Remembering Mark Fisher By David Stubbs
, January 16th, 2017 10:02
David Stubbs looks back over the life of theorist Mark Fisher. And below that, for those wanting to know more about Mark's work, we have a previously unpublished interview between him and Agata Pyzik conducted in 2010
The loss of Mark Fisher, aged just 48, has not just left family, friends and colleagues shocked and devastated; it leaves a gaping crater in modern intellectual life. The poet and writer Alex Niven, with whom he worked at Repeater books, described him as “by some distance the best writer in Britain” and, as a flood of tributes on social media have come appended with links to his work, whether on k-punk, his much-read blog, interviews he conducted for The Wire or extracts from his very latest book The Weird And The Eerie, that is a judgment with which it is hard to disagree.
Mark was a theorist, steeped in and conversant with the realms of academic discourse which the lay reader might find bafflingly abstruse. While never diluting his own ideas or others for popular consumption, he played a singular, vital role in disseminating these ideas to a wider audience. As anyone who ever attended any of his talks would attest, he was a passionate and highly skilled communicator, not in the least bit dry, who fired up and enthused his audiences, as well as fellow writers. He could hold a room in the palm of his hand. “Inspirational” is a word that crops up repeatedly in the tributes paid to him. He further palliated his formidable barrage of ideas by applying them to popular culture, music in particular, providing unique readings of everything from Joy Division to grime, Japan and The Cure, Tricky and the Caretaker (aka Leyland James Kirby whose work is an excellent soundtrack to any reading of Mark Fisher), as well as mainstream cinema such as The Shining, The Hunger Games and figures like Russell Brand. He was even an ardent football fan, a supporter of Nottingham Forest and co-founded a blog to which I contributed, Minus The Shooting (in reference to George Orwell’s famously snobby crack about football being “war minus the shooting”), describing pundit Alan Shearer’s “faint air of suppressed violence that surrounds him: he looks like a squaddie who's just beaten someone to death with a shoe.” Yes, that was Mark Fisher.
Mark emerged into the contemporary world of letters via pre-internet groups and fora such as D-Generation and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, a collective that grew from the philosophy department of Warwick University and the investigations of its founders Nick Land and Sadie Plant. Plant was a proponent of what was termed “cyber-punk”, which immersed itself in the potential effects of phenomena such as rave culture and Blade Runner and whose thinking contained neo-Situationist, quasi-mystical, occultist elements and pre-internet futurist imaginings. All of this was designed as a reproach to the fusty greys, complacency and Olympian detachment popular culture of the old guard of the left-leaning philosophical establishment. In his late 20s, Mark quickly emerged as one the CCRU’s most electrifying and exhilarating thinkers, part of a movement which urged an embrace of popular capitalism’s accelerationist, synthetic tendencies - hallucinatory rushes which might somehow hasten its own destruction. Mark spoke of "the false memory-chip of Socialist authenticity”, and in an early interview with Simon Reynolds said, “There's definitely a strong alliance in the academy between anti-market ideas and completely scleroticised, institutionalised thought. Marx has been outdated by cybernetic theory. It's obvious that capitalism isn't going to be brought down by its contradictions. Nothing ever died of contradictions!”
However, whereas antipathy towards leftist intellectual assumptions led some of the “Cyberpunks” perversely to embrace some aspects of Thatcherism, Mark never abandoned socialism and his commitment to what seemed a lost cause in the “reality” imposed in the 21st century was always tireless, sanguine and exemplary.
I first met Mark at a party where he enthused with typically dancing eyes and hands about having read my work at Melody Maker in the late 1980s. It was all the more chastening, then, to read Mark’s own music journalism, which ventured further into the depths of theory and perception than I could ever hope to reach. I can’t be the only fellow writer who emerged from his essays feeling educated and energised but also like a bit of a banal lunk by comparison. There is a fog that circles all of our consciousnesses; a fog of uncertainty and personal limitation, a fog which some take to mark the limits of what can be said, thought and done, a fog into which most fear to venture, for fear of seeming pretentious or coming unstuck, a fog which prevents us from making connections. Mark fearlessly walked through that fog. His subject matter, the ambience of his writing may have been nebulous but his observations, his illuminations were always laser sharp. He would demonstrate this in his most recent book, The Weird And The Eerie. Of this, Mark said, “The feeling of the eerie is very different from that of the weird. The simplest way to get to this difference is by thinking about the (highly metaphysically freighted) opposition — perhaps it is the most fundamental opposition of all — between presence and absence. As we have seen, the weird is constituted by a presence — the presence of that which does not belong. In some cases of the weird (those with which Lovecraft was obsessed) the weird is marked by an exorbitant presence, a teeming which exceeds our capacity to represent it. The eerie, by contrast, is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something.”
