Fisher: Capitalist Realism (chap. 1-3)
In March we’re having the first in a series of book clubs on Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher, starting with chapters 1-3 (pages 1-20). The book is 81 pages long and we can read it in 3-4 instalments, something to decide at the end of the first discussion in March. The link below will take you to a PDF of the entire book. If you would like to facilitate one of the sessions please get in touch.
DOWNLOAD Fisher, Mark (2009). Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester: Zero Books.This session will consider the affective dimension of capitalism and the role of art, artists, teachers and intellectuals within capitalism. Adopting Mark Fisher ‘s subjective approach, we will unpick the relationships between art, entertainment, labour, ideology and capitalism by addressing our own experiences. What contradictions do we face in our practice and labour? How do these situations make us feel? How can we respond productively to these contradictions in our everyday life?
Mark Fisher’s starting point in Capitalist Realism is Margaret Thatcher’s slogan “There Is No Alternative”, which became the mantra of neoliberalism. This ideology eventually pervaded cultural discourse in the form of widespread and uncritical resignation to the idea that capitalism is the only viable political economic system. This ideology is reinforced by encroaching managerialism, “where there’s no other available language or conceptual model for how we understand life, work, or society, except that of business” (Fisher and Capes, 2011). Writing in 2009, Fisher argues that far from being discredited after the financial crisis of 2008, capitalism has transformed into “market Stalinism” instead. He unpicks the bureaucratic culture of pointless targets, audits and assessments and its impact on mental health.
Capitalist Realism is an urgent, and therefore sketchy, attempt to understand the contradictions and pathologies of capitalism, and to distil a set of observations on environmental catastrophe, mental health and bureaucracy. Fisher argues that the left needs to shift the focus from anti-capitalism to post-capitalism in a mobilisation that is collective, practical and experimental.
…an effective anti-capitalism must be a rival to Capital, not a reaction to it; there can be no return to pre-capitalist territorialities or to a romantic attachment to the politics of failure. Anti-capitalism must oppose Capital’s globalism with its own, authentic, universality. (Mark Fisher (2012). Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? Zero Books, pp. 78-79)
Mark Fisher was a writer and theorist on music and contemporary culture. He wrote for the Wire, Frieze, New Statesman and Sight & Sound. He was a founding member of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths University of London and maintained k-punk, an influential blog on music and cultural theory.
- Is capitalism the only alternative? If not then what alternatives are there? (p. 2)
- What is the role of the stripped-back state in neoliberalism? (p. 2)
- What is the difference between realism and the Real? (pp. 4-6, 10-11 and 17-18).
- What is the value of the “new” in culture, why is innovation important and what is the role of tradition? (p. 3) Does formal innovation contain revolutionary potential and why? (p. 8, see also p. 59) What is the role of artists and intellectuals in capitalism?
- What is the relationship between capitalist realism and postmodernism? (p. 7)
- Does the explicit critique of capitalism in Hollywood films undermine capitalism or reinforce it, as Fisher claims? (p. 12)
- Following up the discussion of Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalisation in January; if we are indeed trapped in hypernormalisation and doublethink, or what Fisher describes as ironic disavowal, how does this affect us and what can we do about it? (p. 13, see also p. 54)
- What is our own role in capitalist realism? Does capital require our co-operation in order to function? (p. 15)
- “If capitalist realism is so seamless, and if current forms of resistance are so hopeless and impotent, where can an effective challenge come from?” (p. 16)
- Fisher argues that neoliberalism has sought to “eliminate the very category of value in the ethical sense”, what does this mean, does he have a point and why is it a problem? (pp. 16-17)
- How does capitalism create the appearance of a “natural order” and how can “emancipatory politics… destroy” this appearance? (p. 17)
- What are the contradictions of capitalism and are they obscured by the reality that capitalism presents to us, or have we grown accustomed to them? (p. 17)
- What is the difference between reality and ideology? (p. 17)
Suggested further reading
Fisher, Mark (2013). How to kill a zombie: strategizing the end of neoliberalism. Open Democracy, 18 July 2013.
