Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

"Mark Fisher Was the Intellectual Leader of a Generation": Alex Niven on Lost Futures, Englishness and Corbynism

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

"Mark Fisher Was the Intellectual Leader of a Generation": Alex Niven on Lost Futures, Englishness and Corbynism

Article excerpt

The early weeks of 2017 were traumatic for Alex Niven. His newborn son was not sleeping. His partner had suffered significant blood loss during a difficult birth. Then his friend Mark Fisher, the founder of the K-Punk blog and the "intellectual leader of a generation" as Niven describes him, killed himself. All this coincided with a period in which Corbynism seemed to be in retreat. Niven could scarcely sleep and, as he writes in his latest book, New Model Island, he began listening obsessively to Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon". "It felt like a completely hopeless moment," he told me. "A moment of total disillusionment and defeat."

He writes about this disillusionment and how it eventually lifted in New Model Island, which mixes theoretical analysis about our disunited kingdom, polemic, memoir and cultural criticism and is influenced by the writings of Fisher. When we met recently at the New Statesman offices in London, I asked Niven about his friend's legacy.

Fisher (pictured above) was 48 when he died and had spent much of his career feeling marginalised, as a writer and academic. "Mark was a kind of precarious labourer on the fringes of academia," Niven told me. "He was marginalised in a very literal sense because apart from a year or two before he died he only ever had temporary fellowships in further education."

Fisher's experiences resonated for a generation of millennial students who were highly educated but did not have job security and could not afford a home of their own. "That, in a sentence," says Niven, "is the basis of intellectual Corbynism. Corbynism is not really about Corbyn: it's about this intellectual generation that was waiting for its moment to cross over and hadn't been able to because of a precarious work culture."

What Niven calls the "neoliberalisation of education" affected Fisher. He channelled his frustration into writing Capitalist Realism (2009), which explores, as Fisher wrote, "the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it".

Niven admires what he calls the "almost spiritual dimension to Mark's writing. Capitalist Realism is about how we are spiritually impoverished. We are trapped psychologically in this punitive, almost dystopian, work culture."

One consequence is people's feelings of powerlessness. Another is their inability to conceptualise a future that is different from the present. "The feeling that we can't express alternative ways of being and ways of thinking for me that's the main thing Capitalist Realism does well by personalising the effects of neoliberalism."

Niven is a lecturer in English literature at Newcastle University and he's also worked as an editor on the imprint Zero Books, which was founded by the novelist Tariq Goddard and published Fisher. …

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