Santiago: | Berlin:
Valdivia, December 2020
Refuse the aesthetic poverty of capitalist realism: A reflection on the 2019 Chilean uprising as an uncertain object for indirect action.
Hey! I know some tales about the future
A couple of weeks after the October 18th events in 2019, the author Joe Sacco – known worldwide for his comic-journalism – visited Chile to see what was going on in the country. There, Sacco was interviewed by CNN Chile saying the following:
Being here for me is inspiring indeed, because I feel that very often we are told that things cannot change. That's something that Margaret Thatcher said, that this is the only alternative, and she was one of the advocates of neoliberalism. And then you talk to people on the street, young people and you realize that they don't have that in their heads, they don't believe that change is not possible. And that's a very inspiring thing (Sacco 2019).
Sacco’s testimony is an example of a general feeling about the 2019 Chilean uprising, which, after more than 30 years, was able to twist the system’s hand, and thus imagine other futures for the country; futures that were finally different to the ones imposed by capitalist realism and its framework of possibilities – that is, “the widespread belief that there is no alternative to capitalism” (Fisher 2011, 124). By 2019 we Chileans had been living for at least three decades in what Fukuyama calls the “end of history,” but then, finally, the collective hallucination that there was “no alternative” had shown signs of being worn out.
"There is no alternative”. That famous phrase summarizing Margaret Thatcher's doctrine is repeatedly quoted by Fisher to make the interesting point that capitalist realism is a self-fulfilling prophecy; an hyperstitional device aimed to shrink the horizon of possible futures. Alternatives to capitalism are thus not evaluated as viable or desirable but as "hazy, spectral, barely conceivable" (ibid.). Capitalism is presented “as an inevitable part of reality”, and any deviation from it as a "naive utopianism" (Fisher 2009, 16). That is the success of the neoliberal ideology: presenting the conditions imposed by the system as "natural" (ibid.). Thus, by presenting itself "as the only possible reality" capitalism "rarely ‘appears’ as such" (ibid.). Capitalist realism is all about vanishing in the air in order to become atmospherical: “It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action” (ibid.).
In his essay Aesthetic Poverty, Mark Fisher reflects on the 2011 riots in England – reflections that could easily have been written for the 2019 riots in Chile:
While the riots in England could hardly be said to be a coherent political statement, in this collective use of social media there was perhaps the beginnings of something like class consciousness. And in the destruction of the depressing facades of corporate retail, is it too fanciful to see a rejection of the aesthetic poverty that corporate capitalism imposes on so many of us? (Fisher 2018a, 504).
We could also say that during the last 30 years in Chile capitalist realism progressively imposed a general atmosphere of aesthetic poverty in “physical, social and mediatic environments” (ibid., 503). Globally cloned corporative (non)spaces of mass consumption for the working class of the new Chile. Of course, “the rich have the material and cultural resources to ‘unplug’ from the dreary banality of these cloned spaces, the poor are far more embedded in them” (ibid.).
In the 2019 Chilean uprising, the pristine facades of transnational corporations, shopping malls, fast-food chains, banks, government buildings, and – practically – anything that could be linked to “the system,” was a potential target. Seek (the logo) and destroy. Crystal-clear facades of corporate buildings were covered with metal and wood scaffolding, hiding any exterior sign of their corporate brands. Local businesses were notoriously less attacked, but they also developed strategies to protect their stores. The downtown areas in cities around the country were, for a couple of months, not about consumption but about demonstration and revolt. You could feel another atmosphere in the streets. You could feel it in the air.
The radical aestheticization that took over the streets of Santiago during the social uprising is thus revealed to us as an interesting and problematic uncertain object; one linked to what Fisher calls indirect action. This points to the fact that “politics” by itself cannot achieve “the reordering of images, thoughts, affects, desires, beliefs and languages” – which “is a matter for culture, in the widest sense” (Fisher 2018b, 580). The materialization of the cultural and social critique that sustains the movement is a way of “generating new narratives, figures and conceptual frames” (ibid.).
But we refuse to think of this materialization in terms of a visuality, or – even worse – an iconography of the protest. It’s not only about art and creativity but also about destruction and violence. And it’s surely not a problem of “identity” and “representation”. Instead, we could think of it as a sort of aesthetic atmosphere of disensus capable of disrupting the narcotic enchantment of capitalist realism. A kind of associated-milieu (Simondon 1958) that maintains a metastable relation with the collective individuation processes triggered by the Chilean uprising.
During the demonstrations of the Chilean social uprising one special forgotten future was remembered. A sort of national anthem of the young and the distressed: “El Baile de los que Sobran” by Los Prisioneros – the most popular rock/pop band in Chilean history, which was active during Pinochet’s dictatorship last decade, and dissolving in 1991, only one year after “the return to democracy”. Contracultural, class struggle, anti-dictatorship, and even feminist lyrics were played not to be listened and analized, but to be danced and sung. In every demonstration day since October 2019, Los Prisioneros’ songs acted as protest anthems that united different generations and social classes, in multiple spontaneous choirs. They were written 30 years ago, but they sounded as if they had been made yesterday. However, as Jorge Gonzalez – the band’s frontman – rightfully said: “It’s sad to see that these songs still make so much sense.” They sound fresh as ever.
The viralization of the protest chant – and dance – by Las Tesis, “The rapist is you,” is an example of the new possibilities of thinking Chile as a contracultural laboratory. Following Fisher, we could say that it is a fine example of “why the intensification and proliferation of the capitalist technologies of reality management and libidinal engineering in the 1980s was not merely some happy coincidence for neoliberalism” (íbid.). Nowadays these technologies of control can also be used to construct new – worldwide – collectives for disensus.
Chile was the first neoliberal laboratory of the world. We hope this time it can be another kind of laboratory: one to refuse it. Maybe the country’s new constitution – one that, as one of the main victories of the social uprising, will be developed during next year – could work as an hyperstitional machine from which we will be able to download new futures to our present.
It is beginning to look as if, instead of being the end of history, capitalist realism was a thirty-year hiatus. The processes that began in the Sixties can now be resumed. Consciousness is being raised again (Fisher 2018a, 425).
1: “Hyperstition, a term loosely defined as fictional quantities that make themselves real” (Negarestani 2008, xiv).
Fisher, M. (2018a). “No Romance Without Finance”. In: Mark Fisher and Darren Ambrose (ed.) K-Punk. The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004 - 2016), pp. 419-425. London: Repeater.
Fisher, M. (2018b). “Abandon hope (summer is coming)”. In: Mark Fisher and Darren Ambrose (ed.) K-Punk. The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004 - 2016), pp. 573-584. London: Repeater.
Fisher, M. (2011). “The privatisation of stress”. In: Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture, 48, pp. 123-133.
Fisher, M. (2009). Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative? Winchester: Zero Books.
Negarestani, R. (2008). Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. Melbourne: re.press.
Simondon, G. (1958). Du mode d'existence des objets techniques. Paris: Aubier.