In the first half of 2018 I was privileged to be involved in The Longest Tomb, the first documentary on genocide in Daejeon aided and abetted by the US military in 1950. We took the film to SOAS with Mr Lee and Ms Jeon at the end of May this year. Ms Jeon read two poems, which I then explained to the audience. There was also a lively discussion at the end of the event. I truly hope I can find a copy of Ms Jeon's reading to put on this site. I will add a link to this post if one emerges. In the meantime please watch the above film, another version of which we hope to premiere in the US (Washington DC) in 2019.
There is one review of the event on Tongil news in Korea (In Korean, obviously). Click the following link:
There is also a similar review of the Korean premiere here:
‘Redemption in Resistance’: Reassembling Knowledge in Scott Thurston’s Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (2014)
‘Since therefore I also am how do I entreat thee to come into me, who could not be, unless thou were first in me” - St Augustine Confessions Book 1
In recent years two words have been foregrounded in Scott Thurston’s work: ‘knowledge’ and ‘reassembly’. ‘Reassembly’ was an intrinsic part of Reverses Heart’s Reassembly (2011), whereas ‘knowledge’ has always been pitched as something reliant on ‘an encounter’ with the other person (29). This isn’t ‘Knowledge as power’ (like in the ubiquitous proverb) then. As Steve Boyland notes in the blurb for Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (2014) this volume works loosely in the kind of quest that engaged St Augustine and Dante. If I was to generate my own blurb for this pamphlet perhaps ‘a quest for knowledge with a difference’ would be appropriate. Whereas in St Augustine and Dante the ego was inextricably linked to this quest, in Thurstons pamphlet it is viewed with suspicion. ‘In the gap between me and I’, wrote Thurston in Reverses Hearts Reassembly, ‘you draw nearer’. The trope drawn upon in Thurston’s last major text was dance (initially Gabriel Roth’s Five Rhythms), seen as a metonymic process for how a transaction like this operates. Writing of this aspect of his work Frances Presley has explained how poetry and dance coalesce. This doesn’t mean drawing parallels between each activity, or aiming for sweeping generalizations of ‘sameness’, but measuring some facets of each that make creative aesthetic practice possible. ‘Both dance and poetry are not so much about learning a discipline’, wrote Presley in 2011, ‘but about finding the discipline of form which corresponds to your desires and needs’. Poetry and dance are not classical forms to be blindly repeated and perfected, but meaning-making strategies that stand out in their capacity to privilege protean states of interaction with the world. These strategies are, firstly, improvisatory, but also socially-orientated in their recognition that both writing and dance allow those engaged in these activities to approach a new framework of thinking. ‘The tension between intention to move and moving’, as Thurston writes in Reverses Heart’s Reassembly, ‘between dancing by yourself and with others’ (33). This is an interaction I will explore in some detail using Thurston’s text Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (2014) describing what I think are his own ‘desires and needs’. This is a language-based excursion that will leave ‘theory’ by the wayside. The writing will speak, as it were, for and beyond itself.
Rather than being a text ensconced in some theory or other, this is a pamphlet that pays dividends for those who read it. Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent calls for our engagement with the other person, something that is surely part of the ‘message’. This means it does not lend itself to impositions, but a dialogic approach instead. This is because it starts from where the other texts left off. This is not a text to be picked up and read from cover to cover, but one to fall into at any point on a journey of self-discovery (where ‘self’ has been dutifully elided from the equation). Interestingly, the unnumbered pages of text point us in that direction. Nothing will be gained from what lies within if we expect the consistency of tone and voice associated with more traditional narratives. ‘Draw your efforts towards the spectacle of the line’ writes Thurston early on, ‘noting the lessons of the fowl on the land, on the water, and in the air’. Making the most of work like this involves a variety of strategies involving careful listening and attention. Edification comes not in a revelatory ‘knowledge stream’, but a consistent engagement with a language buzzing with signs of life. ‘The fowl’, after all, ‘uses different parts of its body on its own journey through space and time. The reader must be prepared to encounter the text in a similar way. Whatever we ‘know’ becomes immediately insignificant next to what another person can teach us. ‘Redemption in resistance’, writes Thurston, ‘to knowing what’? The problem always comes back to our vainglorious refusal to pay attention. All forms of knowledge, in this sense, are seen as exclusionary narratives that of necessity elide different modes of attention that should be in dialogue with each other. Rather than looking for a ‘correct path’ through the text the goal is to recognize knowledge itself as something permanently in flux. An ever-shifting nucleus of ideas, that even when they encounter resistance, must remain in constant dialogue with exteriority.
