The other day I made the uncharacteristic decision to join a bunch of Mark Fisher-related Facebook groups. I don’t really use Facebook or like it very much but after some people shared posts about my book Egress in a couple places, I thought it’d be nice to say thanks and hang around their scenes for a bit.
It wasn’t long before I became embroiled in a comment thread about violent far-right Accelerationism.
I’m too far past the point of caring to claim that this violent “accelerationism” isn’t accelerationism proper. That doesn’t do anything to help anyone. But when I saw it said that Mark “wasn’t himself taken in by the right aspects of Land’s thought, neither was he particularly an accelerationist”, I felt like throwing in my two cents.
I don’t want to just rehash a Facebook debate here, however, or pour a load of scorn on someone commenting in good faith — this shouldn’t be read as being aimed at any one person — nor do I intend to “grandstand” a brief discussion by making it all one-sided.
The real reason for putting this here is that I felt something else coming through whilst I was adding a long and over-blown Facebook comment to that thread. I started to articulate something I’ve been thinking about for a while now — somewhat related to how I have never managed to connect with how Mark’s work is read and written about on Facebook — but haven’t actually managed to satisfactorily write down anywhere…
So here goes…
It’s no secret that I despair at the Jeremy Gilbert Zero Books Facebook school of Acid Communism — a sort of amorphous, transatlantic Breadtube-adjacent cottage industry that I think does a great disservice to Mark’s work rather than extending it in any meaningful sense.
The view of Mark’s work that I associate with these corners of the internet speaks to the two ways that, in my experience, it often seems to manifest:
- From the UK, it takes Jeremy Gilbert’s smattering of posthumous articles on Acid Communism and Acid Corbynism as being somehow representative of Mark’s planned project (instead of just being representative of Gilbert’s own under-developed ideas). [Addressed here.]
- From the US, it sees Acid Communism as some sort of grand political do-over at the end of Mark’s thought, taking it as an opportunity to erase the more “problematic” elements of his writings whilst injecting a sort of cultural studies malaise that I reckon Mark would have been bored to tears by. [Addressed here.]
The claim that Mark’s Acid Communism was a stride away from Accelerationism felt like an example of #2 to me — an attempt to sanitise his thought based on a misunderstanding of that thought in the first instance. This position was further clarified in the Facebook thread as being a separation between theory and praxis: Acid Communism was to be a plan of action whereas Mark’s involvement with Accelerationism was just philosophical musing. This, again, is something which I think Mark would have baulked at.
What this framing does is fall into the usual trap of conflating and separating various strands of Mark’s thinking in order to construct some relatively consistent and unproblematic vision which cherry picks and lessens the critical impact of his work on both the political left and right as it exists today.
To be clear, I think describing Acid Communism as a sort of “plan of action” is absolutely correct but to suggest that all of Mark’s prior theorising wasn’t implicitly baked inside that plan leaves his work open to precisely the sort of posthumous revisionism we’ve seen run riot across social media over the last three years. Put another way: I think Acid Communism was going to be Mark’s attempt to describe a course of (cultural) action in a way that he had not done previously (at least not in book form), but his desire to do this does not negate the importance of any of his previous theories and neologisms which would have likely found themselves brought together explicitly for the first time.
This sort of compartmentalisation has happened repeatedly within the reception of Mark’s work. Neither hauntology nor accelerationism, for instance, were formulated by Mark as plans of action. However, that has not stopped bad readings of both overwriting what was said in Mark’s texts themselves, turning them into approaches to culture and politics rather than attempts to describe tendencies within those subjects that we should try to escape from.
It has long been necessary that we learn to — as Simon Reynolds put it in his Memorial lecture — “bridge the chasm”.
Capitalist realism has notably managed to avoid this fate, which probably speaks to its absolute clarity in Mark’s thinking. The other two terms were somewhat collective coinages and this may have something to do with their persistent unruliness. It is worth emphasising here, for instance, the fact that accelerationism, in particular, was not Mark’s concept alone but he was supposedly the first to embrace Benjamin Noys’ scathing -ism and affirm it as a philosophical identity. In this sense, we can argue that Mark was probably more responsible than most for confusing the discourse around it with regards to the practical implications of its theses.
The same is true of “hauntology”. Whereas Derrida used the term to explore how Marxism haunts from beyond the grave, as a sort of positively conceived poltergeist, Mark’s use of the term — subtly different to how others were using it at the time — seemed to contain a similar sense of appropriative irony, allowing him to continue decrying the effect of postmodernism on popular culture that he’d been doing since his days at Warwick with the Ccru.
For example, in the essay “Pomophobia”, written in collaboration with Robin Mackay, Mark rails against the in-growth of hauntology within Derridean postmodernism, as a zombifying pathogen fuelling a contemporary academic impotence that was only serving to exacerbate the very haunting that Derrida was attempting to describe.
