Contemporary Theory Reading Group Presents:
A series of seminars hosted at the University of Birmingham via Zoom on the legacy of Mark Fisher’s work. Proceedings will begin at 3pm on Tuesday the 26th of May, and run weekly until Tuesday the 23rd of June. A guest lecture featuring Matt Colquhoun will also take place on Monday June 8th at 5pm, for which you can register to attend here.
Starting Tuesday the 26th of May at 3pm the Contemporary Theory Reading Group will be hosting a series of seminar sessions on the legacy and work of Mark Fisher. These sessions are designed to be informal exercises to introduce Fisher’s wide variety of writing on various topics, including: Popular and Counter-Culture, ideas relating to Ecocriticism, Music Criticism and Hauntology, Science-Fiction, and the Weird and Eerie. In true likeness to Fisher’s work, these sessions will be open explorations of these themes, and hopefully allow for critical reflection on different popular cultural artifacts from a broad range of media. To help promote a sense of unity in these difficult times, sessions will also feature collaborations with other reading groups in the department, such as Gothica and the Dystopias Reading Group.
The sessions will also be complimented by a guest lecture by Matt Colquhoun, author of the first book-length piece of secondary fiction on Fisher’s work, Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy and Mark Fisher (2020). Egress was first used by Fisher to describe ‘latent acts of exit that were central to the weird fictions he wrote about’. Using Fisher’s writing as a guide, Colquhoun will use his thoughts and encounters with philosophy and popular culture to discuss his own experience of egress after Mark Fisher’s death on the 13th of January 2017. Colquhoun’s brilliant book explores Fisher’s work alongside Westworld and the American imaginary of the Wild West, D.H. Lawrence and Popular Modernism, Friendship and the work of Maurice Blanchot, and the acidic quality of Aphex Twin’s music, and we expect his lecture to be full of many equally compelling references!
The Guest Lecture will take place on Monday the 8th of June at 5pm. To register for a link to join the event, please sign up via eventbrite (places limited).
Full Events Summary and Schedule (Please note: All reading is optional, and a session handout/powerpoint will be provided via screen-share with key quotes from the texts before each session):
Week 1 [26.05.20]: Popular and Counter-Culture:
An Introduction to Mark Fisher
Introducing the work and career of Mark Fisher, this session will begin with a discussion about Fisher’s early career and the work he produced while he was a member of the CCRU. This will involve looking at passages from his essay ‘White Magic’. We will then introduce Fisher’s mid-period of work by focusing on his early blog material, in particular ‘Robot Historian in the Ruins’ (2009), and his pop cultural journalism, as with ‘Fading Privilege: Girls’ (2014). We will then open the floor to a wider discussion of these texts and the presence of Pop culture in both Fisher’s work, and theory more generally.
Week 2 [02.06.20]: Ecocriticism
Climate Catastrophe and the End of the World
Focusing primarily on excerpts from Capitalist Realism and Matt Colquhoun’s Egress, this session will begin by building on some of Fisher’s ideas about collective consciousness raising through embodiment of the fearful, unknown Other, before exploring the claim that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This session will also act as an introduction to Matt’s recently published book ahead of the lecture on June 8th at 5pm.
‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’, Capitalist Realism (2009)
Excerpts from The Weird and the Eerie (2016)
Matt Colquhoun, ‘Mental Health Asteroid’, Egress, (2020)
(Monday) [08.06.20]: 5pm Guest Lecture with Matt Colquhoun
COLD RATIONALISM AND PSYCHEDELIC CONSCIOUSNESS: MARK FISHER’S ACID REFLUX
In the months before his death, in late 2016, Mark Fisher had returned to that most fundamental political question in the twenty-first century: “Do we really want what we say we want?”
Beginning a new postgraduate module at Goldsmiths, University of London, entitled Postcapitalist Desire, Fisher explored the convoluted relationship between desire and capitalism, all the while wondering what new forms of desire we might still be able to excavate from this relation, whether from the past, our present, or the not-so-distant future.
From the emergence and failure of the counterculture in the 1970s to the continued development of his left-accelerationist line of thinking, this train of thought was tragically interrupted. Nevertheless, this course was an attempt to think through and enact one of Fisher’s more implicit overarching concerns: the raising of a new kind of consciousness. He also considered the cultural and political implications of doing so.
For Fisher, this process of consciousness raising was always, fundamentally, psychedelic — just not in the way that we might think… This lecture will further excavate this trajectory, not only as it was articulated in the final months of Fisher’s life but also from within the depths of his written output, from the k-punk blog to The Weird and the Eerie.
(Tuesday) [09.06.20]: The Gothic *Note: Due to uncertainty around the lifting of lock-down measures, the date of this session may be subject to alteration*.
The Weird and the Eerie
This week, will focus on the “the modes of feeling” that Fisher elaborates in his book, The Weird and The Eerie (2016). Exploring the nuances Fisher outlines between the concepts of the uncanny and the weird and the eerie this session will consider all things “strange”. For Fisher, one of the main things that differentiates the uncanny from both the weird and the eerie is the latter’s way of engaging with the strange, the unfamiliar, and the outside. They are the “modes of feeling”; and “modes of being” that disturb anthropocentric perceptions. The weird and the eerie are key concepts throughout Mark Fisher`s thought encompassing capitalism, nature, and art. As such, this session will focus on three strange metaphors in examples of fiction – curtains, holes and corridors – exploring their implications for the non-human turn in philosophy.
Mark Fisher, The Weird and The Eerie, (Introduction 8-13, and Curtains and Holes: David Lynch 53-59)
Roger Luckhurst, Corridor Gothic
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Inland Empire (2016)
Week 4 [16.06.20] Music Criticism:
Music and Hauntology
This session will introduce Mark Fisher’s writing on Hauntology. In particular, we will focus on Fisher’s music criticism, as well as the themes explored in the first chapter of his notorious text Ghosts of My Life (2014). As this session follows on from Matt’s lecture, we also anticipate a further discussion of Matt’s ideas, as well as the relationship music has to theory more broadly.
Ghosts of my Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Chapter 1) (2014)
‘Is pop undead?’ (2006)
‘Review: David Bowie’s The Next Day’, K-Punk, (2013)
Week 5 [23.06.20]: Science Fiction
Capital, Fictions and Worlds To Come:
This week, we will be examining the importance of science fiction and the practice of ‘science-fictioning’ in Fisher’s work, understood as the fashioning of new modes of existence through experiential narrative. Described as a ‘boring dystopia’ by Fisher, contemporary capitalism treats fictions of alternative modes of existence as dystopic invitations to totalitarianism or fanaticism. New fictions, for Fisher, are key to contesting this depressive reality. Science fiction offers the opportunity to break with the syntax of the present, so that it is not only about alternative modes of existence, but of them. We will examine Fisher’s K-Punk posts on the science fiction of Philip K. Dick and ‘Honeymoon in Disneyland’ to best explore SF’s role in fashioning an openness to the Outside.
Featured Texts: Blog posts:
We look forward to meeting you all at these events!
The Contemporary Theory Reading Group