Great Britain and the Children of Azkaban

In the midst of JK Rowling’s general fawning over the far-right “Gender Critical” movement, the appearance of the entire Harry Potter film series on UK Netflix was just one further annoyance in a widespread attempt to ignore the fact she still exists.

That being said, I’m nothing if not prone to the occasional hate-watch of pop-cultural phenomena, and so, over the course of a few hungover days, I decided to rewatch them all in quick succession.

A lot has been said already about how dire the films can be, even if in subtle, dog-whistling ways — such as the antisemitic caricatures that are the goblin bankers and the lazy racial tokenism that appears throughout the series more generally — but it was an interesting exercise to rewatch these films regardless — which I either haven’t seen since they first came out or have watched inattentively during the occasional Christmas food coma — with la vie en rose of childhood nostalgia firmly in the bin.

It was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that shocked me the most, not least for how unimaginative so many of the film’s plot details actually are.

As with the rest of the series, the film’s central antagonist remains Lord Voldemort, but what is so morbidly fascinating about the second installment in the franchise is just how much this frightful obsession with “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” jars with the general complacency that exists in the wizarding world as a whole.

Lord Voldemort is held up as this fearsome but nebulous — at this point, quite literally immaterial and phantom — adversary who is nonetheless the focus of a great deal of attention. (As a young Tom Riddle boasts towards the end of the film, Hogwarts is almost destroyed by the mere memory of him.) Meanwhile, we’re introduced to the wizarding world’s unquestioning acceptance of the enslavement of house elves and also a sort of (white supremacy-coded) hostility towards so-called “Muggle-borns”, occasionally referred to through use of the wizarding slur “mudbloods”.

Both are frowned upon but neither are really addressed in any meaningful way. Harry doesn’t understand the etiquette of house elves as servants simply through a lack of familiarity, for example — and even he is prone to acts of cruelty towards Dobby the house elf, who is framed as an annoyance it is hard to sympathise with — whereas even use of a term like “mudbloods” is seen as a shocking but ultimately impolite utterance. (“You don’t hear that sort of thing in civilised company”, Hermione says at one point in perfectly British euphemism.) The latter is particularly jarring when much of the film’s overarching plot is centred on Voldemort’s genocidal desire to rid the wizarding world of the presence of Muggle-borns altogether. Something abjectly horrible is only recognised as such when the onus is on Voldemort’s return; the rest of the time, it is an off-colour form of impropriety.

What is key here, perhaps, is the disparity between this great good-versus-evil battle between a young Potter and a spectral Voldemort, whilst the biggest factor in Voldemort’s imminent return seems to be a general structure of complacency and fear amongst the magical population.

On a few occasions, Voldemort’s fixation on Harry Potter is given an ironically accurate motor: “He believes you’re the only thing that stands in his way”, as Arthur Weasley says to Harry at the start of the third film. It is a sentiment that feels so painfully and literally true as to be laughable. There is so much else that makes the return of this evil figure seem likely, and it is generally to do with this structural inequality and prejudice towards others — something which, again, is never actually addressed beyond accusations of impoliteness. As such, Voldemort is pinpointed as this great evil, whilst the wizarding world itself is conspicuously stricken by what Hannah Arendt famously called “the banality of evil”. Normal wizards live in fear of the boogieman, whilst sleepwalking into fascism of a less spectacular order.

It is a sentiment that obviously echoes Rowling’s more recent comportment in public life, as just another so-called “liberal” who doesn’t realise how far to the right they truly are. She insists on a general acceptance of opposing views, even when those views advocate for the destruction of an Other, in much the same way that Slytherin House at Hogwarts is passively tolerated by everyone, despite the open acknowledgement that their founder is a quasi-deified figure for those who support the great evil that Harry Potter’s entire existence is dedicated to eradicating. (If I was really concerned about the perpetual threat of some fascistic cult always vying for world domination, I’d probably start by abolishing the school house that churns out, educates and instils solidarity in its members — but that’s just me.)

What’s interesting about this, beyond the illogic of these generally cherished fantasy films, is how it seems to reflect Britain’s general trajectory and political consciousness at that time (and arguably still to this day). Consider, for example, the fact that the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was released in 1998 — one year after the election of Tony Blair — whilst the film was released in 2002 — one year before the invasion of Iraq. Without forming any tendentious equivalences between political figures and historical moments, there is at the very least a clear structure of feeling captured in these cultural artefacts, which do well — especially when seen today, with the benefit of twenty-years’ hindsight — at highlighting the utter lack of imagination on display in the UK at that time. And this is particularly striking in a film that depicts a fantastical other world behind the mundane reality of Muggle Britain.

To put a finer point on things: for works of fiction such as these, the task of which is to literally imagine another fantastical world beyond the reaches of this one, it is utterly incredible to be presented with a world that has even less of a political imagination than the real-world Britain of the era it was written in. And that’s saying something.