Describing this situation with an unmatched feverishness, Mark and Robin write:
Fed on the endlessly regurgitated brains of dead philosophers, post-structuralism degenerates into the spongiform Hegelianism it always-already was, proudly dwelling on its own desolate but strictly delimited ground while barely concealing its delight that we can’t escape from the narratives of modernity. Theory remains tethered to the “post”, given over to interminable rumination on what is superseded but, supposedly, never overcome. All texts are pre-texts — also post-texts — flimsy tracing papers colonially irrigated and preemptively captured by reassuringly dull, appropriately academic, subtitles. Pun colon verb definite article academic designation. “Jacquing off, Offing Jacques: Derrida, Lacan and the Self-referentiality of the Academic Subject.”
Rapid response is rendered impossible, the danger of embarrassing oneself by saying something that has not been rigorously automonitored, ruminated over for a punitively extended period of scholarly detention, is too great.
Nietzsche’s critique of the clogged digestive system of the West’s Last Men, itself often perversely interpreted as a metaphor, expresses all too acutely the constipated Eurocontinence of these constricted bodies, themselves minor fascicular elements of a resonant system of transcendental miserabilism disseminated across all levels of culture.
The dreary textocratic dribblings of post-theory are merely the transcendental idealist counterpoint to the empirical realism of postmodern culture. Kurt Cobain embodied what theory disembodies, the raging stomach pains which plagued him finding their disintensified correlate in the the chin-rubbing, brow-furrowing protocols of urbane academic anxiety. Smells like Hegelian Spirit.
Here we uncover the true dangers of Mark’s thinking — for others and for his own legacy. Like the contemporary political right, Mark had a penchant for appropriating and mutating, for his own academically perverse purposes, the terms deployed in earnest by his enemies. However, as interest around his ideas grows and the theory-curious look for Facebook group Cliff Notes, many often end up confusing Mark with those he sought to vanquish.
What must be remembered and affirmed here is that all of Mark’s most (in)famous philosophical associations — capitalist realism, hauntology and accelerationism — are attempts to describe the current circumstances within which contemporary capitalist subjects are formed and, to an extent, trapped. The lesson that the vast majority of people interested in Mark’s work have repeatedly failed to learn, however, is that to deploy these concepts and neologisms as forms of action is only to exacerbate the traps they seek to describe, just as the pomo academics did with Derrida before him. This happens as a result of people conflating these overarching concepts with other tendencies visible throughout Mark’s work.
Mark’s version of hauntology, for instance, is often explored today through the fetishisation of a late capitalist aesthetic that Mark made famous through the Facebook group “Boring Dystopia”. Mark’s attempt to wrest people from their complacency by drawing attention to the eccentricities of late capitalism — think of the world-weirding that takes place in Inception when “the dreamer becomes aware of the nature of the dream”, leading to its collapse — has instead been co-opted by the networks of communicative capitalism to simply perpetuate its arresting functioning. The zombifying pathogen that had previously infected humanities departments throughout the West, reducing cultural production to an impotent Cultural Studies, has now taken hold of Facebook groups across cyberspace.
(I have a section on this in Egress, for what it’s worth, in which I explore the way that hauntology has been reduced by many well-meaning commentators to be little more than a “hauntography”.)
Similarly, regarding the contemporary and popular understanding of accelerationism, I think the present state of the discourse is a result of the same process. It also seems to emerge from a scattershot reading of Mark’s works that conflates concepts and topics together, erasing their productive differences.
Take, for example, “Going Overground” — Mark’s much-loved post on popular modernism and The Jam. Reading it now, it sounds accelerationist — at least if you go by the typically leftist definition of what accelerationism is about and/or for. Mark writes:
The Jam, like The Who before them, drew their power from an auto-destructive paradox: they were fuelled by a frustration, a tension, a blocked energy, a jam. Discharging this tension in catharsis would destroy the very libidinal blockages on which the music depended – and this self-cancelling logic of desire reached its necessary conclusion in The Who’s smashing of their instruments.
Mark continues on this jam’s productive potential, adding:
We can apprehend yet another paradox here. What made this music culture so positive was its capacity to express negativity — a negativity that was thereby de-privatised as well as de-naturalised.
Here Mark is describing a paradox that is not contained within capitalism itself but within the capitalist subject. There is a certain reciprocity at play here, of course, but what is interesting for Mark is that, whilst capitalism itself might continue to perpetuate a paradoxical auto-destructive relationship, this has (relatively speaking) been exorcised from popular culture altogether.
