I never met Mark Fisher, but we corresponded often via e-mail. And he was always very encouraging. Right after I wrote a scathing review of “conference communism” in early 2014, “The Ghost of Communism Past,” Mark sent me the following: “Your piece on conference communism, sent to me by a fellow editor, fairly well nails down what we hope Zer0 isn’t. We enjoyed it, happy new year.” Fisher would of course depart from Zer0, along with many of his peers, to found Repeater Books later that same year. Nevertheless, his commitment to an accessible, non-academic but sophisticated Marxism was unflagging.
Capitalist Realism was his principal achievement in the realm of theory, the fruit of a long series of reflections and introspection conducted largely online. In it he railed against “the slow cancellation of the future” enacted by post-communist capitalism. Taking its cue from Jameson’s insight — no less true for having been quoted ad nauseam — that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism,” Mark asked if there was “really no alternative” to the neoliberal regime of Reagan and Thatcher. Some of his musings about mental health, which regularly featured on his K-Punk blog, also appeared with casual brilliance in this text:
The current ruling ontology denies any possibility of a social causation of mental illness. The chemico-biologization of mental illness is of course strictly commensurate with its depoliticization. Considering mental illness an individual chemico-biological problem has enormous benefits for capitalism. First, it reinforces capital’s drive towards atomistic individualization (you are sick because of your brain chemistry). Second, it provides an enormously lucrative market in which multinational pharmaceutical companies can peddle their pharmaceuticals (we can cure you with our SSRIs). It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation; and the task of repoliticizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism.
How much sadder it all seems, reading these words now, in light of his suicide. Mark confessed in an article for The Occupied Times that he “suffered from depression intermittently since [he] was a teenager.” Obviously it would be presumptuous to conclude that the miserable state of leftist discourse had anything to do with his decision to end his life; too many other factors might have been more immediate or proximate. But it would be just as misguided to maintain that this had nothing to do with Mark’s overwhelming sense of despair in recent years, especially since he so frequently lamented the sorry place at which we’ve all arrived.