Knowledge is not generated in Thurston’s text by the heroism of an individual choosing the ‘right path’ but by a more fluid attention to complexity. ‘Is a flung headlong youth’s assertion of thundering drums what breaks the bowl’, is the question posed at the very beginning of the poem, which is immediately followed by the phrase ‘let it go’ as well as more references to being ‘reassembled’. This is a ‘quest’ that must be repeated ‘over and over’. We are not involved in reading so that we can ascend to position of dominance, but as part of a continual process of knowledge acquisition instead. In that sense I am in interested in two words that appear in the initial stages of the poem. The first of these is ‘flow’. This draws my attention because it suggests the flux and change implicit in images of water, but also a sense of ‘creative flow’ or that psychological state in which creative work is said to happen. As the second isolated portion of text states:
A series of trials set up like an island in a river – noticing where a current is viable even in concealment. A perfect will turns like a needle as a thread of disgust stitched through every day starts to come undone. You slip into the stream.
Trials in Figure Detached are once again described using images of fluidity as ‘islands in a river’. The perceiving subject sees them as somehow separate from the water itself, even though in reality they are part of the ebb and flow. If these islands are to ‘stand for’ anything (although I’m not sure if this is Thurston’s intention) it could be a linear series of possibilities predetermined from the start. When the water shifts unpredictably around them, we follow ‘viable currents’ even though they are not visible to the naked eye. But this ‘perfect will’ we cling to is actually a ‘thread of disgust’ that can easily be ‘reassembled’ into something else. Which brings us to the final isolated line of the text: ‘you slip into the stream’. Rather than a sense of preordained ‘islands in the river’ the sense is of an accidental ‘slip’ into a ‘stream’ that overwhelms us. But as always this language creates a conflictual sense of multiple meanings. This ‘slip’ could be ‘slipping’ on a pair of socks, or ‘slippers’, something more comforting. Just like ‘slipping’ into a warm bath, this adds to the conflictual nature of the message. Either way instead of a predefined route we have an openness to experience, spontaneity or accident. But there is also another allusion here. Thurston has effectively taken apart (or ‘reassembled’) the word ‘slipstream’ to give it another meaning entirely. This slipstream, remember, is what moves us forward in time. It is propulsion, or ‘flow’, that provides the velocity for that aforementioned ‘fowl’. For the writer it is ‘creativity’ – ‘the midnight oil’ – all of the romantic clichés that saturate (and burden) accounts of how scribbling egos operate. This sense of certainty is completely disrupted to give an alternate - almost clownish – sense of stupefaction in the face of what presents itself as ‘truth’. Suddenly we flounder, fishlike, where once there was precision. It isn’t as if what we know is being mocked nihilistically in lines like these, but rather that its status is being called into question by the function of language itself.
This is one of the most compelling features of Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (2014). ‘Consenting out of fear you grasp each word as a thing’, writes Thurston, ‘trying to create your own knowledge’. The impetus is always on the other person to ‘prove.. you reflect the thoughts I think’, as Thurston puts it. This brings us to a second oft-repeated image in the text, that of ‘bowl’. From the beginning of the text the ‘bowl’ is what is broken by the ‘youth’s assertion of thundering drums’. ‘The Bowl’ at this point seems a rather random occurrence in the poem. A clue, however, comes on page ‘eight’ (unmarked) when Thurston writes:
The greater the measure of virtue, the more the fungus attaches to the base of the bowl in the mind. Two fish weigh the task of care – clear and unctuous – beneath the wintering flowering plum, beneath the crazed glaze. The heart overflows the gilded rim.
‘Bowl’ is clearly associated here with the bowl of the mind, or the cup of the skull, the locus at which most ‘thinking’ happens. Moreover, it is the base of the brain that makes speech possible as the neurological stimulus for communication itself. Without it individual thought processes would be echo chambers, reflecting nothing but a monologic certainty. But ‘virtuous’ thinking is associated in Thurston’s conceptualization with the ever greater accumulation of fungus. The bowl of the mind can be a place of stagnation as much as it claims to be a righteous discourse. In a startling juxtaposition the reader immediately encounters more water-based imagery this time of two fish ‘weighing the task of care’. These fish are interesting precisely because there are two of them. ‘Clear and unctuous’ they are wonderfully juxtaposed to the fungus inflamed ‘bowl in the mind’. Their major function – in juxtaposition – is one of ‘care’. Their ‘unctuousness’ in itself opens up a whole series of possibilities. Firstly, there is the a linguistic association with ‘sheen’ or ‘oily shine’ that sets them apart from the fungus growing in the mind. But, secondly, there are connotations of ‘servility’, in as far as that word has come to stand for a sycophancy the polar opposite of the ‘virtuous’ knowledge in the fungi infested ‘bowl’. But the presence of the fish again gives a conflicting sense of a ‘goldfish bowl’, an idiom associated with being trapped or introverted. In Figure Detached this seems to be where the major aesthetic efforts lie. Language is presented as a vastly conflictual entity constantly ‘reassembling’ itself in contact with the other person.