Here again, the popular understanding of an Accelerationist praxis falls apart. Even if capitalism were capable of dying by its own contradictions, we haven’t been able to express our own for decades. Instead, rather than being in tune with this paradox as it exists within ourselves, we focus on other things, completely ignorant to the capitalist dreamwork of now, instead fetishising our awareness of it in the past through the very mediums that perpetuate its hold on us in the present. Again, Mark sought to draw attention to what we have lost and how we might regain it, not perpetuate a tone-deaf new age mindfulness through nostalgic psychedelic imagery.
This is to say that self-awareness itself is capitalism’s new hot property. Rather than address this, we simply demonstrate our own deficiencies.
Mark concludes, echoing this sentiment: “If popular modernism’s attempts to resolve the paradox of political commitment and consumer pleasure now seem hopelessly naive, that’s more a testament to the disavowed depressive conditions of our current moment than a dispassionate assessment of the possibilities.”
Here we must emphasise that pop modernism is a potential antidote to the crisis that accelerationism continues to describe. It is a description of one moment’s radical response to a sensation that has never gone away. It is a description of an unconscious tendency that has since been exorcised from popular culture. The problem with left-accelerationism, then and now — and, by extension, the Jeremy Gilbert Zero Books Facebook school of Acid Communism — is that it’s response to a post like “Going Overground” is less an interrogation of our current pathologies and more a rallying call for a bunch of Jam cover bands. It is YouTube essays and Facebook groups filled with inspirational posters featuring Terence McKenna quotes rather than any attempt to actually understand the paradoxes of the present and how they manifest in our political-aesthetic activities on sites like Facebook.
This is an irony shared by a lot of the violent far-right “accelerationists”. Their responses to the sensations the theory describes only demonstrates the ways in which they themselves are the subjects that accelerationism as a philosophical theory first predicted the emergence of and sought to critique. The elucidations of a thousand leftist Facebook groups only serves to demonstrate the same thing but from the other side of a political coin.
I should say that this isn’t intended to be a “wake up, sheeple” dismissal, as if I am coming to you from some privileged space of late capitalist enlightenment. It does, however, have something to do with the prevalence of a superficial ’60s aesthetics over any sort of cold rationalist self-assessment of contemporary habits and tendencies. We need to stop fetishising the aesthetics of a radical politics of the past at the expense of a cold rationalist interrogation of why the left is failing in the present.
This was why Mark still had time for Nick Land as a thinker. Land’s own pathologies are another topic for another time but his work nonetheless presents the left with a hard, cold mirror through which it might take a closer look at itself.
Mark wrote about this explicitly in his essay “Postcapitalist Desire”, in which he argues that it “is worth the left treating [Land’s] texts as something other than anti-Marxist trollbait … because they luridly expose the scale and the nature of the problems that the left now faces.” He continues by noting that they also “expose an uncomfortable contradiction between the radical left’s official commitment to revolution, and its actual tendency towards political and formal-aesthetic conservatism”. They also “assume a terrain that politics now operates on, or must operate on, if it is to be effective — a terrain in which technology is embedded into everyday life and the body; design and PR are ubiquitous; financial abstraction enjoys dominion over government; life and culture are subsumed into cyberspace…”
This is the danger of sanitising Mark’s thought of Land’s influence. Land is, in effect, the arch-realist capitalist. He watches the ways in which capitalism corrupts its subjects with glee, and the left’s impotent fetishisation of acid trips in Facebook groups becomes the embarrassing mirror image of an impotent far-right terrorism.
They are two sides of the same coin, woefully at the mercy of the forces they claim unconvincingly to attack.
The main thing to remember here, I think, is that it’s generally accepted that the course outline for Mark’s final postgraduate module at Goldsmiths — also called ‘Postcapitalist Desire’ — was to function as a testing ground for each chapter of his next book. It certainly reads that way in hindsight.
The introductory session was, essentially, a summary of the Acid Communist intro, in which Mark believed the key to a leftist future was the eradication of political melancholy through consciousness raising, popular modernism, and the speculative elucidation of a collective subject.
Week by week, he intended to explore the ways that this goal had become maligned, beginning with the central question surrounding May ‘68 — why do we desire our own oppression?
Then he was going to explore, via the technopolitical developments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, how this project has repeatedly failed but never died, from the violent suppression of the Allende government in Chile due to its interest in a cybernetic socialism to the communicative capitalism of our present touchscreen capture. Mark intended to end up writing about accelerationism and xenofeminism, considering what they had to say about our present moment and preempt the ways that capital reappropriates all critiques against it, instead looking at how these two modes of thought, with a radical self-awareness of their own alienation, might be able to help us stay one step ahead of capital’s cooptive curve.
Unfortunately, much of the discourse around Mark’s work fails to grasp this, because much of this is still not widely known. Instead a Mark Fisher caricature traipses from thread to thread, only serving to demonstrate how ruthless capitalism is and how we — and now Mark’s thought itself — is so susceptible to its capture.