Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mark Fisher

The second time I met Mark was at the University of East London occupation. The Docklands campus was bitterly cold, the winter wind ripping through it, as though, like those other Docklands up at the Isle of Dogs, it wasn't really made for human beings. He was enthusiastic, almost in the religious sense: it was like the spirit had moved him. He wrote about it, about how this moment -- the student movement and the sudden energy everywhere -- was like a depression lifting.

It was like a depression lifting, but was it actually a depression lifting? Classically, depression is linked to mourning, in a way that most modern therapies (drugs or CBT) have tended to forget or repress. In the Freudian view, when we mourn, we bitterly reproach the dead: how could they die? How could they do that to us? The thwarted mourning becomes melancholia: we direct that rage at ourselves, find ourselves endlessly useless, pointless, both incapable and culpable. We can't help being useless, but are to blame for it. Klein thought that this posed the distinction too sharply, and that all mourning has melancholic tendencies and that -- in a sense -- self-formation is a melancholic process, the self being produced out of the traces of objects that we have lost or been separated from.

It's one thing to speak of left-wing melancholia, but what happens to a defeated class, a class that is what it is because of historical defeats? A class that is made by loss and separation? To the extent that we can speak of the working class as a subject, it must be a melancholic subject. Its self-harm and self-medications those of a defeat which cannot be mourned, raged about, because it can't be experienced as such.

Freud used the term 'work' about mourning; the 'work of mourning', suggesting that its cognates were the work of art, the work of analysis, and the work of production.

As if to say, a class that cannot mourn its defeats (much as a stricken soul mourns sins) and put them away (which is to say, make something of them), goes on repeating them.