- The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher
The intellectual world was dealt a crushing blow on 13 January 2017, when Mark Fisher took his own life after a long struggle with depression. Already a massive influence in the radical blogosphere under his long-time moniker 'k-punk', Mark's 2009 book Capitalist Realism did not just shape the theoretical vocabulary of a new generation of critical theorists – his book achieved that rare feat of crossing over from the domain of academic theory to a much wider audience. With celebrities like Russell Brand championing his book in the public sphere and radical theorists across a wide spectrum of disciplines quickly embracing 'capitalist realism' as a basic framework, it is difficult indeed to overstate his influence as a contemporary thinker.
By the same token, it is now a sad and difficult task to go about reviewing what will now tragically remain Mark Fisher's last book, The Weird and the Eerie. The tragedy of his untimely death now looms inescapably over every page of the actual book, transforming what was clearly meant to be a somewhat minor diversion into an unintended final statement. And as if that shadow is not enough, this newest book also hangs awkwardly between the previous accomplishment of his universally acclaimed Capitalist Realism and the 'magnum opus' he had been working on that will now forever remain unfinished, Acid Communism: On Post-Capitalist Desire.
In many ways, The Weird and the Eerie has much more in common with his lesser-known collection Ghosts of My Life (2014). In this previous book, two forceful and hugely focused new essays appeared alongside a variety of shorter pieces, many of which had been developed on his k-punk blog, and which were obviously more scattershot in terms of topic and direction. While we are lucky indeed to have with that book a printed anthology of Fisher's notoriously ephemeral blogging, his most obvious strengths as a fiercely energetic commentator reflecting on cultural movements as they develop are better served by digital media than by the book form. While The Weird and the Eerie vividly again demonstrates the author's political fervour and infectious eclecticism, the text as a whole combines Fisher's omnivorous cultural sensibilities with a strongly focused conceptual framework that is highly definitional in nature. [End Page 401]
As he sets out with typical clarity and elegancy in the introduction, the book offers an elaborate discussion of the styles, registers and/or effects that one might describe as 'weird' or 'eerie'. Both terms obviously resonate strongly across most forms of fantastic fiction, where the 'New Weird' has become a politically charged movement across sf/f literature, while the eerie presence/absence of digital life has given new forms to the Gothic ghost tales traditionally marked as 'eerie'. Both distinct and relatable, Fisher establishes both terms in relation to Freud's original unheimlich or 'uncanny', setting them up as a trio of terms to describe something that is both affect and mode, but also 'not quite' a genre (9).
Engaging then directly with his two central terms, Fisher again defines his main concepts with almost brutal clarity and efficiency: the weird should be understood as that 'which does not belong', most commonly finding expression in 'the conjoining of two or more things which do not belong together' (10–11). The eerie, on the other hand, indicates a different type of affect – one that is not so much about the terrifying intrusion of something that does not belong, but more often with a frightening absence where one would expect a presence. However, while one might be tempted to see them as opposites that function along the traditional presence/absence binary, Fisher's definition is more nuanced, more slippery than my own oversimplification would allow.
Following his brisk introduction, which simultaneously emphasises both terms' political charges, the rest of the book is divided into two sections, each of which offers a series of short case studies that illustrate different aspects of these two central terms. Roughly chronological in organisation...