Perspective: Maria Minerva remembers Mark Fisher’s Infectious Intellectualism
Following the recent news that celebrated music critic and cultural theorist Mark Fisher has passed away, Estonian musician Maria Minerva, one of his former students at London’s Goldsmiths University, reflects on his legacy as one of our most essential thinkers.
They say getting to know your idols can result in disappointment. That was not the case when I studied with Mark Fisher, aka k-punk, one of Britain’s leading cultural theorists and music writers, who took his own life earlier this month. I believe I speak for all his former students by saying that Mark taught us there are hidden meanings in pop culture, and not-so-hidden, real meanings behind our daily gestures of resistance.
You don’t need to know Mark to delve into k-punk’s world of ideas-in-becoming and theories-in-motion. Mark’s was a mind on the move, 160 bpm, just like jungle (one of his favorite genres). His legacy – books, blog posts, articles, everything that Zero Books and Repeater ever put out – lives on. Fisher’s seminal Capitalist Realism, published in 2009, is now more relevant than ever. I urge you to read it and give it to at least one person you know.
Capitalist Realism is a remarkable book – in only 80 pages, Mark touches on everything from Hollywood movies, sci-fi, hip-hop and French philosophy to bureaucracy, post-Fordism, education and mental health. Capitalism, writes Mark, is what remains when beliefs have collapsed and all that is left is the “consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and the relics”. The book is funny (“Marxist Supernanny”), self-aware (“To tell people how to lose weight, or how to decorate their house, is acceptable; but to call for any kind of cultural improvement is to be oppressive and elitist”) and depressing. Nevertheless, Mark has hope. The last pages offer a call-to-action to the left to devise a “renewal that is not a return”. We still need to figure that one out.
I met Mark in 2010 at Goldsmiths. Him and fellow music writer Kodwo Eshun were the driving forces behind the new and rather experimental MA program in Aural & Visual Cultures. There were the big, packed lectures full of aspirational art history girls and know-it-all guys, whose questions sounded more like answers. Then there were the small seminars we held with Mark and Kodwo, a group of 12 or so, with students from South Korea, Lebanon, Egypt, Serbia, USA, Estonia. There were no answers, ever. And often, no questions. It got awkward. Everyone loved it.
"'Capitalist Realism', is now more relevant than ever. I urge you to read it and give it to at least one person you know"
I would joke we were like a cult. I recall a two-hour seminar on Bryan Ferry’s accent. Reading up on Mark’s more recent projects after his passing, it appears that he was digging deeper into the themes of Englishness and class. Back then, the text spoke to me for different reasons. I had just moved to the UK, trying to fake a British accent while realising I don’t have any money or time to attend the £20 Marxist talks at Tate Modern. I felt alienated, broke, overwhelmed. But I didn’t need to explain, because Mark seemed to understand; he had a special bond with every single one of his students.
Mark openly wrote about depression in connection to economic insecurity and how he found it difficult to perform the role of a functioning member of society and the intelligentsia. Mark was never complacent; he questioned the academia and why we were all there in the first place. But Mark loved teaching. One of my fondest memories is the day we went protesting against tuition fee increases in front of the Houses of Parliament. We got kettled by the police and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, but Mark’s calm and fearless demeanor put us at ease. He talked the talk, and walked the walk – with us, his students.
In a wonderful obituary to Mark, the critic Adam Harper writes how Mark and Kodwo came to my first solo show as Maria Minerva at Shacklewell Arms in London. I was terrified as I didn’t want to let my professors down. The show sucked. But the fact that Mark was there, supporting someone like me, meant a lot. At the time, Mark was writing and speaking a lot about the lack of innovation in popular culture. Something that 20-somethings do not want to hear. In Capitalism Realism, Mark writes how ‘alternative’ and ‘independent’ are now the dominant styles within the mainstream. But more importantly, Mark wrote about neoliberalism taking away the most precious resource needed to make good art – time. Mark wasn’t nostalgic, he wanted to be excited about contemporary culture and never drew a line between ‘high’ and ‘low’. Mark’s writings on music open up worlds. The era of influential critics is over, and as artists, we don’t have to listen to them. But we should, as it just might make our work a tad ‘better’.
“What if you held a protest and everyone came?” asks Capitalist Realism. I am writing these lines after the biggest protest in US history – the Women’s March following Donald Trump’s inauguration. Everybody came, and I would love to hear Mark’s take on things. I am so sad he had to feel this sad. As critics, writers, artists, curators and social justice advocates we will not forget k-punk. As friends, we will not forget Mark. Thank you for sharing your ideas with the world. Rest in peace, Mark Fisher.
Mark Fisher’s latest book The Weird and The Eeerie is published by Repeater