absurd, it is itself an absurd phenomenon and we are concerned merely with its description. It does not offer an escape for the intellectual ailment. Rather, it is one of the symptoms of ailment which reflects it throughout a man ́s whole thought. But for the first time it makes the mind get outside of itself and places it in opposition to others, not for it to get lost but to show it clearly the blind path that all have entered upon.’

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Returning from a trip that took me from LA to NYC, speaking to emboldened Conservatives bolstered by the pervasiveness of a rising right, what was most visible was the social vulnerability on the streets. As I write this, the UK is governed by an unelected and xenophobic administration expecting great success at an imminent election. Each day brings further frightening developments barely reflected in a neutered media.

This blog reflects my passion for a literature that ‘awakens consciousness and provokes what follows’, but it is sometimes difficult to sustain the concentration necessary when witnessing daily the destructiveness and xenophobia. Will literature help understand poverty beneath the cloud of abundance and extraordinary consumption, or the loneliness of rampant individualism? Is community, literary or otherwise, even possible in this late capitalist society?

Art, for Malraux, was triumph over death, the only thing that resists death. It is a beautifully simple idea. Deleuze wrote something similar: ‘The act of resistance has two sides. It is human, and it is also the act of art. Only the act of resistance resists death, whether the act is in the form of a work of art or in the form of human struggle.’

On the flight from LA, I watched Oliver Assayas’ Non-Fiction, essential for those passionate about literature, but also its themes of individualism and loneliness. Social criticism is the film’s undercurrent, with complex and multi-layered characters that, exposed in vulnerable moments, display aspects and emotions that people prefer to conceal. It isn’t preachy, nor are there moral judgements, but an encounter with an artist that handles painful subjects with honesty and courage. This is the possibility of art, whether film or literature, a place where dreadful things happen in a parallel existence, creating the chance for us to encounter our unplumbed fears and the Other within.

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Anthony

Time's Flow Stemmed is a notebook of my wild readings.

9 thoughts on “An Act of Resistance

  1. Look forward to seeing the Assayas film. As for the media bombardment of right wing drivel, it has caused me to ease off engaging with it. I do think that engendering a sense community – no matter how limited or frustrating – is a way to resist it. I don’t think it’s easy to do but for me it’s essential for interior survival. Camus is always an inspiration toward that; also recently reading Beckett Remembering/Remembering Beckett has been another inspiration: two people who at the darkest moments of the 20th century actively resisted right wing evil I’m sure at the point where at times resistance felt impossible to maintain and even, of course, absurd. Thanks for the quotes and your thoughts.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, D. What are the chances of meaningful interpersonal encounters in the current psychosocial climate? And where can community be formed? I think a lot about this.

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      1. Okay. I’m taking my time to write this to get it as close as I possibly can to what I would like to say. The key words in your question, I think, are ‘meaningful’ and ‘community’. Such is the fragmentary nature of our psychological reality that ‘meaningful interpersonal encounters’ don’t necessarily tend to be ‘enduring.’ There are people to whom I’ve grown close and with whom I continue to have meaningful personal encounters that are enduring. I do find, though, that being aware of Time, there are meaningful interpersonal moments that can last for minutes, for hours, for days, maybe longer; and such encounters of even the shortest duration have their echoes in memories that arise at different moments.

        For example, the meeting with you in London, despite being brief, still has its resonances in my life at different moments, even if you are not physically present, such as when I read something you’ve written or a quotation you’ve felt to communicate.

        In my life here in Oz, so far from my old friends in Europe and the US, there are still moments of meaningful interpersonal encounters with the few people that I know here in my immediate environment, and with other people with whom I share time: for example, in a writing workshop, or training in Butoh. The degree of satisfaction and enrichment from these exchanges may be short-lived and ‘real’ only in the moment. The psychological echoes of those moments may be more, or less, ephemeral. It’s possible that I’ll treasure these shared moments or, in a short while, be disappointed in them. But they are always worthwhile.

