Mark Fisher an initial reading and reaction to his book Capitalist realism’

This thought provoking and brilliantly incisive book by Mark Fisher, brought me back to my earliest research on capitalism and the modern gothic, in the blog post I was fascinated by the connections with the arts and crafts movement and Carl Marx, the beginnings of the critique of early capitalism has helped me to probe deeper into this many faceted beast.

In His Book Mark fisher pulls back the curtain even further and challenges us to explore how we are complicit within this system now. He also looks at what Capitalism takes away in our societies and cultures and what is insidiously put in its place. not forced upon us but chosen by us in our self built cages of consumerist desire.

‘In the conversion of practices and rituals into merely aesthetic objects, the beliefs of previous cultures are objectively ironized, transformed into artifacts.’ (Fisher 2009)

Through the example of the film Children of men (2006) he looks at the differences and unseen power that lies beneath late capitalism, This also resonates for me with a previous Nerdwriter blog on the same film.

‘What is unique about the dystopia in Children of Men is that it is specific to late capitalism. This isn’t the familiar totalitarian scenario routinely trotted out in cinematic dystopias’ (Fisher 2009)

In this study Nerdwriter looks at how we disseminate media, and how it constructs our reality, he pays particular attention to the background, what is going on that the character doesn’t see. Which in the context of this post is crucial, and a technique that the Director Alfonso Cuaron has used elsewhere in his films such as Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) it shows us what we may normally look away from, and instead of viewing it through the filter of the characters eyes we are asked to become involved with the film on another level, to look and perceive through our own eyes.

It is of the upmost relevance for the film I am making to look at this hidden or largely obscured relationship we have with the modern world through the reality of late capitalism, It is the environment that of course my character like all of us has lived in and has created his life and to a large extent shaped his identity, when he is no longer able to form a functional and productive part within this system , at least within the twisted attempts at logic that capitalism suggests, he has almost nothing to hold him from his fall, with no familial group around him and lacking both economic and social validity his descent is swift and violent.

He has possibly never questioned the system itself, he has worked hard toward what appeared to be simple and common goals. without them he has to fight to find a fresh perspective, reality and identity.

Capitalism is what is left when beliefs have collapsed at the level of ritual or symbolic elaboration, and all that is left is the consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and the relics.(Fisher 2009)

If as is suggested by Zizek and Delueze in postscripts of control all realities are ideological at least in part of there construction, then we are quietly sleeping through the biggest heist humanity has ever seen, and we are all the victims.

The reality principle is not some kind of natural way associated with how things are … The reality principle itself is ideologically mediated; one could even claim that it constitutes the highest form of ideology, the ideology that presents itself as empirical fact (or biological, economic…) necessity (and that we tend to perceive as non-ideological). It is precisely here that we should be most alert to the functioning of ideology. (Fisher 2009 cited Zizek)

This inability to separate ideology from reality when it is mined for its potential to control does indeed begin to look a lot like the post modern condition or as Mark fisher refers to it ‘Capitalist realism’

‘there are three reasons that I prefer the term capitalist realism to postmodernism. In the 1980s, when Jameson first advanced his thesis about postmodernism, there were still, in name at least, political alternatives to capitalism. What we are dealing with now, however, is a deeper, far more pervasive, sense of exhaustion, of cultural and political sterility.’ (Fisher 2009)

So as Fisher goes on to state with the help of Delueze and Guattarri, the idea that capitalism would or could only pervaded the world of commerce is the biggest mistake ever made, it not only infects culture it begins to become it, event the way we critique or attempt to reflect becomes at risk from the ideological backwash.

As makers we are all bound to come up against this, and I believe the tired and cynical post modern attitude the fisher refers to is not only a product of capitalism, but an enabler, and indirect supporter of this ideology.

The ‘unnamable Thing’, the abomination, which primitive and feudal societies ‘warded off in advance’. When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis. (Fisher 2009) 

So how to combat this shape shifting monster that fisher compares with the thing of John Carpenter movie. If it is largely unseen and moves seamlessly throughout our culture and we invite it in sleep with it drink with it,  our post modern tools of reflection seem suddenly to lack the teeth they once appeared to possess. And I am reminded even more implicitly of the John Carpenter film the Thing (1982) that fisher briefly references.

