Mark Fisher, Theorist, 1968-2017
January 20, 2017 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Mark Fisher, blogger, editor, and cultural theorist, Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmith's, University of London, and author of Capitalist Realism (2009) died suddenly on 13 January 2017. He was 48 and leaves a wife and young son.

Mark Fisher was probably most well-known in general internet circles for his 2013 hauntological critique of left micro-politics, Exiting the Vampire Castle, The North Star (22 November 2013). Ross Wolfe describes the long fallout from that piece at The Charnel House, as well as the essay's relation to what he calls Fisher's "overwhelming sense of despair in recent years."

Fisher had been very open about his own history of depression as well as "the links between depression and economic insecurity":
My depression was always tied up with the conviction that I was literally good for nothing. I spent most of my life up to the age of thirty believing that I would never work. In my twenties I drifted between postgraduate study, periods of unemployment and temporary jobs. In each of these roles, I felt that I didn’t really belong – in postgraduate study, because I was a dilettante who had somehow faked his way through, not a proper scholar; in unemployment, because I wasn’t really unemployed, like those who were honestly seeking work, but a shirker; and in temporary jobs, because I felt I was performing incompetently, and in any case I didn’t really belong in these office or factory jobs, not because I was ‘too good’ for them, but – very much to the contrary – because I was over-educated and useless, taking the job of someone who needed and deserved it more than I did. Even when I was on a psychiatric ward, I felt I was not really depressed – I was only simulating the condition in order to avoid work, or in the infernally paradoxical logic of depression, I was simulating it in order to conceal the fact that I was not capable of working, and that there was no place at all for me in society.
Mark Fisher, Good For Nothing, Occupied Times (19 March 2014).
Depression is the shadow side of entrepreneurial culture, what happens when magical voluntarism confronts limited opportunities. As psychologist Oliver James put it in his book The Selfish Capitalist, "in the entrepreneurial fantasy society," we are taught "that only the affluent are winners and that access to the top is open to anyone willing to work hard enough, regardless of their familial, ethnic or social background – if you do not succeed, there is only one person to blame." It's high time that the blame was placed elsewhere. We need to reverse the privatisation of stress and recognise that mental health is a political issue.
Mark Fisher, Why Mental Health Is a Political Issue, The Guardian (16 July 2012).

David Stubbs, in The Quietus, provides a long appreciation of Fisher's music writing, which extended from Rihanna to Goth and Glam, from Dido to the links between dubstep and doom metal. Fisher talks about his reservations about contemporary music's "temporal malaise" in this 2014 lecture, The Slow Cancellation of the Future.

Some of Fisher's more academic writing on film and television can be found reposted on his Tumblr site, including critiques of eXistenZ, The Hunger Games and other cinematic dystopias, and Avatar, as well as his thoughts on his former Warwick/Ccru colleague Nick Land.

Other tributes and obituaries:
To those unacquainted with the work of theorist, music writer, journalist, film critic, philosopher, editor, and lecturer Mark Fisher, who sadly took his own life last Friday, the above might seem hyperbolic or sycophantic. It is neither. Like so many other members of my generation, encountering Capitalist Realism at the age of twenty-five transformed my life.

During a tricky period — I had recently suffered a head-on collision with the British music industry — Mark’s writing really did give me a reason to hope. Through his eloquence, his lucidity, but more than that, his ability to get to the heart of what was wrong with late-capitalist culture and right about the putative alternative, he seemed to have cracked some ineffable code. Capitalist Realism made a series of simple points that bypassed years of postmodern hedging to offer a foundation for action; it was a spiritual call to arms, diagnosing the neoliberal problem and reimagining the socialist solution with the force of revelation.
Alex Niven, Mark Fisher, 1968–2017, Jacobin (19 January 2017).
The first time I met Mark was in his flat in Bromley. It was his birthday party, and he had invited me along with other bloggers and friends to celebrate it with him. He cooked a huge spread: there was this excellent beetroot, roasted in balsamic and rosemary. I remember thinking at the time that it was one of the best things I’d ever tasted. In the years that followed, I was always pestering him to make it for me again (he managed to just once, though he often poked fun at my general obsession with food and eating). That evening we were packed into his tiny flat in Bromley, with an odd mixture of music journalists, ex-Warwick Alumni, and bloggers, many of whom I only knew by their blog names.

I was struck by Mark, whose stature was so much smaller than the power of his writing implied. He had a nervous energy about him, and his eyes would dart from side to side when he was animated, which was often. We talked at the party and arranged to meet again afterwards. It was the start of one of my most enduring friendships.
Siobhan McKeown, Goodbye, Dear Friend (19 January 2017).
I last saw Mark in person a couple of years ago in London, at his office in Goldsmiths College, where he was a lecturer in Visual Cultures. He wanted to record me describing a journey I’d made to China in 2008 by container ship, beginning not far from his home in Felixstowe and ending in Shanghai. The recording was research for his project On Vanishing Land, an audio essay Mark made in collaboration with Justin Barton and later used in the book When Site Lost the Plot (2015, edited by Robin Mackay). After finishing the recording, we got chatting. I no longer recall what the conversation was about, but I remember that Mark offered to walk me from his office to the door of the building. When we got there, he continued with me through the college gates, down the street and all the way to the bus stop, talking animatedly as if there were not enough time in the day for all the sharing, arguing, commiserating, gossiping, producing, championing and believing there was to do. We said goodbye, and I got on the bus, feeling galvanized, just as I was when I first knew Mark as k-punk.
Dan Fox, Mark Fisher (1968–2017), Frieze Magazine (17 January 2017).