Come the 21st century, Mark’s preoccupations became “hauntological”, drifted towards the misplaced hopes and ghostly ideals of the 20th century and its Utopian relics. The Situationists had talked about leaving the 20th century but its Utopian and Dystopian (pop) cultural monuments and lost futures preoccupied him greatly. This profound sense of elegy was not so much a lament as a potent device for escaping the clamp of modern times. He championed Burial in particular, interviewing the enigmatic, image-less electronic music artist whose work was a Noughties lamentation for the post-rave era, in December 2007 for The Wire. He wrote:
“Burial’s is a re-dreaming of the past, a condensation of relics of abandoned genres into an oneiric montage. His sound is a work of mourning rather than of melancholia, because he still longs for the lost object, still refuses to abandon the hope that it will return.”
As he cast his mind over the long, Gothic shadows of late 20th century post punk, meanwhile, he could, in the sweep of a paragraph in a blog essay on Joy Division, convey the conflation of literature, history, politics which was vital to the make-up of that group.
“It was in this Eastern bloc of the mind, it was in this slough of despond, that you could find working class kids who wrote songs steeped in Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Kafka, Burroughs, Ballard, kids who, without even thinking about it, were rigorous modernists who would have disdained repeating themselves, never mind disinterring and aping what had been done twenty, thirty years ago (the Sixties was a fading Pathe newsreel in 1979).”
These were not mere names dropped but references thudded with acumen and effortless authority.
However, the work for which Mark is most famous, and which is mandatory reading for all, is his 2009 volume Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? The essence, the crux of this is encapsulated in its title, which co-opts the term Socialist Realism, the mode of art designed to glorify Soviet values in figurative images mocked by Western liberals for their risible wishfulness. Mark, however, saw that Capitalism, particularly post-1979 had imposed its own mode of “realism” which they had successfully persuaded the electorate and even large sections of the liberal commentariat to internalise - summed up in Margaret Thatcher’s own cruelly effective, wholly inaccurate dictum, “There is no alternative”. Years of Toryism, followed by the pliant neoliberalism of the Blair/Brown/Mandelson years have only helped embed this idea further in the collective consciousness. Simply put, you can vote for whoever you like but capitalism stays until the end of time. Understand that democracy’s bounds preclude its removal. Your dreams of revolution and foment are buried in the 20th century. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a dangerous fool.
Capitalist Realism strives brilliantly to decondition the reader of this idea, frequently using as its reference points the pop cultural products of capitalism itself. It is the culmination of all of his thinking and his most vital text, indeed among the most vital political texts of the 21st century, which has earned the praise of Slavoj Zizek, Russell Brand and Owen Jones among many others. I recall sitting in a cafe with Mark discussing my own book published at the time and wondering what sales we would be happy to register. A thousand, we agreed. Mine did a bit better than that - Capitalist Realism, however, sold in the tens of thousands, an astonishing tribute to its pertinence and impassioned lucidity.
In recent years, Mark could have been taken to task for over-investing faith in the ultimately disappointing likes of Zizek and Brand in particular, boldly predicting imminent revolutions which, alas, failed to transpire. However, those who sneer at such boldness are themselves a greater part of the problem; post-leftists who consider it more “grown-up” to settle into a knowing inertia, although all that this results in is the continuing drift to the right.
Mark was determined to snap out of this inertia, this inevitablist spirit. His positive energy was applied despite his own struggles with mental health, with which he wrote with candour, and in the hope that his mighty intellect might help slay the irrational forces which assailed him. He was even able to set his experiences in a political context. “Mental health is, in fact, a paradigm case of how Capitalist Realism operates,” he wrote. “Capitalist Realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact, like weather (but then again, we know that weather is no longer a natural fact). Poor mental health is of course a massive source of revenue for multinational drugs companies. You pay for a cure from the very system that made you sick in the first place.”
