When we were starting the Bioskop in early 2010 I went (almost randomly) to a talk by Mark on his recently published book Capitalist Realism. It was a shock – and a wake up call – and lead on to discovering (belatedly) his blog k-punk, and Zero Books where he was commisioning editor at the time. All of which had an important influence on our thinking, as it did on many others’ .
In the pre-internet 1980s certain bands like Throbbing Gristle and Crass acted as more than producers of music – they became disseminators of information that couldn’t be found in the mainstream culture, introducing their audiences to heady, reality-shifting concepts like body and performance art, William Burroughs concept of a control society, Brion Gysin’s experiments with the technology of magic, and what would now be called queer subjectivity (Throbbing Gristle), or the politics of globalism and animal rights (Crass).
In a similar way in the early 2010s Mark Fisher’s writing acted as a touchstone or a point of departure that could lead to discovering Hauntology (the futures that were imagined but didn’t come into being), Speculative Realism, Post Humanism, the dark Deleuzianism of Nick Land and the CCRU, the use of sci-fi as a jumping off point for understanding the present, Italian Autonomism and Bifo Berardi, and Accelerationism in its negative and positive sense. And, through Zero Books – to Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman , Carl Neville’s Classless, Steven Shaviro’s brilliant introduction to Post Cinematic Affect, and Agata Pyzik’s Poor but Sexy. (to name some highlights)
Around that time a friend kept telling me a gag he had heard a comedian on TV saying -
The thing about the internet is that the whole of human history and knowledge is there…
… and I find that distracting.
Voices that help you find a way through the oceans of information towards the stuff that helps make sense of life are precious in this situation.
Some great memories and thoughts about Mark Fisher have appeared in the last few days, written by friends and colleagues, including these by Robin MacKay and these by David Stubbs. I didn’t know him, but below are a couple of personal memories…
When I left that talk on Capitalist Realism in 2010 I felt somewhat shaken. Here was someone almost exactly my own age who had been through the same pop cultural events and obsessions, but who had produced a coherent, penetrating critique of what had been happening to us under tory and labour governments in the last 25 years. Someone who had cut through the fog and misdirection that had made so many people on the left disengage and retreat into apathy or into a retro-left that Fisher impatiently dismissed as folk politics and localism. (He had a pop at the slow food movement – sacrilege in Bristol.) It was clear that he had a deep and rigorous familiarity with theory, that could only have been accumulated over many years of hard but he also avoided resorting to academic jargon. I felt shamed at my own lack of application, but it also started me thinking. In the q and a session – I fluffed a question about where the Internationalism of early C20th communism (that I had read about in history O level syllabus – workers of the world unite!) was in contemporary left politics, and he riffed on the shared situation of precarious workers in the UK and call centre workers in emerging economies like India.
This sudden exposure to a set of new ideas had me mentally re-mapping the last two decades of history (both public and personal) in what felt like a few days.
A year or so later we went to a reading group lead by Mark Fisher on Fanged Noumena – a collection of writings by Nick Land. (Like the previous event, organised by Marie-Anne McQuay.) Mark was a student of Land’s at Warwick University in the 90s and a member of the now legendary CCRU – Cybernetic Culture Research Unit. ( There’s a funny and touching contemporary account of an encounter with a fresh faced and earnest Mark Fisher on Simon Reynolds blog.)
Mark wrote several times that his introduction to theory and cultural criticism had come as a teenager reading the UK music press. I had the same experience – reading the NME of 1984 as an intrepid fourteen year old you could find yourself swimming in unknown conceptual waters, way, way out of your depth… where a writer might start throwing the names of continental thinkers – Derrida or Baudrillard – at you. You ventured back into those waters because you felt that each time you would be a little less lost, make a little more sense… that you would start to recognise some of the landmarks.
The Fanged Noumena event was a similarly disorientating, stimulating experience except this time I was 40 not 14. It was a cold plunge into the concepts of Deleuze and Guattari, and the neologisms of the gleefully morbid Land… hyperstition, anarchtrope, schizo-analysis, machinic desires, de/re territorialisation, the body without organs.
I did have one way into these texts – an hallucinatory article on Apocalypse Now by Mark Downham (in Vague magazine) is an acknowledged influence on the writings of Land and CCRU. (Again, as a teenager) I had read it in 1988 and been marked by it – particularly a line where Downham says that when reviewing a film you should use a method approach – you shouldn’t just watch the film, research the film, you should become the film. Its a gonzo idea, one that if taken literally could result in… psychic damage – and I did take it literally. Mark said that was the approach that he had always applied to his music writing .
What were the lessons in Mark Fisher’s writing that the Bioskop took away? (reading theory is pointless unless it’s useful in your life)
There was often an almost ecstatic dystopianism in Mark’s writing about our current world and the ever-morphing T1000 terminator capitalism enfolding and consuming it – to the degree that you sensed he was transfixed and possessed by the very thing he loathed and was attacking. But moments like this, in his essay “A social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude” Popular Culture’s Interuppted Accelarationist Dreams”
suggest a way out, an outside -
“A certain, perhaps now dominant, take on accelerationism has it that the position amounts to a cheerleading for the intensification of any capitalist process whatsoever, particularly the “worst,” in the hope that this will bring the system to a point of terminal crisis. (One example of this would be the idea that voting for Reagan and Thatcher in the ‘80s was the most effective revolutionary strategy, since their policies would supposedly lead to insurrection). This formulation, however, is question-begging in that it assumes what accelerationism rejects—the idea that everything produced “under” capitalism fully belongs to capitalism. By contrast, accelerationism maintains that there are desires and processes which capitalism gives rise to and feeds upon, but which it cannot contain; and it is the acceleration of these processes that will push capitalism beyond its limits. Accelerationism is also the conviction that the world desired by the Left is post-capitalist—that there is no possibility of a return to a pre-capitalist world and that there is no serious desire to return to such a world, even if we could.”
One of the defining statements of Fisher’s Capitalist Realism is “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” What Mark Fisher’s writing recognised was that we are doomed to not having a future unless we understand the importance of our culture producing dreamings “suggestive glimmers of worlds radically different from the actually existing social order.”