Book Review: Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher

Mark Fisher at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art


Mark Fisher at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art

Nikoli Weir, Reporter

If Mark Fisher’s book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? could be summarized in one quote, it would be Frederic Jameson’s “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” Today’s world is permeated by a “pervasive atmosphere” of what Fisher calls “depressive hedonia,” a mindless pursuit of pleasure that creates and reinforces an attitude of passivity, in which it is believed that nothing can actually be done to change society for the better (other than voting and participating within the mainstream political movement). This is just one symptom of what Fisher calls “capitalist realism,” an unchallenged belief in the impossibility of a system other than capitalism being successful.

For Fisher, constructing a new emancipatory political project involves destroying “the appearance of a ‘natural order…” and must reveal that “what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be mere contingency…” (Fisher, 17). A big part of Fisher’s analysis of capitalism is that it acts as a sort of reprogrammer of human libidinal drives, making them desire what they would not otherwise desire, and reconfigures their subjectivity so that they end up identifying with the people who oppress and exploit them. However, not only does capitalism reconfigure drives and subjectivity, it also reduces this shift to a mere bio-chemical reaction and rules out the question of social causation.

Thus, for Fisher, one of the first tasks of any potential emancipatory movement is the repoliticization of mental illness. We must come to realize that the rising rates of mental illness are not natural; that the rise of depression, anxiety, and ADHD are in fact directly caused by the elastic, unstable nature of life under neoliberal capitalism, and that these illnesses can be directly linked back to neoliberal economic policies. As Fisher writes, “to a degree unprecedented in any other social system, capitalism both feeds on and reproduces the moods of populations. Without delirium and confidence, capital could not function,” (35).