revew: Mark Fisher – Ghosts Of My Life
Ghosts Of My Life:
writings on depression, hauntology and lost futures/
To lament death is often irresistible. In Ghosts Of My Life Mark Fisher writes about Anton Corbijn’s Ian Curtis/Joy Division biopic, Control, a film which, for Fisher, ‘didn’t really connect […] didn’t do enough to convey the group’s sorcerous power’. For all that ‘Control could never make good the loss of Ian Curtis’s voice and body’, it did its work on my sister and I back in 2007/8 (I must’ve been 15 when we watched it on DVD). I was born in 1992 and Curtis had never been alive for me – he slotted into a broad canon of musicians who died young that teenagers, at least of my generation, mythologised. He was always a tragic hero by virtue of being dead. Control fed that view – filmed in black & white, directed by a maker of avant garde music videos, the film fit into a predestined slot in our teenage worldview, which cared little about the lived experience of anyone twenty years older than us (including, for that matter, the musicians themselves).
I come to Curtis, and Joy Division, as an inheritor or historian. If I can claim any ownership or personal connection to either, it can only ever be second-hand. I wasn’t there, I did not live that life. I scramble pre-lived fragments into me and experience fresh that which is decades-stale.
As I read Ghosts Of My Life, I become intensely aware of the impact this book would made on me, had I read it as an undergraduate. For my dissertation, ‘Gentlemen have you forgotten your God?’: Absent Gods in Contemporary American, I took a reading of Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx and a surface-level understanding of Derrida’s concept of ‘hauntology’ and threw it at a couple of American poets, diagnosing the ‘God’ they wrote about as an absent ghost. When I read, then, Fisher’s words, ‘an absent God, a God who is experienced as absence’, a shiver.
This walking-over of graves is intensified, still, when I realise that I could not possibly have read Ghosts Of My Life towards writing my dissertation because it was not published until one month after I had submitted it. Maybe this is a natural consequence of reading books about hauntology but this persistent slipping-by of experiences is uncanny.
Mark Fisher as a critic seems to centre his cultural readings on his own specific love affairs. He allies Joy Division with a sort of high-Modernism par excellence – their ability in the late 70s so effectively (by Fisher’s measure) to channel their time, whilst at the same time heralding the death of the very modernism of which they are the apotheosis makes them lucky, but not exceptional. Fisher’s reading of the time since the end of the 70s (the beginnings of Thatcher, Reaganomics, neoliberalism etc.) demonstrates a frozenness of the sociopolitical conditions of our culture – of which recurring ghosts, repetition and spectral elements of culture are a symptom.
This reading is strongly coloured by Fisher’s own loves and I find myself sceptically noting it a fortunate coincidence he was born into the right age to appreciate Joy Division as he became a teenager. It would be unfair to hold this to his writing’s detriment, though. I think our own love affairs are our largest filters. Perhaps I’m just applying a broken Freudianism in this belief – our engagement with culture only ever a deferred pleasure. (It feels no coincidence at all that Slavoj Žižek is found quoted praising Fisher’s work inside the cover). Whether I might be deferring my enjoyment of this book, or Fisher’s personal experience itself is unclear (and after all, the title is not Ghosts Of Our Life).
I am drawn to speculate about the relationship Ghosts Of My Life has to inheritance. The inheritors of a culture aren’t always particularly likely to be engaged with the thought that any ageing has taken place. I wonder if there are limits to consistently historicising – i.e. the overlooking of the fact that the consumers of culture are not always historicised: new consumers arrive every year, fresh and in waves. Perhaps the repetition in culture Fisher writes about, repackaged and resold, is exploiting that particular blind spot more now than it has ever before. Perhaps the blind spot itself is growing. Either way, I am inclined to believe that the modernist values that Fisher’s Joy Division encapsulate so wholly no longer apply. What the values we live by now can be feasibly called, whether a later modernism or a new perverse post-modernism I won’t venture into.
The place I do arrive at is an awareness that I must now read Fisher’s first book, Capitalist Realism. I suspect I may make larger discoveries, and I hope Fisher there might take more time writing around his method for reading the world. Perhaps I will arrive then at a place I feel comfortable to speculate from, on what ever happened to Joy Division’s modernism, and what it became in the time before I inherited them. Well curated as Ghosts Of My Life is, it’s more a record of the application of a method than a thesis. My reading is haunted equally by the book I’ve not yet read and the man I’ll never now meet.