Simon Reynolds has described chatting to Mark about his future projects and the “vast edifice” they represented. Perhaps it was his determination to overcome his own personal despondency, as well as the sinking despondency of society at large, which lent him energy and ambition to construct this edifice, one which would stand tall and face down the oppressors, political and psychological, external and internal, he found himself ranged against. Perhaps he was uniquely qualified and situated to carry out this task. He leaves a truly formidable legacy; I believe he may well become a literary legend posthumously, his work revisited and referenced when others have shrivelled into irrelevancy, especially in our own, post-End Of History times. Right now, in the cold middle of January, with a Trump presidency almost upon us and a Tory government grossly over-trusted by the public about to carry out the ruinously stupid Brexit project, with inequality unchecked, Mark’s loss feels especially grievous. And yet, the antithesis to this grief, the much-needed filip, is to return to Mark’s own writing which crackles with the guiding, ever-burning, ferocious intensity of a brilliant and indomitable spirit. It’s all there, for all time, in the writing.
Mark was a colleague, a hero, an inspiration, but also a friend. I remember a series of meetings in the Hare And Billet pub in Blackheath, just a mile away from the site where Wat Tyler and the peasants rallied in 1381. I remember his savagings of his intellectual enemies, of Alan Shearer, the culture industry, the liberal press; I remember his humour, his warmth and generosity, freely pouring out the contents of that ever-active, ever-fertile mind. I remember meeting him with his lovely young family, upon whom he clearly doted and emotionally depended, at parks and parties. A literary legend he may well become, a touchstone, a towering figure - but all of those who knew him dearly wish that we could have back the man.
Mark Fisher interviewed by Agata Pyzik, 2010
("This is an interview I conducted with Mark Fisher in January 2010 in London, near City Lit where he taught part time. It was supposed to be a part of a book featuring talks with several of the most exciting bloggers and theorists I admired at the time, which included Dominic Fox and Owen Hatherley. I admired Mark the most and read his k-punk blog religiously. That was my very beginning in London and I was both starstruck and overwhelmed at such a meeting. But also I was very taken by Mark's generosity and friendliness and admired him ever since, considering myself extremely lucky to have known him." Agata Pyzik, 2017)
One of the more characteristic features about the emergence of your blog K-Punk is the fact you came to writing through the music journalism scene.
Mark Fisher: It wasn’t [just] music as such – I think it was more that music was a site from which you could make connections. When I started reading the music press in the 80s, it wasn’t only about music and music wasn’t only about music. It was certainly a medium that made demands on you, which assumed you knew things - if you didn’t know them you had to learn them really. All sorts of references, literary, theoretical references. It was really the association of music and theory that motivated me to read theory, in the works of Ian Penman and Simon Reynolds. And for my background at that time, I didn’t get [these things] from a formal education. There were lots of interesting people that cared to write about music in the 80s, who were talking about theory, but who didn't go to university, and there were other people who read [the music press in the 80s] and then studied for PhDs or became lecturers.
In your writing I’ve noticed you’re particularly sensitive to the “symptomatic” nature of phenomena; you find symptoms of certain hidden situations in cultural phenomena.
MF: The thing is, if something is not a symptom it’s probably not interesting. It’s not that I don’t like writing [standard] reviews, where I say that such and such a band's album is boring, for example. What is important is to say what the album reflects; what does it say? If something is not symptomatic, I’m in trouble, I can’t really write about it. I can't see anything else in it. It's annoying to hear from people who criticise my writing saying, 'This is not a review!' I’m interested in finding connections. My recent thing, on James Cameron’s Avatar is not a review, [I don't describe] what the film is about; it’s about what the film is a part of and what it connects to really.
In your theory on “capitalist realism”, expressed in the book of the same name published by Zero, artefacts become a type of screen where this is reflected.
