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Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  20,265 ratings  ·  2,047 reviews
After 1989, capitalism has presented itself as the only realistic political-economic system. What effects has this “capitalist realism” had on work, culture, education and mental health? Is it possible to imagine an alternative to capitalism that is not some throwback to discredited models of state control?
Paperback, 81 pages
Published December 16th 2009 by Zero Books (first published November 27th 2009)
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Bodhi So does mine. The only thing for it is to search online for things like "Robert Pfaller interpassivity" and hope for the best -- follow the white rabb…moreSo does mine. The only thing for it is to search online for things like "Robert Pfaller interpassivity" and hope for the best -- follow the white rabbit!(less)

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Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Socialist Realism was an artform. It was conceived as a means to create a new kind of human – often called the new man – the point being to present heroic visions of people engaged in labour that was setting out to build the new and better world. Socialist Realism was pointedly ideological, and the point was to create images of healthy and vibrant people doing whatever it took to make that better world. When we look at Socialist Realism today we see it as all too obviously propaganda. Perhaps th ...more
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
So, what do you do about capitalism if you live in a world where, as both Jameson & Žižek have noted, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, or as Fisher puts it in the short, engaging, and entertaining book, if there is a "widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it"?

First up, disagree: I can imagine a viable alternative to capitalism
I've been struggling with thinking about climate change. Part of the reason is that the current discourse is severely lacking. But also, given its scope, magnanimity and destructive potential, we seem to be linguistically confused too. Like with all things dealing with death and destruction, we do not have an adequate language for it. Instead, we are just arguing over signifiers and technicalities. What's also problematic is the collective blame - of course we are responsible for it in a way, bu ...more
Emily B
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is definitely worth reading if you have any interest in the subject.

'It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism'
Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will

...Difficult to rate this short work; at first, I was hopeful that it would be both accessible and engaging with its brevity and use of pop culture. Engaging it remains. However, Fisher does not explain his brief references to political economy (“logic of Capital”) and history (esp. Lenin/Stalin), and his use of critical theory does not seem foundational (more like speculative creative writing). The key ideas are compelling, but I've hea
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: brits, ensayo
So this book leaves me with many unanswered questions. But I loved it. It is the first book I have read by Fisher, and I find it to be a great introduction to what he is about. Politics and culture come together here, and his reading of capitalism through films and fiction is a pretty great guide. You see things in a por perceptive way after reading this. I take this: responsibility, which capital culture takes away, so we don't really need to see that everything we do has a consequence. The pro ...more
Aug 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism (2009) is a curmudgeonly and over-determined analysis of late capitalism with little theoretical value. His utter and complete assimilation into the ideological machine of Žižek’s New Left does him an enormous disservice. Because of this, Fisher is precluded from approaching the issues present in late capitalism with the necessary finesse. Rather, for every moment of insight (of which there are a few), there are ten face palm inducing misrepresentations of contem ...more
May 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021

So. Quite recently a fellow comrade told me that she just ‘discovered’ Zizek. And I went like (insert resting condescending face) ‘where have you been hiding for the past 20 years?’. Now the same seemed to have happened to me as I just ‘discovered’ cultural theorist Mark Fisher, or rather his 2009 book ‘Capitalist Realism’ (Zero Books). Then I went down the whole YouTube and K-punk blog rabbit hole of and also ‘discovered’ the ‘Vampire Castle’ essay which seem to have divided an entire generati
Wee Lassie
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
While reading this if I didn't feel confused, I felt depressed. ...more
Aug 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, scribd, british, politics
I don't read many books about politics these days: it doesn't change things, I'd rather use reading for distraction and I've enough tsundoku. Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism, however, is only 100 pages and had been well reviewed by a number of people online whose opinions I respect. Some are on Goodreads; another is in this blog post. Moreover, it was on Scribd, and in the aftermath of the election, I was particularly gloomy about being caught between necessary polite small talk with Tories and ...more
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In this succinct exposition on the forceful and all-pervasive ideological apparatus, Mark Fisher uses cultural and political artefacts alongside theories from Žižek and Jameson to analyse and deconstruct the ways in which capitalist realism has managed seemingly to transform Late Capitalism into a system sans alternatives. The following synopsis attempts to explain what makes this book a must-read:

