Mark Fisher was a writer and academic from the English Midlands who, in the early two-thousands, felt at odds with many of the institutions around him. Fisher, then in his mid-thirties, had devoted himself to theories of capitalism and Internet culture that few people in his immediate vicinity appeared to care about. He was zealous about obscure music and cinema at a time when critical discourse seemed to be reorienting itself around our biggest stars. So, in 2003, he decided to start a blog.
Fisher’s blog was called K-Punk. The K came from kyber, the Greek root of “cyber,” and it was intended to signal his interest in a time before the rise of the sort of cyber boosterism that Fisher associated with Wired magazine. Punk, for Fisher, was a way of being and seeing that involved a refusal of things as they were. The blog would be a place to workshop and refine ideas, and a forum for debates that seemed marginal within academia but too dense for mainstream magazines.
Blogging, in those days, at its best, seemed like a distinct genre of writing and thinking. Fisher’s posts were adventurous and idiosyncratic, chasing allusions across his bookshelf, record collection, and multiple screens—a riff on Ronald Reagan, for instance, might be routed through Jonathan Swift, the Dadaists, and Fredric Jameson. K-Punk gave Fisher space to revisit past enthusiasms: the hyperactive dance singles, experimental filmmakers, and pulp novels that had rewired his outlook when he was growing up in Margaret Thatcher’s nineteen-eighties. He revisited some of these influences—the author J. G. Ballard, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek—frequently enough that, if you were a regular reader of the blog, they became a part of your world view, too.
But if there was a single theme around which K-Punk’s eclectic energies organized, it was the future. Specifically: What happened to it? Fisher feared that we were losing our ability to conceptualize a tomorrow that was radically different from our present.
K-Punk attracted an avid readership, and, in 2009, Fisher published “Capitalist Realism,” a slim, powerful book about “the widespread acceptance that there is no alternative to capitalism.” Fisher saw signs of exhausted resignation in everything from the faces of his students to grim Hollywood movies set in the near-future (“Children of Men,” “Wall-E”) to “Supernanny,” a British reality show about parents unable to rein in their misbehaving kids. Fisher was interested not only in the political causes and cultural expressions of this exhaustion but in its emotional dimensions, too: the feelings of sadness or despondency that seem increasingly common across the political spectrum.
“Capitalist Realism” became a cult favorite in part because of the relentless energy of Fisher’s writing and in part on account of the rousing call to arms that he offered in its pages. “The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism,” he writes. “From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.”