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Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures Kindle Edition
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First, the positive bit. With one bound, Mr Fisher has established himself as one of our foremost cultural critics, and here he talks (in refreshingly direct prose for the most part), about books, television, cinema, and most of all music. His writings are organised around two main themes, each of which, he acknowledges, was originally developed by others. First, there is Franco Berardi's idea of the cancellation of the future. This does not necessarily mean the end of the world, nor does it mean an end to trivial developments in science and technology. What it means is that the promise of the future, the promise of a better life, which was so much a part of popular thinking and culture until the 1970s, has now been officially abandoned. In turn this reminds us of the "hantologie" of Derrida, anglicised by Mr Fisher under the name of "hauntology". The play on words is not as precise in English, because in French "ontologie" and "hantologie" are direct homophones. (And no, homophony is not a new political cause, just a word meaning that two words sound identical.) In this concept of things, popular culture since the 1980s is "haunted". These hauntings are not necessarily of the past, and they're not necessarily of real things. If anything, they are more usually hauntings of choices not made and roads not taken. They are memories of knowledge non-existent futures, better than the one we actually have. (Indeed, while I was reading the book I kept thinking of Rob Young's exemplary study "Electric Eden," The book, written by an exact contemporary, with almost spine-chilling accuracy about the 1960s and 1970s, acts as a kind of extended preface). It has to be said that Mr Fisher works through these ideas with some determination and rigour, and they largely succeeds in proving his case. In addition, there are individual essays (notably on John Le Carré and Jimmy Savile) which actually have something new and interesting to say about politics in each case.
Here, then, are the promised observations. We are all to some extent prisoners of the popular culture that we grew up with. Mr Fisher seems to have been born in 1967, and for him the optimistic culture of the year of his birth is emblematic of a way not taken, and in practical terms also raw material for some of the electronic music that he writes about so eloquently. His own musical taste was formed in the 1980s, and if you were born much before or much after him then your emotional response to that music will be different. I have to say that, whilst I had heard of some of the artists discussed, others meant absolutely nothing to me at all. That said, Mr Fisher not only succeeds in conveying an enthusiasm for certain types of music that I was unaware even existed, he almost makes me want to go and listen to some of them - aways the marker of a good critic. in addition, in discussing artists as unlikely as Frank Sinatra, he also demonstrates an ability to engage with music from different generations.
Second observation, the overall tone of the book is wistful and regretful (though not nostalgic), rather than positive, and this may not appeal to everyone. It's essentially a description of a popular culture without hope, where even dreams turn out to be nightmares, and to be largely re-cycled memories of the past, whether actual or imagined. I must say that I sometimes wished he would write an essay on a musical act where the artist neither committed suicide themselves or encourage others to do so.
But as I say, this is a fascinating and rewarding book which also demonstrates Mr Fisher's very wide reading and clarity of thinking, and will certainly set you off after other authors in turn, as well as enlarging your collection of - well I almost said recorda and CDs, but as the book so well points out, we don't have them any more.
And I might just get around to listening to Joy Division.
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