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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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The Soviet web

When brilliant Soviet cyberneticist Viktor Glushkov designed a blueprint for a computerised planning system, the Soviet Union looked on track to become web pioneers. In the end, however, there was to be no digital network. Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote for The Calvert Journal:

Visions of an advanced postcapitalist economy run by digital networks have long haunted the socialist imagination. Alexander Bogdanov’s 1909 Bolshevik sci-fi fantasy novel Red Star imagined the achievement of communist utopia on Mars, an abundance of wealth and leisure made possible by a sophisticated command economy planned and automated by prototype computers. Cerebral Martian engineers, their “delicate brains” connected to the machines through “subtle and invisible” threads, fine-tune economic inputs and outputs from a control room tracking production gluts and shortfalls.

Bogdanov’s thought experiment anticipated contemporary speculations about the possibilities digital networks open for new forms of economic exchange. One current best-seller, Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, suggests that the ease with which information can be shared online, together with the advent of 3D printing technologies, is seeding a new economy in which goods and services can be exchanged for free. Another, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future, envisages an automated economy set in motion by the seamless interactions of millions of connected devices.

Read the full article on The Calvert Journal.

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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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Napoleon, restored

I spent much of New Year’s Eve quite rationally, watching a five-and-a-half hour silent movie at the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

I should clarify that there were three intervals. And it was time well spent: the film was a restored BFI version of Abel Gance’s 1927 epic Napoleon, telling the story of the general’s early years. Despite the feature’s length it was intended as only the first in a series of six movies covering the life of the great man. As it transpired the opening episode proved so hard to make that its successors were never made.

The film is a technical wonder, illustrating the full range of what the avant-garde filmmakers of the 1920s could do with limited means. It was one of the first movies to use fluid camera action and tracking shots, and employed a battery of new techniques including close-ups, point-of-view perspectives, multiple exposure, colour tinting and mosaic effects.

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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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