Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?, 0 Books, 2009

Mark Fishers Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? Is the philosophers first book ( to my knowledge ) that outlines his views on this emerging political/philosophical paradigm. Fisher has commented on his blog, K-Punk, about Capitalist Realism for a long time and personally I think a book outlining the position of various modern day forms in relation to C.R. is long overdue and needed now, post-crunch, more than ever before ( the reason for this will be outlined later and is detailed wonderfully in the closing pages of the book ). The premise of the book is exploring the modern day disease of Capitalist Realisms infectious value attribution, bureaucratic epidemic and tangible evasiveness. The term was first used in the 50's and 60's referring to commodity art ( Pop Art ) and also for German Abstract painters like Gerhard RichterSigmar Polke and Wolf Vostell. Everything has a value, everything is something to be exchanged, bought in to and sold and measured.


Fisher explores a myriad of facets of this post modern disease, it's effects on public sectors like the N.H.S. and the rather crushing and paradoxical contortions it's applies to the education services. Fishers main ally in painting the multitude of wrong doings and perversions of Capitalist Realism is in fact an integral component of Capitalist Realism. This component is 'The Business Ontology'. Fishers remarks on this particular symptom had me almost laughing and certainly cringing, many members of my family work in various capacities in education and are involved with their corresponding unions whereas I work in a private sector for an enormous multi-media service provider. Business Ontologies have eroded the productivity away from both private and public sectors with alarming effects.  Fisher is employed in the higher education sector and often describes circumstances of how The Business Ontology is at odds with or hindering 'the job' of teaching tomorrows bright young citizens, his exasperation is familiar and not dissimilar to so many despairing soliloquies I've nodded along to over supper. The Business Ontology is information ages obsession of quantifying all aspects of life, naturally it's most damaging to the public sectors where 'care', 'quality' and 'experience' matter most. The Business Ontologies of the public sectors often coincide with Kafkian/Orwellian modes of anxiety inducing monitoring and de-centralized hierarchies of evaluation, but more on these later.... Todays obsession with reducing life into ticks and crosses or ( perhaps more aptly considering the causation mechanics ) zeros and ones has reduced whole careers into 'dancing bears', dancing at the mercy of the zeros and ones. For example if a class of children finish a year on above average grades, the teacher of their next years class starts with the prospect of a disadvantage. Teachers are targeted ruthlessly today, but do not have the prospect of un-capped commissions like their highly targeted counter-parts in sales or recruitment sectors. A teacher has to show that his or her class achieve a certain amount of improvement from point at which they entered the year. So if a class of seven year old girls enter the academic year with a 'reading age' of a masters graduate their teacher would still need to achieve a whole years improvement in their reading age. Naturally this happens all the time across the UK, learning is not a linea progression and the leaps and bounds children make through education come at different times for different children. This blinkered targeting occurs in every facet and at every level of today's education systems, the problem would not be quite so chronic if the teachers failure to achieve targets did not result in endless evaluations and re-training, leading to more stress and time and work for people who are already wasting an inordinate amount of time of this Information Age Market Stalinism. This I.A.M.S. is not just infecting education, it's the reason why a hospital would rather operate on bunions as opposed to tumours ( the former having a faster turn around time and chance of 'full recovery' ):  it's all so that targets can be hit and boxes ticked, for they are ultimately what decides the level of funding for next year. It's, of course, not strictly the targets that do the damage, it's their acute nature. A target, that can be measured and quantified, will always be simplistic and essentially incompatible with complex and unquantifiable aspects of life - these aspects are what makes the public sectors, people helping and working with people. Because of such an innate incompatibility the striving and achieving of these targets is contrary to the real intent of the public sectors, to hit the targets and to play by the systems rules one would have to actively work against the traditional moral and ethical strata of these established services. This is not an exaggeration, but the prevalence of 'the system', the I.A.M.S., is now our modern life, working against a system that actively destroys and throttles the efficiency and purpose from our work is now what we accept life is all about.    


