When I made the decision to attend this memorial lecture, I did so with little previous knowledge of who Mark Fisher or Jodi Dean were. After a brief google quasi-research, I was a bit more accustomed to both of them, K-Punk and Capitalist Realism, but I was still contextually out-the-know.
As I arrived at the University about 15 minutes before the lecture started, I found a very agitated Goldsmiths sporting a polite, millennial stampede. Everyone was rushing and I finally found a place on the floor in an over-spill room with a livestream screen, after being herded from room to room. Although initially unsettled by having to listen to Dean’s voice via a screen, the experience eventually proved sensorial and intimate. For the first 10 minutes everyone laughed as technical difficulties made Jodi Dean’s voice sound like an apocalyptic sad robot, or not sound at all, but as the technical mishaps disappeared the room started to shape its own rules about listening. Being in a separate room, there was no need to validate or confirm through the act of clapping, or to laugh at official jokes. There was freedom of listening expression.
The lecture itself and room 305’s interaction with it, proved to be a strong tap in into an alternative narrative that garners traction as we speak, its manifesto stating loud and clear, with grinding teeth, that the status quo has to be shattered, ergo reconstructed. In a crescendo manner, Jodi painted a grim portrayal of the global climate: life expectancy decreasing in the US, mental health issues in low income strata increasing in the UK. Through her own words and evocations of Mark’s, depicting capitalism as an absolute one-off street without a dead end, and communism the timeless counter-coin. Jodi Dean’s words did not shy away or hide behind corners, her message sincere and upfront. Her metaphorical, ideatic sword was slicing through individualism and consumerism to arenas full of creatives in Nike pants and Carhartt jackets, and I was left wondering if anyone else felt the irony cloud pouring down.
The lecture pinned the increase in mental health problems to individualism and the death of collectivism, as well as the lack of fullfilment of basic human need for structure, safety, belonging. This is a very thick, complex, problematic element that I wish to linger upon. It is indeed logical that individualism has ties to rising rates of mental health problems, unfulfilment and suicide, as Durkheim’s 1897 case study of suicide pointed to lower rates in socially active people. A very good read on the matter is Putnam’s Bowling Alone, a deep quantitative case study of diminishing American social capital. I will contemplate on this matter through the following two perspectives. Firstly, growing up in Romania with countless family anecdotes of past communist times of deep individualism, factored in by alternate causes such as surveillance, snitching and no economical progression. Secondly, living now, surrounded by technology and instant gratification. It is instantly gratifying to simply match individualism to capitalism and propose getting rid of the two altogether. The proposition entangles itself when we remind ourselves of how the pursuit of capital is almost as old as humans. From the birth of capital surplus onwards, all social structures were closer to capitalism than communism. Making the rise of contemporary capitalism logical, its grim greed fueled by the culturalization of human nature, middlemanned by medieval feudalism and birthed by surplus. But, doesn’t it mean that toppling modern capitalism is toppling millenia of culturalization? Is capitalism to nature as communism is to culture or is it the other way around?
These questions transition to Dean’s comparison of preemptive fear of toppling by associating this matter with how one may feel fearful of going to coffee with someone just because, hypothetically, it may lead to divorce. Comical and crowd-pleasing, but I would rearrange the comparison: If the previous 6 coffees resulted in divorce, maybe there is an underlying issue at stake. If everytime you go snowboarding you break a leg and if every communist coup d’etat results in totalitarian dictatorships, maybe there should be a change in approach. Yet, I agree with Jodi Dean that previous attempts should be opportunities to learn, not examples of axiomatic rules. Maybe one can go snowboarding and return intact on the 10th attempt. As each real-life example teaches us, isn’t communism a stripped-down capitalism in which the classes merge into two, the ruled and the rulers? Isn’t Stalinism proof of how human greed turns utopian marxism into a handful of people controlling every aspect of the lives of the rest? If we seize the means of production and hand them over to monopartidism, did we actually seize?
Dean makes a fair point of individualism killing comradeship, but then goes on to discern what can and cannot be a comrade. Selective comradeship is a pillar of fascism, tapping in to how both Dean and the crowd laughed, or of starkly critiqued inquisitive Q&A questions which left me with a bad aftertaste and exemplified classification right before my eyes in a marxist infused memorial lecture. The crowd was pleased. There was even one instance of clapping in 305, a room with a livestream screen. No group, especially one of 7 billion can hermetically approve of something, and every faction narrative ideal is far from its manifestation. The ideatic plot and the actual lecture walked in parallel. Both experience mishapenings in manifestation, such as dictatorial genocide or clunky livestreams, but the essential message gets across. It is a matter of dealing with the technical difficulties and finding optimal compromise, but nobody likes a snobby electrician who talks down.
Words & Imag, Nejat-Aski – @nejatul