But perhaps even more interesting than the banal evil of Chamber of Secrets is the abject misery of The Prisoner of Azkaban. That film was released in 2004, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, and has been hailed by many as the best film in the franchise. It is certainly dripping with a much darker and moody atmosphere than the two previous outings, and it was so successful that it set the tone for the rest of the series.

Whatever you think about the films themselves, it was a very bold move to put Cuarón in the director’s chair, and it makes the third installment a much more interesting affair than its predecessors. As Daniel Radcliffe reflected last year:

Now, by the standards of modern cinema, that decision [to hire Cuarón] just looks very smart and good. At the time, I think we can forget how absolutely left-field that choice seemed, as [he was] the guy who’d just done Y Tu Mamá También. But again, it’s one of the decisions that our producer David Heyman made that really shaped the next few years of the series and allowed us to go to a darker place.

It is interesting to hear the film framed in this way, because much of the darkness was already there. Chamber of Secrets is, as its depressing plot aptly demonstrates, arguably much darker — politically speaking, at least — than its sequel. The only real difference is in the presentation, such that Cuarón colour-grades the film in muted tones and makes it rain all the time.

This is not to diminish the stylistic finesse Cuarón brought to the franchise, of course — it really is the most visually interesting film in the series and does mark a major shift in tone — but there is an overarching point here about the series as a whole that I think is more important to address: perhaps it is particularly notable that it took a Mexican filmmaker to uncover the miserable and dreary complacency of a very British franchise, which his predecessor Chris Columbus had otherwise completely glossed over.

Something was clearly already in the air for Cuarón at that time. In an interview with Vulture, he describes how he himself was in a kind of sunken place. Y tu mamá también was a complex film about the future and who it belongs to, but as he tells the story of its initial release, it seems the film was overshadowed by the world it was released into in the early 2000s. Touring the film on the festival circuit, Cuarón has often recalled how he was stranded at the Toronto Film Festival on September 11th 2001. That event changed everything for him.

This makes the place of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban all the more interesting in Cuarón’s filmography. He has often described the film as a proper coming-of-age story. Harry Potter is thirteen years old, and so he begins to mature and see the darkness of this world for what it is — that is the reason Cuarón himself has given, at least, for the darker tone adopted. But Y tu mamá también was a coming-of-age film as well. It is a film about regime change, about Mexico’s future as a nation, about its coming-of-age in a new world and the reshaping of political relationships, all of which is ultimately background to the ménage à trois at its centre, where we meet two teenage boys who become embroiled in a very sexy road trip with an older woman. (No spoilers for how that ends…)

But this may also just be Cuarón being hospitable to interviewers and showbiz journalists, such that he is approaching interviews as expected when the subject at hand is effectively a children’s film about a wizard. It would be far more interesting to hear him speak to its proximity to the film that came next for him, 2006’s Children of Men — something which, to my knowledge, he has never explicitly done.

In the same interview with Vulture, he describes how P.D. James’ novel Children of Men first came across his desk in 2001, whilst he was promoting Y tu mamá también:

At that time, I was not interested in a science-fiction thing about upper classes in a fascist country. Then, it was 9/11. That is the change. Then I went with [co-writer] Tim Sexton to London that winter. Tim read the book. I told him, “You tell me if there’s anything relevant that we can use.” He read it, and there was one or two things that he said. We wrote the draft. [Universal] didn’t want to green-light it. This is when Harry Potter came through.

Little more is said about the relationship between Harry Potter and Children of Men, but it hardly seems like a leap to suggest the two films — or perhaps their production processes — were a great influence on one another. Asked whether he was effectively working on both projects at the same time, Cuarón responds:

All the time. Even more. I was in London full-time. Going through, you know, not the prettiest side of London. Harry Potter is the time that gave me more space for research. Because once you get into the Harry Potter world, it’s very intellectually intensive the first few months that you have to put everything together. Then, after that is a long time that is just like clockwork machinery. You go to work certain hours. It gave me time. I was just researching like crazy. Reading like crazy. Talking to people. Just looking around. Taking pictures. Just observing, you know? Reading a lot and trying to process. What is great about reading is, you read something that’s really what you find relevant, then it relates to something else that then is relevant. It kind of starts to be like a tapestry of information, and everything was around one centerpiece, that was this Children of Men.

The connection is, again, hardly explicit, but we can no doubt see how Harry Potter itself factors into this informational tapestry. Here is a series that, as the second installment makes abundantly clear, is imaginative without imagination. It is British culture in a nutshell. Gilles Deleuze once famously suggested — and I’m paraphrasing here — that Britain did not need surrealism, as our culture is surreal enough. (Deleuze had Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in mind here.) We are so seemingly adept at traversing our own nonsense that a surrealist manifesto would contribute little to our fantastical thinking. But there is nonetheless something to be said for how reluctantly we interrogate our political nonsense. Perhaps an absurdist manifesto is something we have desperately needed after all, if only to highlight the many blind spots we undoubtedly have left.

