Mark Fisher, the British writer and theorist who tragically passed away last year, was probably our greatest diagnostician of this boring dystopia of unbound capitalism and its smartphone addiction, rampant mental illness and inane celebrity culture. In the 2000’s, his K-Punk blog offered some of the finest cultural writing on the internet, offering acidly poetic insights into everything from the birth of Dubstep to the War on Terror.
This work was distilled into the 2009 book Capitalist Realism, which argues that we are stuck in an ideological malaise, where it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Despite the looming threat of environmental catastrophe, rising inequality and epidemic mental stress our culture is pervaded by the sense that this is as good as it gets, there is no alternative. The book’s slim size belies its influence. In the decade since its release, it’s become a key touchstone for understanding the post-financial crisis, underpaid and overmedicated world. Fisher built upon the work of Marxist theorists like Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, but filtered it through the precise savagery of J.G Ballard and Joy Division. His writing had a ferocious clarity too often lacking in the dismal mediocrity cranked out by the conventional academic assembly line.
The posthumous collection K-Punk is a monumental tribute to a sadly abridged life. Clocking in at almost 800 pages, the book contains a hoard of unpublished material, reviews, interviews and blog posts. The book veers between scorn poured on useless politicians and uninspired musicians and a Romantic longing for something better. Above all, he maintains, contemporary capitalism is dismal- “this is boring nihilism: an existential poverty that accompanies the material poverty into which capital plunges so many. A tiny minority escape material poverty, but only capital’s most devoted addicts can escape existential poverty”.
Fisher looks for the forgotten utopias and missed possibilities that modern life could have taken, culminating in the magisterial final piece “Acid Communism”. The introduction to an unfinished book of the same name, it argues that the reactionary and cynical politics that have come to dominate the globe in the last decades was a repressive response to the wild social energies released in the 1960’s and 1970’s- psychedelia, feminism, radical unions, Italian Autonomia, UK post-punk. He concludes on the rousing note that the material conditions exist to create a liberated society, but a deflated, depressive cultural climate keeps us in our places “populations are resigned to the sadness of work, even as they are told that automation is making their jobs disappear. We must regain the optimism of that Seventies moment, just as we must carefully analyse all the machineries that capital deployed to convert confidence into dejection”.
This bracing project of people reclaiming direct control over their daily life ends the book with an unexpected optimism. But it also contains the deep sadness that Fisher’s voice is no longer with us, his critical scalpel tearing into our Trump/Brexit/Post Malone moment.