This brings us back to that curious phrase ‘redemption in resistance’. Redemption only comes in the resistance, or conflict, between ‘virtuous’ knowledge and its contact with the other person. This is enacted in the text by an attention to the connotative realm of signification, which is clearly meant to surprise in its constant twists and turns. As Thurston makes clear below:
A man stands by his neighbour; opens him up to see how he works; viscera sliding out like abandoned fears. Discovering the thigh muscles he becomes fascinated – eternity’s too short. Still thinking about time, he finds it more difficult to create than destroy, as he starts to extend into the space beyond his skin.
When taking apart an interlocutor Thurston finds not some gleaming mechanics, but a disappointing organic mess. This is the true essence of the human, the not so surprising fact that there is nothing that makes us unique. The ‘viscera sliding out’, interestingly, doesn’t communicate a sense of horror, but something more like ‘relief’. The abandoned fears might be that the mortality of this person is nothing to envy, or there is a seeming equality that was previously absent. The onus now must be to ‘create’ rather than ‘destroy’. The knowledge of a shared mortality should be something liberating above and beyond our most selfish instincts for domination. The key to this passage is notable the ‘thigh muscle’, which is described as ‘fascinating’. This is because the thigh muscle provides a way out of the ‘create’ or ‘destroy’ paradox. Escaping our most base intentions the thigh muscle is the part of the body that enables movement, and therefore makes another kind of consciousness possible. Next to the hip, attached to the femur by connective tissues, there would be no walking without the kinetic energy generated by it. This is the only route to what Thurston called in Reverse’s Hearts Reassembly ‘the transition world entangled in the interhuman’ (13). As readers we enact this process ourselves. Twirling back and forth through Thurston’s text, looking for linguistic clues, we become part of the dance in our explorations and engagements. This is a difficult, but liberating process. But it is one nevertheless fundamental to all attempts at ‘knowing’ and mimics the action of reading itself.
 I am referring here to the ‘knowledge’ section of Reverses Hearts Reassembly from p. 25 onwards.
From 27 - 29th of April I attended a conference on Jeju Island focussed on Literary Resistance and Solidarity in East Asia. With poets from Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan and Korea the theme was the place of literature in the context of heightened state power and repression. The location - Jeju - was no accident. It was here that in 1948 30,000 people were slaughtered by South Korean forces (aided and abetted in every possible way by the "soft power" of the American military). Labelled a 'red island' by the American authorities, every islander was punished for a few partisans in their midst. I will publish more writing on this conference very soon. For now, I will briefly describe a moment of inspiration.
On the final day of the conference after planting a tree from Halla mountain at the 4.3 Peace Museum - which each writer's group covered with soil and water from every part of Korea, and hung a personal message on (see picture above) - we visited the last hideout of Lee Deok Gu, a communist partisan who left this location in 1949, before he was discovered by the South Korean police and assassinated. The site was strewn not only with the remains of his hideout, but the cooking pots and rice dishes in which the partisans had presumably eaten their final meal.
We performed the traditional Chesa ceremony for Doek Gu at this point, with hungry crows circling overhead (you can hear them quite clearly towards the end of the following clip).
It was also here that some excellent musicians performed the song of the partisans (which reminds me of the Italian "Bella Ciao") "The Revolutionary Spirit is Alive". The fantastic singer - amid some tears in the crowd - sang about the ideals of resistance outliving the death of individuals. Incidentally, this was a song played at the funeral of Kim Il Sung, also a famous rebel fighter, who was to become the first leader of North Korea. Given that the previous day we had talked in detail about the word "빨갱이" (a derogatory term literally meaning "red") as a "mechanism" for keeping power in the hands of conservative forces, and further repressing "the truth" of what happened in the war, it seemed a perfect - and deliberately beautiful - moment. This song doesn't actually respect any kind of linguistic division. It reaches beyond state borders and spoke to us there in the forest as a song of resistance above all else. The singers mournful wail called for an engagement with the reality of what it means to fight against the state whether located in the North or in the South. This wail was both protest and remembrance. It may have been on Jeju Island for this event, but it could of been anywhere else. Where "the wounds are untended and the voices are confused", as George Oppen wrote so well in 1968, "there is the head of the moving column". That wail can be heard at the fences of the open air prison that is Gaza today. It can be heard anywhere people are suffering from a surfeit of power that wishes to silence them. Equally, it can never be explained away by recourse to crude terminology instituted by a state that seeks to dehumanize and then ultimately erase those speaking out.