Cuarón’s Children of Men has since become a key reference in this regard. Readers of this blog will not need reminding of its central place in the opening pages of Mark Fisher’s Capitalism Realism — arguably one such manifesto (or political near-pamphlet at least) that interrogates the unimagination of British society in the late 2000s. But there are more examples for us to choose from. Indeed, one could argue that Children of Men is even a little on-the-nose. If we want a far more penetrating lesson in how a lack of political imagination prevails in this country, a critical rewatch of the Harry Potter franchise — and a further interrogation of its persistent presence in our popular culture overall — might just reveal how much more unpacking of our own complacency is so desperately necessary.

Truth has the Structure of Fiction:
Introduction to the Greek Translation
of Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie

The following essay was commissioned by Alexandros Papageorgiou, the Greek translator of Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie, and published by Antipodes in April this year. The essay has now been republished online in Thrausma Journal, a new venture publishing translations of texts associated with speculative realism, non-philosophy and gothic materialism, amongst other things. For those interested in reading this text who do not speak Greek, you can find the original English version below.

Mark Fisher was a British writer, political theorist, cultural critic and blogger best known for his 2009 book Capitalist Realism. On the occasion of its recent reissue in the English language, the popular political commentator Aaron Bastani suggested that Fisher’s first book might be the most important work of political theory to be published so far in the twenty-first century. [1] The overall thesis of the book can be summarised by a statement that appears on its first few pages, borrowed from Fredric Jameson: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the world of capitalism.” [2] But Fisher’s writing around this central provocation is less a pessimistic account of the failure of our collective imagination than it is an illuminating diagnosis of our contemporary predicament; he does not simply state that this is the case, but rather asks his reader to consider why it appears to be so.

Following its initial publication, after the 2008 financial crash and at the dawn of our social-media age, Fisher’s questions seemed both apt and prescient, and the book has since become a surprise bestseller. Having now been translated into a dozen languages, his growing readership over the last decade and a half allows him to take considerable credit, as Bastani argues, for politicising subsequent generations of young leftists, whom he has aided in illuminating and recognising the peculiar nature of late-stage capitalism and our unfulfilled desires for alternative ways of living both within and beyond its ideological restrictions.

Sadly, Fisher passed away in January 2017, succumbing to a battle with depression that he often wrote about frankly and candidly, always asserting that such mental health conditions are not, in fact, the widespread failings of innumerable individuals but are instead a structural symptom of capitalist realism itself. Indeed, the very suicidality of our present system, which asserts its own inescapability, even as it hurtles ever closer towards climate and other catastrophes, undoubtedly leads to the general malaise and depression amongst those who live within its bounds. All the more reason, then, that we not only look for but actively construct alternatives to its particularly unjust way of doing things.

That Fisher himself succumbed to depression, despite all of this, has led a present generation to read his works with a new urgency. How could someone who provided countless readers with a renewed political confidence have seemingly given up on his own insistence that another world is possible? But such is the sad reality of mental illness, and depression in particular, which is surely constituted by an irrational thinking-against oneself.

That being said, it is a mistake, in this writer’s opinion, to let Fisher’s suicide overshadow his work completely, primarily for the reason that the circumstances of his death do nothing to change the fact that there is a great deal of joy to be found in his various writings.

It is worth noting that Fisher understood joy quite specifically through the philosophy of Baruch de Spinoza, for whom it is an affect produced by the actualisation of our own capacities — in particular, our capacity for freedom — and it is clear that Fisher found expressions of such joy in many places, but perhaps in music most of all.

Fisher’s passion for culture in general, self-evident in his writings, is infectious and life-affirming, and it is through this palpable passion that he demonstrates, with all the excitement of a genuine “fan”, how popular culture is most affective when expressing our collective desire for change and transformation. Indeed, Fisher believed wholeheartedly in being a fan in this regard. Being passionate about culture was a gateway to other passions of a more political and philosophical nature, and thus could serve as a foundation for the affirmation of alternatives, with the joy produced becoming a weapon wielded against capitalist realism. But it is telling, perhaps for this very reason, that “fandoms” of all kinds are treated with a certain cynicism in our present moment. As Fisher wrote on his k-punk blog in 2009:

There’s a peculiar shame involved in admitting that one is a fan, perhaps because it involves being caught out in a fantasy-identification. “Maturity” insists that we remember with hostile distaste, gentle embarrassment or sympathetic condescension when we were first swept up by something — when, in the first flushes of devotion, we tried to copy the style, the tone [of something loved]; when, that is, we are drawn into the impossible quest of trying to become what the Other is […] to us. This is the only kind of “love” that has real philosophical implications, the passion capable of shaking us out of sensus communis [common sense]. [3]

Fisher’s final book, The Weird and the Eerie, can be read as one such return to the origins of a developing cultural fanaticism; a return to Fisher’s initial attempts to publicly and proudly grapple with that subsection of culture most preoccupied by ontological outsides. It is a book that returns to and further develops some of the earliest posts on the k-punk blog, through an intensified reading of weird fiction as a subgenre of fantasy and horror literature (as well as other forms of culture) that, in its fixation on that which disturbs us, considers how we might further come to terms with our fascination with everything that lurks beyond the limits of common sense.

