Neoliberal Culture

In a recent article, ‘Time-Wars’, Mark Fisher illustrates the fallacy of yet another neoliberal faith: the belief that a reduction in social security – ‘red-tape social-democratic bureaucracy’ – would create a vigorous spirit of entrepreneurialism in cultural production. The effect, he argues, has actually been a dampening of culture in highly neoliberalized countries, like the UK and Ireland, as intellectual and artistic work is tied into a highly competitive, hyper-speed economy. Individuals have to constantly (re)produce to compete, representing and validating their work according to what is ‘current’. All this on top of the immediate and increasingly difficult pressures of living in expensive cities, paying rent, buying food. Under these conditions intellectual and artistic work, it seems, can only be undertaken on a short-term basis. Fisher quips that ‘only prisoners have time to read’.

He contrasts this with the important role which social securities, such as social welfare, social housing and student grants, have played in the creation of cultural forms like punk and post-punk. He also points to perhaps the most significant factor in all this: the existence of cheap and squatted properties during the 1980s in cities such as New York and London. Important because of the simple fact that today most of our time and energy is absorbed in paying astronomical rents (or repaying mortgages).

Rather than the dead hand of ‘individual entrepreneurialism’ it is a degree of security, the possibility of continuity over time, of solidarity and being-together, which leads to real invention and experimentation. Fisher writes:

“These developments precisely opened up a kind of time that is now increasingly difficult to access: a time temporarily freed from the pressure to pay rent or the mortgage; an experimental time, in which the outcomes of activities could neither be predicted nor guaranteed; a time which might turn out to be wasted, but which might equally yield new concepts, perceptions, ways of being.”

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