Burnout and Deep Boredom

“Every age has its signature afflictions. . .Neurological illnesses such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], borderline personality disorder (BPD), and burnout syndrome mark the landscape of pathology at the beginning of the twenty-first century. [the choice of words is careful, but what is new, the labelling or the “illnesses’] They are not infections, but infarctions; they do not follow from the negativity of what is immunologically foreign, but from an excess of positivity. Therefore, they elude all technologies and techniques that seek to combat what is alien.”

“If sleep represents the high point of mental relaxation, deep boredom is the peak of mental relaxation.”

—Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society (t. Erik Butler)

“[Mark] Fisher argues, to the detriment of innovation, boredom itself has been radically transformed by the advent of digital media. Today the slightest hint of restlessness or pocket of spare time tends to have us reaching for our smartphones—and yet the possibility of real boredom, and the urgent desire to escape it, has historically acted as an important cultural catalyst. For punks in the 1970s, the ‘dreary void of Sundays, the night hours after television stopped broadcasting, even the endless dragging minutes waiting in queues or for public transport” were viewed as a ‘challenge, an injunction and an opportunity’. Nowadays, ‘in the intensive, 24/7 environment of capitalist cyberspace, the brain is no longer allowed any time to idle; instead it is inundated with a seamless flow of low-level stimulus’. In compulsively engaging with frivolous online content that we recognise—even celebrate—as tedious, we sorely limit ourselves. We have arrived at a situation in which ‘no one is bored, everything is boring.'”

—From this week’s TLS, a review of Fisher’s K-Punk

And yes, there is an irony in posting these excerpts in a blog post. That ‘dreary void’ remained into the 1980s. I miss deep boredom. It is something that today must be willed and sought out. One of those days when everything one reads coalesces around a theme.

This Does Not Belong


“Modernist and experimental work often strikes us as weird when we first encounter it. The sense of wrongness associated with the weird — the conviction that this does not belong — is often a sign that we are in the presence of the new. The weird here is a signal that the concepts and frameworks which we have previously employed are now obsolete. If the encounter with the strange here is not straightforwardly pleasurable (the pleasurable would always refer to previous forms of satisfaction), it is not simply unpleasant either: there is an enjoyment in seeing the familiar and the conventional becoming outmoded — an enjoyment which, in its mixture of pleasure, and pain, has something in common with what Lacan called jouissance.”

Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie

Mark Fisher (1968 – 13 January 2017)

It is generally with bewilderment that I watch the extreme emotional public reaction that accompanies the death of public figures. When in reaction to the unsurprising deaths of very old men and women it is I suppose some sort of rejection of the inevitability of death, a very public denial of death. I imagine there is also some comfort in the social solidarity of the moment, but as I wrote in my last post, I’ve never been clubbable. I do wish however to mark the death of Mark Fisher (1968 – 13 January 2017). His writing, at k-punk and elsewhere, resonated deeply.

“But where does this tone – with its strange mixture of the middle-aged and the adolescent – come from? The quick answer is class background. The tone of light but relentless ridicule, the pose of not being seen to take things too seriously, has its roots in the British boarding school. In an article for the Guardian, Nick Duffell, author of Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion (Lone Arrow Press), argued that, from around the age of seven, boarders are required to adopt a “pseudo-adult” personality, which results, paradoxically, in their struggling “to properly mature, since the child who was not allowed to grow up organically gets stranded, as it were, inside them.”

“Boarding children,” Duffell continues, “invariably construct a survival personality that endures long after school and operates strategically … Crucially, they must not look unhappy, childish or foolish – in any way vulnerable – or they will be bullied by their peers. So they dissociate from all these qualities, project them out on to others, and develop duplicitous personalities that are on the run.”

Now that the working-class perspective has been marginalised in the dominant British media and political culture, we increasingly live inside the mind of this psychically mutilated adolescent bourgeois male. Here, ostensible levity conceals deep fear and anxiety; self-mockery is a kind of homeopathic remedy that is used to ward off the threat of an annihilating humiliation. You must never appear too much of a swot; you must never look as if you might like or think anything that isn’t already socially approved.”

From The strange death of British satire by Mark Fisher

Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism

Freedom, Spinoza shows, is something that can be achieved only when we can apprehend the real causes of our actions, when we set aside the ‘sad passions’ that intoxicate and entrance us.

Mark Fisher
Capitalist Realism

There are thematic similarities between Dead Man Working and Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, particularly around the invasive and pervasive characteristic of working life specific to late capitalism. Both books present cogent arguments for the devastating effects on our lives and mental health. Each book also addresses the propensity for counterculture to be absorbed into the mainstream.

It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. After 1989, capitalism has successfully presented itself as the only realistic political-economic system – a situation that the bank crisis of 2008, far from ending, actually compounded. The book analyses the development and principal features of this capitalist realism as a lived ideological framework. Using examples from politics, films (Children Of Men, Jason Bourne, Supernanny), fiction (Le Guin and Kafka), work and education, it argues that capitalist realism colours all areas of contemporary experience, is anything but realistic and asks how capitalism and its inconsistencies can be challenged. It’s a sharp analysis of the post-ideological malaise that suggests that the economics and politics of neo-liberalism are givens rather than constructions.

Reflexive Impotence

Reflexive impotence amounts to an unstated worldview amongst the British young, and it has its correlate in widespread pathologies. Many of the teenagers I worked with had mental health problems or learning difficulties. Depression is endemic. It is the condition most dealt with by the National Health Service, and it is afflicting people at increasingly younger ages. The number of students who have some variant of dyslexia is astonishing. It is not an exaggeration to say that being a teenager in late capitalist Britain is now close to being reclassified as a sickness. This pathologization already forecloses any possibility of politicisation. By privatising these problems – treating them as if they were caused by only chemical imbalances in the individual’s neurology and/or by their family background – any question of social systemic causation is ruled out.

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

Fisher in today’s Guardian: Why mental health is a political issue