In South Korea history is something always returning to haunt the populace. The location of Jeju island means this place is always looked at in terms of the possibilities for projecting state power rather than being somewhere people actually live. This was evident for me watching local news at my hotel, where resistance continues to an American military base forced on the people of Gangjeong Village. This base was originally proposed by the first South Korean president, and in typical pattern has only now achieved physical form. Like an apparition from a torturous past, promising more of the same, it is simply more military hardware to encircle (an already encircled) China. Please see the following link to the movie Ghosts of Jeju, bearing in mind that even though the base is now built resistance is ongoing.
Below is an initial translation of Jeon Suk Ja's poem "A Red Belt"one of many that will be performed for the first time in the UK after the showing of the film "The Longest Tomb" at SOAS on 29th May. Please also see the press release underneath for more details......
A Red Belt
Koreans from Busan
To Pyongyang should listen
To klaxons from Dorosan station
Announcing new routes spanning
North and South and also to
Europe as in times past
But someone placed a red belt here.
Why apply so much pressure
With no thought to release?
It’s been fifty years since families were separated
Fifty years since those events
Now there is only death on the horizon
I try to surmount these difficulties
But my Father’s passing
O where is the release from
This red belt?
There is a small village in the North
That seems closer than ever
Mountain ranges hold their hands together
Hundreds of peaks, even Yeonmi Mountain
Look like family to me
But the route is blocked
Only the clouds are free to pass
The red belt.
Jeon Suk Ja
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THE LONGEST TOMB, UK Premiere of a Korean Language Documentary on the Daejeon Massacre (1950)
Knowledge is Power and The Education Centre for Peace and Reunification present The Longest Tomb, the first ever documentary on the controversial subject of mass killings in Daejeon, South Korea during the Korean War. This subtitled English language premiere of the film will take place at SOAS’ Alumni Lecture Theatre, Senate House in London at 7pm on 29th May 2018. Starting with a chance to meet the production team, followed by a screening of the film itself, the night will end with survivor testimonies from Ms. Jeon and Mr. Lee who will travel from Daejeon to promote it. There will also be readings from Ms. Jeon’s recent book of poetry on the same subject and time for Q&A.
The Daejeon Massacre is a little known tragedy from the Korean War, the truth of which has been buried for political reasons by almost 40 years of dictatorship and another 30 years of public silence. Now entering a period of openness following the South Korean President’s appearance at the 4.3 Memorial Day on Jeju Island, the hope of the film is to finally come to a public consensus over the truth of these events. This includes addressing questions over casualties (a figure ranging from 1,800 to 7,000) but also the real human cost and political ramifications for the Korean peninsula as a whole.
Knowledge is Power is an internet podcast show that covers local politics in the Daejeon area. Set up by Mr. Chinho Jung in 2017, it is a non-profit organization that aims to provide a space for the empowerment of Daejeon citizens.
The Education Center for Peace and Unification is a cultural center in Daejeon promoting peace and reunification. They offer education on topics such as ‘division and unification’ and ‘inter-Korean relations’. Mr. Jaegeun Im, an instructor, is the film’s narrator.
To learn more please contact Dr. David Miller on email@example.com
An immense book obscures the wintry landscape. The words from Paul Celan’s Schwarze Flocken [Black Flakes] retreat into the distance, giving the painting not only its title but its generating force. ‘Snow has fallen’, begins Celan’s poem, ‘with no light’ (15). In Schwarze Flocken twigs like runic symbols run parallel with the furrows containing the text itself. The most painful aspects of European history could be said to be coterminous with the pain of Celan. Each shadowing the other into the distance with no sense of resolution. If it is pain we are after then there is surely no rival to Celan himself. In Schwarze Flocken he recalls the loss of his mother, a mother who was butchered by the Nazis along with the rest of his family and friends. The poem – like much of Celan’s work – is one of mourning. Mourning for a history that denied him justice. Mourning for the tortured consciousness that saw him take his own life. It is common, therefore, to treat these aspects of Kiefer’s paintings as inseparable from the Nazis and their insidious grasp on historical memory. The ‘runes’ just identified become remnants of concentration camp fences. Auchwitz, and Germania, are everywhere as we look for traces of Hitler in the same way we might search for ‘Waldo’. Jackie Wullschlager, writing for the Financial Times, typifies such perspectives. Speaking of Auchwitz, Wullschlager claims that Kiefer has ‘rarely made art about anything else’. This is not only a ridiculous statement – given the vast scope of Kiefer’s project – but it seeks to reduce the most radical aspects of his work within the terms of a narrative that has operated in the background since the Venice biennale In 1980. This necessary reaction to historical amnesia in Germany of the time bears little relation to a painting where there is otherwise so much going on. Furthermore, a simplistic understanding of this period (especially when seen through the purview of historical ‘losers’ and ‘victors’) means it is possible to view Kiefer’s work within a context that strips it of its most radical associations. ‘Nazism, the society it created, the world of the Third Reich and the people who lived through it all appear as a kind of moral drama’, explains the historian Richard J Evans, ‘where the issues are laid out starkly before us with a clarity we are no longer able to achieve in the morally complex, confusing and compromised world we live in today’. In work like Kiefer’s ‘we cannot single out’, according to Daniel Arasse, ‘one hypothesis… one clue, and follow it through the oeuvre to reveal the unity of the whole’ (21). Such approaches deny the ‘overdetermined’ character of aesthetic practice such as this, which is both limiting and dangerous. Rather than position Kiefer within the terms of a static diorama, what follows attempts to situate the artists work within associative constellations of meaning that resist the pull of these dominant signifiers. Put more simply, my intention is to ‘open out’ the vast body of Kiefer’s work, whilst placing it in a much wider socio-political context.
