[SYMPOSIUM] BOOK CLUB
#25 Mark Fisher: Capitalist Realism Pt.1
In March we’re back at The Field for 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 installments, something to decide at the end of the first session. The link below will take you to a PDF of the entire book. We will continue the series with chapters 4 & 5 on 11 May 2018, unless another proposal takes precedence. If you would like to facilitate any 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 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 .
Berardi, Franco Bifo (2011). After the Future. Oakland: AK Press.
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.
Jameson, Fredric (1991). Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso.
Zizek, Slavoj (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. New York: Verso.
De Landa, Manuel (1996). Markets and Antimarkets in the World Economy. In Technoscience and Cyberculture, Stanley Aronowitz ed. London: Routledge, pp. 181-194.
Mouffe, Chantal (2012). Strategies of Radical Politics and Aesthetic Resistance. Truth is Concrete, marathon camp on artistic strategies in politics & political strategies in art, 21-28 Sep 2012. Steirischer Herbst, Graz.
Boltanski, Luc and Eve Chiapello (1999). The New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Verso.
Foucault, Michel and Gilles Deleuze (1977). Intellectuals and Power. In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, Donald F. Bouchard ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 205-217.
Foucault, Michel (2008). The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–1979. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Foucault, Michel (1982). The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4. (Summer 1982), pp. 777-795.
Foster, Hal (1996). The Return of the Real. In The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century. Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 127-168.
Sheikh, Simon (2005). Representation, Contestation and Power: The Artist as Public Intellectual. In Artists as Producers. Transformation of Public Space, Inára Drulle ed. Riga: Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, pp. 39-42.
Quaintance, Morgan (2017). The New Conservatism: Complicity and the UK Art World’s Performance of Progression. e-flux Conversations.
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.