However, if there is any work of Fisher’s that is most affected by the circumstances of his death, it is this one. This is in part due to the time of its initial publication in English, just a week or so after his death. As such, it is all too easy to read into Fisher’s final work a sense of horror that he may have felt all too personally. But again, this reading is misleading. It is better, instead, to consider the book and its preoccupation with horror alongside Fisher’s broader interest in psychoanalysis and its contentions with the strange nature of our desires.


At its heart, The Weird and the Eerie is an exploration and elaboration of Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unheimliche — that is, the uncanny or unhomely — which Fisher further develops by discussing the two entangled affects that he believes constitute many an uncanny experience: the titular “weird” and “eerie.”

In the book’s introduction, Fisher begins by defining these two terms as follows: “the weird is that which does not belong”; it is that which “brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled with the ‘homely’ (even as its negation).” [4] It is an affect most concretely found in forms of montage, Fisher argues: “the conjoining of two or more things which do not belong together.” [5] The eerie, on the other hand, is that which is found not apart from the familial and the familiar, but that which is more explicitly located within those spaces that we expect to be inhabited. As such, we often find the eerie “in landscapes partially emptied of the human”, and the partiality of this emptiness is of great importance. [6]

As Fisher continues, “the eerie is fundamentally tied up with questions of agency.” [7] It is a sensation often felt when the causes of certain events or affects cannot be immediately determined. Fisher uses the example of an “eerie cry” — an utterance produced by some being unseen. We might also think of the strange happenings that occur in countless ghost stories, when inanimate objects in a domestic or all too human environment seemingly move of their own accord, or according to forces we understand to be decisively inhuman. Eerie affects are, in this sense, those affects produced when we feel most at the mercy of unseen and intruding forces, or when we are momentarily struck by the incongruities that exist within our seemingly enclosed and notably common sense of reality.

This analysis of the uncanny, which Fisher unpacks through passionate readings of various books, films and pieces of music, may seem oddly irrelevant to his more explicitly political writings, but it is here in the introduction that Fisher fleetingly clarifies the significance of his thesis to all that has come before.

Having briefly introduced his concepts of the weird and the eerie, Fisher goes on to suggest that the questions produced by incongruent signifiers and intruding forces “can be posed in a psychoanalytic register … but they also apply to the forces governing capitalist society.” [8] Emphasising the innately gothic aspects of Marxist theory — wherein Marx himself often wrote in terms of spectres, hobgoblins and vampires; or described how the commodity-form is also a kind of perpetually displaced signifier — Fisher argues that capital itself “is at every level an eerie entity: conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity.” [9] (And lest we forget that Freud also expressed an inchoate interest in Marxism in his lectures, given Marx’s “sagacious indication of the decisive influence which the economic circumstances of men have upon their intellectual, ethical and artistic attitudes” — that is, the impact of capitalism on the unconscious and its role in the shaping of human desires. [10])

Though readers may find that much of Fisher’s subsequent argument often relates to capitalism only implicitly, it is on this short section of Fisher’s introduction that the rest of his analysis seems to rest.


It is worth further acknowledging here that The Weird and the Eerie occupies — like its predecessor, 2014’s Ghosts of My Life — a strange place in the chronological development of Fisher’s thought. Though it is the third book Fisher published, the true sequel to his first book, Capitalist Realism, was left unfinished at the time of his death. Given the preliminary title of Acid Communism, only a draft of its introduction was shared by Fisher amongst his peers, allowing it to later be published posthumously in 2018. [11] Seemingly written in an entirely different register to this unfulfilled work-to-come, The Weird and the Eerie instead collects together and further develops a number of texts that Fisher wrote and published on his k-punk blog in the mid-2000s. But against any assumptions to the contrary, this is not to suggest that the book is irrelevant to Fisher’s overarching political concerns.

At that time, when many of the book’s chapters were first being drafted online, Fisher was enthused, like so many in the English-speaking world, with the writings of Slavoj Žižek, particularly his strand of Lacanian thinking that sought to bridge political theory and psychoanalysis. This was not only due to Žižek’s growing popularity and public profile but also Fisher’s contemporaneous attendance of Žižek’s lectures at various British universities. [12] We shall discuss Žižek’s influence on Fisher in more detail shortly, but it is first worth noting that it was whilst attending these lectures that Fisher began to move specifically “towards a weird psychoanalysis” — a move he more broadly attributes to Jacques Lacan in The Weird and the Eerie’s introduction, with Lacan’s seminars constituting a moment within the development of psychoanalysis “in which the death drive, dreams and the unconscious become untethered from any naturalisation or sense of homeliness.” [13]

Writing on his k-punk blog in 2007, Fisher more clearly articulates what exactly made this moment so weird and interesting to him:

