Capitalist Realism: 10 Years On — University of Huddersfield, February 2020

The University of Huddersfield have organised a conference on 15-16th February 2020 that will consider the legacy of Mark Fisher’s first book, Capitalist Realism, ten years on from its initial publication in 2009. As part of the two-day series of talks and lectures, I’ve been invited to give one of the two keynote lectures alongside Sukhdev Sandhu.

I’m intending to expand on a thought that was condensed to a paragraph in my forthcoming book Egress on the tendency of Mark’s two major concepts to be culturally conflated:

Whilst much has been made of Mark’s particular explorations of hauntology, in practice it has often been rendered hauntographically by others. The difference between an -ology and an -ography, following French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in his essay on literary symptomatologies, “Coldness & Cruelty”, is that the former “cannot be reduced to the elementary functions of ordering and describing” which constitute the latter, but it is precisely such an “ordering and describing” that we have seen hauntology be deployed in aid of. In this sense, hauntology — a Derridean pun on the word “ontology”, with its French pronunciation clashing with spectral associations when heard by Anglophonic ears — should be seen less as a description of the repetitive semiology of capitalist modernity and more as a study of its innate nature and its effect on us as subjects.

I’ll be expanding on how capitalist realism itself is a hauntographic term and how there’s still life in hauntology yet, as a cultural response to the symptomatology Mark first described in 2009, but only if we stop reducing it to the descriptions of the former.

You can find out more information about the conference here. I’ll post about this again in the new year, no doubt, once the whole programme has been announced.

Below is their introduction to proceedings:

In 2009, Mark Fisher published Capitalist Realism, an exploration of cultural product born from the seeming impossibility of any alternative to the established political and economic system of capitalism. In it, he establishes the key tensions manifested by a culture, artistic and otherwise, that has no alternative but to function within capitalist structures. Thus, culture becomes a mirror through which to understand and interpret these more nebulous political and economic forces.

Ten years on and circumstances under late-capitalism continue to transform in ways Fisher could never have anticipated. From the rise of socialist figures Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the emergence of the gig economy, to the complex and multifaceted reactions to the socioeconomic structures of our world that are Brexit and Trump. Meanwhile some of Fisher’s most enduring observations remain just as problematic today: the reduced power and the increased bureaucratisation of our public institutions, the ambiguous function of learning and further education, the increased productisation of creative thought and culture, the economic dominance of nostalgia, and rising mental health issues, simultaneously born from capitalism and ineffectively treated under it.

As Alison Shonkwiler and Leigh Claire La Berge highlight, “[Capitalist Realism’s] potential lies in its ability to address the limitations of postmodernism and to connect the postmodern more powerfully to the features of our contemporary political economic moment.” The Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM) will host a two-day symposium in February to reflect upon cultural products of the last ten years to gain some insight into the contemporary state of capitalist realism. What observations can be made from culture from the 2010’s as it relates to Fisher’s original text? How has capitalist realism been challenged over the last decade? What avenues have emerged to challenge the dominant narrative of culture under capitalism? And where do our current cultural products indicate where we are heading and what are the possibilities for creating change?

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