MF: Capitalist Realism as a book is really an analysis of the symptoms of this condition. One of the ways of looking at it is seeing capitalist realism as a cultural pathology. And this regards various aspects of it, whether we're talking on the one hand about the regulation of work and the auditing and super-surveillance of work, that you find, for instance, in an academic job. (And all kinds of other jobs in late capitalism.) Also, it's about the idea that things have ended and that nothing will ever happen again. This is the underlying condition: simply the idea that “there’s no alternative” to the late capitalist order just the sense that things will just carry on as they used to lies very deep in people’s unconscious. Again, it deals in a literal kind of pathology: in illnesses, depression, and the fact this depression is completely taken for granted. The rise of depression within the society, and particularly among the young, is very high. For me that is a part of the same sense of collapse of possibilities. Everything has already happened, and nothing can ever happen again. Now, many people may disavow this, saying, no, they don’t think that – but they do think it. It's wildly excessive, in the unconscious, no one expects anything much to happen, and there’s a cultural dimension to it.
In relation to depression, there are lots of people that I teach in their late teens or early twenties, who were born around the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and into global capitalism, who assume this is a seamless horizon of life and they are not even conscious that this is how they perceive the world. When I was their age, there was still a fire of struggle around what the reality would be. There will still be the occasional anti-capitalist demonstration, but there’s no real sense it could lead to overthrow of the system we live in. This new reality is at the same time overstimulating and boring, it’s a strange combination of the two, and it is also anxiety producing. It's an assemblage of technology and affect which is kind of disabling. That’s what I’m calling capitalist realism - this sense of us always being inside of a Matrix, that we can't get out of, a constant sense of distraction, moving from one thing to another. It's important though not to see it purely from a perspective of an older world that is now gone, which we can see as a Fordist world, of rigid organisation of work, in a pre digital era. We shouldn’t be nostalgic for all of that, but there are aspects of it that are worth being nostalgic about. There are potentials in this new configuration. But one of the things that is noticeable is a lack of negativity. Instead of a kind of narrative of negativity that there was up to the 90s, this ability of saying ‘no’ really, it is not a good time to be alive, it doesn’t really happen anymore. It’s there, an explicit refusal of negativity, that what you get is depression instead of that, a kind of implicit negativity.
Younger people can recognise it is not a good time for culture at all, it’s just not in lots of ways. With music – it’s just not as it used to be. We should establish it as a problem, and not be cheerleading our times. But the message is: you can't be negative, you can’t be down on it, it’s just miserabilism. Negativity is just built into the period in which we live in, it is a terrible period of reaction and restoration. I like this term from Badiou, that any period of reaction has on its side the advantage that is the latest period of history at that time, that it looks modern by the sheer fact there is nothing after it. I think that’s kind of a trick that is being played now: there is a period of reaction, pastiche, retrospection, but it still looks modern because there’s nothing that comes after it really.
I think we are in a “trad” period really, where you have trad music, trad rock, which only constitutes forms which change very little. No one would have believed in 1993 that things would stay like this and still be the same in 2010, it’s unimaginable that things have stayed so recognisable, ten years into the next millennium, [very similar to] ten years before. I think it’s a final argument, to me – irrefutable, against “poptimism”, the idea that things are so vibrant and dynamic – they’re not. The changes that we’re accustomed to now are small, they happen, but it’s not very good anymore. There’s an immense sense of inertia, and really one of the crucial things about capitalist realism is lowering the expectations. And corporate capital, in almost anxious, deliberate ways, had to massively lower what people expected from culture. Because it's easier to standardise and mass re-produce mediocrity. It’s much harder to reliably tell us something actually interesting. What happened is that people don’t expect that anymore. Those low expectations have to be engendered. The depression that people feel causes a dissatisfaction – 'come on, things are really great, it’s not a bad period' – but the depression figures tell a different story about what is happening.
But do you think it is specific to our time, this feeling of general hopelessness? Also, I guess we don’t have a time perspective enough to judge the 00s yet – the opinion on the 00s will definitely change, when we will have the next decade behind us. This brings me also to the fact you’ve been theorising a lot about the demise of the public sphere in general, on inter-passivity, that this has become the way people are dealing with each other now.
MF: There have been periods of restoration before, but I don’t think they have the same meaning as it does now; also it probably hasn’t happened for over a hundred years, I’d say. But in a broader sense of modernity - the sense of it that used to emerge into new cultural forms - one could see things change in significant ways in a relatively short period of time. I think the level of stasis now, of the last 15-20 years, is mind-boggling. Late capitalism has really fundamentally become defined by retrospection, [both] active and disavowed. So you get an increasing number of TV programmes that are about how it was back in the day, pretty much avowed in their retrospection, but then there are things disavowed in their retrospection. A classic example is indie music, bands like Franz Ferdinand and all this, which really, in every respect do sound exactly like things from 30 years ago. It’s a bizarre situation. The 30 years since then – there has been a slowing down of culture and of change in that period. And of course there have been periods of slowing down culture. But the specific features of the assembling job are different.
