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The Necessity of Being Judgmental: On the Writings of Mark Fisher


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In the LA Review of Books, Roger Luckhurst reviews The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher, recently published by Repeater Books. Luckhurst reflects on how Fisher’s work was shaped by (and in turn shaped) the para-academic blog culture that emerged in the mid-2000s, partly as a result of the collapse of print media. He also lauds Fisher’s rare command of both academic theory and popular culture. Here’s an excerpt:

Fisher’s stylistic genius was to move from Nietzsche to the gormless game show Deal or No Deal, or between Deleuzian Spinozism, the Lacanian Real, and Celebrity Big Brother, all somehow without sounding pretentious. It was his committed belief, taken from the British cultural studies of Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall, that all culture deserved the same quality of attention. Good culture could come from anywhere (although rarely from the privately educated, Oxbridge bourgeoisie) and earned its respect. Bad culture, meanwhile, deserved lengthy denunciation and all the resources of his eloquent contempt. His sheer delight in ranting at bad art (Damien Hirst!), bad music (Coldplay!), and bad films ( Avatar !) saves this from any taint of humorless Stalinism — that, too, always got short shrift.

The writing has an immediacy that refuses to get sucked into suffocating academic definitional work (the trap of what he called the “Grey Vampires”), and you can almost feel the energetic freedom provided by the blog form, which Fisher adopted only after completing his High Theory doctorate. Cyberpunk, his thesis subject, became k-punk. He could do the academic mode — and there are some quasi-academic papers and essays included here — but he preferred a transparent style that reflected a belief in democratic — or, rather, communistic — access to ideas. That Fisher’s style was agile enough to move between posts for his personal blog, music reviews for Wired, cultural studies essays for academic journals, opinion columns for the Guardian, and reflections on activism for the Weekly Worker is breathtaking. It’s a lesson in dexterity for all writers that pitch and tone can be varied without compromising their ideas’ integrity.

Image of Mark Fisher via The Wire.