In a painting like Schwarze Flocken Auchwitz is certainly present, but only in the same way that massacres in Srebrenica or Armenia are. German ideology does not remain some touchstone for the interpretation of Kiefer’s paintings, as much as a point of origin which has itself become silted up over time. Historical tragedies are a global phenomenon, in other words, and something for which not only Germany is culpable. As Evans notes:
Historians have come to see the Nazi extermination of the Jews not as a unique historical event but as a genocide with parallels in other other countries and at other times, not only the German extermination of the Hereo tribe in the Kaiser’s colony of Nambia before the First world war, but the action of the Turks in 1915, of Stalin in Ukraine in the early 1930s, and of the Hutus in Rwanda, to name only three of the mass murders of the 20th century (3).
Contemporary happenings must, of necessity, be placed in the context of a wider series of events. To examine history today is to understand a series of reoccurring tragedies rather than something singular in orientation. This is no more evident than in Celan’s own home town of Chernivsti (formerly in the kingdom of Romania, but now located slap bang in the middle of Ukraine). Caught between the Russian speaking East, and the Ukrainian West, this territory is once again subject to violence and division. Cultural memory seems cyclical in Chernivsti, re-emerging at significant points of conflict and stress. The Nazi atrocities are not something that must be mourned in the context of a final victory, but engaged with in the light of their real historical conditions and motivations.
This is where Kiefer becomes truly relevant in the current socio-political context. ‘Kiefer has shifted the praxis of mourning elaborated through an attention to local history in the wake of the holocaust’, writes Allen Fisher in a recent piece for the Glasfryn Project, ‘into a new attention, but no less daunting attention, to the discontinuous and multiplicity of spacetimes we now search within and beyond’ (11). More than anything it seems that what obsesses Kiefer is ‘everything’, or the nature of complexity itself. If Nazism is prevalent in his work – or a consistent point of return – it is maybe because it reflects an example of the ‘purity’ he is aesthetically opposed to. This is reminiscent of some rough notes Joan Retallack made on the same German tradition. As Retallack mused at the time:
“I wonder if all of those traditions in German culture that seemed not to have touched ground – philosophical idealism, mythology, fairy tales, and transcendental idealism – helped leave the ground open for holocaust. Ideals of purity, all transcendental idealisms, the noumenal telos, magical thinking of the sort that informs the logics of myths and fairy tales are fantasy systems with built in protections from an ethos of responsibility to a real world. Fantasy is of course a real phenomenon, but the mechanism of its style is arranged precisely to deny the reality of its consequences. I wonder if this comes out of despair. I wonder whether there is a dystopian assumption among those who produce fantasy literatures that this world is too irredeemable to merit attention’ (32)
Kiefer has always positioned his own work between both chaos and order. ‘Although he ha[s] to’, as noted in conversation with Alan Yentob, ‘guard against order’, its jack-booted manifestations are simply the most explicit and recognizable form. Having said this, however, they do not define his entire output. ‘Art is an attempt to get to the very centre of truth’, he explains to Nicolas Wroe, ‘it never can, but it can get quite close’ (6). Kiefer’s art is a different way of ‘doing’: an art that refuses to give up on the complexity of life. Anything else is surely what Retallack has called ‘unnatural realism’. Kiefer’s paintings – as their molecules visibly change in the air of the gallery after electrolysis – are more concerned with honesty, or real realism. ‘It’s the rasion d’etre for that whole category of endeavours we call “work” isn’t it”, writes Retallack, without the action of time, without change, without thermodynamics and entropy and chaos, work wouldn’t be necessary. We’d be smiling serenely in homeostasis’ (29). Readings of Kiefer’s work that refuse to acknowledge this potential trap him within the bounds of a reductive interpretation. ‘It is the dogmatism of the church, the idea that words can express a single truth over hundreds of years’, as Kiefer puts it, ‘that is complete nonsense’ (6)
 Ghosts weigh heavy on the Ukrainian present in ways that would certainly have been familiar to Celan. The rise of fascism is of particular note: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/13/ukraine-far-right-fascism-mps
Read SPUTTOR 5 here
