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It's been a long time coming....
on 10 December 2009
In Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? Mark Fisher successful reinvigorates the style of a short polemical commentary that insightfully analyses today's contemporary condition. Capitalist realism is the state we have reached - when capitalism becomes naturalised, unquestioned, when common sense tells us that there is no alternative. Fisher questions this naturalisation of capitalism, arguing that the promises of the neo-liberal capitalism are not all they've cracked up to be.
He draws on contemporary culture, contemporary theory, philosophy and personal experience to evaluate the effects of capitalism in three key areas - mental health, bureaucracy and education. He shows how the system has covertly transformed a generation into being a blip generation, a generation for which everything must be in tiny twitter-sized packages, for whom reading is boring (not the content of books, as Fisher points out, but reading per se). He looks at the rise of depression within late capitalism and the constant anxieties that are produced. Do I have enough money? Am I too fat? Am I too thin? Should I be exercising more? Should I stop smoking? And he rightly cites Kafka in relation to the current baroque bureaucratic system of quangos, committees, red tape and call centres that we acceptingly exist in, and the infinite deferral that the process of constant of auditing in education causes.
When drawing upon contemporary theory it's easy to make one of two mistakes. The first is that you speak only in the language of the thinker whose theories you're using - Deleuzospeak, Lacanobabble etc etc. This makes the work only accessible to a specific audience of about 10 people who speak that language. The other mistake is that you trivialise it by trying to make it palatable to some imaginary `everyman'. Fisher does neither of these. He expertly balances a line that weaves complex theory into a narrative that neither patronises nor baffles the reader. It's what philosophy, what thought, should aspire to.
Finally, as past student of philosophy, this book gave me one overwhelming feeling - this is the type of project that made me study philosophy in the first place. In recent years, philosophy has become a conversation between a bunch of academics, a conversation that excludes those who don't speak a particular language or follow a particular way of thinking. In a short book, Fisher has reminded me of two big things, Firstly that philosophy is not the domain of academics but that it is about unsettling and displacing dominant modes of thought . Secondly, and more importantly, that thinking is not only worth doing but that it is worth doing with joy, exuberance and commitment.