BOOK REVIEW: Costas Douzinas, Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe

Costas Douzinas, Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe

Cambridge: Polity, 2013.

By Antonis Vradis

originally published @ http://radicalantipode.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/book-review_vradis-on-douzinas.pdf

books

As these lines were being written Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Finance Minister, was about to

visit Athens –– and for this reason our city was under a complete lock-down: central metro stations

were shut under police orders; and those of us who joined a demonstration against Schäuble’s visit

defied a protest ban that extended across much of the city centre, the airport, and all main

thoroughfares connecting the two. At the symbolic level, perhaps nothing could cry protectorate

more than the lock-down of a capital city in favour of the all-powerful visitor. And there is little that

could show any more clearly how disparate the future of the territories of our continent might be:

even if the future of Europe is common (the EU, its financial unitary façade, still is and might very

well remain a single project) this does not by any means guarantee it will be either unitary, or

uniform.

In other words, even if the entire structure stays common, no-one can tell what the future

might hold –– either for its specific territories, or for those of us living within them. Yet regardless

of events’ and livelihoods’ eventual trajectory, the current economic, social and political crisis will

have also acted as a moment of personal crisis: that is, a moment of judgement for all of us who

have happened to be living in and/or focusing on the country (Greece) as positioned in the continent

(Europe) at this time. In these crucial times –– and amidst a sea of silence verging on complicity ––

Costas Douzinas stands among the handful of academics who have seen a duty to use both their

position and analytical skills to convey the message of resistance to an international audience. For

this, he cannot be commended enough.

Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis is a rich anthology of Douzinas’ public thoughts and

interventions throughout this period. In its opening pages, he describes a too familiar roller-coaster

of emotions that has become a state-of-fluid-being for many of us in recent times. As historical time

condenses itself to a previously unimaginable extent, cataclysmic events appear in an ever-frantic

tempo, and by this point even overlap with one another, shifting from a consecutive series into a

simultaneous spilling out, an oft-encountered blur. The revision for the English version of the book,

we are told in the prologue, took place in August 2012 –– a mere 12 months after the Greek original

and yet a period that was enough to see the author’s original feelings of anger and despair give way

to anger and hope instead.

Philosophy and Resistance shows a remarkable quality in dealing with this emotional rollercoaster.

As an “unintentional, unofficial representative of suffering Greece” (p.2) Douzinas has

spent ample time both inside and outside the country, allowing him thus to dive in and jump out the

surface of our present moment –– in the process constructing a fascinating, interpretative

mechanism for its comprehension. The book comprises a continuous exercise in this ‘in and out’

approach –– a shift that is both chronological (between past, present, and a projected future) and

one that lifts us from the tangible and concrete (lived experience) to its abstract projection:

philosophy.

The book’s chapters are described by Douzinas himself as a “multiplicity of singularities”

(p.7); at first glance, a seemingly heterogeneous collection of chapters and parts, an articulation and

performance of the multitude itself. But the ostensible heterogeneity does not translate into

fragmentation –– quite the contrary. Even if each part and chapter can (and does) stand on its own,

it is only when read in its entirety that Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis will convey to its

reader the entire range of emotions that have engulfed us throughout our prolonged historical

moment (this is the value of Douzinas’ closeness to the events) and the importance of specific

events in shaping our collective history (and here lies the value of his ability to partially read the

events from a distance).

The book is divided into three main parts. The first deals with the moment of crisis itself.

Here, Douzinas masterfully delves into sovereignty’s own incapacity to read what was then still an

impending crisis (‘The Queen’s question’, pp.19-31), while a take on “the biopolitics of pleasure”

(pp.32-48) explains the long trail that lead from neoliberalism’s “mandatory pleasure” all the way to

the idea of “collective salvation” that austerity politics carries with it. Part one concludes with two

essays: the penultimate (pp.49-63) on the notion of “social ethos” now under attack by the anomie

that has besieged social life in the country — modernization and austerity distorting it further in the

face of the cynicism and ultimate lack of solidarity of the elites. The final essay (pp.64-73) looks at

“the crisis as spectacle”, setting off from and then centred around the idea that the obnoxiousness of

the elites in dealing with the aftermath of the crisis resembles the Lacanian ‘big Other’, which

posits an “all-knowing centre of the symbolic order” (p.65), one that by extension and by default

renders void any criticism against it.

