Book Review: The Intimate Resistance

intimate resistance

Having studied philosophy for a couple of years at university, when I was offered The Intimate Resistance to review it sounded right up my street. It wasn’t, however, an easy read. Described as a masterpiece, the culmination of years of work, the author has done well to condense the many ideas discussed into a book of less than two hundred pages. The result is a densely packed essay that, while interesting and well argued, requires the reader to maintain concentration. Several times I had to backtrack as I realised I hadn’t taken in the concepts propounded after several pages of parsing words.

Among other things, the early chapters cover nihilism, nothingness and angst. Not the cheeriest of ideas to consider. The human condition is described as a constant disintegration. There are many mentions of death and suicide.

“For a long time (and for too many people, even now) to live meant striving to survive, employing all of one’s strength to do so. In richer societies, however, this push to survive has given way to something else: the struggle not to disintegrate. And while the apparent enemy is much less terrible, failures and defeats are all the more frequent.”

The importance of a shelter – home as a refuge – is introduced. There was no mention of those for whom home is an emotional prison or place of danger. What does come to the fore is that individuals should look to themselves more than others in how they speak and act. The author extolls the value of everyday life, the ordinary and non-elitist, over wealth, fame or power.

“Evasion is not evasion of the world, but rather of my own self, from the nothing that I am, from the mortal being I am.”

Alongside the need to look inwards is the importance of socialising. This was challenging to read given our current situation, when other people are regarded by many as a biohazard and blamed for non compliance with a new belief system. I agreed with the author, especially the arguments around the wisdom of local, person to person, discussion as opposed to relying on screen based soundbite propaganda and supportive echoers, virtue signalling on social media.

“The sugar-coated scepticism propounded by cut-price intellectuals is painful to watch as they belittle ancient gods and old beliefs while fanning the flames of new dogmas”

Finding the strength to stand up for common sense – to resist – can appear in short supply when there is conflict over issues. The author argues that such strength also enables one to endure, to not fall into excessiveness, to avoid judging all and sundry.

“Strength is not expressed through heroism or daring, but rather through stability, faithfulness and perseverance. It doesn’t stand out, but provides confidence to those close by, embraces and helps.”

The author’s arguments are stated repetitively, perhaps to ensure that key points are understood from a variety of angles. He states a need for quiet reflection and careful consideration – done silently rather than indulging in the all too common verbal diarrhea that attempts to stifle dissent. Thinking rather than merely talking endlessly is to be encouraged.

“To think is an experience because it doesn’t leave things as they were”

Moving on, the difference between scientistic ideology and scientific reasoning is discussed. It is proposed that haughty and dogmatic pundits appearing on radio or screens spout more rubbish than is witnessed in a village café among ‘simple folk’ who have common sense and, importantly, an ability to recognise their ignorance.

“We are being overwhelmed by know-it-alls”

“They are all answers and leave almost no room for the questions to which they have no answers”

Throughout the text there are many references to the work of philosophers from ancient times through to the more recent thinkers. Etymology is mined in arguments presented.

There is discussion of act and potency. What came to mind for this reader was a consideration of those who loudly state that others, who do not agree with their point of view, must be ignorant, thereby alienating them in an attempt to silence resistance.

“We ‘obtain’ information. We don’t obtain the meaning of things.”

The constant flow of words in modern media is noise with little space for reflection and has proved damaging, not least by stifling calm and considered debate.

“Egocentric by definition, those who mutter nurture a sentiment of dissatisfaction and avarice […] muttering is the perfect example of the empty word”

The importance of human connection and conjunction is discussed, as is the value of silence. Attempts to stifle resistance through brow-beating and berating can lead to dangerous frustration when the vocal forget to listen.

“Violence comes from dogmatism”

To reiterate, the human condition, shadowed by nihilism, requires shelter and resistance alongside proximity to others.

“One’s fellow being, the home, the day to day care”

Resistance against following dogmatic words spouted by media pundits matters.

I have tried to highlight key points I took from this essay but should make clear that a great deal more is covered and all in greater and more eloquent detail. Also, it was first published in the author’s native Catalan in 2015 so, although I found the arguments highly relevant, the book was not written in the time of Covid. And this is important as it is about the human condition and therefore not tied to a particular time period.

An intense and inspiring reminder to resist the baying of the most vocal and continually question both others and ourselves. A stimulating reminder of the relevance of philosophical thinking in what is happening every day.

“Philosophy is simply self-questioning: we ask ourselves”

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fum d’Estampa Press.

Book Review: Chauvo-Feminism

“How complex the nuances of consent can be”

Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo, by Sam Mills, is a long-form essay exploring attitudes and behaviour in a society where men can gain kudos from being regarded as feminists. In public they are perceived as empathetic and supportive of gender equality. In private there are still those who surreptitiously exert toxic power over women they choose to be involved with. The foundation of the author’s deliberations is her personal relationship with a gaslighter – the term is defined for those unclear as to its meaning. She explains how even an empowered woman can lose agency, and how difficult dealing with this can be when a man’s word can negatively impact one’s career.

