k-punk – The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher, edited by Darren Ambrose and with a foreword by music critic Simon Reynolds, is the highly anticipated collection of seminal writings from the sadly departed theorist Mark Fisher. It is an important addition to the catalogue of Repeater Books, a publishing house co-founded by Fisher, which along with Zer0 Books has reinvigorated radical publishing in the last few years.
When Mark Fisher passed away in 2017, tributes poured in from well-known artists in the electronic music scene; however, he was not primarily a musician but a deeply incisive critic. So how did this come to be? The answer is that Fisher took popular culture seriously and wrote passionately about the cultural and political implications of music, film, and literature. He held up rave and post-punk music as exemplars of a ‘popular modernist’ aesthetic that in its shocking newness showed that ‘another world is possible’. By contrast, he was scathing about culture that he felt was a pastiche of past styles.
The renowned writer first came to my attention via Simon Reynold’s excellent book Retromania in which his take on the philosopher Jacques Derrida’s concept of ‘hauntology’ is briefly discussed. This then led me on to Fisher’s own book Ghosts of My Life where he applied this concept to the music of dubstep pioneer Burial, as well as lesser known artists such as The Caretaker. Fisher’s writings contain frequent references to philosophers such as Spinoza, Gilles Deleuze, and Fredric Jameson and he had an incredible ability to make this sometimes arcane source material relevant and accessible. In addition to Ghosts of My Life, Fisher also wrote the book that first brought him to wider attention, Capitalist Realism, as well as his final book The Weird and The Eerie. Furthermore, he edited collections on post-punk and Michael Jackson.
Fisher was a prominent blogger known as ‘k-punk’ and this book collects his blog posts and articles published elsewhere, alongside interviews and unpublished material. It is the latter that will, of course, be most exciting for those who have already devoured Fisher’s published writings, in particular the unfinished introduction to his planned book Acid Communism, which rounds off the collection. This introduction shows great promise and it is devastating to think that the book will never be completed and that there is to be no more writing from Mark Fisher.
The scope of Fisher’s cultural touchstones are broad but several themes emerge throughout his work. Some of these themes include: the slowing down of musical innovation in recent years, mental health and its relation to political and economic factors, and the wounds of class and its centrality to a proper analysis of society. It is difficult to pick out highlights in a book that is around 800 pages long and is of such consistent quality.
Saying this however, his successful reviews of Sleaford Mods and DJ Rashad get to the heart of what makes these artists amongst the most vital of recent years. Fisher commends Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson for ‘forcing listeners to adjust to his accent, idiolect and references’ in an article that discusses the politics of regional accents and Mod culture. He notes that Rashad’s music evokes ‘sadness and confidence’, ‘longing and bliss’, and ‘articulates the impasses of our twenty-first-century condition with a precision and a compassion that few others can match’. Fisher is able to find common ground between the DJ’s music and not only jungle and cool jazz but the cut-up techniques of William Burroughs and the Internet phenomena of animated GIFs.
Tackling quite different themes, the pieces on the 2010 student protests, ’Kettle Logic’ and ‘Winter of Discontent 2.0’, capture the defiant mood of that time, when young people took on the coalition government and looked as if they might win.
Taking on important issues surrounding depression, ’Good for Nothing’ is an insightful article where Fisher relates personal experiences. He explores how the poor are encouraged to think that their situation is their own fault and blame themselves, rather than the social structures in place.
His controversial essay ‘Exiting the Vampire Castle’ is still pertinent in its critique of a good deal of online discourse, especially considering that arguments around the politics of identity and how the Left can win continue to rage.
A perceptive and acerbic piece on class and comedy, ’The Strange Death of British Satire’ explores how the culture of British boarding schools has seeped into the media.
The editor has usefully divided the volume into sections on books, film and television, music, and politics for the reader’s ease. For anyone interested in the space where culture and politics meet, k-punk is essential reading. Repeater Books’ tome is a thought-provoking collection of Mark Fisher’s work and both a celebration of his career and a fitting tribute to his life.
Image Credit: Repeater Books