From Capitalist Realism to Acid Communism: an Introduction to Mark Fisher
Most of the writings of the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher began their life not as academic papers or monographs or fully wrought essays but as blog posts, online responses, and even internet comments. These writings—including those that would be later collected into his some of his most famous texts—reflect one of the most unique theoretical voices of the early 21st century: personal and scholarly, high modern and popular, “cybernetic” and classically interested all at once. One of the founding members of the interdisciplinary “Cybernetic Cultural Research Unit” at the University of Warwick in the early 2000s, Fisher created work conspicuously public facing, in constant conversation with practicing musicians, artists, engineers, theorists, and people in general looking for something beyond the official culture of what he famously dubbed “capitalist realism”—“the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” Examining everything from dystopian cinema to call centers to educational procedures and even toothless paint-by-numbers protest actions, Fisher embraced not only popular culture and forms, but also effortlessly synthesized such forms with bracing theoretical insight, all the while assiduously avoided modes of nostalgia. Combining eclectic interests in music, cinema, politics, ideology critique, mental health, literature, technology, and culture in its broadest sense, Fisher would probe the political, philosophical, and cultural meaning of collective capacities to imagine. Turning Margaret Thatcher on her head, he asked: is there no alternative?
In this class we’ll seek to answer this question through a reading of a broad selection of Fisher’s work. Beginning with the now classic Capitalism Realism, we’ll move to Fisher’s writing on music, literature, internet culture, his perhaps surprising engagement with Jacques Derrida’s “hauntology,” and his return to Marx, Marxism, and the critical theory of Herbert Marcuse. We’ll also explore several of Fisher’s musical, visual, and literary influences while trying to understand how and why Fisher reads these texts, what theoretical work they do for him, and his notion of “popular modernism.” From there, we’ll turn to some of Fisher’s most controversial work on mental health and the political culture of the left, and finally to his unfinished final text “Acid Communism,” which begins to recuperate and reimagine political and cultural roads not taken. In the end, we’ll ask whether Fisher was truly inventing or reanimating a “future” he thought was politically necessary or rather was on the cusp of helping realize a radically different present he did not live to see.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
May 12 — June 02, 2020
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