by Alex Andrews
Mark Fisher’s book ‘Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?’ is a persuasive diagnosis of contemporary society, an analysis of its political impasses and a call for fresh organization and thought.
Capitalist Realism for Fisher describes the core of today’s ideological moment, particularly in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Weekend-read short and written in a highly accessible style, Fisher’s work is “intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist” (in the words of Zer0 book series programmatic statement), attempting to bring the work of high theory and political economy to an informed citizenry, carving out a public space for debate that intends to have direct political impact in an ideological stagnant age.
From Spinoza to Deleuze to Wall-E, from Supernanny to post-autonomist theory, Fisher is not afraid to clash high theory with a well-known illustration to startling effect. An insightful blogger at k-punk, outside of this book Mark has been influential in bringing Derrida’s concept of hauntology to music criticism, working through Simon Reynold’s notorious hardcore continuum thesis regarding electronic music and, more recently, providing one of the most interesting commentaries on the World Cup Finals at the group blog Minus The Shooting.
Ceasefire talked to Mark Fisher about his book, education, the internet and the prospect of moving beyond capitalist realism.
Can you define ‘capitalist realism’ for me?
Put simply, capitalist realism is the view that it is now impossible even to imagine an alternative to capitalism. Capitalism is the only ‘realistic’ political economic system, and, since this is the case, all we can do is accommodate ourselves to it. This leads to the imposition of what I have called ‘business ontology’ – a version of social reality in which every process is modeled on corporate practices.
Thus, we’ve seen the gradual incursion into public services of forms of bureaucratic self-surveillance (performance reviews, mission statements and so on) that have their origins in business. There is an aesthetic and cultural dimension to capitalist realism too. The concept of capitalist realism was meant to echo socialist realism, and, just as socialist realism was a retreat from the abstraction and experimentation of modernism into the familiar and the familial, so capitalist realism trades on a drab and reductive sense of what reality is. It’s no accident, for instance, that the most successful entertainment format over the last decade or so has been reality TV.
What would be a recent example of the phenomena of capitalist realism?
The bank bailouts are the most spectacular example of capitalist realism we’ve yet seen, and the cuts that are now being imposed come out of the same logic. The bank crisis of two years ago was a major shift from the high pomp of neoliberalism, when it was held that the so-called market would automatically provide the answer to any conceivable problem, to a new phase.
The justification for the bank bailouts was that it was unthinkable that banks should be allowed to collapse, as succinct a statement of capitalist realism as you could wish for. Capitalist realism hasn’t weakened since the bank crises; if anything it has intensified. But now that it has lost the sheath of market utopianism to protect it, capitalist realism appears in more raw and exposed form, which I expect to be massively contested over the next few months. In Britain, the new coalition government has enjoyed a period of phony peace. But I expect this to be interrupted very soon, once the anger that is simmering here finds outlets.
Read More via Ceasefire Magazine – Interview: Mark Fisher