Politics and Joy

Every time an election happens, I’m left wanting to pen something rousing — win or lose — but it’s impossible. Mark Fisher said it all already.

“Democracy is joy”, he wrote in 2015 (quoting Carl Neville quoting Alexis Tsipras). He notably wrote that after the left, around Europe, had once again been defeated. Today, that statement feels more self-evident. Seeing the joy currently erupting across America over the fact that either Joe Biden has won and/or Donald Trump has been defeated makes that clear. At the risk of contradicting myself two days ago, Fisher’s words nonetheless bear repeating.

Is Biden the ideal candidate for the left? Hardly. But the schadenfreude of Trump losing is euphoric even from this side of the Atlantic.

Most seem pessimistic about the future regardless. At worst, a Biden presidency will reinstate the long shadow of the Obama years — a return to neoliberalism as usual — but 2020 isn’t like 2009-2017; nor is capitalism in 2020 anything like capitalism in 2008. Capitalism has been mutated by this pandemic and the world needs to respond to the changes made. Trump was never going to do that. Will Biden?

I’m hopeful that the next four years will at least be better than they could have been. Maybe it will turn out that this hope — I’m not euphoric enough to be confident — has been misplaced. But I am hopeful because, for the first time in a decade, the usual polarity of “evental politics” is inverted. For Fisher,

the narrative of evental politics since the late 1990s has been reliably repetitious. Euphoric outbursts of dissent are followed by depressive collapse. Eventalism is the manic flipside of the general depressive tendency in boring academic Marxism — in which an ostensible Leninism / Maoism (everything will change after the revolution!) obfuscates a de facto Adornianism (nothing could ever happen, everything is bad, so we might as well keep on taking the state’s pay cheques). The whole rehabilitation of the status of Philosophy itself in the past couple of decades — the reversal of the democratising move to Theory, and the colonisation of what is now called Theory by third-rate obscurantist “Philosophy” and curator-speak babble – is a sideshow, of course, but a symptomatic one. The sour comedy of academic philosophical Leninism and Maoism can now be seen as one of the last acts in a postmodern shadowplay — a pantomime in which we are condemned to the role of interactive audience, tweeting our responses onto the screen behind the main players, who carry on regardless.

In 2020 — the long 2020 — this euphoric outburst follows rather than prefigures our depressive collapse. That’s important, I think. The cynicism on Twitter regarding the side-lining of Theory following Biden’s victory is understandable but also unfortunate. This joyful moment isn’t a mirage to move on from so we can get to work; this joyful moment is where the work should begin, and with a new vitality.

By all means retain your critical eye, but your hard nose helps no one, least of all the left. Politics, like capitalism, is libidinal — for better and for worse. I wager many more people will be excited to get to work now than they would have been if Trump won another term. So, let’s make the best of it.

Fisher again: we shouldn’t get carried away but this moment is nonetheless significant. “If political change doesn’t happen through events alone, there are nevertheless moments which function as thresholds, opening up a new terrain of struggle, and allowing different collective emotions to propagate.” That was what we felt at Goldsmiths, in negative, after Mark’s death. I’m personally very thankful to have a reason to be cheerful for a change.


  1. I have to say, I’m a little surprised…
    The dems shouldn’t have won. They had another lesson to learn after Clinton (e.g., 1. you can’t hide in the Hamptons while your opponent does 2 rallies in 2 separate states while taking interviews from both sides; 2. you can’t run a reactionary campaign with no message other than “my opponent’s a ‘BAD BOY!’”). The dems should have redefined the party, figured out what they even stood for because I couldn’t find a single dem that could tell me what agenda or piece of legislation they were excited about other than hate-speech about Trump. I honestly can’t believe the old guard was wheeled out and the US bought it. At least for the first time in history—someone was charged with running on their word! If Biden doesn’t deliver they’ll just distract with more race and restroom-potty issues to keep voters hyped-up (typically on matters not related to government in the first place)—learn 2 more lines of Spanish and dangle another carrot that the people will never receive. But boy, do we just love hearing about free sh*#! and never getting it. It would be worse if we did, actually, and even Biden knows that…but we’d have to unplug a few more automatons to have that conversation. What a disappointment! Seriously Xeno, next time both sides don’t want a candidate—ask yourself what this guy might be doing right! Do you really think anyone but a Rockefeller could have got in their on a real agenda they believed in without being turned by lobbyists, at the least…? This was the best we could do to get them out of power. Look, the Republicans we hated in the Bush era—no longer exists. The Boomers have had their reign and they turned establishment long-ago! I think we’ve honestly hit another 100 year inversion. What we despised the Republicans for in the 90s is precisely what I despise the Dems for today. Party of civil rights my a*#! Between the Neo-McCarthianist BS they pulled about Russia and this new Red Scare (which all started from a joke about releasing Hilary’s emails—a felicity error in non-literal meaning on part of the dems, I.e., Trump calls for espionage. You desperate dolts! When he said, “Well, gee, couldn’t you have released the one’s Hilary smashed!” it was hilarious and cynical as hell. Idiots! Desperate people!) and the identity politics they’ve been running on… asking him to condemn the white supremacy! Why so you can turn around and say, “Look you command the white supremacy! You told ‘em to stand down and addressed ‘em!” See folks: No, he should never address them, if for no better reason than HE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM! Most of you just smeared a guy who was actually fixing this country. Have you seen the infrastructure around California? Look at LAX. When the New Silk Road occurs and the Middle East and China walk on us… what the fu*% are we gonna do!? Who is gonna talk pretty to you when we have to rely on our own exports and we’re faced with an administration that throws away 15 million dollars to study “non-indigenous prairie dogs in San Francisco”? (Pork for lobbyists). Maybe then, we’ll all realize who helped perpetuate stereotyping, hate-speech, and separatism… trust me: Biden even knows he’s full of it. Half his answers during the debate weren’t even relevant to government or law (and this from a guy who knows his informal fallacies). What a scam! “You’re a racist!” Cool! Wonder what else is in his heart! Who gives a fu*%! 4 more years and maybe we could have patched things up enough to vote in someone that reflected how we feel about ourselves morally… unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of voting our identities all the time in a Republic. Sometimes you vote for the prick because he can actually perform better than the opposition at executing and delegating pertinent tasks that are of far greater interest for the welfare of the people than—playing with your fragile little identity! Fu*^#}{ hippies!

