Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Zero Books) Paperback – 27 Nov 2009
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Let's not beat around the bush: Fisher's compulsively readable book is simply the best diagnosis of our predicament that we have! Through examples from daily life and popular culture, but without sacrificing theoretical stringency, he provides a ruthless portrait of our ideological misery. Although the book is written from a radically Left perspective, Fisher offers no easy solutions. Capitalist Realism is a sobering call for patient theoretical and political work. It enables us to breathe freely in our sticky atmosphere. --Slavoj Zizek
Mark Fisher is a master cultural diagnostician, and in Capitalist Realism he surveys the symptoms of our current cultural malaise. Living in an endless Eternal Now, we no longer seem able to imagine a future that might be different from the present. This book offers a brilliant analysis of the pervasive cynicism in which we seem to be mired, and even holds out the prospect of an antidote. --Steven Shaviro, Author of Connected and Doom Patrols
About the Author
Mark Fisher is a writer and lecturer who maintains a highly successful weblog. He lives in the UK.
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Secondly, the text itself is, at times, intimidatingly impenetrable in ways reminiscent of those lampooned in 'The demolition merchants of reality' chapter in Francis Wheen's book 'How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World'.
Still, once you've got over those points, there are some really interesting analyses and ideas in this slim volume. Perhaps much of what is covered is not entirely new but may be found in, for example, Thomas Frank's books 'The Wrecking Crew' and 'The Conquest of Cool' plus David Harvey's books, including the excellent 'A Brief History of Neoliberalism'. However, Mark Fisher puts forward his arguments with reference to Slavoj Zizek, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Jacques Lacan, Franz Kafa, Nietzsche, Fredric Jameson as well as David Harvey.
The proposition is that we are living in post-Fordist Capitalism. No longer authoritarian in the old 9 to 5 sense, control has shifted internally, with people being unable to imagine themselves 'outside' of Capitalism. In that sense, then, Francis Fukuyama's suggestion that we are at 'The End of History' is correct. And this is what Mark Fisher refers to as 'Capitalist Realism' - a term he prefers to 'Postmodernist' as he feels that we have, in a sense, gone past even that nebulous state. As he says:
"What we are dealing with now, however, is a deeper, far more pervasive, sense of exhaustion, of cultural and political sterility." (P7)
Secondly, whereas Postmodernism was still involved in a process of absorption and commodification of Modernism (a la Thomas Frank), that process is now complete:
"Capitalist Realism no longer stages this kind of confrontation with modernism. On the contrary, it takes the vanquishing of modernism for granted; modernism is now something that can periodically return, but only as a frozen aesthetic style, never as an ideal for living." (P8)
And thirdly, we have history - or at least 'events'. As he points out:
"a whole generation has passed since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. In the 1960s and 1970s, capitalism had to face the problem of how to contain and absorb energies from outside. It now, in fact, has the opposite problem; having all too successfully incorporated externality, how can it function without an outside it can colonise and appropriate?...Capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable." (P8)
That is a fair point. However, capitalism seems quite adept at inventing an 'outside'. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and all that that symbolized, suddenly we found ourselves in a South American 'War on Drugs', with General Noriega surrounded and pounded into submission by pop music. Then, of course, there was the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan - and the ongoing 'War on Terror'. There is a material basis to this - keeping the U.S. military-industrial complex in funds, and the enforcement of what is, for all intents and purposes, an economic conscription. It will be interesting to see what 'other' may be constructed subsequently - perhaps China looms as a successor at least on an economic, if not ideological, level.
Still, Mark Fisher draws his examples from popular (remnants of counter-) culture (Kurt Cobain, Nirvana), from cinema ('Children of Men', 'The Truman Show', 'Memento'), literature (Kafka, in particular 'The Castle', William Gibson's 'Neuromancer'), from the TV documentaries of Adam Curtis and from his own experience teaching in Further Education. At times, particularly when writing of his teaching experiences, he sounds almost like that arch-neoconservative, Allan Bloom, but his points regarding the ever-optimistic, ever-irresponsible, ever-memory-less management strategies certainly mirror my experiences of 20 years working for IT companies, with their rotting figleaves of 'Corporate Social Responsibility' programmes.
Although the book clearly owes a lot to Zizek, when it is grounded in experience it has a weight and relevance that shines through some of the more turgid prose and, most happily, it 'makes you think'.
Of course, being sold on Amazon perhaps emphasises the seeming inescapability of 'Capitalist Realism' and it's Petrushka doll-like powers to prevent 'thinking outside the box'. Clearly, I still have doubts though. Whenever I read a text like this, I more or less inevitably think of the ironically titled 'How We Became Posthuman' by N Katherine Hailes which reminds us that all this must be grounded in a real, and thoroughly material, world - a world full of military expenditure, industrial waste and economic serfdom.
However, he ends on an up-beat and almost optimistic note, citing the 'long, dark night of the end of history' as an opportunity. Sign me up!
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