In my post on ‘human anticipation’ I noted that history in SPUTTOR is associated early on with blue and a sense of the ‘intangible’. This is against the irretrievable history in Richter earlier. There is hope to be squeezed out of contemporary conditions, but this hope is not something that is easily located. In “Complexity Manifold 2” Fisher writes of ‘the aesthetic swerve’ as fundamental in this context. This is a phrase taken from Joan Retallack’s The Poethical Wager (2003) who in turn borrowed it from Epicurus. For Retallack aesthetic swerves are necessary devices to jolt readers out of complacency. During “Complexity Manifold 2” Fisher quotes Retallack defining a ‘poethics’ as ‘what we make of events as we use language in the present’, or ‘how we continuously create an ethos of the way in which events are understood’. ‘Swerves’ are necessary because they ‘dislodge us from reactionary allegiances and nostalgias’. History is only ‘retrievable’ if formal concessions are made towards recognizing this situation. Otherwise poetry remains just another form of ‘self deceit’, something resistant to interpreting the conditions that surround it. Indeed, there seems little point in writing if the goal is to simply reassert a reality that has a chokehold on the truth. But the medium of poetry seems especially resistant to attempts at ‘innovation’ in the popular mind. It must be a region of comforting traits where language conforms to preconceived notions of what poetry is. Retallack contrasts this view with commonly accepted perspectives on the role of science in public life. ‘There are numerous versions of these qualms about the efficacy of experimental thought’, she writes, ‘except in the sciences, where it is seen as the nature of the enterprise’ (5). These arguments are well-rehearsed. ‘Give up the poem’, as William Carlos Williams famously put it in Paterson, ‘give up the shilly-shally of art’. The parallels to Fisher’s own work are immediately striking. ‘He had become the subject of the manifestation of truth’, writes Fisher of his own predicament, ‘when and only when he disappeared or he destroyed himself as a real body or a real existence’. But this isn’t the immediately recognizable ‘death of the author’. Instead of ‘disappearing’ completely any tyrannical hand is rendered diffuse over a greater area. As Retallack insists, ‘agency’ must be seen in ‘the context of sustained projects’, where ‘swerves occur, but which one guides with as much awareness as possible’ (3). These ‘alternative kinds of sense’ result in an entirely different order of perception. ‘Control isn’t bad’, as Fisher once explained in reference to the scientist Arthur Eddington, ‘if it’s your own control over your own self’ (51).
With this knowledge the blue in SPUTTOR stands for the unknowable qualities of meaning beyond human perception. The mark of the author, in opposition, will always be red. Any trace of personality is embargoed from the start. The author is not erased, but ‘damaged’ from the outset. On pages 26 to 27 the guide is Walter Benjamin, who famously examined the possibility of interrupting monolithic historical narratives through what he termed aesthetic ‘shocks’. ‘The present’, as Benjamin had it, ‘is an enormous abridgement’. ‘The history of civilized mankind’, as he paraphrased the words of a “modern biologist” during his “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, ‘would fill one fifth of the last second of the last hour’ (255). As already made clear, such a ‘revisioning’ is a major focus of SPUTTOR itself. As Fisher writes of the current epoch, we are at the very end point at which a plan for the resuscitation of human history will ever emerge:
This period of stability, the Holocene (entirely recent stability) is almost certainly now under threat. A new era has arisen, the Anthropocene (human recent, coined by Paul Crutzen) in which human actions have become the main driver of global environmental change since the industrial revolution in Europe. Johan Rockström and 28 colleagues (including Crutzen) from the Stockholm resilience centre, propose a framework based on “planatery boundaries”. These boundaries define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the earth system, and are associated with the planet’s biophysical subsystems or processes.
By drawing our attention to such a time line Fisher aims to displace the anthropocentricity of ‘universal history’. Leaving the planet in SPUTTOR is an attempt to gain a new perspective on this distinctly human dilemma. The shrill, and conceited, trajectory of human ‘progress’ has to realise its limitations if the human race is to survive. The melioristic conception of time that makes manufactured ecological ‘boundaries’ necessary is responsible for the ‘self deceit’ that currently burdens human thinking. In the light of these extreme conditions, and in the same manner that Benjamin had attempted, it is impossible to conceive of history in the first place without acknowledging the duplicitous state narratives informing it. ‘The concept of the historical progress of mankind cannot be sundered from the concept of its progression through a homogeneous, empty time’, as Benjamin put it long ago, ‘[a] critique of the concept of such progression must be the basis of any criticism of the concept of progress itself’ (252).
