Book Review: Postcapitalist Desire // Mark Fisher

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When it comes to lecture transcripts as opposed to a book, there is a slight change in receptivity. In a formal book there is the stoic image of the author stooped over the desk detailing over his or her choice of wording and prose. The former captures the spoken voice, the everyday oratory of conversation. To hear a real-time lecture taking place is a fresh experience. It’s like he’s talking with you. There is a sense of intellectual adventure and intensity. In this book’s case, it is in the abstract realm of post-capital existence.

Postcapitalist Desire (2021) is a collection of five lectures, out of a total of 15 that were originally scheduled, held at Goldsmiths University. The five are titled as such: What is Post Capitalism?, Countercultural Bohemia as Pre-configuration, From Class Consciousness to Group Consciousness, Union Power and Soul Power, and lastly, Libidinal Marxism. The most tragic and poignant detail about this is Mark’s suicide in 2017, which left the remaining ten lectures untouched; his influence had such profundity that the students – both enrolled and not – continued his lectures posthumously every Monday morning in memory of their beloved lecturer.

The first lecture he gave poses the simple question “What is Post-Capitalism?” Implicit in this question, he does something that any serious thinker should do, which is to find subtle distinctions between similar terms. The flexibility of one’s thinking is determined by how one carries this distinction out. Because post-capitalism is such a theoretical concept, a spectre of sorts with no such graspable features apart from it being preceded by capitalism, Fisher puts the question forth to his students so that it can turn from gaseous to a semi-solid: What are the advantages of Post-Capitalism? And, it is here where I think his credibility as a thinker shines through. He offers a counterargument: Why not just call it “socialism” or “communism” as the official political/economic structure after capitalism? Those terms are in fact, as Fisher points out, tinted with negative associations from past projects; Post-Capitalism rings out a more neutral tone. The rest of the lectures are fitted with such charming and reasonable explanations that make you nod your head to his reasoning. 

But some further reading is necessary in order to understand the theoretical landscape Fisher is exposing. Beforehand, it would be worth dipping into writings by Lyotard, Delueze & Guattari, and Gibson-Graham (an Appendix of relevant literature is given for the dedicated readers out there(!)) 

The verve for teaching these fundamental socio-political forces is felt through the pace of Fisher’s speech. He relieves the pressure of a one-man discourse – talking at students – by talking with. He does this by giving the students some of the thinking responsibility, proposing in the first instance that students start the lecture with a point or a question. Throughout, they put forth penetrative questions, too, in response to post-capitalism: “Doesn’t it sound more like a theory, in comparison to a political system?” They challenge Fisher not out of defiance or to taunt, but to gain a fuller understanding. The atmosphere’s partially and positively Socratic, and I envy the students for having attended. 

Fisher helped us diagnose the malaise of our present culture. In another class (not in this book) he gave an insightful talk about the “slow cancellation of the future” in the landscape of culture, music especially. Even the breakdown of the dystopian future could not escape his criticism. A lecturer of great intrigue, indeed, and a beacon of light in these chaotic times. 

Words by Anthony Cheng

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