The theorist Mark Fisher, whose death was announced at the weekend, was one of our most original thinkers about how we experienced late 20th century and early 21st century capitalism. He also wrote honestly about his depression, and sometimes one felt that the two were related: that seeing so clearly the confines that late capitalism imposed on its subjects was too much weight for one person to stand. (Guy Debord suffered in a similar way.)
People have been queuing up today to pay tribute to Fisher and his work, and rightly so: Capitalist Realism is one of the essential texts of the last 10 years: so good, in fact, that I realised recently that I’d bought two copies. His style was also singular in its skill in combining the cultural and the political, a reminder that actually the two can never be separated out, as he demonstrated in his more recent book Ghosts of my Life, which I wrote about here.
In an obituary, the music writer Simon Reynolds, a friend of Fisher’s, described his writing like this:
The exciting thing about Mark’s writing – CCRU era, K-punk era, in magazines like FACT and The Wire, the books – was the feeling that he was on a journey: the ideas were going somewhere, a gigantic edifice of thought was in the process of construction. That Mark was thinking big, building a system, always aiming for the largest scale. And finally that this work, rigorous and deeply informed as it was, was not academic, in the sense of being done purely for its own sake: its urgency came from his faith that words really could change things. Reading Mark’s writing made everything feel more meaningful, supercharged with significance. It was a rush. An addiction.
At 3:AM Mark Mankowski’s response to Fisher’s death was to write an extended piece to further “spread the word” about his thinking.
Fisher’s theories stemmed from his use of the term ‘Capitalist Realism’, a term he used to describe the current global political situation. The Capitalist Realist idea he proposed is a critique of neoliberalism, that served also to describe new forms of government which apply the logic of capitalism. Fisher proposed that within a capitalist framework there is no space to conceive of alternative forms of social structures – any alternative ideas are absorbed within the overarching narrative of Capitalism. …
Buried truths about the Iraq War, the NHS, child abuse enquiries and the banking crisis have eroded the trust which acts as an adhesive to hold society together. Put simply: I can live with a world in which bad things happen if I can be comforted by the idea that the bad things won’t happen again, and that they will be fixed. But my understanding of Capitalist Realism helped me understand that enquiries are kicked into the long grass, ugly truths are buried, and inconveniences (such as the empirical flaws in Jeremy Hunt’s ‘Weekend Effect’) are overlooked if it means that those in power remain in power.
Hungering for the familiar
When I wrote about Ghosts of my Life last year, I quoted a couple of sections that connected Fisher’s ideas about neoliberalism with the closure of our cultural space:
Why did the arrival of neoliberal, post-Fordist capitalism lead to a culture of retrospection and pastiche? … Could it be that neoliberal capitalism’s destruction of solidarity and security brought about a compensatory hungering for the well-established and the familiar? [p14]…
It’s no accident that the efflorescence of cultural invention in London and New York in the late 1970s and early 80s (in the punk and postpunk scenes) coincided with the availability of squatted and cheap property in those cities. Since then, the decline of social housing, the attacks on squatting, and the delirious rise in property prices have meant that the amount of time and energy available for cultural production has massively diminished. [p15]
From K-punk to Weird and Eerie
And on Quietus there is an extract from his recently published collection, The Weird and the Eerie. I started to try to explain the difference between the two concepts here as an introduction to the piece, but realised as I tried to precis that the length mattered: that you need to read the way that Fisher writes about these to get to grips with the way he thought about the world.
Or listen to him: The Wire has a recording of Fisher reading an extended extract from Ghosts of my Future, together with a Q&A session, which can be heard, or downloaded, here.
This 2014 interview with Crack magazine is also a good place to start.
The image at the top of the post os from Goldsmith’s where Fisher taught, and is used with thanks.