Nothings and Somethings, This and That:
The Fisher-Function Six Years On

Today is the sixth “uncanniversary” of Mark’s death, as Maya calls it. It is the first time since 2017 that the days have eerily aligned, with today also being Friday the 13th, as it was then.

Next week, there’ll be one of the For k-punk events at the Fox and Firkin in Lewisham, acknowledging not another year since Mark died but celebrating the publication anniversary of The Weird and the Eerie. The shift in orientation may seem strange. The two events are so synonymous with each other, there is little hidden by the illusion, as if we are simply switching from a glass considered half empty to a glass considered half full without changing anything about the moment under consideration. But I think there is nonetheless something gratifying about this refusal to attend to the lack any longer. That is certainly how I feel, as time goes on.

I think this is something that happens in Mark’s own work sometimes, including in The Weird and the Eerie. There seems to be this tension between his Deleuzian education and his penchant for (Badiou’s) Lacan. On the one hand, he always wanted to turn nothings into somethings — as he says to his students in his Postcapitalist Desire lectures. This question was itself a twist on that most fundamental philosophical question, going back millennia: “why is there something rather than nothing?” To invert this and suggest our world is nothing, in all of its impoverishment and artificial scarcity, is a nice little rhetorical flourish, but it also lends itself towards grounding a political statement on some sort of lack. As was Deleuze’s rebuttal to psychoanalysis, we needn’t always start from nothing, absence, lack, castration. It is a false foundation. From birth or the Big Bang to that new job you’ve got, we are always starting from within the depths of things. There are no clean slates.

Deleuze often used to ask a less provocative but no less interesting, perhaps even more actionable question: why is there this instead of that? It is a question I like more. Though less of a philosophical headscratcher, it grounds itself not on lack but on difference and contingency. It asks not for some kind of utopia of substance from nowhere, but takes as a given the pre-existence of alternatives.

Though he sometimes garbled his Deleuze and Lacan, I wonder if this isn’t what Mark always wanted. After all, in Capitalist Realism he writes that

For Lacan, the Real is what any ‘reality’ must suppress; indeed, reality constitutes itself through just this repression. The Real is an unrepresentable X, a traumatic void that can only be glimpsed in the fractures and inconsistencies in the field of apparent reality. So one strategy against capitalist realism could involve invoking the Real(s) underlying the reality that capitalism presents to us.

Is this useful to us? Are we best off thinking of our unactualized alternatives as multiplicitous voids on the suppressed underside of a totalizing capitalist something? I think this is the way that the system wants us to think, coaxing us towards absolutes and ultimatums. Capitalism is all there is. Nothing else has survived its march to victory. It is a totalising and insurmountable “reality”. But the Real of history, that space of traumatic fractured inconsistencies, is well-populated.

The Weird and the Eerie suggests a move away from psychoanalytic lack. Its contention with failures of presence and absence is likewise a contention with the absolutes of something and nothing. The truth is that we linger in a space of indeterminacy — which is not, in itself, an indeterminate concept, but a space of undecided action and potential — and so the question of whether we desire this or that becomes more productive and accessible.

Is promiscuous references aside, I think it is clear now that Mark always wanted us to reach this kind of position. And he succeeded in helping make it happen. As Aaron Bastani writes in a short essay on Capitalist Realism, published today, which speaks to this function of his writing explicitly:

Capitalist Realism is the most important document the British left has produced so far this century. This isn’t because of its conceptual originality, or its author’s ability for systemisation (this was his ambition for a later work), but because it provides a popular register for the torpor at the heart of our political and social life. Recognising this was, and remains, the first step to meaningful action.

Meaningful action was what all the old Warwick crew cared about — how philosophies of action are exacerbated rather than foreclosed by a sense of our own immanence to a systems that surround us, which replicate themselves constantly, often through us, but do not reproduce themselves as the Same. They are instead always different. Capitalist realism overlooks this — even its own capacity for difference. It constructs an illusory stasis, covering over not simply past alternatives but present contingencies, through which the system attempts to hide its own adaptations and failures. But the “reality” of capitalism (underneath its ideological “realism”) is a constant reminder that things can (and probably should) be done differently, if we really care about other people and the planet we all call home.

When Maya first spoke about the Fisher-Function — “How did it make itself real, and how can we continue to realise it?”; not simply “the intellectual contributions that we can appreciate, extend, take forward into the future”, but also “what we need to learn in terms of looking after ourselves and each other, right now” — I often think today that it needs little assistance from the rest of us. Perhaps it is no different to Foucault’s own “author-function”, in this regard — that impersonalised person all writers become once their work enters public discourse, taking on a productive life of their own quite distinct from the individual in actuality.

Foucault’s author function was a rebuttal to Roland Barthes’ infamous “death of the author” thesis. He argues that it is not the fate of all authors to “die” but rather than the author must welcome death in the very act of writing, as if therein the Lacanian split subject is pulled even further apart from itself, not simply alienated in language but “killed” by writing, in the sense that an author becomes a signifier or an object. But rather than a reduction of subjectivity to an inactive absence, just as the dead live on in memory for the living, so too does the writer acquire an agency all of their own, which far exceeds the bounds of our lives of drudgery and capture.

All the better, then, on this uncanniversary, when superstitions collide with hyperstitions and numerical coincidence assigns more meaning to calendric chaosmos of capitalist temporalities, to celebrate not Fisher’s absence but his final book that keeps on giving. This is not to champion something over nothing, but recognise how such an agentic object continues to question our ideological stasis, inserting itself into a lineage of weird fiction that unsettles the differences between this and that, and shows how that or this might well intrude on the space of its other. Not so much “if we let it”, but seemingly of its own accord.

The Fisher-Function is unalive and unwell, as it should be.

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