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Review: “The Memeing of Mark Fisher”

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Located within the framework of the Frankfurt School’s critical theory, The Memeing of Mark Fisher boldly riffs on everything from conspiracy theories and memes to economic policy and election campaigns…”

With a host of respected academics—including Matt McManus, Alfie Bown, and Conrad Hamilton—already endorsing Mike Watson’s The Memeing of Mark Fisher: How the Frankfurt School Foresaw Capitalist Realism and What To Do About It, there is little that has not been said to praise Watson’s latest work. Indeed, if with his 2019 book Can the Left Learn to Meme?: Adorno, Video Gaming, and Stranger Things Watson announced himself as a significant voice of the online left, then it is with his latest offering that he establishes his reputation as one of the most impressive analysts of our strange digital era.

In building upon his previous work, in which he sought to recuperate and reimagine Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s 1944 essay “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” for a contemporary audience—championing the power of new media (such as memes, online gaming, and social media) as offering boundless opportunity for expression and advocating the utilization and abstraction of it through persistence production—Watson once again revisits the work of the Frankfurt School as an antidote for the sickness of modern times. 

Such pathology is diagnosed through the unwavering, if not increased relevance of the late Mark Fisher’s 2009 book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, which echoes the bleak skepticism of Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek in arguing that it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism.

In considering the enduring nature of Fisher’s work, the systematic failures of the online left and the expected remnants of a post-COVID-19 society, Watson recalls another point of collapse and cultural re-emergence, namely that of the post-war period and, in particular, the work of the Frankfurt School theorists Adorno, Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse as he looks to pick up the mantle of Fisher’s unfinished work Acid Communism and tries to sketch a blueprint for a new dawn.

Located within the framework of the Frankfurt School’s critical theory, The Memeing of Mark Fisher boldly riffs on everything from conspiracy theories and memes to economic policy and election campaigns, as it skillfully assesses the role that new media has played in the recent rise of right-wing populism. In reasoning that the perceived dichotomy between culture and political praxis is a false one, Watson identifies the memeosphere as a key marginal seat, possessing the ability to decide our social and economic futures.

With the Right so adept at leveraging new media, The Memeing of Mark Fisher culminates as a call to arms and urges the online left to use cultural production in a rally against apathy and cynicism.

Al Binns holds a master’s degree in philosophy by research from Nottingham Trent University. He is the debut author of The Incredibly Strange Creatures: Or How I Learned to Stop Being a Mixed-Up Zombie and Survive Modern Work!!?, forthcoming from ZerO Books. He can be found on Twitter @Tsunami__Life

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