Getting to this real abstraction entails an analysis of what I call capitalist realism. Capitalist realism – which by no means collapsed with the banks last year; on the contrary, there is no greater testament to its continuing power than the scale of the bank bailouts – is the notion that capitalism is the only viable political-economic system. It maintains that there is an inherent relation between capitalism and reality. Capitalist realism is a kind of anti-mythical myth: in claiming to have deflated all previous myths on which societies were based, whether the divine right of kings or the Marxist concept of historical materialism, it presents its own myth, that of the free individual exercising choice. The distrust of abstractions – summarized by Margaret Thatcher’s famous denial: ‘there is no such thing as society’ – finds expression in a widespread reduction of cultural ideas and activities to psychobiography. We are invited to see the ‘inner life’ of individuals as the most authentic level of reality. Much of the appeal of reality television, for instance, consists in its seductive claim to show participants for what they ‘really are’. The media is a sea of faces that we are encouraged to feel we are on first name terms with. Feature interviews in mainstream papers and magazines are invariably structures around biographical chat and photographs. In Britain, now more than ever, artists and musicians are faced with the choice of representing themselves in this biographical way or not appearing at all. Attempts to appeal to abstract ideas alone – either in the art itself or the forces it is dealing with – are habitually greeted with a mixture of contempt and incomprehension.
- Mark Fisher