Psychoanalysis, whose object of study and treatment is those “nameless, inscrutable, unearthly things” that go “against all natural lovings and longings”, can be — and usually is — placed under the sign of the Uncanny. Freud’s great essay on “The Uncanny” — with all its ambivalences, its repetitions, its over-hasty closures — remains the most potent theorization of the uncanny. The domain of psychoanalysis can be seen as the place of the unheimlich or the unhomely, the estranged familiar / familial. But can’t the unconscious also be considered Weird, with psychoanalysis the threshold into its alien world? [14]

What Fisher is referencing here is perhaps what Freud himself described as the great humiliation constituted by the emergence of psychoanalysis as a new field of epistemic investigation. In his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud suggests that, following Copernicus — who first illustrated how “our earth was not the centre of the universe but only a tiny fragment of a cosmic system of scarcely imaginable vastness” — and Darwin — whose “biological research destroyed man’s supposedly privileged place in creation and proved his descent from the animal kingdom and his ineradicable animal nature” — psychoanalysis inflicts upon humanity a “third and most wounding blow”, proving “to the ego that it is not even master in its own house, but must content itself with scanty information of what is going on unconsciously in its mind.” [15] The very theorisation of the unconscious, in this sense, destabilises the integrity of the thinking subject, who comes to realise that there is an unknowable quadrant of the human mind that functions behind and has the potential to disrupt its capacity for reason. It is a disorienting realisation that brings to mind one of the most famous passages from any work of weird fiction — the opening lines of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1928 short story, The Call of Cthulhu:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledges will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. [16]

There is a contradiction here, of course. The ironic nature of psychoanalysis, at least if we are to extrapolate from Lovecraft’s warning to the curious, is that an attendance to this theory, conceived of as a treatment for madness itself, might also, at the same time, be the very thing that drives us mad. It is perhaps because of this double bind that we have already voyaged so far and shall continue to. But against Lovecraft’s prevarications, voyage far we must.

Though Fisher begins The Weird and the Eerie with an essay on Lovecraft’s weird tales, this chapter instead serves as a negative foundation for all that is to follow. Lovecraft is, of course, a very controversial figure today. His penchant for racism, above all else, makes him a writer whom many are horrified by for all the wrong reasons. But Fisher suggests that we are more than capable of thinking “the Outside” of present realities and the common-sense ideologies that structure them in ways that are more beneficial to us and less unjust. In the context of Lovecraft’s tales in particular, his question becomes: “what if the best deployment of Lovecraft was not a reversal of his texts’ libidinal polarity, such that the slimy and mulitiplicitous is embraced rather than reviled…? What if, instead, it was Lovecraft’s horror of the body and the chaotic that contained the most political potential in the current conjuncture?” [17]

Much like the racialised others who populate Lovecraft’s tales, rendered as channelers of chaos and evil, it is arguably the oppressed and enslaved masses who are most willing to venture out to the edges of received wisdom and knowledge. In fact, any emancipatory politics must inevitably contend with a madness of its own making, in thinking against so-called common sense. But “I am not here claiming that the outside is always beneficent”, Fisher writes. “There are more than enough terrors to be found there; but such terrors are not all there is to the outside.” [18]

The implicit suggestion here is that we must steel ourselves against what Fisher elsewhere calls Lovecraft’s “reactionary modernism”. [19] If Lovecraft remains an interesting figure at all today, it is precisely because he functions as a modernist writer who nonetheless writes against the effects of modernism itself, and it is an awareness of this contradiction that makes many of his works still productive for us, precisely for the ways that his xenophobia — his fear of the outside — mirrors the “frenzied stasis” of our postmodern moment more generally.  

As Fisher writes on the k-punk blog, though he “was constitutively unable to abject” the avant-garde, Lovecraft’s writings nonetheless became “fatally infected with it, implicated in it”, and this is something common to capitalist realism itself. [20] Indeed, modernity, understood not simply as a period of time but as a machinic process in itself, becomes another unseen force that leads us into terrifying unknowns, and Lovecraft demonstrates, albeit in negative, how we must be vigilant of the ways in which modernism can, in turn, become possessed by more reactionary forces. Our task is far from simple. “We can only win if we reclaim modernization”, Fisher insists. [21]


This was a problem under broader discussion in the mid-2000s, both within and outside of Žižek’s various lectures. Fisher was particularly indebted to Graham Harman’s thoughts on the matter, later published in his 2012 book, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. In the book’s introduction, Harman writes: “One of the most important decisions made by philosophers concerns the production or destruction of gaps in the cosmos.” [22] He goes on to argue, “Since those who destroy gaps by imploding them into a single principle are generally called reductionists, let’s coin the word productionists to describe philosophers who find new gaps in the world where there were formerly none” — and it is H.P. Lovecraft, for Harman, who is perhaps the most “productionist author” of modern times, since no “other writer is so perplexed by the gap between objects and the power of language to describe them, or between objects and the qualities they possess.” [23] (Fisher was so enthralled by this suggestion that he organised a “Weird Realism” symposium at Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2007, during which a number of other thinkers were invited to respond to Harman’s ideas. [24])

Whilst writing at length on Lovecraft and other such productionists on his blog and in his subsequent books, Fisher finds these weird and eerie gaps in our understanding of the world addressed in more explicitly philosophical and psychoanalytic terms by Jacques Lacan, whose works cast a considerable shadow over The Weird and the Eerie. Perhaps the most famous psychoanalyst of the twentieth century after Freud, Fisher suggests we can understand Lacanian thought as “the revenge of the Weird upon Freud’s tendency towards homeliness”. [25] Indeed, a common critique of Freud’s work in the twentieth century is that it is overly preoccupied with a kind of common sense, as Freud’s understanding of mental illness is put to work in order to rectify any straying from the path of a preordained reasonableness and an ideological understanding of “normal” behaviour.