The second part of the book (‘Philosophy’) opens with an attempt to illustrate how, despite

the multiple and repeated announcement of its death as of late (in the post-1989 world) resistance

will never quite go away, not in the existent system of order at least: for as long as adikia (injustice,

but also disjointure, dislocation) exists it will be dikaion, right, to resist: ‘right’ not only in its strict

legal meaning, as a “claim accepted or seeking admission to the law” (p.86) but also as “a will that

wills what does not exist or what is prohibited” (ibid.). The sixth essay then picks up from the third,

both focusing on anomie: a favourite of power, the term has been used time and time again through

the long moment of crisis to discredit movements of resistance in the streets but also, later on, the

attack against squatted social spaces, as ‘centres of anomie’ (see, for example, Dalakoglou 2013;

Filippidis 2013). This double essay ranks, in my view, as a backbone for the entire collection: it

turns the dominant conceptualisation of anomie on its head, showing how it is civil disobedience

that has been labelled in this way by sovereignty –– the same sovereignty that would seem to realise

that it must, and that it will soon enough, exit the political stage. The next chapter, ‘Political

Ontologies’ (pp.107-118), offers a concise review of the world of radical philosophy in our radical

times; a homage to those thinkers who have realised the importance of taking a stance and have

chosen to do so. And the section concludes with ‘People, Multitude, Crowd’ (pp.119-133), a

genealogy of the notion of the multitude as conceived in contradistinction to the other main political

philosophy camp, which has been organized around the idea of ‘the One’ –– whether a God, a king,

a sovereign, a people, or a nation. The essay’s concluding pages, drawing a parallel between

history’s “fear of the crowd” on the one hand, and philosophy’s “fear of the multitude” on the other

(pp.129-131), provide an ideal prelude to the third and final part of the book, dedicated to the

moment when these fears on the part of the elites, of sovereignty, materialised: the moment when

the crowds took to the streets.

Part three, ‘Resistance’, is a homage to the Aganaktismenoi movement centred around

Syntagma Square in Athens; the Greek contribution to the movement that sprang up in much of the

world throughout 20111. Here, the first essay traces the history of recent resistance in Greece

through three key moments: the uprising of December 2008; the hunger strike of 300 sans papiers

immigrants in early 2011; and Stasis Syntagma itself. The word statis is chosen because of its dual

meaning: both “the upright posture, standing tall and serene, holding your stance” (p.153) and also

“sedition, revolt or insurrection, the opposite of stillness” (ibid.). And while syntagma in politics

directly translates into ‘constitution’, in linguistics a “syntagmatic relationship arranges linguistic

relationships sequentially” (ibid.) –– one only has to think of the word syntax. It is a bringing

together and re-arranging of a multitude, a multitude that quickly came to form a political

expression in the same way that a 19th century demonstration had demanded a Syntagma

(Constitution) from the country’s Bavarian king. The two concluding essays (‘Demos in the

Square’, pp.155-175, and ‘Lessons of political strategy’, 176-197), attempt a much-needed soulsearching

exercise among much of the radical Left and anarchist movement both in the country and

beyond: they essentially grapple with the question of the legacy of the square’s movement in the

struggles to come.

Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis is powerful proof of what may be potentially born

out of the cross-fertilisation of theory and praxis, of an alternate close and distant viewpoint,

allowing both for intimacy and perspective. Yet, if there is one critique to be levelled at the sober

and penetrating analysis permeating the book, it would in fact be a geographical one: a critique, that

is, concerning the unit of analysis in question. For Douzinas, as with many other intellectuals of the

Left, the plight of Greece is important because it is a kind of preamble to the future of Europe as a

whole. This reading assumes both a chronological linearity (Europe’s national territories falling

prey to to the austerity vulture one after another) and also a geographical homogeneity: a certainty,

in other words, that Europe comprises a somehow unified, unitary entity, that we Europeans are ‘all

in this together’. For example: much time has been spent analysing the possible effects and

consequences of a single country’s Eurozone exit (the now infamous GRexit scenario) or even an

exit from the EU (which is the case with the GBexit). But once we look inside the Eurozone or the

1A thorough overview and analysis of the Aganaktismenoi is provided in Giovanopoulos and Mitropoulos (2011).