        Community is something else that I think can be enduring or ephemeral with more or less intensity. I, or we, would perhaps prefer community to be enduring and meaningful. I lived as part of a community that was meaningful to me for around thirty years and then it became meaningless as it changed (perhaps inevitably) into something I found intolerable. That was a huge disappointment. I suppose now I try to appreciate moments of community, or meaningful interpersonal communication, when they arise in the moment, and I’m happy when those moments continue to echo in time.

        I find it meaningful when sharing these moments even with people I’ve never physically met, whom I see as one type of community, especially in the sharing of literature and art: reading and writing particularly, often in people’s photography, recently in people’s performance art, too. Which I suppose brings us back to the quotes that you’ve posted here.

        This sharing through art and literature is a resistance to the barbarity of which we are increasingly becoming aware. Okay, I think I’ll stop here. Thanks for posing the question and making me ponder it. With good wishes. D.

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        1. Thanks again, D., for the thoughtful and considered response.

          There is another aspect to meaningful, which to me is that genuine encounter with another human that goes beyond surface. We are constantly staging our lives, or perhaps less lives today than lifestyles, but how to encounter the person behind the exterior, the title, the (social media) alter ego?

          One of the reasons, the main reason, I’ve come to loathe the current forms of social media is that their form makes meaningful encounters very, very difficult. The Internet didn’t start this way, the early forms of communication held such promise. I miss blog commentary of this sort.

          Slowly but steadily, community is dying. There are still pockets, but increasingly our social circles are getting smaller and smaller. Team sports replace computer games played at home; people drink at home rather than in the pub; we talk on social media rather than talking in person; we avoid eye contact with people we pass and wear headphones to drown out the world. We spend more time staring into smartphones than looking at people’s faces. This may not be your life and it isn’t mine, but it seems to be the direction of travel. The individual has been economised, made into a resource. This is I think how repressive and totalitarian structures become possible.

          It is through community, I think, and specifically the sort of friendships made from genuine face-to-face encounters (like ours in London) that we resist this economisation or politicisation of the individual. When I consider my strongest friendships, the best relationships I’ve had, there is that sense of a movement together with another person, solidarity within a shared intent. It certainly isn’t about community formed around abstract totems like gender, class or ethnicity. Great friendships, like great films or books, modify the reality in which they exist.

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  2. I do think that the best communications happen face-to-face in friendships and it is significantly easier ‘to get below surface interactions’ in such circumstances. Also, relationships take time to develop. As for social media, where I’ve found it particularly useful is as a means to meet people face to face. But even among some social media friends I haven’t physically met, sometimes – via interactions around reading, writing and art – there can be even a nonverbal meeting of mind and ‘spirit,’ e.g. Melissa’s blog, Joe Schreiber’s, Charlotte Mandel’s translations, Susanna Crossman’s photographs, Rachel Moravia’s pictures and words, links shared etc. And new people showing up here and there that can be a source of surprise and delight. But sure, there’s an awful lot of nasty xenophobic political content out in the cybersphere. I certainly don’t go looking for it. My phone I tend to use for phone calls and texts and as a clock. That’s about it. I do find it terribly frustrating and sad that so many individuals in the world seem to be lost in atomisation and many even seem to embrace it.

    I’ve been searching through Corpus for a Jean-Paul Nancy quote on communication. I can’t find it and I can’t do it justice in paraphrase but I’ll try. Something like this: The impulse to communicate arises in mind/body and produces writing at the limit of the body – fingers on pen to paper (or fingertips to key board I’d say) and writing reaches the recipient/mind/body (letter/email) through whose eyes the communication is taken into the recipient’s mind/body where it becomes part of that mind/body. One body has touched another. More or less like that. I often think of that concept, and that every mind/body exists in space and is not separate from that space: that we are a community sharing that space.

    But, as you say, ‘it is sometimes difficult to sustain the concentration necessary’ in the circumstances in which we live.

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