Forlag: Repeater Books (Storbritannia)
In Mark Fisher's universe, fashion, resistance and modernity are sewn together seamlessly. The plan was originally fifteen lectures, but only five were held. For Mark Fisher did not show up at Goldsmith University after the Christmas holidays, due to a tragic suicide. His latest lectures have now been published as a book extensively edited by one of his students.
The message of the lectures is: If the left is ever to become dominant again, it must open up to the desires that have emerged under capitalism, not just reject them. We can not wish for anything radically different, we must start with what we have today, and move on. If we do not, we end up with a situation where capitalism is the only system that represents desire – in the form of technology, creativity, dynamism, yes, fashion – while anti-capitalism represents a suppression of this longing.
Fisher wanted to challenge the idea that capitalism is the only force associated with desire.
Fisher wanted to challenge the idea that capitalism is the only force associated with desire. This performance is partly the fault of the left itself, he argued. In Postcapitalist Desire Fisher wanted to challenge certain strands of today's left: "We have this vision of a kind of political project, on the one hand, and desires on the other, so that in order to achieve this political project we'll have to subdue our own desires." This is the tendency that Fisher sought to challenge.
Awareness raising of ideology
For Fisher, it is symptomatic that parts of the left have become reactionary. The only thing it can do is oppose capitalism, but rarely fight for a better society. That is, look ahead. In the unexpected bestseller Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009) he tried to describe precisely how even the left, albeit subconsciously, views capitalism as the only real alternative – and this despite capitalism's relationship to both social unrest and the impending climate apocalypse.
Fisher's first lecture from 2016 has post-capitalism as an opportunity through awareness raising. As Marxist György Lukács, feminist Nancy CM Hartsock and other feminists did in the 60s and 70s. Class struggle, anti-racism and struggles against sexism share a need to see how daily life is reproduced on the basis of an abstract structure – which is not necessarily given in itself.
For as Lukács points out, the immediate world appears as given. The workings of racism, patriarchy or capitalism is not always obvious. On the contrary, it is common for the oppressed to blame themselves if something goes wrong in life, and not the real overall problem – which ideology tries to hide at all costs. Raising awareness turns this around, removes self-loathing and creates the power to take us beyond capitalism.
For Fisher, it was no coincidence that the struggle for women, the civil rights movement and communism emerged simultaneously and together in the 60s.
The consequence of becoming class-conscious, and aware of other oppression, Fisher argued, can be perceived as "psychedelic" and "trippy", because when consciousness is raised, reality changes: "in being lifted out of [immediate] experience, you’re broken out of ideology ». Where the ideology says that nothing could have been different than it is, everything suddenly becomes clear – everything could have been different.
Popular culture and class struggle
In parallel with the lectures, Fisher also worked on a book manuscript that had «acid communism» as a working title. With the metaphorical use of the counterculture's favorite drug from the 60's, Fisher wanted to make us aware of how awareness often takes place on a much larger scale than the awareness groups of the 60's feminists – namely through popular culture.
In the lecture "Union Power and Soul Power", he shows how cultural expression not only creates identity, but also affects our consciousness. He saw nothing less than an untapped potential in the counterculture of the 60's, a potential that constantly haunts us. For Fisher, it was no coincidence that the struggle for feminism, the civil rights movement and communism emerged simultaneously and together in the 60s. Wasn't this precisely a golden cultural moment? "Music would feed into the struggles; the struggle would feed back into the music", Fisher points out, arguing that music worked as an anticipation of a world that could have been free, of a life without work – music as a "performative anticipation of a radically transformed world".
The problem, however, was that popular culture and class struggle never managed to become completely one. In the 1972 US election, Fisher points out, Richard Nixon crushed Democratic presidential candidate George S. McGovern. Without saying yes to Nixon – who fought for an idea of a reactionary working class and middle class reminiscent of Donald Trumps – the unions equally distanced themselves from the Democrats, as they were perceived as associated with "freaks" and hippies.
Fisher sums up the problem as follows: "The forces of desire for counterculture were saying, ‘well, we don’t need organised labour’. Organised labour is saying, ‘well, we don’t need the forces of desire. We don’t need that. That’s disruptive’'' Here lies the possibility of an anti-authoritarian left, Fisher tells his students – where the post-capitalist desire is this interconnection.
Fisher discussed the fashion expressions of music and counterculture. As his friend Owen Hatherley wrote in a beautiful obituary, Fisher dreamed of a "constantly morphing musical subculture, a working class dandyism (he longed for the day that working class youth would stop wearing sportswear), self-education, solidarity."