At this stage in SPUTTOR the main textual element switches from poetry to the juxtaposition of fragments much like in Benjamin’s own work. On page 26 Fisher includes quotations from Benjamin during “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire”. Here, the writer comments on one of Baudelaire’s Spleen poems which describes ‘bells’ ‘tossing with fury’ amongst ‘homeless spirits’ ‘break[ing] into stubborn wailing’. What Benjamin was interested in identifying in Baudelaire was the alienation of a human race that has ‘los[t] its capacity for experiencing’. This is experience of time in the city as it has been wrenched from reality. ‘Although chronological reckoning subordinates duration to regularity’, wrote Benjamin in the original sentences preceding Fisher’s isolated text, ‘it cannot prevent heterogeneous, conspicuous fragments from remaining within it’ (336). No matter how hard the dominant historical narrative imposes itself on the idea of human progress, glimpses of alternatives emerge. The bells in Baudelaire’s poem – ‘tossing’ with ‘fury’ – are juxtaposed in Fisher’s ‘damaged’ text with the ‘engine bells’ on Challenger. On pages 26 and 27 it is possible to see two aspects of the space shuttle design mirroring a bell shape common in fractal geometry. The bells in Baudelaire’s poem clearly hold some as yet unknown affinity with the ‘engine bells’ on Wilson’s photo of the shuttle. This is a relationship that sees the trajectory of bell design as something interpreted over and over again outside of human history with different modifications each time. Rather than viewing time as progressing in a teleological fashion towards an inevitable ‘human improvement’, rocketry is seen in terms of an expanding series of which it is an inevitable part. The idea of the shuttle is simply a modified version of a shape that occurs somewhere in nature. Human appropriation of this design refers to no innate genius in the species. According to Fisher’s ‘Image Resources’ section the bells in SPUTTOR include the JINGYUN bell, and the Xi’an bells from ‘the warring states in the Hubei provincial museum’, but also the ‘Ryoan Ji’ bell contained in the ‘Temple of the Dragon of Peace’ in Kyoto (127). Unlike in Wilson’s text, these fractal shapes have been put to numerous uses throughout human history rather than being appropriated within the terms of shuttle design. Bells such as these escape tribal boundaries or affiliations synonymous with state power. Used in war, and times of peace, such bells also exist in cultures with cyclical understandings of time the very antithesis of the linear model informing the Challenger mission. On pages 26 and 27 of SPUTTOR Wilson’s original text takes on another transformation. Rocketry is glimpsed from within the prism of an ever-expanding complexity. Technology is separated from its violent origins in the west and revealed as part and parcel of a much wider condition. Kyoto – the location of the ‘peace bell’ – opens up a further series of connotations when considered within the context of the nuclear bombs that where dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing stages of the Second World War. As the ultimate manifestation of the indefatigable belief in rocketry, the erasure of entire cities points to an imbalance in how technology is perceived at this ‘human colloquium’. Instead of ‘a bumper year for space achievements’, its cynical use has become simply another way of ‘perpetuat[ing] the state machine’.
On pages 28 -29 of SPUTTOR this reading of history is confirmed via another section from Benjamin’s essay. The first day in November, the Day of the Dead, is seen as absent from western narratives of progress like that enshrined in the Challenger mission. ‘The duree from which death has been eliminated has the affinity of a bad ornament’, writes Benjamin of Baudelaire’s poem, ‘[t]radition is excluded from it’ (29). ‘The melancholy man sees the earth revert to a state of nature’, the theorist continues, ‘[n]o breath of prehistory surrounds it – no aura’ (29). But Fisher juxtaposes across from Benjamin’s new quotation a section from Adorno that criticizes the theorist’s method. There is an element of self-reflexivity here aiming to comment on the formal progression of Fisher’s own text. The chosen quotation is taken from a well known exchange between Adorno and Benjamin that has come to define all future work aiming to proceed by the juxtaposition of text and image. In the quotation from SPUTTOR Adorno criticizes some lines from the Arcades Project when Benjamin refers to the dialectical image as ‘utopia’ or ‘dream’. As George L. Dillon has made clear in his essay “Montage/ Critique: Another Way of Writing Social History” (2004), which draws heavily on John Berger and others who have attempted to use Benjamin’s procedure in their own work:
[Benjamin’s example] points to certain practical issues about writing by juxtaposition and constellation of fragments (montage). The fragment, or more broadly the constellation, must speak for itself: this means not only that a single definitive authorial perspective must be removed, but also that the fragment/ constellation must remain open to further seeing. Adorno feared that by this evacuation of subjectivity (of the interpreter), Benjamin had inadvertently presented a view of the world as mere uninterpreted fact – of material, observable things, and unique, unanalyzable events – which the reader would have no reason to connect to theory at all.” (3)
Benjamin’s dialectical image, in this sense, could represent a stopping of the processes that are so important to Fisher. Adorno’s critique continues to have major ramifications when considering text and image in alignment in this manner. The author cannot simply ‘vanish’ from the text, and leave interpretation open to a small circle of ‘true believers’ who are able to ‘get’ the references put forward. ‘Benjamin could not resolve the contrary objectives of author-evacuated montage presentation’, writes Dillon, ‘and the need to provide theoretical, ethical guidance for the reader’ (3). If Fisher is ‘guiding… with as much awareness as possible’, to use Retallack’s words earlier, ‘then it seems obvious that SPUTTOR is attempting something contrary to the usual ‘author evacuated montage’.
