Mark Fisher and the Spectre of Acid Communism
When Fisher died, he was working on a new book describing ‘Acid Communism’. Looked at in a particular light, we can see in the three books he published during his lifetime fragments of a negative image of this theory, and when we see these fragments, it is difficult not to become haunted by it in precisely the way described in his second book, Ghosts of My Life.
Capitalist Realism rather straightforwardly describes the state that ‘Acid Communism’ is supposed to alleviate: it tells us why there is no future, and why having no future is a bad thing. Of his books, it is the most direct in its thesis — the most obviously political, because it engages with recognizable elements of exactly the gamified politics it diagnoses and rejects, and operates with exactly the cognitive and rhetorical tools it deems insufficient. Nevertheless, it shows us the entire silhouette of this new thing, ‘Acid Communism’, albeit in low resolution. It also tells us how to get there, although it is speaking to the part of us that could not understand such instructions even when directly told.
Ghosts of My Life and The Weird and the Eerie appear, at first glance, to be literary criticism with occasional political asides. Taken backwards — that is, taken from the perspective of someone already haunted by the fragmentary edges of ‘Acid Communism’ — they are technical manuals, and collections of case studies.
‘Acid Communism’ is a future cut off before it could develop any conventional aesthetic forms, and is potentially immune to the kind of shallow LARPing endemic to leftist movements: while those haunted by it have developed their own elaborations, both aesthetic and technical, they are not unified, nor has one or another yet begun to dominate (the Acid Horizon and Acid Left podcasts are dissimilar in many ways, and Xenogothic has his own thing going on, while Zer0 Books is almost not engaging with this trajectory at all), so there is no equivalent of soviet nostalgia here; even as Fisher’s own works are awash with a very specific nostalgia — for Britain in the 70s — it’s not as though anyone is cosplaying a citizen of Scarfolk to show their fealty to the Fisher memeplex. Ghosts of My Life explains how hauntology works, what it feels like to live without a future, how lost futures infect our understanding of the past, and (perhaps most importantly) how to precision-engineer ghosts aesthetically. He is showing his work.
The Weird and the Eerie looks, on the surface, even less political, but this is because here, we are fundamentally out of Kansas and into Oz. When we have built ourselves a body without organs, how do we navigate the unknown and uncharted space of the future we have finally opened up? How do we navigate the center of the shadow of ‘Acid Communism’, and keep the war machine from eating us? Again: we have case studies and typologies, this time not of the repressed but of the unknowable. Where Ghosts talks about how to deal with unknown-knowns, Weird and Eeries talks about how to deal with unknown-unknowns. The book is short, because we don’t know much about the unknown — only its edges, where it intersects into our lives, and even then only when we allow ourselves to see it.
What would have happened if Fisher actually wrote his magnum opus, setting down exactly how ‘Acid Communism’ would operate? It probably would no longer be ‘Acid Communism’. A better guide — all the more so because their guide-nature is simply not visible and legible to people who have not opened themselves up to it — is the three books we did get.
A popular idea (rejected by his friends and family) is that Mark Fisher committed suicide because he couldn’t see a way out of capitalist realism — that he had lost hope in his own project. Suicide is not monocausal (as Fisher himself pointed out in that very book), and being a real human being comes with all sorts of complications that we can never fully understand: we’ll never know why it ‘really’ happened. Instead, this explanation given is a mythic one, because after his death, Fisher quickly ascended to the status of mythic figure on the left. So, let me propose an alternative interpretation (no doubt equally insulting to the complex human who once existed, but more useful to the project he began and the myth he seeded): Fisher’s death allowed him to haunt us, and also freed us to continue his projects in ways he would not have been able to understand or agree with; because we will never see a canonical ‘Acid Communism’, we are able to work toward imagining an effective one. In this myth, he did not commit suicide because he lost hope, but in order to allow that hope a chance to flower in us.