Whereas socialist realism was primarily an artistic movement set to reflect social reality, Fi
Aug 28, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: criticism, society, theory
This was okay. Very Žižekian, if we may coin a new style. The great thing about a Žižekian work is that you get the fireworks. There is no shortage of insights, zingers, and bon mots to go around. In the audio version, Russell Brand lets out an audible laugh when he reads the line that Blair had little trouble adjusting to neoliberalism because he had no previous beliefs to dispose of. And the show is fun for the whole Oedipal family, if you are already versed in the inside baseball of cultural ...more
Nov 05, 2012 rated it liked it
I could've done without the "the wired society is killing us, get off my lawn" vibe of the chapter on young people and depression -- fisher basically needs to not talk about hip-hop ever, my god, that was cringeworthy. but overall it was good: succinct, super readable, thought-provoking, helpful in organising my thought around a lot of other stuff, and convincing w/r/t its key thesis (though I retain significant reservations about the specifics of fisher's revolutionary program). thanks, max! ...more
Emma Sea
Excellent. This is 8 years old now so I'd love to see an updated version with an essay reflecting on the exacerbation since original publication.

Highly recommended.
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Capital, capital, everywhere,
And all the will to live did shrink;
Capital, capital, everywhere,
In an ideological rubble we sink.
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Such an interesting book - in spite of its 80 pages it took me three days to read it, there is a lot to digest and think about. I'm pretty sure I underlined half the book, and what's the point of underlining so much?

Living in 2018 it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine an alternative system to capitalism. This feeling, this sense, is what the term 'capitalist realism' is about. Capitalism engulfs anything and makes it its own ('Witness, for instance, the establishment of settled ‘alternative’
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I’ve been meaning to read 'Capitalist Realism' for years, but only now that I’ve moved to Scotland do I find a library that has a copy. The University Library in Cambridge did not, outrageously enough. I’ve come across references to it in various other books criticising capitalism, plus it is only 81 pages long, so inevitably there wasn’t a great deal in it that felt new to me. Instead, I’d call it an impressively concise synthesis. Fisher picks certain bits of Žižek to interpret (ie make compre ...more
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2020
The characteristic of a truly successful ideology is that it makes those under its spell unable to even conceive of a universe without it. For a long time religion filled this role. But the advent of secularism seems to have shattered its self-assurance forever among the masses. Today the system that truly reigns as universal and natural is capitalism in various different forms. To put it another way, as others have, today, "it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of ...more
Eren Buğlalılar
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sosyalbilim
"Market Stalinism", "postmodern capitalist version of maoist confessionalism", "fascism or Stalinism". You can smell that Fisher hated the previous socialist experiments, so much that he grounds his entire critique of capitalism on anti-socialist jargon.

You find plenty of Deleuze, Lacan, Zizek, of course Kafka, plenty of psychologising and references to the popular movies. And a brilliant policy plan for a post-capitalist state: Broadcasting avant garde movies and documentaries to "perplex and
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theory
The closest that most of us come to a direct experience of the centerlessness of capitalism is an encounter with the call center.

This was the first effort by Zero Books that left an impact. I was disappointed by the lack of footnotes. That said Fisher follows Jameson and Zizek in exploring our paradoxical reality where we can’t even imagine an existence without capitalism. My dismay did bubble on occasion, especially when events are recognized as undisputed evidence of a reality without alternat
David M
We are not living in an age of unbridled innovation. The sad fact is it's becoming increasingly difficult to even create new humans


RIP Mark Fisher.

The task of repoliticizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism
Z. F.
"The call center experience distils the political phenomenology of late capitalism: the boredom and frustration punctuated by cheerily piped PR, the repeating of the same dreary details many times to different poorly trained and badly informed operatives, the building rage that must remain impotent because it can have no legitimate object, since—as is very quickly clear to the caller—there is no-one who knows, and no-one who could do anything even if they [did]. Anger can only be a matter of ...more
Dec 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
As I previously noted, Fisher was preaching to the converted here. Nevertheless, it was a stimulating read.