In a crucial text called "Postcapitalist Desire" – a precursor to the lectures, which was published in the collective manifesto What We Are Fighting For (2012) – Fisher wrote that it is a fallacy to believe that resistance is the opposite of being fashionable. He therefore referred to the concept that more than anything expressed what he meant: radical chic.
It is a fallacy to believe that resistance is the opposite of being fashionable.
The term, which in Norwegian is called radical elegance, only appeared in passing in Fisher's text from 2012. It was originally used in a derogatory way by the journalist Tom Wolfe in a longer article in New York Magazine in 1970 about the composer Leonard Bernstein, who held a dinner and fundraiser for the Black Panthers. For Wolf, the party in Bernstein's penthous apartment in New York represented little more than the rich posing as radicals. For Fisher, who so often turned the conventional upside down, the problem was that we had too little radical elegance: "For didn’t the moment of the left’s failure coincide with the growing perception that ‘radical’ and ‘chic’ are incompatible?".
Fisher's point, of course, was not that the posing of rich people is good. But with the old term radical chic he wanted to show that radicalism has been synonymous not only with lust but also with desire, independent of rich composers. Just look at the style of the Black Panthers.
The radical left
The opposite has been the case for a long time on the left, where anti-capitalism in many places – including representations in popular culture – has become synonymous with an unappealing anarcho-primitivism: a reactionary desire to reset the clock. "Instead of the anti-capitalist ‘no logo’ call for a retreat from semiotic productivity," Fisher asked in 2012, "why not an embrace of all the mechanisms of semiotic-libidinal production in the name of a post-capitalist counterbranding?"
There is a danger that we will end up with a kind of appropriation that Wolfe identified in 1970, as the cultural critic Thomas Frank in the 90s in a similar way would call «rebellious consumption» to describe how the counterculture was commercialized. That is, how you could buy a rhetoric but not a politics, as the literary scholar Mark Greif described the term as he in 2010 again applied it on the hipster. Greif published his analysis in the same place as Wolf's critique of radical chic exactly 40 years earlier, in New York Magazine: "Hipsterdom at its darkest," Greif writes, «is something like bohemia without the revolutionary core.»
An idea of a reactionary working class and middle class reminiscent of Donald Trump.
According to Fisher, the left should take a positive view of the opposite of the nostalgic and exclusive hipster or conservative anarchist who likes locally produced food. Yes, it should rather cultivate technology, automation, reduced working day, yes, even popular aesthetic expressions such as fashion rather than a return to a pre-capitalist agricultural society. If the left locks itself in the latter discourse – something perhaps especially today's environmentalists risk doing – capital will forever appear as innovative and progressive, and the left as reactionary.
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Desire is more than anything else expressed in fashion. Fashion is in a counterintuitive way the opposite of ideology. Where ideology says that nothing can be different, fashion says at its best that everything could have been different. In the book Ghosts of My Life (2014), Fisher analyzes past visions of the future – how the dream of a foreign future has disappeared from today's popular culture. In the past, the music culture and its fashion culture and its fashion "played a major role in preparing the population to enjoy a future that was no longer white, male or heterosexual, a future in which the relinquishing of identities that were in any case poor fictions would be a blessed relief."
Vogue and radical elegance
The left must embrace desire. For example, as the Norwegian band Sliteneliten in their new, self-titled song in an utopian fashion sings "Replace the working day with the kindergarten". Or so the folk song-band Carefree has shown that political song still has its place.
We also find optimism internationally, where less nostalgic and more modern and popular cultural expressions abound. The radical elegance of a Teen Vogue. They not only report on fashion; their writings on current political struggles related to sexism, class struggle and anti-racism have also become a sensation. The fashion magazine's political editor, Lucy Diavolos, actively uses Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin in an article stating that the system that produced Trump still exists. Still, she is hopeful: "Black Lives Matter uprisings dramatically reset the horizon of possibility in my brain", writes Diavolo in a psychedelically way.
Where Teen Vogue has become radicalized, the British political media platform Novara Media represents a kind of chicification of politics. There ideas of "Fully automated luxury communism"are spread, which is also the title of the book by one of its founders. And is it not a bit Fisheresque about Novara editor Ash Sarkar – aka «Anarcho-Fabulous. Luxury-Communist. Walks like a supermodel. Fucks like a champion » – and her remark on TV that she «LITERALLY is a communist»? Yes, is not the fact that you can buy a T-shirt with her claim, an expression of a post-capitalist counter-marketing?