Fisher, Mark, K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016), Repeater Books, 2018. ISBN: 9781912248285. £25.
Repeater Books 2018
Born in 1968, a year after the summer of love, a period he dismissed with a certain level of scorn, Mark Fisher began his K-Punk blog as a kind of intellectual retreat from and savage critique of what he regarded as the banality and hedonistic boredom of twenty-first century existence. While Fisher kept himself busy as a lecturer and also co-founder of first ZerO Books and then Repeater, the blog attracted a growing number of followers. But all discourse ended in 2017 when, sadly, he took his own life.
K-Punk, then, serves not only as a fitting eulogy but also a rather daunting access point, its non-sequential structure creating folds in time. However, although fans of the blog will undoubtedly find some small degree of consolation in the arrival of this anthology, the title remains somewhat misleading; The Weird and the Eerie, for example, which consists of several lectures exploring the otherworldy in literature as being an essential and entangled component of the world itself, is nowhere to be found. But at a monstrous 800 pages, there is already a risk of information overload. Indeed, these are essays to ponder over rather than binge on. Where possible, find a quiet space, turn off the phone and tune into the page.
The book is split into several sections, my personal favourite being Methods of Dreaming: Books. Here, J. G. Ballard’s ‘spinal landscapes’ become the main focus of attention. For Fisher, Ballard’s genius begins and ends with The Atrocity Exhibition, with its uncompromising resistance to plot, character origins and backstories. His ruminations on Ballard and the state of contemporary fiction are both inspiring and depressing. As he concludes in The Assassination of J. G. Ballard, ‘Where are his twenty-first century inheritors, those who can use the fiction-kits Ballard assembled in the sixties as diagrams and blueprints for a new kind of fiction?’
With so much material, overlap and repetition is inevitable. But as with Ballard’s fiction, themes become reconfigured and obsessions reassert themselves in new permutations; the psychology of Jacques Lacan, the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard, the films of David Cronenberg, the music of The Fall, the ‘pulp modernism’ of H. P. Lovecraft. Gaps and fissures in memory. Identity and selfhood given a manufactured, fake coherence via screen saver images and Instagram photos. Airbrushed personalities revealing none of the glitches below the surface. Strange zones beyond perceptual thresholds. ‘The total colonisation of the unconscious by media images.’
Although the section on politics held the least interest for me, Fisher’s investigative pursuit of a correlation between the precarious nature of twenty-first century employment, where workers are expected to be on call 24/7, with mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression yield some of the most significant and profound insights in the book. As Fisher asserts, the absurdities of Franz Kafka’s The Trial and The Castle offer better reflections of the modern world than George Orwell’s 1984.
Prior to his death, which most likely resulted from his own struggle with depression, Fisher was working on a new project titled Acid Communism, of which only the introduction remains. At this point, Fisher seemed to have resolved some of his earlier antagonism towards the sixties counterculture: ‘Acid communism…is a joke of sorts, but one with very serious purpose. It points to something that, at one point seemed inevitable, but which now appears impossible: the convergence of…socialist-feminist consciousness-raising and psychedelic consciousness…’ Exactly how Fisher would have gone on to develop this concept is anyone’s guess, but it would surely have made for a fascinating read.
Whether you agree with Fisher’s opinions or not, the fact remains that his death is a great loss to the ever diminishing realm of critical thought and intellectual enquiry. But, hey, new and trending right now: disco cats!
You can buy K-Punk here.
Christopher Brownsword has reviewed books for 3 AM Magazine, Word Riot, Empty Mirror and Now Then among others. His Word Riot review of Mark SaFranko’s The Suicide was quoted in a recent critical study by Dr. Heather Duerre Humann.