This is most apparent in Freud’s conceptualisation of the Oedipus complex, which contends with the initiatory behavioural deviations that are experienced by all, but which nonetheless threaten the essential functioning of the family as an integral part of society and its mechanisms of conditioning — arguably making Freud’s formulation of the Oedipus complex an example of a “reactionary modernism”. Philosophers like Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, most famously — who likewise had a great influence on Fisher — challenged this foundation as being fundamentally reactionary in this regard, and so it was the task of many a twentieth-century analyst and theoretician to free psychoanalysis from its own repressive tendencies.

One way of doing this, at least according to Deleuze, was to embrace rather than shy away from moments of weird and eerie incursion. This is especially necessary for philosophy, and it is perhaps no coincidence that many of Lovecraft’s characters are researchers, detectives and academics, who find their own inquisitiveness to be their downfall. But as Joshua Ramey has more recently argued, “the power of thought, for Deleuze” — who also made references to weird fiction in his writings — “consists in a kind of initiatory ordeal”, which “transpires through an immersion of the self in uncanny moments when a surprising and alluring complexity of nature and psyche is revealed.” [26]

Deleuze identified such an initiation in popular culture through the works of Lewis Carroll, particularly Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — works that contain “splendidly bizarre and esoteric words; grids; codes and decodings; drawings and photographs; a profound psychoanalytic content; and an exemplary logical and linguistic formalism.” [27] They are works that imbue Alice, and the reader, with a “capacity to elude the present”, with a capacity to humiliate common sense and access the peculiar world that exists on its outside through a linguistic play that is otherwise used to tether us to a sense of reality that is arguably not our own. [28]

Lacan made numerous such attempts to elucidate this capacity of language for himself, using psychoanalysis more explicitly to interrogate the ways that any given subjectivity is structured by language, which may serve as a prophylactic against the machinations of the Outside, but which can also make us more vulnerable to outside intrusions. [29] Indeed, Lacan argued that “the experience inaugurated by psychoanalysis” itself is one that allows us to understand the means by which “the symbolic takes hold in even the deepest recesses of the human organism.” [30]

The symbolic, for Lacan, is that region of the unconscious that is most structured by language, and necessarily so, such that it allows us to determine the implicit linkages and inferences between the content of signs and their capacity for expression. Adapting Freud’s own tripartite theory of the structure of the unconscious — to which Freud assigns the concepts of the id, the ego and the superego — Lacan instead offers up a broader structural apparatus, which connects the individual mind to its socio-cultural, as well as more decisively “inhuman” contexts. Alongside the symbolic order, which is structured through its relationship to language, we also have the imaginary order — a pre-linguistic order structured through more primordial identifications — and the Real — that eerie zone that exists behind the symbolic and imaginary, which we do not have any direct access to. Fisher would make frequent references to these Lacanian concepts throughout his works, with the Real, in particular, being of interest for its location behind a more common-sense reality that is, today, covered over by the symbolic and imaginary machinations of capitalist ideology. As Fisher writes in Capitalist Realism:

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. [31]


One way of actualising such a strategy is through the symbolic, which projects onto the Real an illusory structure. It is that area of the unconscious mind that renders the things we encounter with a meaningful significance. But what is particularly important about Lacan’s argument (as well as Fisher’s) in this regard is that the symbolic order is that which “makes the very existence of fiction possible.” [32]

Fisher takes this provocation very seriously, and indeed, always had done. On his k-punk blog, he argues it is Lacan’s conceptualisation of the symbolic that leads to one of his “most gnomic and provocative formulations: ‘truth has the structure of fiction’.” [33] Though once again discussing this formulation on his blog in the context of one of Žižek’s lectures, it undoubtedly stuck out to Fisher for its resonance with his interests as a PhD student at the University of Warwick in the late 1990s.

Whilst writing his thesis — which similarly explored evocations of the uncanny in works of science-fiction — Fisher was involved with the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (or Ccru). [34] Despite its somewhat official sounding name, the group were a decisively para-academic gathering who sought to both investigate and produce mythologies of and for the early Internet — that is, new fictions — which arguably rival Lovecraft’s own Cthulhu mythos, his “Great Old Ones”, in both their scope and contemporary cultural influence. With Lovecraft’s mythos firmly in mind, the Ccru developed a bestiary of symbolic and eerie entities, which provided an elusive form to many of the impersonal forces that had long since controlled us and which were themselves finding new modes of expression in our new technological age.

