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The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher – a review

Mark Fisher’s latest – and tragically – final book The Weird and the Eerie explores encounters with the outside and the unknown in 20th and 21st century film, music and literature.

Mark’s two previous books, prolific journalism and compelling blog established his reputation as one of the most brilliant cultural critics and political theorists of the past 15 years.

Capitalist Realism (2009) named and brought into sharp focus the widespread and largely unspoken assumption that no alternative exists to prevailing neoliberal orthodoxies for ordering our cultural, economic and political life.

Ghosts of My Life (2014) developed Mark’s perception that 21st century culture is haunted by a sense of ‘the slow cancellation of the future’, the erasure of the modernist impulse that pulsed through postwar social democracy: the hope that history has a vector, and that tomorrow will be different from today.

The Weird and the Eerie is a less overtly political work, but every page is lit by the restless desire for new horizons – for the possibility of change – that was the great theme of Mark’s work.

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Bowie and religion

Like millions of other Bowie fans I find myself listening to his music more than ever since he died a year ago today.

And, as for them, it continues to offer consolation, not only for the hard fact that we shall hear no more from him, but for the particular challenges of my own life. Why should this music, so often abstract, glacial, detached, obscure and mockingly ironic, hold such a powerful emotional appeal for so many?

Bowie’s work delighted in illusion and artifice, his elliptical wordplay as elusive as the quicksilver music itself, with its shimmering surfaces and sudden, bracing chord changes. And perhaps it is that very weightlessness, that impressionistic quality, that gives his songs their power, an ability to communicate a sense of the perpetual Speed of Life, with its continual flux, contingency and strangeness.

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2017, the Russian Revolution, and the idea of utopia

Billed as a year of imagination and possibility to mark the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, 2016 didn’t quite work out that way.

2017 offers another opportunity to consider the meaning and value of the idea of utopia, marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the most significant utopian enterprise since the American and French revolutions.

For most, the Soviet experiment, like 2016, will be remembered for its dystopian character: the bloody civil war that followed the Revolution; the swift suffocation of the nascent workers’ democracy by an overbearing bureaucracy; the immense suffering of forced-march collectivisation and industrialisation; the terrors of the 1930s police state; and the chronic misfiring of an economic engine that finally sputtered and died. The hulking edifice of the USSR stands as a ruined dream factory, utopia’s tombstone.

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My favourite books of 2016

There are some chaps who are no good for anything but books. I plead guilty to being such a chap. EM Forster, A Room With A View

Indeed. Here are ten books I particularly appreciated this year – though not necessarily published in 2016 – listed in alphabetical order. I reviewed quite a few of them for various online magazines, and where applicable have provided links to the versions archived on this site.

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Arrival and the possibility of conversation

Arrival, the film adaption of the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, has been recognised as one of the most intelligent sci-fi films of recent years, as concerned with helping us see our own world anew as with what might exist beyond it.

It is especially poignant, perhaps, that Denis Villeneuve’s movie was released only days after a bitter US Presidential race, whose outcome was only the most shocking upset of a year that has exposed seemingly irresolvable political and cultural divisions. For essentially it is a story about the possibility of communication, of bridging the abysmal gulfs that stop us talking to each other.

An alien civilisation visits Earth, their opaque, ovoid spacecraft – monumental structures recalling 2001’s monoliths – materialising one day at various locations across the world: the Indian Ocean, the Siberian tundra, the plains of Montana – twelve in all. Their portals hover a few metres from the ground, inviting entry.

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