  2. ” … third-rate obscurantist “Philosophy” and curator-speak babble – is a sideshow, of course, but a symptomatic one. The sour comedy of academic philosophical Leninism and Maoism can now be seen as one of the last acts in a postmodern shadowplay …”

    I always enjoyed and was always amused when Mark was on a caustic-excitatory roll, but wasn’t the main target of his criticism here the “old ’68 Fathers” – Badiou and Zizek, respectively, with their “comedy Stalinism” and “comedy Maoism”, their underlying passive nostalgia?

    “But I am hopeful because, for the first time in a decade, the usual polarity of “evental politics” is inverted.”

    I would have thought that the reversal occurred in 2017 in Britain, when Corbyn’s Labour Party defied all expectations, which did function as a threshold “opening up a new terrain of struggle, and allowing different collective emotions to propagate”.

    Even though in 2020, following a complexity of setbacks, of reactionary forces and policy blunders and equivocations, it has now been “followed by depressive collapse”?

    1. Re: Badiou and Zizek — they were certainly the targets, but I think it is telling how that discourse has nonetheless trickled down into popular discourse. I see there being a tension between how counter-intuitive that evental politics was at the apparent end of history, whereas now every election is supposedly “historic”.

      I don’t think 2017 wasn’t much of a reversal at all. Corbyn defying expectations was still a defeat, and one compounded by Grenfell Tower and terror attacks. It was perhaps the most miserable year, politically and otherwise, I have ever known — prior to, perhaps, 2020. But that’s what’s odd, I think. 2020 has been broadly uneventful thanks to the pandemic. It has nonetheless revealed many “thresholds” in the process. Now Biden’s “win” seems to be a catalyst for pushing through the haze. We were living in the depressive collapse but now there’s some apparently good news. I can’t help but wonder if the euphoria around the success of Biden’s otherwise lacklustre campaign says more about our thirst for some good news rather than anything about Biden himself. I don’t see him as being central to much of the conversation, but I do think his win might nonetheless be the catalyst for a new confidence that the left hasn’t had for half a decade if not longer — despite his failings rather than because of his successes.

  3. I can’t agree with anything whatsoever you are arguing here at all (in fact, had Corbyn’s 2017 win occurred a year earlier, it’s pretty obvious that Mark Fisher would still in fact be with us …).

    Labour’s win – or more properly, the Left’s win – in 2017 was its biggest achievement in over half a century, and this was the objective political-material transformation that occurred then (Grenfell served to undermine May’s obscene Tory government), a transformation filled with renewed possibility. I’m not sure what emotional condition you were in back then, but I suspect this had more to do with Fisher’s death that what was happening in the wider social field. IT wasn’t Grenfell or “terrorist” attacks, but foolish equivocations over Brexit and Corbyn Labour’s softly-softly approach to its internal enemies – the Blairite rump, which included the likes of bourgeois psychos like Keir Starmer – that led to their collapse in the 2019 election. Alas, whoever said that what Labour really needs is a “Thatcher of the Left” has been proven right.

    Mark would have been overjoyed by what happened in the 2017 election; it would have massively reanimated and remotivated him.

    As for the Trump/Biden non-event (in the very real sense), the phony “joy” and celebrations are naive and fickle, are postmodern “end of history” duped subject banality at its purest, for Biden/Dems are just as much reactionary political dinosaurs as Trump, just less crass and vulgar in their public sophistry, but their fundamental policies – almost indistinguishable from Reps – are directly and structurally opposed to the real interests of the people, of the working class. As “spooky ivan” declared on Twitter: “The joyless relief that is Bidenfreude”, in response to Jodi Dean’s accurate assessment: “It’s good that Trump was defeated. But the proclamation of a return of kindness and civility erases the reality of the crime bill, deep ties with Wall St and credit card companies, deportations, imperialist war, and cooperation with segregationists.”

    What is crucial now is to fully acknowledge the sheer bleakness of the current reality coordinates and the real state of the world, something the US Dems will not be doing, a party which under Obama imposed the most horrendous austerity regime on that country (as also occurred in numerous other countries), even blaming its woes on the working classes as they multiplied the wealth of the wealthiest, the very policies that enabled a figure like the neurotic Sadean Liberal capitalist Trump to be elected in the first place, even though he is more establishment than the establishment itself, more capitalist than the capitalists. This will now resume in spite of a lethal pandemic, in spite of a doomsday climate meltdown that now has a destructive dynamic completely independent of anything humans/the Anthropocene will likely do (there’s yet no international organisation/collective subject existing to address it, much less invent strategies to reverse it. None whatsoever. We can only continue to passively witness it as most of the world either denies it or delusionally pretends to be doing something about it).

    No, the empty, vacuous “joy” over Biden’s non-event election will rapidly deflate into a depressive stupor, especially when the millions of domestic-terrorist lone-wolf psycho-supporters of Trump start to impotently and violently act out their impotence, soon to begin …

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