This malaise, the feeling that there is nothing new, is itself nothing new of course. We find ourselves at the notorious ‘end of history’ trumpeted by Francis Fukuyama after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fukuyama’s thesis that history has climaxed with liberal capitalism may have been widely derided, but it is accepted, even assumed, at the level of the cultural unconscious.(Fisher 2009)

Where I still question Zizek is on this notion of total created reality through ideology, I think he takes it too far, I agree we create the societies and rules that end up governing us, and therefore shape our thinking, But is he really suggesting that this is the totality of our experience as humans? The sum of all we experience as reality?

As with a lot of his work I initially find myself excited and stimulated at his incisive mind,  his ability to strip away layers of social and political screening, and seek another understanding or reading, I love that he switches between supposed ‘high brow’ culture, and what is considered low brow, but where we always part company  is when I feel he falls into some form of rhetoric, I can sense when it is coming, he sniffles a little less and then ‘wham’ we are plunged into Lacanian psycho babble that still holds the faintly rotten stench of Freud, when will Marxist theory wake up to the fact that it’s tools for viewing and critiquing the human elements and effects of capitalism are inherently broken? They are broken precisely because they were largely forged in and of a time that was the birthing for the runaway monster we now call capitalism.

Freud was absolutely aware of his work in this context I am sure, he worked almost exclusively with the ruling classes and upper middle class. He needed to shape his thesis around these ideas and working with this material that is exactly what he did. The result that still rings out through history is a form of Alienation from self and society equal to that, that fisher talks about, and Zizek shows us.

This is why we need to continually look at the apparatus and processes that brought this apparatus into being, we are of course linked to historical ideologies and continually looking to shift into new spaces. What I am trying to say is this: Freudian methodology and in a lot of cases (though not all) theories, have, and continue to be a crucial element in the construction of capitalistic power, this idea of governing self, and self imposed prison is not inherent, it is constructed and can be clearly viewed on a systemic timeline, with both religious constituent parts in the form of protestant guilt over work ethic, leading to a hopeless position for us as a species. We become condemned through guilt to work and toil in this life with no reward other than ‘plastic’ goods and the promise of a realise in the end, better grab it while you can mentality. Combined with technological means of production started in the industrial revolution, are absolutely complemented not just by empirical science and these other powerful tools that should enable our emancipation as a species, but the acceptance of powerful new ways of viewing ourselves with the birth of psychoanalysis, the birthing of a new pseudo science that has ravaged its way through our culture and psyche’s  for over a 100 years.

It is not just the relationship between the worker and the manager or industrialist as Marx notes that has produced this damaging state of total capitalism, it is in the this relationship with work itself that we can find the fertile ground tilled for the seeds to be sown. we have over relied on science and science is not a form of ideology it is a useful tool or process. We have to find other ways of looking at ourselves and the world around us. our problems are not all enforced by others they are as Zizek states ideological in there nature, but we are far from drones, we have creative minds that are capable of seeing beyond these mere abstractions and forming new neural connections, new ideas and pathways.

then today’s society must appear post-ideological: the prevailing ideology is that of cynicism; people no longer believe in ideological truth; they do not take ideological propositions seriously. The fundamental level of ideology, however, is not of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (unconscious) fantasy structuring our social reality itself. And at this level, we are of course far from being a post-ideological society. Cynical distance is just one way … to blind ourselves to the structural power of ideological fantasy: even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, we are still doing them. (Zizek)

So we need to at least acknowledge that finding definitives is an impossible thing, finding working solutions to problems that can shift and change with the passage of time is a possible. We appear if not to be at the end of history as mentioned above then in a new uncharted area in which a great deal of our moral ethical and empirical rules seem to be inadequate to help us navigate. Surely this can offer us new challenges and opportunities along with the ever shifting threats.

The final word goes to Fisher and Nietche combined:

Some of Nietzsche’s most prescient pages are those in which he describes the ‘oversaturation of an age with history’. ‘It leads an age into a dangerous mood of irony in regard to itself’, he wrote in Untimely Meditations, ‘and subsequently into the even more dangerous mood of cynicism’, in which ‘cosmopolitan fingering’, a detached spectatorialism, replaces engagement and involvement. This is the condition of Nietzsche’s Last Man, who has seen everything, but is decadently enfeebled precisely by this excess of (self) awareness. (Fisher 2009)


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