Alongside the author’s own experiences, she includes research and interviews with those who have suffered physical as well as psychological abuse. The criminal justice system has proved itself inadequate when dealing with serious issues such as rape. How much, then, can it offer those who seek legal protection from abuse that is harder to define. Recognition is required for prevention. High profile cases are cited that shine a light on the significant costs to those who seek retribution for damage caused. Outing abusers on social media is not the answer, bringing as it does serious fallout for all involved.

The essay is both detailed and balanced. The author writes of how difficult it was to know how to best deal with a man she had willingly slept with before realising how manipulative and destabilising his behaviour towards her could be. There was a degree of shame and also loneliness in not knowing if he treated other women – some of them friends – in the same way. A conspiracy of silence added to the man’s power. His public persona remained that of the popular nice guy.

No easy answers are offered but, in highlighting these issues, Mills proves that women are not alone in having to deal with such men. One of the more depressing aspects discussed was how often other women downplay the suffering caused – blaming those who complain for making a fuss over nothing. Also mentioned is the argument that some women use the threat of false accusation as a weapon. They too can cause lasting damage.

The essay takes salient aspects of this important topic and presents them clearly, backing up points made with references to other publications – sources are listed. While these serve to provide further detail for those wishing to engage, I was personally familiar with what was presented. It is as stated ‘not all men’, but enough exist, to a greater or lesser degree, that all women will recognise conduct described.

What is perhaps most dispiriting is the lack of seriousness with which such behaviour is often regarded – some even claim it is natural and therefore unavoidable. Many men appear to consider the risk of being castigated for ‘minor indiscretions’ too high a price to pay for women’s safety and wellbeing. The author includes the recent phenomenon of employers eschewing attractive young women to avoid the risk of accusation, as if men are incapable of treating female colleagues as people rather than a sex object.

This book is writing with the potential to provoke discussion, lifting the lid on questions around interactions between men and women – on blame and impact. It provides a clear and prescient argument for all to behave better when complaints are aired – to listen and respond with care and consideration. A compelling and worthwhile read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, The Indigo Press.

Book Review: The Second Body

This review was written for and originally published by Bookmunch.

The premise of this essay by Daisy Hildyard is that every living being has two bodies – the physical body that can eat, drink and rest, and a body embedded in a worldwide network of ecosystems. Its purpose is to explore what the author calls the second body, and the alleged boundaries between all kinds of life on earth. It is not altogether clear if she is attempting to prove a conclusion she has already reached or to discover something new.

Her musings and anecdotes are wrapped around interviews with a number of individuals: staff working in a butcher’s shop; a criminologist specialising in wildlife crime; a PhD candidate working on micro biology; a senior researcher studying bio information; an evolutionary biologist. The author admits that she does not always fully understand the detail what these experts in their fields tell her.

There are repeated references to an Earthrise image which the author credits with making people consider the world as a single entity, something she appreciates herself when flying to a holiday destination. She also brings up climate change but does not make clear the point this raises, other than when she blames it for the flooding of her home.

“The river was in my house but my house was also in the river.”

To be clear, I make no argument against climate change but its inclusion in this essay comes across as a throw in.

There are mentions of the ordinary in her interviewees’ lives – opera, gaming, washing dishes – as if there is a need to prove empathetic aspects of the human condition. The author is seeking a definition yet fails to make clear the reasons for inclusion of certain subjects along the way.

She comes at the same points from numerous directions.

Each human being, as an entity, is made up of the same parts. However they look, when cut they bleed. The same could be said of other beings. Defining the boundaries between species can at times appear arbitrary. Each takes inside itself parts of others in food, air particles, water. A body expels skin, hair and other substances which are inhaled, absorbed or fertilise other living things. Around the world this process has an effect. Everything is in a relationship with everything else.

An individual’s impact on the world is consumption of resources and expenditure of waste, not what their life story may be. The human body replaces itself over time, shedding and renewing cells, yet each body is regarded as one separate being.

“This critical tradition speaks of psychology, the unfathomable depths of the individual, cultural identity and private individuality.”

There is symbiosis between cells, animals, people. Not everything acts purely in its own best interests. There is invasion, dependence and loss. Even amongst bacteria there is collaboration.

The author explores the boundaries between our first and second bodies as she seeks her definition. Interspersed with her commentary are musings on personal experiences, on Shakespeare, on death.

Any Cop?: There were interesting aspects but overall the essay lacked coherency and innovation. I expected something more than a somewhat rambling discourse on man’s place within the natural world.

 

Jackie Law