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Mark Fisher (1968–2017)

Dan Fox pays tribute to the life and work of a writer, theorist, cultural commentator, and friend, who passed away last week

All of us at frieze are devastated to learn that our friend and long-standing contributor Mark Fisher has died.

I first knew of Mark in the mid-2000s when he operated under the nom-de-guerre ‘k-punk’. K-punk was also the name of his blog, a major navigation point along an archipelago of blogs that for a brief period generated a new energy for writing about culture and politics in Britain. K-punk was essential reading for those who were alienated by Blairite politics and disillusioned by the left’s internecine rifts and narcissisms of small difference. It provided a hilltop view from which a route out of neoliberalism might be spotted, a vantage point that k-punk blasted with the cold winds of theory – knowledge that he reforged from his years in the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, an unorthodox brigade of thinkers who absconded from Warwick University’s philosophy department in the 1990s. But k-punk also gave voice to romantic believers in the forces of pop culture, manufacturing new optics from shared detritus: be it Michael Jackson, the Wu-Tang Clan, reality TV, horror movies, science fiction or 1990s jungle records. Through pop, k-punk found ways to describe the mechanisms of class and power that were lucid and urgent, perhaps because he knew pop from the inside as a fan, as a person subject to its influence. K-punk understood the records and TV shows he loved as much products of class and politics as he was.

Introduced by music critic Simon Reynolds at some point in 2006 or ’07, I subsequently got to know k-punk as Mark. First as Mark the writer, whose work I commissioned and edited for frieze: he wrote on topics as diverse as post-punk and dance music, and on buzzy new directions in thought such as hauntology and speculative realism. He shared his ideas on theorist Judith Butler, and philosopher Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Mark enthused about crime TV, Margaret Atwood novels and The Hunger Games films. Yet the thread running through all of this, visible or otherwise, was capital, the subject of his compact and compelling 2009 book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Arriving post-2008 and pre-Occupy, Mark’s diagnosis of free market ideology and the wounds it has inflicted on our psyches would bring his writing to wider audiences. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century may have topped the bestseller lists of 2014 but I find it hard to think of another book on contemporary politics and economics published during my adult life that was so widely circulated, borrowed, stolen, talked about, argued over or cherished amongst friends and peers as Capitalist Realism.

Eventually, I got to know the generous, funny and kind Mark. The Mark who would gladly share his ideas, enthuse about yours and send you down rabbit holes of music, cinema and literature. The Mark who gave his wholehearted support to other writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers, spreading the word about anyone whose creative project he believed in. The Mark whose passionate advocacy for culture’s educational, liberatory and joyful potential could, when his oratory found its rhythm, reach an ecstatic pitch. The Mark who was candid about the depression from which he suffered and how it bound his work – ‘the ghosts of my life,’ to borrow a line from his favourite Japan song. Those apparitions appeared in the title of his second book, the essay collection Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (2014); Mark continued travelling with spectres in his final book The Weird and The Eerie, published just weeks before he died.

I last saw Mark in person a couple of years ago in London, at his office in Goldsmiths College, where he was a lecturer in Visual Cultures. He wanted to record me describing a journey I’d made to China in 2008 by container ship, beginning not far from his home in Felixstowe and ending in Shanghai. The recording was research for his project On Vanishing Land, an audio essay Mark made in collaboration with Justin Barton and later used in the book When Site Lost the Plot (2015, edited by Robin Mackay). After finishing the recording, we got chatting. I no longer recall what the conversation was about, but I remember that Mark offered to walk me from his office to the door of the building. When we got there, he continued with me through the college gates, down the street and all the way to the bus stop, talking animatedly as if there were not enough time in the day for all the sharing, arguing, commiserating, gossiping, producing, championing and believing there was to do. We said goodbye, and I got on the bus, feeling galvanized, just as I was when I first knew Mark as k-punk.

Thanks for sharing, Mark.

Main image: Mark Fisher, 2014, speaking at Off the Page, a literary festival about music organized by The Wire. Photograph: Paul Samuel White

Dan Fox is the US Editor at Large of frieze magazine and is based in New York. The author of Pretentiousness: Why It Matters (2016), his latest book, Limbo (2018), is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

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