wed 17/07/2024

Mark Fisher: Postcapitalist Desire - The Final Lectures review - imagining the alternative | reviews, news & interviews

Mark Fisher: Postcapitalist Desire - The Final Lectures review - imagining the alternative

Mark Fisher: Postcapitalist Desire - The Final Lectures review - imagining the alternative

An eye-opening exploration of the relationship between capitalism and desire

Mark FisherPaul Samuel White

Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures is a collection of transcripts, recording weekly group lectures delivered by Mark Fisher to his students at Goldsmiths, University of London during the 2016/17 academic year.

These lectures provide the substance of a module of the same name, taught within the university’s then-newly formed MA in Contemporary Art Theory. In his capacity as a lecturer, Fisher coaxes his students through the questions explored and raised by the concept of postcapitalist desire, described as the “shadow” to the ideas explored in-depth in Fisher’s earlier, unexpectedly successful work, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009).

Capitalist Realism drew attention to a burgeoning paradigm, in which (as per the brief summary Fisher here offers his students) “the idea that there’s no alternative to capitalism becomes the ambient political assumption”. Postcapitalist Desire is then, an extension, or mirror-image of that previous work. It examines the consequences of late capitalism, boring deeper into the antagonisms that seem to plague the contemporary human condition, or “the nefarious and entangled relationship between desire and capitalism, and the extent to which the former can both help and restrict us in our attempts to escape from the latter”. This “escape”, Fisher is keen to stress, must not, cannot, be figured as a return – to a romanticised fantasy of a society before capitalism. Rather, it is to be achieved by moving through capitalism, adopting practical and political transformations to prioritise “working less and determining your own needs”.

Postcapitalist DesireOf the 15 scheduled lectures, only the first five are transcribed in this collection. In January 2017, Fisher’s death brought his series to an abrupt halt – at least, in its intended format; the second appendix to the text notes how the class size “doubled, perhaps trebled, in size”. Reading each discussion, it is easy to see why. As lecturers go, one gets the sense that Fisher was probably a good one. Billed as “somewhat theoretical, somewhat journalistic, also some cultural and political history as well”, each week introduces a different perspective relating to the overall theme of postcapitalist desire. Fisher charts a line of decent from the 1970s – through counterculture, trade unions, and the birth of neoliberalism – to the contemporary, where Fisher’s insights really shine through. Take, for instance, his analysis of so-called “identity politics”. It is wrong, Fisher argues, to understand the phenomenon as a game played only by the left. Instead, he makes the point that the crafting of an identarian working class, in the US and the UK, has been essential to the success of the right, and entails a deflation of traditional class consciousness: “They bring class and race together in order to negate the transformative potentials of both”. To Fisher, these developments are no accident. Rather, “it’s a deliberate strategy at the level of capital and human consciousness.”

Extracted from the real-life lecturing environment, the book is, nevertheless, surprisingly easy to follow – a fact that owes itself, in no small part, to Matt Colquhoun’s excellent introduction. Fisher, meanwhile, has an evident knack for well-judged digressions, dwelling where necessary on the trickier, complex points of contention. It is only in the final lecture, “Libidinal Marxism”, which takes up the not-quite critique of Marx and Marxism in Jean-François Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy (1974), where Fisher runs the risk of losing his students (and now, his reader). This is, however, a symptom of the notorious complexity of Lyotard’s text, and Fisher does a fine job of rendering its claims intelligible. If not, the problem is easily remedied – Fisher’s reading list has been helpfully included as an appendix to the book, enabling those who wish to follow the course right through to its intended conclusion.

The lectures contained within Postcapitalist Desire bear an irresistible socio-political significance. Yet, it is perhaps Fisher’s doubts and hesitations, his lack of pretension to a complete understanding of the topics at hand, that give the text its main attraction. Towards the end of Fisher’s first seminar, a discussion around the implementation of a Universal Basic Income spurs a student to pose a question regarding inflation. “Oh God…”, Fisher replies, “I don’t know anything about economics, really…” – cue group laughter. We may well wonder: how feasible is it, to request faith in any critical and cultural project in light of such a glaring aporia? Yet, rushing in to fill the gap, Fisher’s relentless optimism, his ambitious commitment to imagining an alternative to capitalism, is what makes him and Postcapitalist Desire so enjoyable.


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