“The privatisation of stress is a perfect capture system, elegant in its brutal efficiency. Capital makes the worker ill, and then multinational pharmaceutical companies sell them drugs to make them better. The social and political causation of distress is neatly sidestepped at the same time as discontent is individualised and interiorised” – Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism
In the 1960s, a group of artists led by Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke coined the term ‘Capitalist Realism’ in this way opposing the so-called ‘Socialist Realism’. The very same term was then deployed by British writer and cultural critic Mark Fisher to articulate one of the most accurate and painful chronicles of our life and work system, as well as its consequences.
Fisher’s key books Capitalist Realism and Ghosts of My Life, his analysis of the pressure and bureaucratization of digital semiocapitalism, and his critique of the 1979’s statement by Margaret Tatcher “There is no alternative”, constitute the starting point of Estado de malestar. The work indeed proposes an analysis of collective anxiety and depression, of the common diseases of informational capitalism, and of such generalized and disarticulated sadness that is palliated by consumerism (as Pier Paolo Pasolini once warned) and pharmacology, and confronted by “Magical voluntarism”, – or the epitome of that false liberal autonomy expressed in the statement “if you want, you can.”
If in 2011 we took to the streets in order to share our anxieties, yet in these last years the working conditions have worsened so much that our lives seem to be more fragile. Precarity is no longer an economic issue only, but it has become a vital condition: we are suddenly precluded the possibility of making mid-term plans, while the unforeseen rules it all. At the same time, although the old ruling structures have died a long while ago, new class and relationship policies struggle to emerge. In this context, para-work, necro-work, uberization and other jobs are never praised for their real value.
As explained by Deleuze and Guattari, the social disease in Fordist capitalism was schizophrenia; instead, in such robotized and hyper-bureaucratised post-capitalism (where the only possible perspective is constituted by post-employment), constant competitiveness and endless surveillance make us depressive, anorexic, and bulimic. In the face of confrontational illnesses such as neuroses or psychoses, the diseases of our time are diseases of “accommodation”, over-response, and of absolute availability: the anorexic or the bulimic have a distorted view or their body and shape, those affected with Muscle dysphormia are never sufficiently muscular or strong, and those who are depressed have discovered their weaknesses yet they feel they can’t keep up with other people’s expectations. Besides, they have grasped the horror of the system and its implacable traps, and respond to it with immobility and chronic discomfort.
In these times of liquid jobs and relationships, – where the welfare state that was promised to us by social democracy has died and the “October Revolution” seem impossible –, we must rethink Foucault’s bio-politics in wider terms in order not to act as living dead, take care of one another, get out of such numbing pharmacological impasse and share our discomfort. And through the pain that is left, we have to imagine an alternative to this tyrannical realism that is the capital.
Learn more about the Co-Production Award and the previous winning artists, here.