book-reviews

Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

by Mark Fisher

Rating: ★★★

Fisher says some true and interesting things in this essay, but they are obscured by his cultural reference-heavy presentation, and his meandering into more general societal critique based on his own experiences in education, which feel somewhat shoe-horned into the text.

In essence, he complains that capitalism is throwing a shroud of inescapability over the modern mind, reducing participants to the status of collaborators in their own misfortune -- not by authority, but by the dissolution of responsibility and the extension of bureaucratic conformity. This much is true, if not complete, and some parts of it are amusingly illustrated by the cultural references Fisher provides. I enjoyed his analogy of the call centre:

The call center experience distils the political phenomenology of late capitalism: the boredom and frustration punctuated by cheerily piped PR, the repeating of the same dreary details many times to different poorly trained and badly informed operatives, the building rage that must remain impotent because it can have no legitimate object, since - as is very quickly clear to the caller - there is no-one who knows, and no-one who could do anything even if they could. Anger can only be a matter of venting; it is aggression in a vacuum, directed at someone who is a fellow victim of the system but with whom there is no possibility of communality. Just as the anger has no proper object, it will have no effect. In this experience of a system that is unresponsive, impersonal, centerless, abstract and fragmentary, you are as close as you can be to confronting the artificial stupidity of Capital in itself.

However, Fisher is over-abundant with these relatable offerings, and you emerge feeling somewhat like you read not an essay on economic philosophy but a review of Children of Men that careened wildly off the rails, skidded over a copy of Capital, bounced off a Times editorial about higher education and ploughed into the author's notes on some other films he was intending to write up. Given some careful editorial revision, I could quite like this or something like it