Another set of mechanisms that erodes and strangles in unison with the I.A.M.S. and various maladies mentioned above is Kafkian/Orwellian modes of decentralized hierarchy's and constant evaluation/indefinite post-ponement of punishment and resolution. Anyone who has been frustrated with a large corporations labyrinth of call centers will be familiar with these mechanisms, but the obstructions for people to acquire a service or buy a product are the least worrying effects. In the public sectors such as Education Fisher explains of how external assessment bodies such as the infamous O.F.S.T.E.D have drifted away from their established format of a large, intrusive and diligent inspection every four years to a format of out-sourcing the inspection to the teachers themselves, yearly, or termly self assessments, targets achieved and targets set, short term goals and long term goals now dominate the process of homogenizing the education service. For someone who has not experienced the blindingly absurdity of UK Capitalist Realism, and the New Labourian malaise of I.A.M.S. a school that evaluates and constantly renews its goals and processes may sound like an effective system. Unfortunately this is a county mile, along 20 zones and speed bumps and speed cameras, away from the reality. For the departments and teachers themselves this results in a daily auto-flagellation, it wouldn't be so disastrous if the targets and goals did not mutate and shift with such fickle predictability. The result is that the teachers are trapped under an anxiety inducing cloud of constant evaluation, constant punishment and criticism. The quick but thorough and consistent four yearly inspections have been exploded and atomized to a level of constant presence at every level, the entities within the system have to adhere to the sectors paradigm and as a result operate for the I.A.M.S. as opposed to utilizing it for helping them work. In effect the entities themselves revert to systemically autophagian components whilst dancing for the zeros and ones.

Atomized Temporality/Ontology:

The various injuries incurred by the public sector through 1: the de-centralized/kafkian modes of evaluation and 2: contorting to conformity with the Business Ontology are only two examples of the areas that Fisher explores with regards to modern Britain's public services awkward trapping within Capitalist Realism. His methods of fleshing out and evaluating how almost every thread of modern Britain's fabric is writhing under Capitalist Realism are concise and profound. I have only hinted upon the few spheres of Capitalist Realist rot that Fishers book echoed from my own experience. The main impression left upon me after finishing Fishers Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? is the feeling that economic systems, political mechanics, our psyche, temporalities and ontologies have been exploded, atomized into isolated positions of helplessness, where Capitalist Realism can control and order solely propagate. Fisher provides hope that we can break free from such control, I feel too large a proportion is Putrefying and converted to the mechanisms of Capitalist Realism.


I intend to post further thoughts on the specifics of some of the other areas explored in Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? in the future, in the meantime please feel free to make your opinion known to me regarding my comments.

Adam Curtis : Socio-Political Documentary Remix for the Capitalist Realist ( Post Production )

Adam Curtis has long been producing highly informative political documentaries for the BBC. Many of these cut-&-paste docu-mixes have gathered a cult status through YouTube and the like. His Blog is a superb example of how the Internet can provide some lovely, insightful, nuggets of sociological commentary that is both historically enlightening and painfully relevant to current political shifts. His style is not dissimilar to the emerging style of documentary programming that the information overload of todays archival accessibility has incubated, the effect is powerful and immediately accessible to the viewer. Michael Moore's bombastic exercises in statistical distortion and unhinged uber-liberal common sensicalism also employ similar 'cut & paste' strategies to labour a point or exaggerate an opinion. Whereas Moores tone is simply akin to liberalist lynching and 'boo hiss' reactionism Curtis' voice is a much more objective ( in feel ) and reserved dialogue - or rather Curtis is just so more English! Moore's films often feel like two hours of 'hock dang those crooks aint right', thankfully Curtis is much more reserved and favours ponderous academica over sensationalism. The Power of Nightmares looks at the rise and blossom of orwellian methods of fear mongering amongst politicians and world leaders, regardless of continent or religion, Neo-Conservatives, radical Islamists, Russian and Chinese Communists and British New Labour have all modeled an evil enemy in order to provide leverage for ulterior political/economical motives. I won't comment on the myriad of complex relationships between radical Islamists, American Neo-Conservatives and Russian communism, Curtis' documentaries are much more enlightening than I could ever hope to be. However I will comment on a much more general theme of the three films. The over arching, or rather underlying cause of so much of the events explored in Curtis' films is the absence of a belief in a big, world changing, idea. If politics cannot offer this there is nothing left with enough emotional power to resonate strongly enough to keep people working and striving for a God and country. The only option left is to revert to the inverse of a positive world changing idea, the idea that even though things are OK, there is an evil enemy, unseen and unheard that must be kept at bay in order to preserve the current equilibrium. Whilst the prospect of Curtis uncovering an alternate reality where there are actually no tangible "evil doers" may be quite refreshing and positive the implication that politics has jettisoned hope for a better future in order to install an unrelenting fear of slipping from the normal, established secure mundanity of modern life is essentially depressing and devastating. To use an analogy, today we are prisoners, who would rather stay within the prison walls rather than venture outside, the risk and fear of the unknown ( always from within our own psyche's ) has been enabled in order to suspend a generation in a constant state of feverish panic, working, efficiently and tenaciously, to avoid an imaginary bogey man. Now we are trapped in our own politico-psychological prison, whereas before we used to look forwards and have the tantalizing pull of a Utopian horizon order our efforts and our desires.
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Fyodor Dostoevsky - The Idiot starting with Akira Kurosawa's Hakuchi, 1951

