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The Last Monday On Earth: Mark Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire
The Quietus , September 19th, 2020 09:10

Enrico Monacelli dives into a collection of Mark Fisher's final lectures

The metro was clinking and clacking away. It was the mid-2010s and I had just read Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life, my first real encounter with his writings and a work which has latched onto the back of my skull ever since.

As a millennial with a bone to pick with the world, the idea – vital to those essays – that pop culture and its emancipatory futures have been desiccated and stored somewhere out of my reach was more than appealing; it felt almost like the air I breathed. They presented frighteningly natural theses which reflected my existential and emotional landscapes in a surgical and precise way. They were intimate and true.

I started murmuring under my breath, almost compulsively, “Take care… it’s a desert out there”, the mantra which Fisher had dedicated to the Caretaker’s sonorous recreations of the halls and toilets of the Overlook Hotel, to protect myself from the clarity and the familiarity of this vision. I was a corpsed traveller in the arteries of a cold world, a world which Fisher dissected like no other.

As autobiographical as this first, depressing encounter might be, it is also artificial, constructed by the cultural landscape which inherited Fisher’s work. It is clearly not my raw experience of Mark’s writings – it is far too romantic to be the real deal, even though I would swear that the whereabouts are correct and that it is just how it happened. It is surely my encounter with those words plus the collective dreamwork that his readers have been weaving around them from their publication onwards.

After all, since Capitalist Realism saw the light of day – and even more so after his untimely death – Fisher’s work has been spoiled by a special kind of melancholia we all fell in love with, an almost fetishistic fascination with the most harrowing and ghostly sides of his pop cultural critique. In the span of a decade, the complexities of his work – and his literary neurosis, too – have been hollowed out by us, his fans (so to speak) and they have been replaced by an uncritical, never-ending sadness regarding the present and the future (or, more often than not, the lack thereof). Mark Fisher has become, in our not-so-idle hands, the one who wrote about our depression and about how everything under late stage capitalism is a ghost which simply repeats the empty shell of a lost future which never was, an idea repeated so often by his acolytes it has become the subject of a micro-genre of YouTube videos. Even the pop culture Fisher loved and commented on got dumbed down, eliding his elegies of Scritti Politti’s Lacanian pop, Drake’s mnestic deficiencies and desperate hedonism, or The Jam’s victoriously bittersweet mass-propaganda and reducing it to an anaemic crawl from Joy Division to Burial.

But everything forgotten is bound to come back and haunt us, Fisher’s lost complexities are no different. And come back they did, in the drastic and biting way which characterised Mark Fisher’s intellectual trajectory.

The first signs of the untenability of this depressing simplification came with the publication of the posthumous collection of Fisher’s blogposts, K-punk. At the tail end of this anthology stands a fragment that disquiets the vision of a straightforwardly melancholic Fisher, a remainder of a work yet to come and of the complexities yet to be discussed. The fragment, bearing the sun stricken title Acid Communism, revolved around the constant resurrection, under various guises – be it in 1968 in Paris, in Bologna 1977, or throughout the various baroque sunbursts of the psychedelic counterculture – of the idea of an unbound abundance beyond the drudgery of late stage capitalism, an idea which felt, more than once, not only probable, but even imminent. Nonetheless, this brief piece remained, even within the comprehensive anthology, a kind of pre-Socratic fragment, the unclear trace of a project which could have been but never was, providing, also, an alibi for even more simplified rehashes of Fisher’s unfinished business.

Precisely because of this open wound, these sunken difficulties and this unexhausted potential, the recent publication of Mark Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire, his final lectures at Goldsmiths College, edited and curated by Matt Colquhoun for Repeater Books, is immensely precious. Fisher’s last lessons are so vital because they feel familiarly alien and complex within Fisher’s own body of work, extending the ever-present rupture within his posterity.

The bleeding heart of this project is the yearning for a better life, the joys and failures such yearning brings. Contrary to the emaciated ravers and McDonalds outlets that dotted the drowned London which we have accustomed ourselves to while digesting the dirges of Capitalist Realism’s lost futures, Postcapitalist Desire is inhabited by the dim, and sometimes fading, aura of the generations of workers, students, and pop superstars who dreamt of an abundance which looks at once hopelessly impossible and painfully near. It stems from a form of fun and desire which have little to do with our present umbilical turn-ons and resentments, one that speaks to us through (quoting Herbert Marcuse), “the spectre of a world which could be free”. Postcapitalist Desire is a brief and experimental reconstruction of the march of our own consciousness towards a more thorough and sincere form of enjoyment.

Even the conceptual adversaries that Fisher takes up during these lectures possess a technicolour glow to them. They are not the all-encompassing sterility of capitalist realism and they are finally fully divested of the Derridean pomposity of words like hauntology. They are the quotidian ugliness of another Monday morning, a creature that humanity will hopefully eradicate, or the irrational restrictions of a world which would die of natural causes without its self-inflicted misery. They are banal, surely, but they require a quotidian cunning to work through them. They entail an ethical, political, and cultural work which shines a retrospective light on everything Fisher has ever worked on.

Nonetheless, this fun and these glows come at a higher price than our simplified doom and gloom. In fact, as Mark Fisher notes repeatedly and as Matt Colquhoun highlights in his introduction, these sort of joys require a careful patience, a thing which our misery never did and which makes the analysis of our failures much more interesting and complicated. There is a basic lesson underlying these lectures, expressed through the various iterations of leftist pop culture and theory considered in these pages, and it can be boiled down to the idea that we will not get rid of our pain by simply being or having more fun. We will have to pursue the slow trials and tribulations of a properly psychedelic and liberated reason. We will have to learn to endure the hardships of practical, political clairvoyance and to master the twists and turns of our freedom.

Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures of Mark Fisher is edited by Matt Colquhoun and published by Repeater Books