- Mischa Dols
Introduction: My Mark Fisher Moment
Updated: Feb 9, 2022
Every week, without fail, I would get angry in my high school philosophy class. Aside from my raging hormones and general teen-angst, I was also tormented by certain texts for confronting me with philosophical difficulties that seemed to be unsolvable. I hated it when texts criticized one another without giving their own alternative. I hated reading something that crumbled the foundation of an idea thought previously (by little ol’ me) to be a genius, unshakable philosophical revelation without laying (even so much as) the blueprint for an alternative structure of its own. I would be angry for a week, staring at the ceiling in bed, frowning, grumbling, failing to formulate a response to these seemingly impossible philosophical conundrums - a worldview with no way out. This anger was, in hindsight, mostly caused by the course design; we went through philosophy chronologically. We would first read an author’s critique of their predecessor’s ideas and only in the next week did we get to read the novel proposal by this same author. However frustrating, this rollercoaster of emotions was eventually what kept me interested in philosophy. I felt urgency and rigor in the texts. They haunted me. Powerful philosophical ideas could not be ignored or sidelined. After reading certain texts, my view of the world could never go back to what it was before - even if I eventually disagreed with what the author had presented.
Despite the shortcomings of a high school philosophy course, one positive aspect of going through philosophy chronologically is that you have the best partners by your side to help you critique what you are reading. I had Aristotle to help me critique Plato, I had Kant with Aristotle and Nietszche with Kant. This leads me to my current readings and the subsequent frustration: I don’t have the same partner in crime in critiquing Mark Fisher. Fisher is able to cause the same ceiling-staring-sleepless nights I experienced as a teen. He has presented a relatively watertight worldview that I agree with and yet, with every fiber of my being, have to reject. There is no next-week-philosophy-class where everything will be put into historical context, for I am still living in a Fisher world. I have developed some sort of inner-voice that forcefully applies a Fisher-lens (note: a lens made up only of my simulation of his judgement) to my latest encounters with art.
Mark Fisher himself has turned into some Hauntological image. Perhaps what Marx was to Derrida in the original coinage of the term Hauntology is now Fisher for some cultural critics and myself. My newly found knee-jerk reaction to hearing contemporary music is “what would Mark Fisher think of this?”. I find myself trying to form an image of the future Fisher envisioned and then testing if my new favourite album or art-piece fits into that mirage. Unfortunately this thought experiment often leads me to a bleak and hopeless place. My internalized Fisher-voice is that of a cynic, who is painfully sharp in his critique yet unfertile in his praise. It is exactly that nauseating deadlock Fisher-voice puts me in.
In his critique of the deterritorialization/reterritorialization power of capitalism and its ability to render people (reflexively) impotent, Fisher manages to create some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Capitalist Realism is a sharp observation of our current political landscape, Hauntology is a relevant way of describing the mechanics of pop-music. However, they are both concepts that, ironically just as capital itself as D&G put it in Anti-Oedipus, function as anti-production. Both give borders to something that without them could potentially function as a multiplicity. The ideas themselves do exactly what they try to criticize . . . but as I’m writing this, I realize that the above is not completely fair to his ideas. He very explicitly invites the reader (and himself) to re-invent the future. The problem is that in his own writings he barely embarks on that journey of reinvention, often leaving you (at the end of a text) all packed but with no ship at the dock, leaving you to sweat under the heavy weight of your luggage. That’s what I find unproductive - his way of looking at things creates a paralysis that perhaps wasn’t even there before, like an electron freezing in place upon being perceived.
The absence of an imagined future in Fisher’s thinking can be seen in his love for Burial
(one of the few recent music artists that he praised). He appreciated not their ability to create a new future, but rather their ability to represent his own “downer” observations about society.
“Burial is haunted by what once was, what could have been, and – most keeningly – what could still happen.”
Fisher even seems to disagree with himself in this quote. The odd placement of the word “keeningly” suggests that he is, sadly, skeptical about “what could still happen” . . . and for good reason. In my opinion Burial is only successful musically in what Fisher is successful in with his writing: capturing a problematic status quo and mourning over a lost future. I am specifically using the word mourning here because I simply disagree with Fisher’s assessment of Burial, or Goldie for that matter, representing what could still happen (even in it’s there it’s overwhelmed beyond recognition).
I can barely handle melancholia already, but I am really tired of mourning. The idea of a lost future is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the art of imagining a future is also trying to find it and elevate it, things don't just "happen" by themselves. The idea of hauntological melancholia itself becomes the prison the future can’t break out of.
I am sad to realize that a part of the legacy Fisher left behind is cynical pessimism. For illustration, read this response to an interesting essay on SOPHIE's music.
This reddit comment serves as a great example of the inability to give new things value if it doesn’t pass the Fisher-test. I refuse to see things that way, yet it always happens because he’s just there, in my head. I can’t criticize Fisher because I agree with him, but I can’t agree with him because that would render my real experience of art and my own practice meaningless. I find that infinitely frustrating (it literally leads me to bang my head against the wall), but I will not give up. I want to find a way out, or at least an alternative to my Fisher-lens. I think an important first step is to recognize the impact and affect certain contemporary artists have on me and others around me (being online or in real life). Secondly, I have to see that experiencing cultural change in real time is not the same as looking back on it. This means that although it may seem highly incremental in the moment, in retrospect there is a meaningful development happening. Lastly, I should keep my eyes open for new strategies and ways of progressing art where I am not just a bystander, and I must use my own practice and platform to accelerate movements that affect me. The internet, with its endless supply, posed us with the challenge of curating rather than only reacting, things aren’t presented to you as they were in the past. You can’t just go to that one concert in town and simply react to it. It is everyone’s own responsibility to contribute to the spread of cool music.
And that’s why I decided to start this blog. I want to take Fisher's request seriously and seriously try to imagine a future beyond neoliberal capitalism and its aesthetic geschwister. The form being a blog only seems fitting to his legacy.I will try to break free from the ghastly chains of lost futures and set my gaze on practice that, in my opinion, is already successfully giving us ideas to work with. I am referring to (music) artists, writers, friends, meme-accounts, orphan internet comments and occasionally cinema. This blog will be a way for me primarily put in words a strategy needed to create work that will successfully imagine a desirable future, secondarily simply share affect and (links to) work I find important to share, and lastly, ideally, create some kind interaction with others on the mission, in order to support each other.