On Resistance and narrow boats

P1030327On a rather wet evening last Friday, 8 November, 2013, I walked along a short stretch of the  Regents Canal at Kings Place, to the main campus of Central Saint Martins for a symposium ‘On Resistance’ and the launch of Professor Howard Caygill’s latest book entitledOn Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance[1]

The event was organised by the London Graduate School and CRMEP[2] in association with Art & Philosophy @ Central Saint Martins. The glittering panel included Professors Jacqueline Rose, Peter Hallward, Costas Douzinas, Michael Dillon and Howard Caygill.[3]

The speakers told us about the possibilities of subjectivities of resistance, the transformative potentialities on the body politic of such events as The Occupy Movement, the August 2010 riots in London, or the Silent Man in Turkey, and even the socio-political significance of the 1960 riots in Paris.

On the way back walking past the moored narrow boats it occurred to me that pragmatism and passive resistance, articulated as “putting up with things” in contrast to the ability to “sort things out”[4]; may in fact be a central characteristic of English culture and society.

The columns of moored boats and those living on them not only symbolise but it seems represent an actualisation of a bio-political move (in the Foucauldian sense) of people self-organising their lives in the shadow of law and power and yet ‘outside’ immediate submission to political will. The self-imposed self-control over one’s subjectivity and body spells liberation and is a key characteristic of the emancipatory force of our notion of freedom.

We heard about resistance as a counter to a revolution in the sense that it will ‘resist’ change, the Clausewitzian analysis of conflict as a duel and actualisation of absolute war – summarised  in the aphorism of “war  is the continuation politics by other means” and the limitations on emancipatory ideals  of resistance founded in the ‘rational’ Cartesian dualism.

However, Freudian based approaches to the study of madness and depression – as an expression of the irrational subjectivity – may offer a way to liberation and a revolutionary method, according to Professor Rose.

A common feature of the debate was that of the fragility of governmental power, we saw this in the sudden and rapid disintegration of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989 – the physical demolition of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, for instance.

European cultures now face unbearably aggressive assault on their social fabric, and political and economic sustainability by neo-liberal ideologies still high on the discredited ‘end of history’ dogma, masked as the inevitability of the economic rationality of the ‘market’ and therefore unavoidably real.  Thus leaving open only the potential of irrationality, the economic ‘madness’ or madness of economics, as the sole point of resistance and the source of alternatives leading to the (re)introduction of basic human values of liberty, justice and equality.

Professor Douzinas, in the course of his irrepressibly energetic speech painted a startlingly optimistic account of the powerful resistance by people of Greece to the socio-political and economic destruction of Greek society by neo-liberal marketised forces and the potential for Greece to reset human and political values through active resistance.

In concluding we return to the cold and rain soaked community of narrow boat inhabitants on Regents Canal, it seems that our politicians and governments have learned well the 1989 lessons of their communist cousins. In recognising, even if unconsciously, the extreme but cyclical fragility of real political power and perhaps in order to forestall their inevitable demise, they have deliberately and aggressively [5] turned on their citizens, fearing de-masculisation and loss of identity through loss of power, the Clausewitzian reasoning aims to actively attack perceived and potential centres of  opposition.

For, how else, but as a juridical declaration of war on the free citizen, can we explain recent legislative changes, such as for example the introduction of closed procedure trials and secret courts,  the  proposed Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013[6] which will adversely affect the ability of charities to criticise government policy, restrictions on access to justice consequent on the cuts in legal aid, the de-professionalisation of the legal profession though marketisation,  increasing totalisation  of control though surveillance and technological control of citizens whether with the assistance of the black arts of the spymaster, supermarket loyalty card or Google!


And here is a link to an extract from Howard Caygill’s book discussing ‘Digital Resistance’


[1] Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 24 October 2013
[2] To declare a personal interest: my son is currently studying modern European philosophy at CRMEP, and very busy, consequently I only ever get to see him at events such as this one!
[3] Jacqueline Rose is Professor of English, Queen Mary College, University of London, and author of ‘The Last Resistance‘, Peter Hallward is Professor of Philosophy at CRMEP, Kingston University and the author of ‘Damming Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment‘, Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London and the author of ‘Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe‘, Michael Dillon is Emeritus Professor of Politics at Lancaster University and author (with J Reid) of ‘The Liberal Way of War: Killing to Make Life Live‘ and Howard Caygil is Professor of Philosophy at CRMEP, Kingston University and the author of ‘On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance‘.
[4] Benjamin Markovits ‘What It Takes to Win at Sport’ London Review of Books 35:21 p 35 7 November 2013
[5] The favoured metaphors are always of war – ‘war on terror’, ‘war on crime’, ‘war on poverty’, ‘war on drugs’ just to name a few recent quasi-military campaigns.
[6] http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/transparencyoflobbyingnonpartycampaigningandtradeunionadministration.html

Suggested citation: J Ressel ‘On Resistance and narrow boats.’  Law, Cult. & Ideas Blog (11 November 2013) (available at  https://lawcultureblog.wordpress.com/ )

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