K-Punk collects blog posts and interviews from a twelve-year period (2004-2016) by cultural theorist and critic Mark Fisher. Fisher, who took his own life in early 2017, is a key voice in understanding the cultural and political malaise we find ourselves in.
His three previous books are all essential reading for anyone wanting orientation in these times. The Weird and The Eerie and Ghosts of My Life show him at his penetrating, connection-making best. “Weird” is defined as “something where there should be nothing”, and he explores Lovecraft (obviously), David Lynch and The Fall. “Eerie”, conversely, is “nothing where there should be something” and allows him to explore Nigel Kneale, MR James, Tarkovsky, Du Maurier and Brian Eno. Ghosts of my Life is a more personal look at cultural artefacts from that end-point before Thatcherism: Joy Division, Sapphire & Steel and contemporary hauntology.
There are posts devoted to music and film (Ballard and Bowie, Kubrick and Cameron) in K-Punk, but in collecting dozens of writings on the politics of the time, this compendium is closer to his debut book, Capitalist Realism.
“Capitalist Realism”, Fisher argues, is the condition we now find ourselves in. It’s
“a belief that capitalism is the only viable political economic system…an attitude of resignation and defeat”
in which it seems there is no alternative to capitalism; in fact, that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
To be honest, although I loved this book, the section on politics is best dipped into here & there rather than read as a whole. Reading post after post – even though I agree with him on many points – does feel like being hit around the head after a while.
The final piece is the introduction to his uncompleted Acid Communism. Intended to be his next book, the introduction is all that exists. What we have is inspirational, but it’s tantalising to think what the finished work would have been like.
The left failed to properly engage, Fisher argues, with the developments in society unlocked by 1967’s psychedelic explosion. The right hijacked the popular demands for individualism, which ultimately led us – via the testing ground of Pinochet’s Chile – to Thatcher, Reagan and the neo-capitalist nightmare we’ve lived in for forty years.
The word “communism” – despite Marx & Engels’s incendiary, visionary manifesto – is of course forever tainted by totalitarianism. “Acid Communism” as a term Fisher admits is a “joke of sorts”, but one with serious intent. He urges us to return to the moment when the Summer of Love promised very real potential for societal change, but this time to harness that energy for the good of all. It’s far less fluffy-sounding than I’ve made it seem.
“The Sixties counterculture is now inseparable from its own simulation, and the reduction of the decade to “iconic” images, to “classic” music and to nostalgic reminiscences has neutralised the real promises that exploded then”
As politics spirals into weirder, more unpleasant depths, his is a voice we need more than ever. But K-Punk, even in its darker moments, always offers words of wisdom to help us plot a way out.
If you haven’t read any Mark Fisher, this maybe isn’t the place to start: his other three books are much shorter and more focused. If you have read them and want more, this is as good as we’ll ever get.
- buy K-Punk
Fisher, Mark: K-Punk (Repeater, 2019)