One of the things that is happening is a massive discrepancy between technology and culture. Up to the end of the 90s you could have heard the sound of culture ticking within the music, you could’ve heard technology. And the biggest sound signifiers in this decade have been Auto-Tuning in rap and r&b, which started in the mid 90s. What are the sound signifiers now that we haven’t heard before the past decade? There are none. So although the notion of technology is moving, the technology has moved on, it is not audible anymore. You can’t hear it.
What about such genres as grime and dubstep? You yourself coined the phrase “hauntology” in relation to dubstep, as a genre referring to the forgotten but still undead theories and concepts of social reality…
MF: Grime started ten years ago, it was here already in the previous decade. Dubstep is not new at all. All of the elements of dubstep were there already in the mid-90s, they just didn’t happen to actualise in that way at that time. The difference is between the thing that simply hasn’t happened yet and the thing that was sonically previously unimaginable. Dubstep was not sonically unimaginable in 1994. All of the materials were there really. Grime no one had thought about, grime was new.
However it is significant that that despite circumstances, dubstep didn’t happen [like that], as maybe the evolution developed in a very different way.
MF: But it has fallen back on itself. For jungle to exist there needed to be time-stretching, it was a simple as that. Until there were lots of Akai samplers there couldn’t be jungle. Because of the time-stretched beats, the sound of jungle was contingent on that technology. You can also hear time-stretching in the vocals, so it just couldn’t have happened before. With Dubstep, technologically it could’ve happened in the 90s. The reason it didn’t happen then and it’s happening now is exhaustion. You go back over unactualised paradigms from the previous time. Obviously the technology has moved on. In a way, there was massively affective music in the past decade, but it was the distribution of music and the playback of music, not the production of music, that was the point. We have seen the most momentous developments in the technology of music in the past decade, and effectively the most sure [of these developments] is the decommodification of music. I think that’s what’s happening. It is hard to imagine that in a decade music will be paid for, really, anything like it was before. This change now doesn’t really have an influence on the production of music at all. It seems, more to the point, technology changes, but culture doesn’t change. Not in the consumption or production sense of change.
On the other hand, this rhetoric or ideology of ‘exhaustion’ is something that has existed for the last 30 years. It’s become a certain kind of a story, a narrative, that is being told to us. Or there’s an aesthetics of ending [happening]. This may be a way of rejuvenating. Or if it is not a way of ‘rejuvenating’, it is at the very least some story, which we are telling ourselves to make this declining culture remain interesting to us.
Yeah, but like Evan Calder Williams said, the ending never ends. You're just stuck in this perpetual, fetid, endless half-life, half-death of things, where things never really end, they carry on without end. That is the oddness of it for me. I lived through this massive de-acceleration. What we’re talking about is de-acceleration more than exhaustion. [We got] used to things changing rapidly; changes by months or years, and then suddenly whole bits of time go when nothing changes that much. [You go from] some strange, literal culture of speed to now [which is] the culture of entropy; the endless end, that again, never really ends but it doesn’t seem to change that much either.
You think this entropy is exclusive to now?
MF: As I said, there have been moments like [this in the past]. But in terms of capitalism I’d say yes. If you go back to the time period that is involved, the 50-60 year period I’m talking about, you’d expect to see new developments by now. The thing is, even this narrative of exhaustion [itself] seems so exhausted now.
On the other hand, people seemed excited by the idea of the ‘postmodern’ and now it tends to be completely dismissed.
MF: I wouldn’t say completely. Postmodernism is not something you can look on from outside; you’re completely inside postmodernism. Everything that postmodern theory said will happen, has happened. And I think we just lose perspective on it. To come back to inter-passivity, Zizek took it from Robert Farr, who initially came up with it, in this idea of things acting in our stead. And one of the examples of this I talk about is anti-capitalist culture. A very peculiar syndrome really. In what I call completely dominant capitalist realism, nevertheless, mainstream Hollywood entertainment is routinely filled with anti-capitalist ideas. Taking Avatar, taking Wall-E, taking any of these examples - the corporations are always evil. And how did we get at the same time the most aggressive period of corporate capitalism and routine representations of capitalism as pure evil?