Fisher's last book, released two weeks ago, was The Weird and the Eerie (Watkins Media, 2016).
A collection of essays, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Zero Books) appeared in 2014.

Previously on MeFi: [1, 2, 3].
posted by Sonny Jim (24 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
I thought Owen Hatherley's post about Mark Fisher's death was lovely. RIP.
posted by carbide at 5:01 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am infinitely sympathetic to anyone who sizes up the world as it now, and decides that on the whole they'd prefer to not be here anymore, but Mark's is a loss we can hardly bear at the moment. We will badly miss the acuity of his perception, to say nothing of the fearlessness and generosity with which he shared his own struggles.

Rest in power, Mark. You've acquitted yourself with great honor, and left us with gifts that will sustain us in the dark days ahead.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:08 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Earlier in his career, he also developed the concept of "science fiction capital", the idea that the power to describe the future authoritatively (as does Google, for instance) is itself a kind of capital, like money. An authoritative description of the future, believed by many, helps bring that future into being - no matter how unjust it is, or how many better, juster futures could also come into being. It's a concept that is used in Eshun's important and fascinating essay "Further Considerations On Afrofuturism", whose ideas about the way the future and past are actively brought into being in the present we return to again and again in the SF class I run.

Before his blogging slowed down, Abstract Dynamics was one of my favorite sites.

I always felt like he got read with a lot less sympathy than he deserved, even though I felt that some of that whole "vampire castle" thing could have benefited from some self-reflection.

It's really a terrible shame. I hope he didn't suffer at the end.
posted by Frowner at 5:21 AM on January 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

(For the record: for many years k-punk was generously hosted by Abe Burmeister on the Abstract Dynamics domain, but Abstract Dynamics itself was Abe's own blog, and a separate production.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:27 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by Etrigan at 5:30 AM on January 20, 2017

The other thing about him was that no music he wrote about ever sounded, to me, anything like how he described it. Every once in a while I'd be so enthused by his writing that I'd have a shot at listening to whatever it was, and I'd never like it. I always preferred the imaginary form of the music he enjoyed.

(For the record: for many years k-punk was generously hosted by Abe Burmeister on the Abstract Dynamics domain, but Abstract Dynamics itself was Abe's own blog, and a separate production.)

Goes to show what I know! I read that blog for years and years.
posted by Frowner at 5:32 AM on January 20, 2017

Thank you so much for this. I had hoped against it, but did not yet know, that his cause of death was suicide.

posted by jokeefe at 7:54 AM on January 20, 2017

posted by cobra libre at 8:38 AM on January 20, 2017

I didn't know him personally but I taught Capitalist Realism a few times and I find it particularly difficult when someone who has written eloquently on depression commits suicide.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:07 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

His series of blog posts on the Fall and pulp modernism (1, 2, 3) is part of my personal canon.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 10:30 AM on January 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by gyusan at 12:13 PM on January 20, 2017

Great post. There's a fundraiser here for his family.
posted by criticalbill at 12:52 PM on January 20, 2017

Rest in Power, Mark. We need you more than ever. Here's hoping this inspires younger writers to come through.
posted by LMGM at 1:55 PM on January 20, 2017

Capitalist Realism was a mindblowing book when I first encountered it. I need to re-read it.

I didn't know Mark, but his writing inspired, and his loss is very saddening.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:33 PM on January 20, 2017

His Vampire Castle is the perfect encapsulation of the Political Left's circular firing squad, and all of its attendant collateral damage to bystanders. His only conceit is that this is a new thing, and not something that's been gutting us here in the USA since LBJ decided not to run.

The thing is that we pretend we don't have class divisions in the USA. It's a fiction that makes both the rich and the poor feel good about themselves, but it really gets in the way sometimes.

posted by Slap*Happy at 6:31 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by flaneur at 7:43 PM on January 20, 2017

That's crummy.

posted by polymodus at 7:52 PM on January 20, 2017

posted by Mister Bijou at 1:52 AM on January 21, 2017

posted by allthinky at 9:40 AM on January 21, 2017

posted by mixedmetaphors at 3:47 PM on January 21, 2017

posted by Cpt. The Mango at 3:49 PM on January 21, 2017

posted by ryanshepard at 8:56 PM on January 21, 2017

posted by Joeruckus at 12:28 PM on January 22, 2017

Not having encountered him other than as a name that people reference, I've been watching some of his many appearances on YouTube, as my reading comprehension isn't great and I often only understand things that people say out loud.

The Left is where I've lived most of my life, and it's sort of my home. That relationship has not been without tension (at least on my part: obviously The Left has no reason to give a toss about me), but at the end of the day, I'd always believed in it. After the EU vote last year and the ensuing shenanigans within the Labour party, I found that I'd lost my faith in the Left as a culture, which was really quite distressing. I'm glad to have found someone so articulate who's able to accurately pinpoint and elucidate on many of the misgivings that I had. How terrible that it's under such circumstances, though.

But really, any of his talks that I've seen so far - quite apart from their lucidity and fluidity - is a string of penetrating aphorisms, each capturing a thought that I'd had but wasn't quite able to put into words. I was struck particularly by Capitalism, is there no alternative?
posted by Grangousier at 4:43 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

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