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Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher
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Capitalist Realism Quotes (showing 1-30 of 42)
“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 SSRls). 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.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“In his dreadful lassitude and objectless rage, Cobain seemed to have give wearied voice to the despondency of the generation that had come after history, whose every move was anticipated, tracked, bought and sold before it had even happened. Cobain knew he was just another piece of spectacle, that nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV; knew that his every move was a cliché scripted in advance, knew that even realising it is a cliché. The impasse that paralysed Cobain in precisely the one that Fredric Jameson described: like postmodern culture in general, Cobain found himself in ‘a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, where all that is left is to imitate dead styles in the imaginary museum’.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“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?”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“The role of capitalist ideology is not to make an explicit case for something in the way that propaganda does, but to conceal the fact that the operations of capital do not depend on any sort of subjectively assumed belief. It is impossible to conceive of fascism or Stalinism without propaganda - but capitalism can proceed perfectly well, in some ways better, without anyone making a case for it.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“[W]hat counts as ‘realistic’, what seems possible at any point in the social field, is defined by a series of political determinations. An ideological position can never be really successful until it is naturalized, and it cannot be naturalized while it is still thought of as a value rather than a fact. Accordingly, neoliberalism has sought to eliminate the very category of value in the ethical sense. Over the past thirty years, capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology’ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business. … [E]mancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“The ideological blackmail that has been in place since the original Live Aid concerts in 1985 has insisted that ‘caring individuals’ could end famine directly, without the need for any kind of political solution or systemic reorganization. It is necessary to act straight away, we were told; politics has to be suspended in the name of ethical immediacy. Bono’s Product Red brand wanted to dispense even with the philanthropic intermediary. ‘Philanthropy is like hippy music, holding hands’, Bono proclaimed. ‘Red is more like punk rock, hip hop, this should feel like hard commerce’. The point was not to offer an alternative to capitalism - on the contrary, Product Red’s ‘punk rock’ or ‘hip hop’ character consisted in its ‘realistic’ acceptance that capitalism is the only game in town. No, the aim was only to ensure that some of the proceeds of particular transactions went to good causes. The fantasy being that western consumerism, far from being intrinsically implicated in systemic global inequalities, could itself solve them. All we have to do is buy the right products.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“The idealized market was supposed to deliver ‘friction free’ exchanges, in which the desires of consumers would be met directly, without the need for intervention or mediation by regulatory agencies. Yet the drive to assess the performance of workers and to measure forms of labor which, by their nature, are resistant to quantification, has inevitably required additional layers of management and bureaucracy. What we have is not a direct comparison of workers’ performance or output, but a comparison between the audited representation of that performance and output. Inevitably, a short-circuiting occurs, and work becomes geared towards the generation and massaging of representations rather than to the official goals of the work itself. Indeed, an anthropological study of local government in Britain argues that ‘More effort goes into ensuring that a local authority’s services are represented correctly than goes into actually improving those services’. This reversal of priorities is one of the hallmarks of a system which can be characterized without hyperbole as ‘market Stalinism’. What late capitalism repeats from Stalinism is just this valuing of symbols of achievement over actual achievement.