The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky,will be the 6th novel of his oeuvre that I've had the pleasure of reading. The previous works I have read have been all encompassing and gripping, whole months have slipped by under the heady cloud of Dostoevskian conjuring's, but each book has been closed with the knowledge that there is more to the novel than the few facets I've had the fortune of appreciating. Ive often read secondary texts, Richard Pevears insightful introductions for example, but the emphasis is often upon the novels historical context, rather than the endless nuances and ambiguities within the fictions characters and their inter-personal relationships as well as the thematic relationships. I feel an intensely microscopic study of the details within Dostoevskys novels could, perhaps, extrapolate whole new revelations and questions. One scholar who enthusiastically delves into the depths of the details is the phenomenologist Hubert Dreyfus,Professor of Philosophy at The  University of California, Berkeley. In his lectures on Existentialism in Literature and Film he passionately labours over the decisions and twists of fate that Dostoevsky, cruelly and beautifully, moves his characters through. Unfortunately, Dreyfus's attention is focused solely on The Brothers Karamazov however I would love Drefus's fantastically thorough attentions and philosophical rigours to be given to all of Dostoevskys works, so that the same enlightening analysis can be brought to each and every one of the great Russians works. In my quest for more in-depth texts concerning Dostoevsky's works I have, on occasion, turned to the Internet. Unfortunately I have always found the online content concerning his work to be ( unusually considering the webs great sea of subject hypodata ) devoid of any in depth or critical readings of the authors great works. Or rather his output is critiqued but the actual mechanisms, let alone each characters philosophical positionings, inside each great work are left curiously unexplored. The wiki-pandering to online readers fickle attention deficit and compulsion to align text, regardless of meaning and context, into an adsense friendly framework has meant the wealth information available online can never really scratch at the surface of Dostoevsky, and certainly not provide any meaningful emotional reactions or interpretations. The emotional facet of exhilarating nihilism, the soul harrowing journeys and poignant beauty remain inside the pages of his novels and the minds of the readers. 

Dostoevsky's novels often contain a dichotomy of light and dark, distinct Apollonian and Dionysian elements prevail, good and bad, god and evil, real and not -  so the themes can be often be regarded and/or interpreted as overarching and paradigmatic despite many philosophical and theoretical arguments raging within the depths of a particular characters soul or through the tensions occurring within various characters, often deeply flawed, relationships. Typically the Freudian relationships in each work ( Freud took an awful lot from The Brothers Karamazov, a work about the authors father as much as it is about existential anguish or Russian nihilism ) and Dostoevsky's rabid schizomatic narratives, sprawling asymmetrical literary contexts and violent or fractured theme progressions often yield high emotion responses and philosophic impressions whilst leaving many mute points, odd questions and stones unturned ( an awesome, stunning example of this particular Dostoevskian trait is Demons ). The concise, poignant beauty of later french existentialist Albert Camus is only glimpsed fleeting in Dostoevsky, but is all the more arresting and thought provoking for its shadowy evasiveness. Dostoevskys works explore the Russian psyche amidst a time of nihilistic turmoil and a psychological/philosophical movement that would ultimately be defined as existentialism but I feel his work is perhaps clouded by this cumbersome connection. The mechanisms that result in Dostoevsky lacking thematic definition or clear philosophical positioning are the reasons his works are so great ( and also so hard to critique or discuss on a sub-novelean framework ). The experience is organic, gyrating, misty and murky and some characters or contexts within his novels do not even lead to questions, let alone answers. Perhaps this is why many people write about the great russians works with an entirely generalistic tone - in that Dostoevsky's books are summed up from the novels context within his artistic output, or juxtaposed against his personal life or within the ages political and social contexts rather than being examined on an entirely microscopic level concerned with the intricacies of each characters philosophical positioning and relational contexts. I am unsure of where to start with approaching The Idiot in order to achieve such deep and nuanced levels of comprehension, so for now I will start compiling various materials that may, in direct or oblique manners, acts as comprehension catalysts for the text and ideas within. I will start by providing ( oh! the may joys of living in the information age! ) YouTube clips of HakuchiAkira Kurosawa's 1951 adaptationof Dostoevsky's The Idiot. 


Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 1 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 2 of 17


Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 3 of 17
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Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 5 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 6 of 17

Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 7 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 8 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 9 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 10 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 11 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 12 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 13 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 14 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 15 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 16 of 17
Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, 1951. Part 17 of 17

W G Sebald - Auster(e)litz and inconsequential intellectual meanderings.

Some years ago, on a bitter February winter I had the pleasure of holidaying on the bewitching Isle of Skye with a copy of W G Sebald's Austerlitz. The Scottish islands endless melancholic coastal panoramas and desolate corners of Heather and Bracken provided my weary mind with a perfect backdrop whilst I succumbed to Sebald's germanically dry prose. The book charts the story/fiction of an infant refugee of the second world war who was relocated to Wales to live with a Calvinist preacher and his wife. He later falls into academia and with an interest in European architecture and visits Prague, here he discovers fragments of the history of his biological parents, the novel's focus then shifts to Paris where the difficulties in unearthing the past both practically and emotionally are explored by Sebald and his novels protagonist. Typical of Sebald's work every connection is oblique and metaphorical. Endless hypo-hypo diegesis', rabbit holes of discovery and curiosity are woven skillfully and deliberately in order to provide a maze whereby the reader can feel/experience the emotional maze of post war European history at its most poignant. Sebaldian has become synonymous for such intricate mazes of consciousness, memory, history and time, the accelerating slip through histories and individual perspectives afforded by his hypo-hypo ( and often hypo-hypo-hypo-hypo-hypo ) diegesis', is an exhilarating experience, but this framework for discovery and connection would not execute so profoundly were it not for Sebalds subtle prose.

As all bookish, introverted souls must know the solitude of the minds isolation can be powerful and comforting. Sebald, most likely, spent the majority of his years immersed, more than most, in this cerebral abyss. Within Austerlitz the hypo-hypo diegesis and the beautiful metaphors are not the most affecting component, rather, it is Sebalds avuncular intellectual meanderings that provide a base for the apparatus to operate. His endless asides, the minor digressions, inconsequential additions and musings are where the reader is most likely to get lost and where this literary strategies begin to flourish in effectiveness. However were it not for Sebalds unique prose and enthralling meanderings the literary mechanics of his work would not execute to such engulfing effects. Some find his techniques irritating and confusing but for the people who see metaphors in everyday life and comfort in introverted solitude I expect there is a universe of pleasure to be found within Austerlitz.

With regard to Sebalds germanic, intellectual meanderings and his maze-like porocryptic literary mechanisms I've always imagined the readers experience of to be similar to a journey whereby one walks through a deep chasm, not knowing what is around the next corner or what sort of awesome panoramas could be seen upon sighting the horizon. The sky is clear and through the atmosphere endless gigantic satellites with huge mirrors reflect the ground below. As the reader walks through the chasm, slowly progressing forwards out of curiosity the only way to catch fleeting glimpses of the ( cultural ) landscape in which one inhabits is to look upwards at the reflections of the world from the satellites enormous mirrors. The experience of navigating through small glimpses of a bigger, beautiful picture one can never fully comprehend is the analogy for the Sebaldian mechanics that bit by bit divulge fragments of a massive post war cultural phenomenon of forgotten and repressed memories and political-geographic connections. Its only through the ceasing of chasing that which is apparent and linear can the reader take time to reside in solitude and drink in the myriad of reflections that betray the massive sprawling context that we live within/through, oblivious and ignorant for the most part but there, through the corner of the eye a reflection of the world is present. The recognition of such socio-politcal cues, the gentle tugging on our deep strata of familiarity is where Sebald offers the chance for the reflections of the landscape to be experienced but the comprehension and interpretation lies within our own psyche.

W G Sebald's endless Borgesian hypo-hypo diegesis' and meditative and seemingly inconsequential intellectual meanderings documenting and threading his memories, fictions and experiences into our own consciousness and resurrecting the readers sub-conscious impressions of post war cultural phenomena is an incredible experience but one that must be succumbed to to not unlike hypnosis for the art of his prose and literary strategy is the cuing and tugging at sub-memory notions we may harbour, a massive excavation of repressed connotations oblique connections slowly, delicately conducted by Sebald.