Cultural Theory, Political Theory / Repeater Books / November 15, 2018 – Reviewed by Jon Lindblom
Here it is, then, the final book by Mark Fisher (unless similar collections are published in the future): k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher 2004-2016, published by the Repeater Imprint that he played a central role in founding (like its Zero Books predecessor). It is a massive piece of over 800 pages that covers many of his writings on politics, mental health and popular culture that never were published in book form (or, in a few cases, not at all) during his lifetime, but which now have been assembled by Darren Ambrose for this publication (which also starts with a foreword by Mark’s long-time friend and fellow traveller Simon Reynolds).
Full disclosure (for readers who do not know it): I knew Mark for six years, from 2010 to 2016, when he was my MA- and then PhD-supervisor (with Kodwo Eshun) at the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University in London. I actually went there specifically because I wanted to study with Mark and Kodwo, because of their work with the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru) in the 90s. At the time, I was very much into Manuel DeLanda’s materialist/realist reading of Gilles Deleuze – which also had influenced the Ccru a lot, and their speculative, para-academic concept engineering stood in sobering contrast to the industry of bland secondary literature on Deleuze (particularly in cultural studies) that I had read up to that point. Yet when I went to London, I primarily knew Mark as a music writer, and was unsure about whether he was doing music studies or actual theory (I had not had a chance to read Capitalist Realism at that point). However, after a few months of speculative realism, accelerationism and what would later evolve into new rationalism, it had become quite evident to me that Mark was an immensely gifted theorist – and from there on started a companionship that lasted until his tragic passing (less than two months after I had finished my PhD – I think as the only PhD-student whom he supervised from beginning to completion).
After his passing, I have often found myself going through his k-punk blog while slowly coming to terms that there will be no new writings by Mark Fisher in the future. But he did leave a huge amount of texts behind – as is evident from this collection – for even though he only published three relatively short books, he wrote a massive amount of blog posts and articles both online and for print magazines. Hence, the value of this collection is perhaps mainly that it collects several of these texts in one place and puts them in the larger context of Mark’s progression as a writer during the (roughly) final decade of his life. More specifically, the book is divided into seven sections on literature, cinema and television, music, politics, interviews and ‘reflections’. Then there is also the unfinished introduction to what was to become his next book on acid communism, which probably will be the most exciting piece in the collection for those of us who already have read several or most of the other pieces in the collection. And it is a stunning text, which would have been the opening to a remarkable book that we now sadly won’t get the chance to read (although there are other outlines to what would have been its content available online, such as this talk).
Overall, the collection offers a good selection of Mark’s essays over the past two decades – including pieces such the crucial (although difficult to read now) ‘Good for Nothing’ and the excellent dialogue with Simon Reynolds on 90s rave and post-rave at the beginning of the 21st century – which in different ways cover his central ideas, such as capitalist realism, naturalised postmodernism, popular modernism and the socio-political causation of depression. There are a few pieces missing, though – obviously, given the huge amount of texts to choose from – such as his compelling takedown of Sonic Youth (and I am saying this as someone who likes Sonic Youth) and the larger cultural passage in terms of our understanding of alternative rock between no-wave and the bland indie culture of the early 2000s that it situates them within, his account of popular culture’s lost accelerationist dreams, and lesser known writings on cold rationalism. Then there are also a few crucial essays, such as ‘Post-Capitalist Desire’, missing – but I assume that is because they already have been published in other anthologies. Also, there are no reflections by other writers on Mark’s work, which is something that I also would like to read (including critical takes on it). But this is probably better suited for a possible future collection – that is, an anthology with people who reflect on Mark’s work and its importance for us today. I think that really could make for an interesting book – particularly given the span of Mark’s writings and the large amount of people in theory, politics, philosophy and art that he knew and influenced (from Ray Brassier and Robin Mackay, to Plan C and Jeremy Gilbert, to Kode9 and The Caretaker, and to Simon Reynolds and people at The Wire and The Quietus).
This also reminds me of why I went to the UK to study with Mark in the first place. Because after a BA of bland research that only circulated within academic institutions isolated from each other and from the rest of society, I had no choice but to look elsewhere. I wanted to engage with theory that does not simply describe the world as it is, but intervenes in and changes it – and does not hesitate to cross restraining boundaries between academic fields that seem increasingly out of date in a world that is becoming more and more complex and interconnected. This is probably what I appreciate most about Mark’s work, and which I think that the collection does a good job of communicating: theory as an interdisciplinary project of intervening in the present state of things, in order to change it for the better, at the intersection between academic and popular thinking. Indeed, in a world where capitalism keeps marching on, and where political and cultural Marxism are denounced as extreme, dangerous and totalitarian by people on the right, we clearly need ambitious visions of a different social order to counteract these global conservative forces. This is obviously where Mark’s work remains immensely important.
See also Jon’s longer essay on Mark’s life and thought, which is based on a presentation at a memorial-event that was organised in Sweden in 2017.