Resistentialism

Resistentialism [ri-zis-ten-shul-iz-um] is a jocular theory to describe ‘seemingly spiteful behavior manifested by inanimate objects.’ For example, objects that cause problems (like lost keys or a fleeing bouncy ball) exhibit a high degree of malice toward humans and lend support to resistentialist beliefs. In other words, a war is being fought between humans and inanimate objects, and all the little annoyances objects give people throughout the day are battles between the two.

The term was coined by humorist Paul Jennings in a piece titled ‘Report on Resistentialism,’ published in ‘The Spectator’ in 1948 and reprinted in ‘The New York Times.’ The movement is a spoof of existentialism in general, and Jean-Paul Sartre in particular (Jennings gives the inventor of Resistentialism as Pierre-Marie Ventre). The slogan of Resistentialism is ‘Les choses sont contre nous’ — ‘Things are against us.’

The concept also appears in the ‘Discworld’ fantasy novels of English author Terry Pratchett, where it is referred to as malignity or malignance; one practical example the author gives is the tendency of garden hoses, no matter how carefully one coils and stores them, to unloop themselves overnight and tie the bicycle to the lawnmower. It is associated with the Auditors of Reality, supernatural celestial bureaucrats, and possibly also with Anoia, goddess of Things that Stick in Drawers. M.R. James’ horror short story ‘The Malice of Inanimate Objects,’ first published in 1933, prefigures Jennings’ theories, but suggests a more sinister aspect to the phenomenon.

 Thomas Pynchon’s novel ‘V,’ examines resistentialism through the character of Benny Profane, who is under the impression that he can only deal successfully with animate objects. Throughout the novel, the dividing line between animate and inanimate objects become blurred, such as the Bad Priest, who is mostly machine, a talking protective suit named SHROUD, and sewer-dwelling alligators who are aware that they were intended to be toy pets for children.

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