Fisher, Mark (2017). Real Abstractions: The application of theory to the modern world. Frieze, 16 Jan 2017.
Fisher, Mark (2006-13). K-punk blog.
Fisher, Mark and Richard Capes (2011). Capitalist Realism: An Interview with Mark Fisher. More Thought Interviews, 10 Nov 2011.
Fisher, Mark and Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi (2013). Give Me Shelter. Frieze, Jan 2013 .
Hoffman, Todd (2016). No Exit, Postmodern Style. Review of Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher. CTheory, Theorizing 21C: Consequence, 17 Nov 2016.
Fukuyama, Francis (1989). The End of History? National Interest No. 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 3–18.
Zizek, Slavoj (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. New York: Verso.
Jameson, Fredric (1991). Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso.
Foucault, Michel (2008). The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–1979. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Prolapsarian (2013). A Letter to Goldsmiths art students on capitalism, art and pseudo-critique. Prolapsarian blog.
Institute for Precarious Consciousness (2014). Six Theses on Anxiety & the Prevention of Militancy. Critical Legal Thinking, 17 Apr 2014.
Monthly reading group for artists, researchers and anyone interested in the intersections between art practice and critical theory. Everyone is welcome to propose a text and facilitate the reading group. Please book your place and download the shared document. For more information and an archive of previous events please scroll down.
Free & open access
The reading group is free and open to everyone who wants to join as long as they commit to the reading. Please register and arrive early, doors will close when we reach maximum capacity. Don’t forget to download the shared document and bring a hard-copy to the book club. Please consider donating to help cover our expenses and keep us going. Alternatively, you can donate via this link.
Discussion & decision-making
Texts are selected by group consensus on the basis that they reflect on the relationship between practice and theory. This includes a broad variety of texts, from philosophy to politics and aesthetics to science fiction – there is no limitation.
Facilitating the book club
[SYMPOSIUM] is a supportive community of peers who discuss and unpack their research interests. All participants have the opportunity to facilitate the book club on a text of their choice. If you would like to propose a text, you can start preparing right now:
 Decide on a text that you want to discuss.
 Do some background research and write a short introduction to provide some context, from your own perspective. When was it written? Why was it written? Who wrote it? Was it a response to something else? Why are you interested in the text? How does it relate to, or inform, your practice or your research?
 Pace the reading. How long is the text? If it is short, can we discuss the entire text in a 2-hour book club? If the text is long you may need to divide it up between two or more sessions.
 Write down some questions that you would like to bring to the discussion. Suggest some further reading and an image or two, with captions.
 Download the infosheet and send us your proposal.
#24 Cohn: Representation and Critique
Friday, 9 February 2018, 6:30pm-9pm
Facilitated by Aris Nikolaidis
#23 Adam Curtis: HyperNormalisation
Friday, 12 January 2018, 6:30pm-9pm
Facilitated by Neil Lamont
#22 Debord: Negation and Consumption
Friday, 8 December 2017, 6:30pm-9pm
Facilitated by Aristotelis Nikolaidis
#16 Deleuze & Guattari: Rhizome
Friday, 10 March 2017
Chaired by Katie Tysoe and Sophia Kosmaoglou
#15 Marx: The Fetishism of the Commodity & its Secret
Friday, 10 February 2017
Chaired by Sophia Kosmaoglou
#14 O’Sullivan: The Aesthetics of Affect
Friday, 13 January 2017
Chaired by Katie Tysoe
#10 Sontag: Against Interpretation
Friday, 9 September 2016
Chaired by F. D.
#8 Rancière: Problems & Transformations of Critical Art
Friday, 10 June 2016
Chaired by Stephen Bennett
Part of Antiuniversity Now!
#7 Sewell: Tate Triennial III
Friday, 13 May 2016
Chaired by Richard Lloyd-Jones
#4 Barthes: The Death of the Author
Friday, 12 February 2016
Chaired by Henrietta Ross