Luke says, “People keep crossing over. What do they know that we don’t?” My first persisting impression when I read that Mark Fisher (k-punk, to to a lot of us) had passed on was that there was some glitch in my Fb feed, a surreal error. Or that it was some pointed rhetorical move on his part that I hadn’t grasped yet. Mark lived a few conceptual steps ahead of the rest of us. But no, we’re left now with this impossible void. This grey tentacled thing that shouldn’t be, that reaches into so many parts of contemporary musical, intellectual and political life. The tributes over the last several days describe a rare soul…
“… the most original and provocative writer about popular culture – and its interface with the political – of the last fifteen years.” – Simon Reynolds
“He struggled bravely with depression yet sadly it overcame him. But he was winning, he was winning in his writing, he was changing things with his words. He was giving generously the tools with which to invent new political worlds, and we are totally devastated by this loss.” – Otolith Group
“To have lost Mark in what was the prime of his life is a tragedy for those who knew him well but also a small scale disaster for the left as a whole.” – Zero Books
“Realising at this moment that I assumed he would always be there, it’s hugely painful to think that he is no longer among us.” – Robin MacKay
It’s probably 9 or 10 years since I last had an exchange with Mark Fisher. But, in that internet way, he was always potentially right there. And of course he was increasingly here and there as he assumed the role of the radical public intellectual that we so need. It began long before blogging, but like many others I first found him at k-punk.abstractdynamics.org in 2003, while reading blissblogger and Heronbone for clues about grime. “Abstract dynamics,” Spinoza. This was something else. K-punk put me on to Ballard and Lovecraft as theorists in their own right. He helped me get over myself and take pleasure in pop. K-punk, blissblog and Woebot were the axis of a blog community that I feel very fortunate to have been a small part of. Then in 2004, Mark and Matt ‘Woebot’ Ingram set up the Dissensus forum which, for a time, seemed like the most vital meeting point of music and ideas on the internet.
In those years, Mark encouraged some of my early music writing, as I worked on developing a voice and style of my own. He planted ideas that ended up in my first book, a decade later. I’m thankful for that. He was an imposing intellect, but also generous, kindly and humble toward those who approached him sincerely. He gave props where they were due and if you managed to change his mind about something, he said so.
But Mark was also fierce, and the first exchange I can remember having with him left me bruised. As a relatively fresh-faced grad student, I went on a naive tangent into what I didn’t realize was contentious territory (a defence of “cult-studs”). The takedown was swift and unsteadying. But it forced me to think through my platitudes, do some homework and take a more critically informed approach to the institutional matrix I was heading into. That has endured. Mark had little patience for lazy thought because he wanted so desperately to help us conceive and produce a better world. Like so much of the music he celebrated, his words were sharp tools for piercing subjectivity and letting something new seep in…
Take this question from Félix Guattari: “How are sounds and forms going to be arranged so that the subjectivity adjacent to them remains in movement, and really alive?” This always seemed to be the root concern when reading Mark on music.
Here is Simon Reynolds in today’s Guardian: “Fisher’s enduring faith was that irruptions of the culturally new and alien could instil the confidence that change was possible in other areas of life. Such disturbances proved that the structures and strictures of the status quo were not immutable.”
Back to now, and a lot of us are wondering what to do with this void. The flood of tributes has shown just how pervasive his influence had become. Presented with it all at once, it is daunting. Simon again:
“After years of waiting to hear what Fisher had to say on anything and everything, it hurts that what follows now is silence. The current crisis-time needs his mind, for its clear vision and for the optimism of the will that sought and found cracks of possibility in the seemingly impregnable wall of a deadlocked present. A consoling thought is that young minds influenced and inspired by his work will soon fill that silence.”
I keep thinking of the last scenes of Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People. The closing of the Hacienda – Tony Wilson on the PA saying something like “The doors to the studio are unlocked, grab everything that isn’t bolted down … Let a thousand Mancunians bloom.” Void becomes potential. It’s comforting, and I hope one day invigorating, to think of the hundreds, maybe thousands of Mark’s friends, colleagues, allies, students, followers, and so on, picking up where he left off, picking up his tools, reinventing them, swarming the future. Spectres of Mark. Carriers of the k-virus.
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Please consider making a donation to the memorial fund in support of Mark’s wife and son: