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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.
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on 28 March 2010
Let's get the negatives out of the way first. To start with, the author refers to several books and writers but gives no references at all, except an occasional mention in the text. Neither is there either a bibliography or an index. The lack of a bibliography is particularly annoying.

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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on 25 April 2010
An invigorating and hugely overdue political intervention from perhaps *the* most engaging theorist around right now. Usually found over at the much-recommended k-punk blog, Mark Fisher has now launched his analysis into the more conventional world of print media. Readers of his online works will find much that is familiar here, from the comfortable deployment of pop culture references (very reminiscent of Zizek, but not in any cloying hero-worship way) to the unashamed celebration of theory. The turns of phrases are typically concise and pugnacious. 'Capitalist realism' is exactly the right way to put it, and much the same could be said for 'nu-bureaucracy' and 'reflexive impotence'. The anecdotes, particularly those garnered from time negotiating British higher education, bring that sensation of familiar truths elucidated in the kind of terms you wish you'd formulated for yourself.

As a pamphlet, exhaustive referencing and factual avalanches are not the point, but Fisher is unusual in his reliance on pertinent facts that capitalist realism obscures. The issue is not just that, for example, the technocratic discourse of neo-liberalism masks politics as administration in today's university, but also that it is a *social lie* on its own terms - the costs of bureaucracy have gone up, not down, since the days of Thatcher.

There are a lot of ideas packed into these 81 pages, but you can get through it in one sitting. Like other worthwhile recent manifestos from ZeroBooks (see Nina Power's 'One Dimensional Woman' [http://www.amazon.co.uk/One-Dimensional-Woman-Nina-Power/dp/1846942411/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272152905&sr=8-1]) politics is to the fore, but never at the expense of thought or argument. Like many of the best tracts, this will entice and provoke, whatever you ultimately make of the argument. Highly recommended.
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on 10 December 2009
I would highly recommend this book for anyone with a sociological, philosophical or political mind.
It is a book that entertained from beginning to end. I enjoyed the writing style and thought the analogies complemented the author's ideas well.
As a strong neo-liberal I expected this book to offend, but rather it provided me with a fresh set of thought provoking ideas. I feel lucky to have come across such a unique, entertaining and compulsive read.
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on 11 March 2010
If any book can shake the disillusioned and lost from their torpor then this is it. Fisher covers an astonishing amount of ground in 80 or so pages, covering everything from the what the differences between The Godfather triology and Michael Mann's 'Heat' tell us about neoliberalism's destruction of any values other than money, to the 'nubureaucracy' and its assualt on the public sector.

The most crucial lesson here though is how paper-thin the veneer of neoliberalist realism is - and how quickly this ideology-denying ideology starts to unravel when the right questions are asked of it. For all those who despair at the contemporary world, but see no means of challenging it, this is absolutely required reading.
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on 5 November 2013
Do you sometimes think that although capitalism and neo liberal policies stink there really is no alternative ? Are you resigned to the fact that 'the real world' seems to endorse/reflect economic imperatives that you find personally appalling both in terms of the naturalisation of conditions of chronic inequality and in the systematic destruction of the natural world ? Then this is the book for you - funny, intellectually stimulating and uncannily accurate about the nature of managerial and work place conditions in the twenty first century - not just the tired roar of a defunct Marxism this is a galvanising shot in the arm for the analysis of late capitalism. At once a diagnosis and a manifesto I recommend it as crucial reading in dark times. Reconnect with your inner socialist and get your head and your heart to work together for once.
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on 15 August 2013
It's a cliche, but if you only read one book this year, make sure it's this one. Capitalist Realism is at once challenging but involving, intellectual but accessible, witty but wistful. It's a slim volume in the mould of The Communist Manifesto and it shares may of its revolutionary features to the point that there is enough potential here to generate a litany of work.

At 80 pages, much of what is written here is as inferential as it is influential with his focus on mental health to be commended. In a previous line of work, I realised just how much of an epidemic the Anglo-Saxon model is facing in terms of Bi-polar I and II and Fisher elegantly links this to capitalist realism. Personally, I think Fisher's oedipal analysis could have made more of the breakdown of the fraternal unit in terms of absent fathers and the reductive nature of the family echoing that of capitalism itself, particularly through consumption (this is hinted at in the chapter Marxist Supernanny), but this remains an urgent call to arms: it demands to be read, re-read, discussed, debated and acted upon.
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on 28 October 2013
This book is essential reading especially for anyone who contemplates wading through endless screeds of Zizek and Lacan.

Why ?

Well Fisher has done everyone the favour of constructing an elegant response to "Last Man" theories such as Fukuyama's. This is done through heavy use of quotes from Zizek, Jameson and Lacan along with Fishers own drawings from popular culture and his own exeriences. The whole thing hangs togethor well and is an easy read except for one or two minor lapses into the obscure.

Apart from too many references to F.E college politics and staffroom anectdotes the main problem I have with this book is exactly the method Fisher uses in his critique : First he sets up a target to denounce " Late Capitalism" as an aunt Sally and uses Lacan's theory of " The Real" to frame his target. The simple way Fisher states Lacan's work is the books real value. By avoiding obscurantist babble Fisher reduces Lacan's theory down to what amounts to yet another version of Plato's allegory of "The Cave". So capitalism is just another ideology. And of course this is something we all already knew !

Once we recognise this fact we see that philosophy has nothing more to say about Capitalism or its alternatives. (Or the very contradiction of buying this book on Amazon in the first place !)

If we put the subject back into the hand of science i.e economics then I would suggest Steve Keen " Debunking Economics" to anyone interested in the faults and possible alternatives to neocaptalism. Or why not look at the writings of Martin Wolf, Gillian Tett of Isabella Kaminska and Alphaville et al at FT.com . There is a lively continuing debate on the dynamics of capitalism which is anything but finished !
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on 5 December 2014
I gasped in recognition at so much that Fisher describes here, and I've become rather evangelical in recommending it to my colleagues, even whipping it from my pocket to read underlined sentences at apposite moments. His analysis of neoliberal capitalism through the lenses of higher education and madness is essential reading for anyone working at a university in the UK today, and would also be a great set text for students - the chapter on 'reflexive impotence' in particularly. Lucidly and lightly writtten in the main part, with a sense of profound personal involvement in the issues he discusses, and only occasionally drifting into heavy theory - even the bits on Lacan, Zizek etc are made pretty palatable. What's best of all is he doesn't foreclose on hope.
As with other Zero books, I regret the lack of index and proper referencing - but I get their reasons for stripping back on the academic apparatus.
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on 14 January 2011
I was expecting this to be a worth while read, but one of those that's not too enjoyable. How wrong I was, I found myself smiling and nodding as I read and thoroughly enjoying every page. It may only be 80 odd pages but its insight is so cutting and incise that Fisher has included more in his 80 pages than some authors can manage in 8000. I for one will be following the work of Mark Fisher very closely in the future.
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