Amongst the cornucopia of concepts engineered at this time is the idea of “hyperstition”. A play on the word “superstition” — our irrational tendency to believe in moments of acausal coincidence — hyperstition is instead defined as an element “of effective culture that makes itself real.” [35] The question for the Ccru becomes: how can cultural studies and philosophy — which can, like science-fiction, exacerbate certain qualities of the present in their analyses of cultural artefacts — also make certain futures not just culturally significant but actual and real?

Beyond the Ccru’s cybergothic modes of expression, hyperstitions can likewise be understood in Lacanian terms. If “truth has the structure of fiction”, then what is needed for fiction to take on the structure of truth? We already know that such a thing is possible — capitalist realism demonstrates this most effectively. Viewed from the other side, however, and bearing directly on Fisher’s entire body of work, we might ask ourselves: what does it take to actualise the seemingly impossible “fictions” of alternatives to capitalism?

In the aforementioned blogpost from 2005, Fisher asks this question directly. Writing up notes on a conversation held at Birkbeck, University of London, between Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou, Fisher summarises the cleft of their discussion as follows: “For Badiou, the challenge was the production of new fictions; for Žižek, the problem was escaping the already-operative fictions of Capital.” [36] It is these two questions that would arguably concern Fisher for the rest of his life, with The Weird and the Eerie discussing myriad fictions that exist somewhere in between. But it was always the production of new fictions, as explored by the Ccru, that Fisher hoped would soon come to bear on the already-operative fictions of capitalist realism. In between the two, we find a direct problematisation of our desires.

As Fisher would argue in his final lectures, given at Goldsmiths, University of London, in late 2016, the central problem of any emancipatory political philosophy worth a damn is the active questioning of our desires. [37] Do we want what we say we want? What if we wanted other things? As Fisher argues, we do want other things, quite obviously — other selves, other political realities, other worlds. Though capitalism attempts to recapitulate our errant desires whenever they emerge, forcing the system to adapt and cover over the gaps in its ideological firmament, the implication is precisely that, against capitalism’s assertions to the contrary, it does not hold the monopoly on our desires. This is significant. As Fisher writes: “Partly what is at stake here … is the idea that the unconscious cannot lie” — a point that, “at the simplest level”, is only the reiteration of one of “the oldest and most familiar lessons of psychoanalysis: slips of the tongue, dreams, symptoms give us access to a truth which cannot be accessed directly.” [38] And so, what would it take for our unconscious desires — which often differ considerably from (but are otherwise denied actualisation by) the libidinal restrictions of capitalism realism — to escape a wishful thinking and instead become astute political demands?

In a follow-up blogpost on the same conversation between Žižek and Badiou, Fisher offers perhaps the most concise and actionable answer to these questions he is able to provide, elucidating what is required of any emancipatory and pointedly libidinal political project that hopes to overcome capitalist realism:

The first hypothesis we might hazard is that, counter-intuitively, only fictions are capable of generating belief. “The final belief must be in a fiction,” Badiou quoted Wallace Stevens as writing. The belief at stake is clearly not a propositional but an attitudinal belief; which is to say, not a belief that a particular factual state of affairs obtains but belief as a set of commitments.

Secondly, since capitalism is itself inherently fictional, it is essential that counter-capitalist fictions be produced. Fiction here would not mean an “imaginary” (in a Lacanian or any other sense) alternative but an already-operative generator of possibilities.

Fiction ensures that things are not only themselves. Capital is the most effective sorcery operative on the planet at the moment because it is adept at transforming banal objects into … sublimely mysterious commodities. Trans-substantiation. The allure of the commodity arises from the non-coincidence of the object with itself … Anti-capitalism needs to take the form not only of a demystifying, depressive desublimation but of the production of alternative modes of sublimation. [39]

It is in The Weird and the Eerie that Fisher lays the cultural groundwork for these political hypotheses. How his observations could practically be applied and actualised is not abundantly clear, however. Perhaps these were to come later, in his unfinished Acid Communism. Nevertheless, through his engagement with the various “fictions” of H.P. Lovecraft, H.G. Wells, The Fall, Tim Powers, Philip K. Dick, David Lynch, Daphne du Maurier, Christopher Priest, M.R. James, Brian Eno, Nigel Kneale, Alan Garner, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Glazer, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, Christopher Nolan and Joan Lindsey, Fisher demonstrates how we already have a wealth of already-operative generators of possibility at our disposal in weird fictions of all kinds. In often fantastical terms, these authors, musicians and filmmakers all challenge our collective unconscious nonetheless, which, as Fisher argued, never lies.


