Mark Fisher: TELEPATHOS
"In social movements like feminism, self-awareness, or naming one's problems, was the first step to radical collective awareness. For this generation, it is the only step, completely detached from any kind of solidarity; while they struggle with similar, and structurally rooted, problems, there is no sense of 'we'. The possibility of collective politicization through naming one's suffering is easily subsumed within these larger structures of domination because others who struggle are not seen as fellow sufferers but as objects of scorn." – Jennifer M Silva
Popular culture in the 1970s and early 1980s was preoccupied with telepathy. The Fury, The Shining, Scanners, The Tomorrow People, Sapphire and Steel, The X-Men and Octavia Butler's patternmaster series all centred on telepathy and/or telekinesis. Telepathy was also central to parapsychology, a genre from which orthodox science never quite managed to fully differentiate itself. Telepathy here was typically understood as a faculty that, while currently possessed only by some 'higher order' humans, would soon be shared by all.
It is perhaps no surprise that telepathy should recede from the popular imagination once capitalist realism started to take hold in the 1980s. In conditions of mandatory competition and aggressive individualism, the possibilities and dangers of telepathic consciousness no longer seemed pressing concerns.
The spectre of telepathy returned recently, in Melanie Gilligan's 2015 film project The Common Sense. But this is a technologically-enabled telepathy – a sharing of feelings that is made possible by a device called the Patch. The Patch is extrapolated from current trends in social media and emotional monitoring, but it promises something that these technologies cannot deliver: unmediated access to another's feelings. Would such affective sharing help us to escape from capitalist realism?
Mark Fisher will argue that the sharing of feelings will not be sufficient in and of itself to break down neoliberal subjectivity. Neoliberal capitalism has not only exploited our emotions, it has demanded that we identify as feeling subjects. This is partly because neoliberalism needed to contain the "molecular revolution" that countercultural consciousness-raising brought about between the 1960s and the early 1980s. While consciousness-raising began with people talking about their feelings, its transformative power depended upon groups coming to recognise the impersonal oppressive structures that generated those feelings. The success of neoliberalism depended upon those structures being once again occluded, with individuals corralled into assuming responsibility for their own happiness – and unhappiness. But this ideological disappearing act has started to fail, as the mechanisms by which neoliberalism has maintained a very restricted range of political possibilities have become increasingly visible.
The conditions for new forms of consciousness-raising are now here, but they need to activated.
About Mark Fisher
This lecture was presented as part of "did you feel it?" a symposium on digital interfaces and their affect