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7 Oct 2022

Fisher // Postcapitalist Desire

Postcapitalist Desire may be my favorite thing I’ve read by Mark Fisher. It’s a transcription of some of the final lectures he delivered (in late 2016) and reads a little more grounded / straightforward than some of his other works to me.

He’s grappling with a sort of double bind – on the one hand, capitalism is oppressive to most people, on the other hand, most people desire many of the features / results of capitalism – and, on top of this, it’s very difficult to see the ways that capitalism oppresses / co-opts us when we are all living inside of it (which we all are).

If every new desire gets co-opted, made into a product of capitalism, is it even possible for us to desire an alternative? (Is there a way to democratically arrive at an alternative that is freely chosen by us, vs forced upon us?)

This book is excellent (and a great entry point to Fisher if you have not read any of his work).

A few of my favorite bits…

Why, political intellectuals, do you incline towards the proletariat? In commiseration for what? I realize that a proletarian would hate you, you have no hatred because you are bourgeois, privileged smooth-skinned types, but also because you dare not say the only important thing there is to say, that one can enjoy swallowing the shit of capital, its materials, its metal bars, its polystyrene, its books, its sausage pâtés, swallowing tonnes of it till you burst — and because instead of saying this, which is also what happens in the desire of those who work with their hands, arses and heads, ah, you become a leader of men, what a leader of pimps, you lean forward and divulge: ah, but that’s alienation, it isn’t pretty, hang on, we’ll save you from it, we will work to liberate you from this wicked affection for servitude, we will give you dignity. And in this way you situate yourselves on the most despicable side, the moralistic side where you desire that our capitalized’s desire be totally ignored, forbidden, brought to a standstill, you are like priests with sinners, our servile intensities frighten you, you have to tell yourselves: how they must suffer to endure that! And of course we suffer, we the capitalized, but this does not mean that we do not enjoy, nor that what you think you can offer us as a remedy — for what? — does not disgust us, even more. We abhor therapeutics and its Vaseline, we prefer to burst under the quantitative excesses that you judge the most stupid. And don’t wait for our spontaneity to rise up in revolt either. [17 15 Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, 125.]

This is a great passage of writing!

I think, then, that the libidinal economy of this writing, of Lyotard himself, is largely to do with — not a relation to a specific political project but — a kind of hatred of almost all existing left-wing models of what political transformation entails. (This is probably a simplistic level at which I’ve taken the key message of the text.) These [left-wing projects] are all inadequate and all for the same reason, over and over again, in that they don’t take the desire of the capitalized seriously. They reject it and are therefore keep re-inscribing moralism. And in re-inscribing moralism they keep re-invoking this distinction between inside and outside, between immanence and transcendence, between the realm of capital and a realm outside it, which would be pure and free from this.

But to be free from capital would be to be free from desire! Isn’t this the problem that he keeps talking about? In order to understand capital, we don’t only need Marx, we need to understand Marx alongside Sade.18 That’s that point about quantity — with Sade there are a thousand blows or whatever. He’s making that analogy — or perhaps more than an analogy — between the quantificatory dimension of enjoyment in Sade and the quantities of the way that capital counts. He’s continually insisting on this convocation of desire and capital.

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