EU structure, it is as if we were staring at a black box: the idea of ‘Europe’ as a single and solid unit

has prevailed so far. And yet, as the crisis sinks into a prevailing normality, it is precisely this idea

of the European unit that begins to be challenged and questioned –– an idea, after all, that is too

close to the philosophical notion of ‘the One’ that Douzinas himself rightfully criticises.

In a recent interview, Giorgio Agamben (2013) explains how the European continent has

historically seen an exceptional coexistence of cultures and life forms –– yet one where this

continent-wide whole “always left the particularities of the peoples intact”. This is no longer the

case: there is One European project, One crisis, but the plight and hardship this causes is more

geographically uneven than it has been for a long, long time. In its current form, the

Europeanisation project strictly focuses on the financial (EU-driven) project that sees and will

continue to see a growing disparity between North and South, between a centre and a periphery.

How do we respond to this disparity? Taking up the gauntlet in calling this a war of the cardinal

points might prove misguided; it would be much more rewarding for us to seek alliances in the new

subjects and the common spatialities we now share.

Growing up in the city of Patras, around a decade and a half ago, friends and I would watch

the enormous ships embarking to Italy in a glimmering hope that one day, we could de-port

ourselves through them (the term, as Douzinas explains, means ‘to leave port’). After all these

years, visiting the city I now watch the thousands from the Maghreb, from the Middle East, from

Africa –– the thousands hurtled into Europe carrying the exact same hope, to embark in the exact

same ships; only of course their deportation is forced, violent, often deadly. Nevertheless, here lies

the opportunity for a territorial affinity that can and eventually must permeate our cultural, social

and historical divides: the birth of a new subaltern that can then cut right into and through Europe’s

borders; fight against the forcefully unitary idea of fiscal-first, One Europe; begin to dream of the

coming together of the repressed, old and new, into a multitude reflective and worthy of our

continent’s multiplicities.

References

Agamben G (2013) The endless crisis as an instrument of power: In conversation with Giorgio

Agamben. http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1318-the-endless-crisis-as-an-instrument-of-power-inconversation-

with-giorgio-agamben (last accessed 25 July 2013)

Dalakoglou D (2013) Neo-Nazism and neoliberalism: A few comments on violence in Athens at the

time of crisis. WorkingUSA 16(2):283-292

Filippidis C (2013) Etat de siège: Public space user manual. Steppe Notes 3 http://crisisscape.

net/blog/item/99-etat-de-siege-public-space-user-manual-1-of-3 (last accessed 25 July

2013)

Giovanopoulos C and Mitropoulos D (eds) (2011) Democracy Under Construction: From the

Streets to the Squares. Athens: Asynechia

Antonis Vradis

Department of Geography and Environment

London School of Economics and Political Science

antonis@occupiedlondon.org

July 2013

 

Polity, Cambridge (UK), 2013

Q&A Boris Gunjević

 

This book is about the global crisis and the right to resistance, about neoliberal biopolitics and direct democracy, about the responsibility of intellectuals and the poetry of the multitude. Using Greece as an example, Douzinas argues that the persistent sequence of protests, uprisings and revolutions has radically changed the political landscape. This new politics is the latest example of the drive to resist, a persevering characteristic of the human spirit.

Costas Douzinas

Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London. He is well known for his work in Human Rights, Aesthetics, Postmodern Legal Theory and Political Philosophy. He was deeply involved in the British Critical Legal Studies Movement from the outset and was part of the team which set up the Birkbeck School of Law. Some of his books are. Adieu, Derrida (2007) Human Rights and Empire: The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism (2007) Critical Jurisprudence (with Adam Gearey) (2005); The End of Human Rights (2000); Law and the Image: The Authority of Art and the Aesthetics of Law (with Lynn Nead) (1999).

– See more at: http://www.subversivefestival.com/foruml/7/234/en/costas-douzinas-philosophy-and-resistance-in-the-crisis-greece-and-the-future-of-europe#sthash.fpbIOI4q.dpuf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s