Certain readers may be disappointed (others grateful) that the kind of theoretical exposition presented in this preface — which admittedly attempts to cover a lot of ground in a necessarily short piece of writing — is lacking in Fisher’s text itself. Many have described The Weird and the Eerie in the same terms that Fisher used to describe Freud’s essay on the unheimliche: it is full of “ambivalences”, “repetitions”, and “over-hasty closures”. Anecdotally, it has been suggested that this is because Fisher’s depression made him reticent to properly engage with the editorial process pre-publication, such that he resisted making improvements and clarifications within the text that others felt were needed. But speaking personally, and reading Fisher’s work with an appropriate generosity, if this makes Fisher’s final book a particularly weird addition to his collected works, it is all the more intriguing for that fact.

Fisher sets about opening various portals in this final work, which will hopefully lead the reader to the text’s various outsides. His fleeting references to Lacanian theory, in particular, allow for an initiation into works much more dense and complex than his own. This was always the strength of Fisher’s work, in my view. Like Capitalist Realism itself — a surprisingly short and accessible book that is nonetheless sprinkled with allusions and references to far more difficult works of philosophical and political theory — it serves as an initiation rather than a warning to the curious.

Nevertheless, the difficulty of these texts may fill new readers with terror, but terror is not all there is to found on the outside of this or any of Fisher’s works. Indeed, The Weird and the Eerie functions as a toolkit for engaging with the peculiar nature of our present moment. Our world is strange and uncanny, weird and eerie, but in attuning ourselves to its seemingly inscrutable machinations, we can find paths that lead us outwards from the common-sense structure of reality that is presented to us. We can begin to find ways out of capitalist realism, already present in so many examples of popular culture, which begins to describe many of the preliminary steps it is necessary to take along such paths, imbuing these movements with a profound political confidence that has otherwise been denied us.

[1] Aaron Bastani, “Is This the Most Important Book So Far This Century?”, Novara Media, 13 January 2023: <>

[2] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? London: Zer0 Books, 2009, 2.

[3] Mark Fisher, “Fans, Vampires, Trolls, Masters”, k-punk, 12 June 2009: <>

[4] Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie. London: Repeater Books, 2017, 10-11.

[5] Ibid., 11.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trans. James Strachey, ed. James Strachey and Angela Richards. London: Penguin Books, The Pelican Freud Library, Vol. 2, 1973, 215.

[11] See: Mark Fisher, “Acid Communism (Unfinished Introduction)”, K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016). London: Repeater Books, 2018, 753-770.

[12] Fisher often typed up his notes from these lectures and published them on his blog. See, for example: Mark Fisher, “Why are you so afraid of class?”, k-punk, 26 May 2006: <>

[13] Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 11.

[14] Mark Fisher, “I put my finger on the weird”, k-punk, 29 November 2007: <> Here, Fisher is quoting Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby Dick, or The Whale, in which Captain Ahab, pre-empting Freud’s theory by some decades, directly interrogates his unconscious desires, his own agency, and in particular, his strange obsession with the whale that eludes him: “What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.”

[15] Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trans. James Strachey, ed. James Strachey and Angela Richards. London: Penguin Books, The Pelican Freud Library, Vol. 1, 1973, 326.

[16] H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu” in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi. London: Penguin Books, 2002, 139.

[17] Mark Fisher, “Lovecraft and the Weird: Part II”, k-punk, 25 May 2007: <>

[18] Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 9. My emphasis.

[19] Mark Fisher, “Weird/ Psychoanalysis”, k-punk, 17 December 2007: <>

[20] Ibid.

[21] Mark Fisher, “Spectres of Revolution”, k-punk, 17 January 2010: <>

[22] Graham Harman, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. London: Zer0 Books, 2012, 1.

[23] Ibid.

[24] See: Mark Fisher, “Weird Realism”, k-punk, 19 February 2007: <>

[25] Fisher, “I put my finger on the weird”.

[26] Joshua Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012, 2.

[27] Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense, trans. Constantin V. Boundas, Mark Lester and Charles J. Stivale. London and New York: Bloomsbury Revelations, 2015, xi.

[28] Ibid., 2.

[29] Lacan, it has been suggested, was a fan of Deleuze’s book, Logic of Sense, perceiving his own influence on the text’s various analyses.

[30] Jacques Lacan, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006, 6.

[31] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? London: Repeater Books, 2009, 18.

[32] Ibid., 7. It is notable that Lacan makes this assertion in a seminar given not on Lovecraft but his equally weird predecessor, Edgar Allan Poe – specifically, his short story “The Purloined Letter”.

[33] Mark Fisher, “Left hyperstition 1: The Fictions of Capital”, k-punk, 28 November 2005: <> For Lacan’s discussion of this specific formulation, see: Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII. London: Routledge Classics, 2007.

[34] See: Mark Fisher, Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction. New York: Exmilitary Press, 2018.

[35] CCRU, “Glossary” in Writings 1997-2003. Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2017.

[36] Fisher, “Left hyperstition 1: The Fictions of Capital”.

[37] See: Mark Fisher, Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures, ed. Matt Colquhoun. London: Repeater Books, 2021.

[38] Fisher, “Left hyperstition 1: The Fictions of Capital”.

[39] Mark Fisher, “Left hyperstition 2: Be Unrealistic, Change What’s Possible”, k-punk, 29 November 2009: <>