Egress and the Vampire Castle: A Letter to The Wire Magazine

To whom it may concern,

Please find below a response to a review published in your most recent issue (May 2020, issue 435), considering two books on the work of Mark Fisher. Considering the inaccuracies and mischaracterisations present in this review, I would appreciate its inclusion in the letters page of your next issue.

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Your review of my book Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and Mark Fisher and Macon Holt’s Pop Music and Hip Ennui was not a review of two books but an excuse to attack a seven-year-old essay, perpetrating the kind of careless mischaracterisations of Mark Fisher’s thinking last found in the online comments boxes that helped drive him from social media.

The main concern of this “review” was Fisher’s 2013 essay “Exiting the Vampire Castle” — an essay all the more relevant to our present moment considering the recent political defeats of the left — misrepresented by your reviewer as a “wholesale dismissal of feminism and critical race studies”, a discredited and ungrounded reading that exemplifies the sort of cliched sloganeering Mark sought to critique. His essay (not my book) was an (undeniably controversial) attempt to decry the weaponisation of Twitter to deflate consciousness and discourse on the left, attacking those who would seek to derail the left through self-aggrandising personal grievances and self-righteous grandstanding. The target here was not women or minorities, but the ways in which any mode of political thinking is put to use in bad faith, creating a negative feedback loop of micropolitical battles that waste time, energy and resources. In particular, he found the communicative-capitalist function of Twitter undermined the principles being espoused by those on the “left”, who use it to signal their virtue for likes and retweets rather than progressive ends.

Mark’s sense of a movement — and movement-building — is what my book Egress seeks to engage with. Your reviewer is entitled to make a judgement on how successfully I do that, but it is disingenuous to ignore the evidence within the book that clearly undermines the argument being espoused in the review, simply to make reductive digs at Fisher’s legacy. My hope is that the book is a testament to the continuing power of Mark’s work that emerged profoundly after his death, specifically forms of collective organising that continue to influence London’s political, academic and club scenes today. The events documented depict a continuation, on our part, of the force Mark brought into the world, rendering the final judgement of the review — that “the sort of solidarity Fisher spent his life dreaming toward … couldn’t [be realised] alone” — as wildly unkind as it is hopelessly incorrect. 

Mark Fisher was decisively not alone. The real tragedy is that he did not always see that. Friendships came and went as friendships do but those in the immediate vicinity of both his life and death can still attest to the power of movement-building he brought to an ambitious cross-section of industries and pursuits. To tarnish his legacy in a magazine of The Wire’s standing is inexplicable. Those who disliked him in life may not think Mark deserves much better, but the communities that he built and expanded most certainly do.

Matt Colquhoun

The above letter was sent to the editorial team at The Wire magazine a few weeks ago. I’m grateful to The Wire for including it in the following issue (issue 436, June 2020) on their letters page. I am also grateful to have had Repeater Books’ full support and encouragement in writing it.

To provide a little bit more context to a letter kept intentionally short so as to make it printable, the need to address this review emerged from an ongoing frustration with the impact of some misguided comments that conflate the fraught nature of some of Mark’s interpersonal relationships with the validity of his ideas. At their worst, these comments share the same ring of snarky cynicism that Mark hated in Louise Mensch’s infamous critiques of the Occupy movement, as if to say Mark’s writings on communicative capitalism and communism could not be taken so seriously because he fell out with people online. They also restrict Mark’s thought to a moment that he had moved on from by transforming his negative critiques of the “Vampire Castle”, and the landscapes of communicative capitalism more generally, into a series of positive and productive grassroots projects.

These two modes were persistent and I personally do not think that Mark’s desire to build communities IRL was undermined by the occasional coldness of his writing, online or in print. [1] In fact, it was the explicit combination of these two modes that I believe was emerging into a new and vital synthesis through his Acid Communism writings.

Take, for example, “No Romance Without Finance”. In this essay, written for the political organisation Plan C, Mark wrote far less polemically about his view that consciousness raising (as an explicitly feminist practice) could be expanded within our present moment to include any and all minority positions, all whilst avoiding the disarticulation of class and the deflation of what he called “group consciousness” that has affected left-wing discourses since at least the 1970s. The argument, at its core, remains true to “Exiting the Vampire Castle” but Mark has changed tact. And yet, he no doubt remained aware that construction sometimes requires a bit of demolition.

The review in The Wire unfortunately failed to take any of this additional work into account, remaining stuck in 2013. Suffice it to say that Mark’s thought was far more expansive, inclusive and sensitive than this review makes it out to be, and I have the receipts to prove it, with many of them appearing in my book.

For transparency, I should also add that Emily Pothast, the reviewer in question, did later email me a virtual olive branch, having seen my originally disappointed tweets about this review, explaining that she did in fact enjoy reading Egress and that she was surprised to read that the review had been interpreted so negatively. It may well have been the case, as she claimed, that the tone I perceived was the opposite of the one intended, which was a tone of great sensitivity. If this was absent, it was because of the brevity demanded by the medium rather than any ill feeling. She also explained that the final judgement (also mentioned in the letter above) was meant to be a positive comment rather than a scathing judgement on Mark’s legacy. I have struggled to see how this could be the case, however, considering the overarching nature of the claims made. Whilst individual comments, the conclusion in particular, could be interpreted differently in isolation, taking the review in its entirety and viewing each comment in the context of its neighbouring judgements makes Pothast’s claims border on gaslighting. As such, this was an unfortunate exchange that I would much prefer to put to bed.

Regardless, my feelings about the review remain the same: this piece was either badly researched, badly written, or both — and I am certainly aware that, sometimes, things just turn out like this despite our best intentions. It is because of this that my frustration was not directed at Pothast herself but at the editorial team at The Wire. This is what editorial teams are for and The Wire‘s editors had a duty of care to consider how unkind this piece appeared to be, not to me but to Mark and his legacy. It is because of this that the letter was addressed to them rather than Pothast herself.

[1] I’m reminded of Mark’s discussions around the implicit Spinozism of Stanley Kubrick here. He once argued he is “only interested in Kubrick the ‘author’ insofar as ‘he’ is manifested in the work.” Adding that he makes “no judgements whatsoever about Kubrick’s personal sensibilities or humanity. For ‘Kubrick’, read ‘Kubrick’s films.’” Whilst I have recently been chastised for misrepresenting Mark’s thought myself, and apparently suspending judgement of his person (or other people even) in favour of holding onto some grief-stricken and indeterminate “other Mark”, I feel like the balancing act being defended here remains true to Mark’s own project, in which his care and generosity offline is distinct from his online camouflage, just as Kubrick’s apparent interpersonal warmth was distanced from the cold rationalism of his filmmaking style. I think Mark aspired to much the same thing, albeit through the new medium of the blogosphere (and his other writings more generally). (This is a similar disparity I am described as having myself and I’m fine with that.) Just as he describes Kubrick, I believe Fisher also “evokes the desubjectified affects of awe and dread, rather than the compulsory, socially-endorsed, ‘warm’ emotions of empathy / sympathy, as homage to a universe whose indifference entails not pessimism, but freedom: freedom from the miserable prisonhouse of the human.”


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