Key Terms from Capitalist Realism (HUM415)

Here’s a short list of some of the most salient key terms from Capitalist Realism.


reflexive impotence

depressive hedonia

market Stalinism

business ontology

big Other



the Real



To which we can add some terms we’ve used several times in class.



Quotes (for quotes from the first three chapters, see the previous post on CR):

“Harvey argues that neoliberalization is best conceived as a ‘political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites’. Harvey demonstrates that, in an era popularly described as ‘post-political’, class war as continued to be fought, but only by one side: the wealthy” (29).

“What must be discovered is a way out of the motivation/demotivation binary, so that disidentification from the control program registers as something other than dejected apathy” (30).

“The situation of the family in post-Fordist capitalism is contradictory, in precisely the way that traditional Marxism expected: capitalism requires the family (as an essential means of reproducing and caring for labor power; as a salve for the psychic wounds inflicted by anarchic social-economic conditions), even as it undermines it (denying parents time with children, putting intolerable stress on couples as they become the exclusive source of affective consolation for each other)” (33).

“Work and life become inseparable. Capital follows you when you dream. Time ceases to be linear, becomes chaotic, broken down into punctiform divisions. As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems” (34).

“[I]f, as Deleuze and Guattari argue, schizophrenia is the condition that marks the outer edges of capitalism, then bi-polar disorder is the mental illness proper to the ‘interior’ of capitalism. With its ceaseless boom and bust cycles, capitalism is itself fundamentally and irreducible bi-polar, periodically lurching between hyped-up mania (the irrational exuberance of ‘bubble thinking’) and depressive come down…. Without delirium and confidence, capital could not function” (35).

“We the audience are not subjected to a power that comes from outside; rather, we are integrated into a control circuit that has our desires and preferences as its only mandate– but those desires and preferences are returned to us, no longer as ours, but as the desires of the big Other” (49).

“Capitalist realism… entails subordinating oneself to a reality that is infinitely plastic, capable of reconfiguring itself at any moment. We are confronted with what Jameson… calls, ‘a purely fungible present in which space and psyches alike can be processed and remade at will’. The ‘reality’ here is akin to the multiplicity of options available on a digital document, where no decision is final, revisions are always possible, and any previous moment can be recalled at any time” (54).

“In… conditions of ontological precarity, forgetting becomes an adaptive strategy” (56).

“In conditions where realities and identities are upgraded like software, it is not surprising that memory disorders should have become the focus of cultural anxiety” (58).

“On the one hand, this is a culture that privileges only the present and the immediate– the extirpation of the long term extends backwards as well as forwards in time (for example, media stories monopolize attention for a week or so then are instantly forgotten); on the other hand, it is a culture that is excessively nostalgic, given over to retrospection, incapable of generating any authentic novelty” (59).

And, Fisher quotes Jameson, “‘where everything now submits to the perpetual change of fashion and media image… nothing can change any longer'” (59).

“If memory disorder provides a compelling analogy for the glitches in capitalist realism, the model for its smooth functioning would be dreamwork. When we are dreaming, we forget, but immediately forget that we have done so; since the gaps and lacunae in or memories are Photoshopped out, they do not trouble or torment us. What dreamwork does is to produce a confabulated consistency which covers over anomalies and contradictions” (60).

“Despite evincing an anti-statist rhetoric, neoliberalism is in practice not opposed to the state per se– as the bank bail-outs of 2008 demonstrated– but rather to particular uses of state funds” (61).

“[A]t the level of the political unconscious, it is impossible to accept that there are no overall controllers, that the closest thing we have to ruling powers now are nebulous, unaccountable interests exercising corporate irresponsibility. A case of fetishist disavowal, perhaps– ‘we know perfectly well that the government is not pulling the strings, but nevertheless…’. The disavowal happens in part because the centerlessness of global capitalism is radically unthinkable. Although people are interpellated now as consumers… they still cannot help but think of themselves as (if they were) citizens” (63).

“The supreme genius of Kafka was to have explored the negative atheology proper to Capital: the centre is missing, but we cannot stop searching for it or positing it. It is not that there is nothing there– it is that what is there is not capable of exercising responsibility” (65).

“There are certainly conspiracies in capitalism, but the problem is that they are themselves only possible because of deeper level structures that allow them to function. Does anyone really think, for instance, that things would improve if we replaced the whole managerial and banking class with a whole new set of (‘better’) people? Surely, on the contrary, it is evident that the vices are engendered by the structure, and that while the structure remains, the vices will reproduce themselves” (68).

“In fact, Spinoza has immense responses for analyzing the affective regime of late capitalism, the videodrome-control apparatus described by Burroughs, Philip K. Dick and David Cronenberg in which agency is dissolved in a phantasmagoric haze of psychic and physical intoxicants. Like Burroughs, Spinoza shows that, far from being an aberrant condition, addiction is the standard state for human beings, who are habitually enslaved into reactive and repetitive behaviors by frozen images (of themselves and the world). Freedom, Spinoza shows, is something that can be achieved only when we can apprehend the real causes of our actions, when we can set aside the ‘sad passions’ that intoxicate and entrance us” (73).

“Nevertheless, the interpassive simulation of participation in postmodern media, the network narcissism of MySpace and Facebook, has, in the main, generated content that is repetitive, parasitic and conformist. In a seeming irony, the media class’s refusal to be paternalistic has not produced a bottom-up culture of breathtaking diversity, but one that is increasingly infantilized” (75).

“Anti-capitalism must oppose Capitalism’s globalism with its own, authentic universality” (79).

“This is a struggle that can be won– but only if a new political subject coalesces; it is an open question as to whether the old structures (such as trade unions) will be capable of nurturing that subjectivity, or whether it will entail the formation of wholly new political organizations” (79).

2 thoughts on “Key Terms from Capitalist Realism (HUM415)

  1. Pingback: Key terms from CR (HUM415) | analepsis

  2. Pingback: Study Guide (HUM415) « analepsis

Comments are closed.