I think it has to do with the construction and functioning of capitalism itself, that sort of feeds itself on incorporating change, revolutionary changes. At the beginning you said that now we feel there’s no alternative, I guess that it is precisely because capitalism is mirroring society.
MF: The thing is it is already pre-incorporating the alternative and represents this in an uneasy way. The film does your anti-capitalism for you, so you can sit there, drinking your coke, eating your popcorn, and paying money to corporations, because the film is doing anti-capitalism on your behalf. But inter-passivity as a wider term - I think the term itself is a nice display of inter-activity. I think Baudrillard was really strong on this, deeply anticipating the forms of cultural capitalism that we’re now fully immersed in, to do with the fact they elicit participation from us, one isn’t a subordinate with the spectacle any more: you are required to join in. You’re part of the product itself in the sense that without your feedback the product can't exist.
When you started blogging in 2003, it was still quite spacious terrain. Blogging is an alternative space to the occupation of the public sphere by capital. And interestingly, after years of this, you came back to print, started to publish books again. Why did you decide to go back to this mode of circulation?
MF: All that I've said up to this point isn't supposed to be conservative: 'Oh, things used to be better.' But also things won’t get any better by me or anyone else saying they are good. That’s the irony - when there was a more vibrant culture, there was more refusal, criticism and negativity within the culture. In this culture, which is quite objectively, an unashamedly mediocre, retrospective one, there’s very little negativity, and those two things are related. We have to recognise: pessimism is not in us, it’s in the culture itself. In the low expectations, depression, recombinations of the already existing things. We have to accept that is the situation. That recognition is itself a way to leave that embedded pessimism. And I use negativity and say, these things are bad, they just can be de-normalised, de-naturalised. Not in the name of how things were before - the only point to seeing things how they were before is to denaturalise. Because there's a hyperstimulated boredom in contemporary culture; gossip is the dominating form. You don’t really want to know about Katie Price’s new boyfriend, but you sort of want to know about it. This is a form of distracted irritation really, you’re irritated, but you still have to know somehow. That is the dominating form of living in the times of reality TV. Because it’s so low level, you can’t get stimulated by it, but still you draw yourself to it. You just can’t help losing your time by looking at all sorts of boring things, the internet plays a great role in it. still stating that is a step forward to realise how strange the present moment is!
I think an initial step in breaking this scene is recognition, turning these things into symptoms. Initially it was a way of constructing an alternative collective space which has become the blogging thing, and here we can talk about unprecedented possibilities that are available now. I talked about how music has slowed down, but in terms of dissemination of writing, we take it all for granted that I can write something on my computer, publish myself and then someone in Egypt reads it.
What is the precedent for blogs really? Things like fanzines. But they are a local thing, it costs money to distribute them, you’d be really lucky to get my fanzine in Poland. The fact this conversation is taking place at all is an evidence something has happened. The sheer fact of it doesn’t mean much really, it doesn’t mitigate the mediocrity and the fact that people don’t listen really. What is important is a network which affects things. That is worth developing. You can think about the music press from the 80s and, to a large extent, the blogs that are much more sophisticated. Blogs are really defined through writing, where you formulate lines, outside of demographically defined spaces of print journalism. Yet the books have an impact blogs do not have. The transformation into a different physical form is an example of what Deleuze calls corporeal transformation; things have more status when in a book form. Also, although lots of my book is already on the blog, for some people it was easier to read in this form. I’m surprised by how much impact the book had. Most of the ideas were familiar, but actually when you put it in a book, it focuses them, with the internet it's harder to concentrate on them. The internet is addictive, but produces this sort of network stress. When you enter the internet, you immediately feel all the things you should be doing at the same time. Concentrating on the one thing you’re reading is almost impossible. You have 20 windows open at once, you're constantly checking your email etc. So a book takes things out of that space. The internet is good for distribution, good for constituting a network. But I think books consolidate that and take it to a different speed.
But what does it say about the readership and styles of reception? We are less modern than we think. I also believe that the book is a quite an eternal form.