Fisher draws a useful parallel between socialist realism, upon which the title is a play, and the "reality" to be found under capitalism. Under communism there was a reality gap between the official version of "actually existing socialism" and life/reality as people actually experienced it. Fisher eloquently demonstrates that the same reality gap exists under capitalism, between the effici
'If you are thinking that you can get rid of caste easily you are very badly mistaken. Caste is an institution of prodigious strength and it will take a lot of beating before it will die,' said M.N. Srinivas, an Indian Sociologist, 'It is so powerful and pervasive, and its appeals are so strong that the first step in the struggle is to have a precise measure of Its strength.' It's not like caste is the only social evil that has to be sorted as if it is only evil inherently in itself. It has been ...more
Starting from the fact that it is "Easier to imagine the end of the world than that of the capitalist", the late English theorist, philosopher and music critic, Mark Fisher, offered this short book, containing a handful of subtle and often dazzling. A deconstruction of the effects of capitalism on our lives, just to put words to the continual suffocation that most of us know well—an essential book. ...more
Emily Laurent-Monaghan
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: at-capacity
Written while he was still with us, the late Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism is an affirmative polemic. Rhetorically, the text posits the question: is there no alternative? I think this text offers many salient points of analysis, from the disappearing public, to the bloating bureaucracy of academia. Fisher draws from the pop and literati to demonstrate how the affective narcissism of the empire of the self, coupled with total business ontology has created a broken, unreflexive demos, that fail ...more
Wendy Liu
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So good.

My favourite quote:

"There are certainly conspiracies in capitalism, but the problem is that they are themselves only possible because of deeper level structures that allow them to function. Does anyone really think, for instance, that things would improve if we replaced the whole managerial and banking class with a whole new set of ('better') people? Surely, on the contrary, it is evident that the vices are engendered by the structure, and that while the structure remains, the vices will
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: leftwing-theory
Post-modernized marxist assesses the continued failure of capitalism to eat itself. Plenty of involvement with Jameson, Foucault, Baudrillard, D&G, Lyotard. But also some interest in the Frankfurt School and Harvey.

This text attempts to define ‘capitalist realism,’ summarized as “Margaret Thatcher's doctrine that 'there is no alternative' - as succinct a slogan of capitalist realism as you could hope for - became a brutally self-fulfilling prophecy” (8). It “takes the form of a kind of super-ide
It seems ridiculous to assign this a rating. It's a brief polemic with an air of ephemerality to it, though Fisher is certainly articulate and even eloquent at times. It's too bad he isn't around now to offer commentary on the effects of Covid on 'capitalist realism,' as I think it would have stimulated some interesting jumping-off points related to his thinking here. When he was writing this in the late 2000s he named 'flexibility', 'nomadism', and 'spontaneity' as 'the very hallmarks of manage ...more
Griffin Alexander
Feb 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: all-school-crit
My first foray into the work of the late Fisher. A good (and entertaining) summation of our current predicament of the ongoing (and therefore non-detectable-as-such) cataclysm of capitalism. There were a lot of interesting asides left unexplored in full (e.g., looking to institutions/economics as primary causes of mental illness; various pop-culture reads on the evolution of sci-fi and gangster movies since the 80s as indicative shifts in economic/power models), but also a lot of synthesizing an ...more
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Mark Fisher (1968 – 2017) was a co-founder of Zero Books and Repeater Books. His blog, k-punk, defined critical writing for a generation. He wrote three books, Capitalist Realism, Ghosts of My Life and The Weird and the Eerie, and was a Visiting Fellow in the Visual Cultures department at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Librarian’s note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database wit

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33 likes · 5 comments
“The current ruling ontology denies any possibility of a social causation of mental illness. The chemico-biologization of mental illness is of course strictly commensurate with its depoliticization. Considering mental illness an individual chemico-biological problem has enormous benefits for capitalism. First, it reinforces Capital’s drive towards atomistic individualization (you are sick because of your brain chemistry). Second, it provides an enormously lucrative market in which multinational pharmaceutical companies can peddle their pharmaceuticals (we can cure you with our SSRIs). It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation; and the task of repoliticizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism.” 188 likes
“Capitalist realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact, like weather (but, then again, weather is no longer a natural fact so much as a political-economic effect). In the 1960s and 1970s, radical theory and politics (Laing, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, etc.) coalesced around extreme mental conditions such as schizophrenia, arguing, for instance, that madness was not a natural, but a political, category. But what is needed now is a politicization of much more common disorders. Indeed, it is their very commonness which is the issue: in Britain, depression is now the condition that is most treated by the NHS. In his book The Selfish Capitalist, Oliver James has convincingly posited a correlation between rising rates of mental distress and the neoliberal mode of capitalism practiced in countries like Britain, the USA and Australia. In line with James’s claims, I want to argue that it is necessary to reframe the growing problem of stress (and distress) in capitalist societies. Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill?” 143 likes
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