[…]
It would be a mistake to regard this market Stalinism as some deviation from the ‘true spirit’ of capitalism. On the contrary, it would be better to say that an essential dimension of Stalinism was inhibited by its association with a social project like socialism and can only emerge in a late capitalist culture in which images acquire an autonomous force. The way value is generated on the stock exchange depends of course less on what a company ‘really does’, and more on perceptions of, and beliefs about, its (future) performance. In capitalism, that is to say, all that is solid melts into PR, and late capitalism is defined at least as much by this ubiquitous tendency towards PR-production as it is by the imposition of market mechanisms.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“Deleuze and Guattari describe capitalism as a kind of dark potentiality which haunted all previous social systems. Capital, they argue, is the ‘unnamable Thing’, the abomination, which primitive and feudal societies ‘warded off in advance’. When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“If, then, something like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a pathology, it is a pathology of late capitalism – a consequence of being wired into the entertainment-control circuits of hyperme-diated consumer culture. Similarly, what is called dyslexia may in many cases amount to a post-lexia. Teenagers process capital’s image-dense data very effectively without any need to read –slogan-recognition is sufficient to navigate the net-mobile-magazine informational plane. ‘Writing has never been capitalism’s thing. Capitalism is profoundly illiterate’, Deleuze”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“Fukuyama’s thesis that history has climaxed with liberal capitalism may have been widely derided, but it is accepted, even assumed, at the level of the cultural unconscious. It should be remembered, though, that even when Fukuyama advanced it, the idea that history had reached a ‘terminal beach’ was not merely triumphalist. Fukuyama warned that his radiant city would be haunted, but he thought its specters would be Nietzschean rather than Marxian. Some of Nietzsche’s most prescient pages are those in which he describes the ‘oversaturation of an age with history’. ‘It leads an age into a dangerous mood of irony in regard to itself’, he wrote in Untimely Meditations, ‘and subsequently into the even more dangerous mood of cynicism’, in which ‘cosmopolitan fingering’, a detached spectatorialism, replaces engagement and involvement. This is the condition of Nietzsche’s Last Man, who has seen everything, but is decadently enfeebled precisely by this excess of (self) awareness.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“[I]t is a mistake to rush to impose the individual ethical responsibility that the corporate structure deflects. This is the temptation of the ethical which, as Zizek has argued, the capitalist system is using in order to protect itself in the wake of the credit crisis - the blame will be put on supposedly pathological individuals, those’ abusing the system’, rather than on the system itself. But the evasion is actually a two step procedure - since structure will often be invoked (either implicitly or openly) precisely at the point when there is the possibility of individuals who belong to the corporate structure being punished. At this point, suddenly, the causes of abuse or atrocity are so systemic, so diffuse, that no individual can be held responsible… But this impasse - it is only individuals that can be held ethically responsible for actions, and yet the cause of these abuses and errors is corporate, systemic - is not only a dissimulation: it precisely indicates what is lacking in capitalism. What agencies are capable of regulating and controlling impersonal structures? How is it possible to chastise a corporate structure? Yes, corporations can legally be treated as individuals - but the problem is that corporations, whilst certainly entities, are not like individual humans, and any analogy between punishing corporations and punishing individuals will therefore necessarily be poor. And it is not as if corporations are the deep-level agents behind everything; they are themselves constrained by/expressions of the ultimate cause-that-is-not-asubject: Capital.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“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.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“Capitalist ideology in general, Zizek maintains, consists precisely in the overvaluing of belief - in the sense of inner subjective attitude - at the expense of the beliefs we exhibit and externalize in our behavior. So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange. According to Zizek, capitalism in general relies on this structure of disavowal. We believe that money is only a meaningless token of no intrinsic worth, yet we act as if it has a holy value. Moreover, this behavior precisely depends upon the prior disavowal - we are able to fetishize money in our actions only because we have already taken an ironic distance towards money in our heads.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“If capitalist realism is so seamless, and if current forms of resistance are so hopeless and impotent, where can an effective challenge come from? A moral critique of capitalism, emphasizing the ways in which it leads to suffering, only reinforces capitalist realism. Poverty, famine and war can be presented as an inevitable part of reality, while the hope that these forms of suffering could be eliminated easily painted as naive utopianism. Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism's ostensible 'realism' turns out to be nothing of the sort.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“A film like Wall-E exemplifies what Robert Pfaller has called ‘interpassivity’: the film performs our anti-capitalism for us, allowing us to continue to consume with impunity.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“To reclaim a real political agency means first of all accepting our insertion at the level of desire in the remorseless meat-grinder of Capital. What is being disavowed in the abjection of evil and ignorance onto fantasmatic Others is our own complicity in planetary networks of oppression. What needs to be kept in mind is both that capitalism is a hyper-abstract impersonal structure and that it would be nothing without our co-operation. The most Gothic description of Capital is also the most accurate. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us. There is a sense in which it simply is the case that the political elite are our servants; the miserable service they provide from us is to launder our libidos, to obligingly re-present for us our disavowed desires as if they had nothing to do with us. The”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“Kafka’s purgatorial vision of a bureaucratic labyrinth without end chimes with Žižek’s claim that the Soviet system was an ‘empire of signs’, in which even the Nomenklatura themselves –including Stalin and Molotov – were engaged in interpreting a complex series of social semiotic signals. No-one”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“Yet the drive to assess the performance of workers and to measure forms of labor which, by their nature, are resistant to quantification, has inevitably required additional layers of management and bureaucracy. What we have is not a direct comparison of workers’ performance or output, but a comparison between the audited representation of that performance and output. Inevitably, a short-circuiting occurs, and work becomes geared towards the generation and massaging of representations rather than to the official goals of the work itself.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“the centre is missing, but we cannot stop searching for it or positing it. It is not that there is nothing there - it is that what is there is not capable of exercising responsibility”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“Lowering our expectations, we are told, is a small price to pay for being protected from terror and totalitarianism.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“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? The ‘mental health plague’ in capitalist societies would suggest that, instead of being the only social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of it appearing to work is very high. The”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“At one level, to be sure, it might look as if Green issues are very far from being ‘unrepresentable voids’ for capitalist culture. Climate change and the threat of resource-depletion are not being repressed so much as incorporated into advertising and marketing. What this treatment of environmental catastrophe illustrates is the fantasy structure on which capitalist realism depends: a presupposition that resources are infinite, that the earth itself is merely a husk which capital can at a certain point slough off like a used skin, and that any problem can be solved by the market”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“Instead of saying that everyone – i.e. every one – is responsible for climate change, we all have to do our bit, it would be better to say that no-one is, and that’s the very problem. The cause of eco-catastrophe is an impersonal structure which, even though it is capable of producing all manner of effects, is precisely not a subject capable of exercising responsibility. The required subject – a collective subject - does not exist, yet the crisis, like all the other global crises we’re now facing, demands that it be constructed.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“Witness, for instance, the establishment of settled ‘alternative’ or ‘independent’ cultural zones, which endlessly repeat older gestures of rebellion and contestation as if for the first time. ‘Alternative’ and ‘independent’ don’t designate something outside mainstream culture; rather, they are styles, in fact the dominant styles, within the mainstream.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we’re lucky that we don’t live in a condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it’s better than the bloody dictatorships. Capitalism is unjust. But it’s not criminal like Stalinism. We let millions of Africans die of AIDS, but we don’t make racist nationalist declarations like Milosevic. We kill Iraqis with our airplanes, but we don’t cut their throats with machetes like they do in Rwanda, etc.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“If the figure of discipline was the worker-prisoner, the figure of control is the debtor-addict.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“The closest that most of us come to a direct experience of the centerlessness of capitalism is an encounter with the call center. As a consumer in late capitalism, you increasingly exist in two, distinct realities: the one in which the services are provided without hitch, and another reality entirely, the crazed Kafkaesque labyrinth of call centers, a world without memory, where cause and effect connect together in mysterious, unfathomable ways, where it is a miracle that anything ever happens, and you lose hope of ever passing back over to the other side, where things seem to function smoothly. What exemplifies the failure of the neoliberal world to live up to its own PR better than the call center? Even so, the universality of bad experiences with call centers does nothing to unsettle the operating assumption that capitalism is inherently efficient, as if the problems with call centers weren’t the systemic consequences of a logic of Capital which means organizations are so fixated on making profits that they can’t actually sell you anything. 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 could. Anger can only be a matter of venting; it is aggression in a vacuum, directed at someone who is a fellow victim of the system but with whom there is no possibility of communality. Just as the anger has no proper object, it will have no effect. In this experience of a system that is unresponsive, impersonal, centerless, abstract and fragmentary, you are as close as you can be to confronting the artificial stupidity of Capital in itself. Call center angst is one more illustration of the way that Kafka is poorly understood as exclusively a writer on totalitarianism; a decentralized, market Stalinist bureaucracy is far more Kafkaesque than one in which there is a central authority. Read, for instance, the bleak farce of K’s encounter with the telephone system in the Castle, and it is hard not to see it as uncannily prophetic of the call center experience.”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
“As any number of radical theorists from Brecht through to Foucault and Badiou have maintained, emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable. It is worth recalling that what is currently called realistic was itself once ‘impossible’: the slew of privatizations that took place since the 1980s would have been unthinkable only a decade earlier, and the current political-economic landscape (with unions in abeyance, utilities and railways denationalized) could scarcely have been imagined in 1975. Conversely, what was once eminently possible is now deemed unrealistic. ‘Modernization’, Badiou bitterly observes, ‘is the name for a strict and servile definition of the possible. These ‘reforms’ invariably aim at making impossible what used to be practicable (for the largest number), and making profitable (for the dominant oligarchy) what did not used to be so’. At”
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?

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