MF: I used to be very dismissive about the mp3; I said that no one would buy them. Of course now I only listen to mp3s. I barely listen to CDs anymore. The reason for using mp3s is sortability – it’s really easier for me to find things, if I have them on mp3.
The thing is people don’t want to pay for culture anymore. I was just recently thinking about it considering poetry – there’s no demand for it anymore, so poetry is gradually disappearing from the landscape. Because poetry stopped being a part of the economic reality. And if culture will continue like this, people will stop thinking they’re supposed to pay for culture at all.
MF: It’s an interesting problem. We need new models for rewarding cultural work. Simply paying directly is not going to happen much anymore. Will the rest of culture follow the pattern of the music? If music has become decommodified, and it surely has for young people, they don’t dream of paying for music.
So on one side is everything we described earlier, inter-passive depressive individuation, everyone is on a terminal and under a network, i.e. everyone is networked but isolated individually; on the other side, there is this massive drive to share. The internet is definitely not determined by capitalism, but by people wanting to share stuff. If you look at Youtube or Wikipedia, these are things that people do, okay, maybe for some kind of recognition, fine, but it’s a pretty harmless thing to expect for this load of effort. I think it poses the problem of rewarding work.
And it's a culture of dedication, where people are doing things on their own because they love it. Amateur art.
MF: Neoliberalism states that people are only motivated by money, and fear in a way, but the culture of the internet depends on the impulse to share. Something can come from that. It raises the problem how people get paid though - I earn nothing for my work on the internet, but my status is based on doing things for free.
A difficulty we’ve got with Zero is the lack of a ceremonial or evental time. I don’t mean evental in a Badiouan sense – I mean it in a very banal sense. In the broadcast or print era, time was punctuated. A TV programme was broadcast once a week and to watch it you had to turn on the television at the exact time. Public space is created out of that evental, punctual nature of time in a way. Everything about that has collapsed now. With your iPlayer, you can watch TV anytime. How do things come together to constitute public space? There clearly is some kind of a public space out there, but it’s hard to experience it as such, [because of] a lack of the ceremonial quality of evental time. How do we constitute a public space under these conditions? Zero Books are trying to contribute to the creation of that public space. And no one knows what form it is going to be, because the old monoliths found themselves struggling. The nearest thing you can get right now is The X Factor.
The issue with The X Factor is it's not just a public event but creating a public space as well. I don't think we need to revolt against The X Factor especially; a challenge to it is a much more healthy sign. The X Factor is successful, because it generates its evental time and everyone watches. This is a very inclusive use of the word "everyone": from executives to old people. The utopian element to The X Factor is the fact that it's still possible to constitute a popular public space, even under the conditions of 2.0 culture (all of the earlier forms of media combined together, print, TV etc. are ailing, the internet is stronger but you can’t make any money out of it and despite all of this, something that everyone will watch can still be made). If it can be done for that nonsense, it can be done for anything else. You have to regard that space as worth competing for. You can’t say: "Oh, let’s be alternative, let’s make films, let’s experiment." In the 70s, even in the 90s, the experiment within culture wasn’t what it is now. People wanted to take over the mainstream, in lots of ways. One was not contented to be in an experimental niche. What happens now is that experimental preamble, a formation of a whole series of autonomous networks. Arts funding bodies, the festivals, which keep it going, which have no desire [to engage] the mainstream at all. Instead it’s a Bourdieu-esque kind of privilege of some people belonging to this experimental circle. And indie rock is no more experimental. It’s experimental by generic designation only. Partly why it happens is that this old circuit between the experimental and the public and popular has been removed. The experimental is quite conservative, in its own way, but it's also not mainstream. You’ve got the idea that there’s a popular public out there worth competing for, even experimental things will be come back. They will be allowed to go somewhere, beyond their niche. There is a kind of deadness in [experimental art], that comes from the fact they disregard public space. People like The X Factor judge Simon Cowell made their money on the presumption that you can never underestimate the taste of the public, he's always sold shit to people. If those people set the stuff for the mainstream circuit, we can always do better than them.
In a way it’s easy to be alternative, it’s easy to be in permanent revolt, to sit there. We have to have the confidence. The right wing have the confidence, they say, this is how we should live, we are the mainstream. The left always assume the position of marginality, they complain, 'we are the margins'. And yet we want to be the mainstream, we want to take it over!