Mark Fisher was one of the most influential thinkers of the modern age. It’s a testament to his lucid writing that five years after his death, the readership of his work is at an all-time high, showing that he was ahead of the curve with his beliefs, as many of his theories are only just starting to become a reality.
Although a notable left-wing academic at Goldsmiths, University of London, he was before all else a polymath, and his discussion of music, politics, film and hauntology made him perhaps the most crucial postmodern writer of our time. Through his bending of genres, Fisher effectively shone a light on our cultural epoch, providing us with a solution on how to escape its restrictive confines.
In fact, Fisher’s thinking was always rooted in a mesh of disparate elements, and his multi-disciplinary understanding of culture as a whole was of prophetic proportions. Showing just how he transcended the academic norm, his first influence for writing came via the post-punk music press of the late ’70s, with publications such as Melody Maker and NME. Their discussion of music, politics, film and fiction, lit the spark in his mind.
Another manifestation of this sentiment was his interest in the relationship between the working class and football, something he perceived as underpinning the Hillsborough disaster, at which he was present. The importance of this idea is manifold.
When studying for his PhD at Warwick, Fisher befriended legendary producer Kode9, who would go on to found the influential Hyperdub record label, whose artists such as Burial, he would use as conduits to describe our present cultural juncture. This came from Fisher’s own background as a musician, who understood its potential for telling us about our past, present and future, a concept known as hauntology, as Derrida labelled it. He was plugged into the electronic music scene, and in the early ’90s, he released music as part of the techno crew D-Generation.
On his eminent k-punk blog in 2006, Fisher wrote of Burial’s eponymous debut album: “Near future, maybe… But listening to Burial as I walk through damp and drizzly South London streets in this abortive Spring, it strikes me that the LP is very London Now – which is to say, it suggests a city haunted not only by the past but by lost futures. It seems to have less to do with a near future than with the tantalising ache of a future just out of reach.”
This account of Burial’s debut record is indicative of the hauntology that permeated his work. He established k-punk in 2003, and the fluidity of blog writing allowed his polymath background to flourish. It effectively set the standard for all modern cultural writing moving forward and was as all-encompassing as the political and cultural systems he was picking apart. The loose framework of k-punk symbolised the fluid, messy future into which we were heading. This fluidity allowed him to discuss totems such as The Fall, Japan, Roxy Music, Rihanna, Girls Aloud and Dido, without anyone batting an eye-lid.
Although it would be reductive to hail Fisher as a cultural messiah, you cannot doubt that his perception was so acute that it is rather mind-blowing. In 2013, his polarising essay ‘Exiting the Vampire Castle’ criticised the developing “call-out” or cancel culture and its limitations on society. Echoing the sentiment felt by many in 2022, he wrote: “Solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent”.
In 2022, we live in the age of pastiche. Music today is primarily concerned with modes that have already gone by. Take the style of acts such as Olivia Rodrigo and Youngblud, for instance. This goes even further than the mainstream, though. The proliferation of post-punk over the past six years is a clear example of this, as is Black Midi’s appropriation of the King Crimson-esque fusion of prog and acid jazz.
Fisher argued in 2013: “At a time of political reaction and restoration, when cultural innovation has stalled and even gone backwards, when ‘power … operates predictively as much as retrospectively’ (Eshun 2003: 289), one function of hauntology is to keep insisting that there are futures beyond postmodernity’s terminal time. When the present has given up on the future, we must listen for the relics of the future in the unactivated potentials of the past.”
The following statement is as pertinent as anything you will have read recently: “What pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists”.
Outside of k-punk, Fisher carried on drawing on our vast pool of the arts to get his points across. 2014’s Ghosts of My Life discussed Joy Division, Sapphire & Steel, Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan and John Le Carré, to name but a few. He drew on these examples to outline the link between depression and modernity, a genius move.
His posthumous work The Weird and the Eerie, saw Fisher discuss the work of other cultural juggernauts. These include H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick, Brian Eno and David Lynch, as a means of explaining how art can be used to de-centre the human subject and de-naturalise social reality, exposing the arbitrary forces that shape our experience. Ever felt incredibly weird and unsettled whilst watching a David Lynch film such as Inland Empire? Well, now you know why.
A genius who was taken far too young, the importance of Mark Fisher’s work will endure for a long time. Through drawing on many different disciplines, he perceived a common thread linking them all, indicating the direction in which we’re heading as a collective.
Today, many of his ideas have become a reality, an indicator of his foresight as a cultural commentator. We can thank Fisher for the self-awareness that the younger generations espouse with such vitality. Maybe a better future is within our reach.
Watch Fisher discuss the connection between modernity and depression below.