Perhaps this is why page 28 shows Fisher’s automatic writing with that ‘screwed up’ piece of paper resting on top of it. To avoid Benjamin’s own predicament, the ‘damage’ in SPUTTOR is an element that attempts to rectify these fundamental difficulties in composition. SPUTTOR is not dialectics ‘at a standstill’, as Benjamin put it, but a genuine attempt to interfere with any idea of ‘utopia’ or ‘dream’ that might come from the constellation itself. The authorial red in the text has been focussed from the outset upon disrupting precisely such claims. Fisher’s text, then, is not ‘parrhesia’ in the sense of rhetoric. On page 31, for example, it is clear that this ‘truth telling’ is itself subject to a kind of ‘double damage’. ‘PEAR EASIER’, as Fisher mockingly reorders this vital word, will not escape scrutiny. ‘Truth telling’ will emerge independently in SPUTTOR, there can never be the kind of ‘uninterpreted fact’ of which Adorno accused Benjamin. The ‘parrhesiast’, as Foucault explained in The Courage of Truth, ‘is not a professional’ (14). By the same token it would be wrong to situate SPUTTOR as an attempt at rhetoric plain and simple. To use Foucault’s description of the term, parrhesia is more like a ‘stance’ or ‘mode of action’. The parrhesia in SPUTTOR comes not from what kinds of things are said, as much as the way they become articulated in the first place.
On the bottom left of page 29, for example, Fisher reappropriates the words of the Invisible Committee, to give a sense of precisely why such strategies are necessary. In Fisher’s ‘found poem’ different sections of the Committee’s text are presented in a collage that defines our contemporary SPUTTORings. ‘Certain words’, a section of Fisher’s Invisible Committee collage reads, are like battlegrounds, their meaning, revolutionary or reactionary, is a victory to be torn from the jaws of struggle’ (28). The word the Committee is referring to at this point – “communism” – is precisely the kind of concept it is almost impossible to utter in the present. At the time of writing, when a Conservative government has once again taken the reins of power in Britain, a word such as this will be further suffocated beneath a self congratulatory discourse that sees it as something abandoned within the liner progression of time. But writing like SPUTTOR is necessary because without the method of the parrahesiast there can be no attempt to picture language outside of the universal history within which it has become embedded. In Fisher’s found poem The Committee writes of a ‘drone’ that was discovered in the suburbs of Paris ‘unarmed’, which ‘gives a clear indication of the road we’re headed down’ (28). Rocketry isn’t simply a benign historical ‘spectacle’ at the culmination of human progress, in this sense, but something that has spread out to encompass all aspects of everyday life. The drones may not be armed in this time of relative ‘peace’, but you can be certain that they will be once the interests of the state are threatened. The beauty of Fisher’s poem comes in how urgently it speaks from within the gaps of the sanctioned, and sanctimonious, discourse of the present, without abandoning himself to the ‘stand still’ of the ‘dream’ that haunted Benjamin. To do otherwise would be to replace one form of ‘self deceit’ with another, an authorial imposition that does nothing to heal the fissures that blight the anthropocene itself.
 'Epicurus posited the swerve (aka clinamen) to explain how change could occur in what early atomists had argued was a deterministic universe that he himself saw as composed of elemental bodies moving in unalterable paths', writes Retallack, 'Epicurus attributed the redistribution of matter that creates noticeable differences to the sudden zig zag of rogue actions. Swerves made everything happen yet could not be predicted or explained' (2)
 The location of the ‘peace bell’ in Kyoto is interesting to consider. The original target for the first A-bomb, Kyoto was taken off the list of targets after the obliteration of Dresden had caused such controversy. The bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, then, could be seen as an early attempt at twisting the narrative of rocket technology within the terms of state propaganda. This is without even considering the mind boggling rumours that the US Secretary of War Henry S Stimson was reticent about targeting Kyoto as he had been a regular traveler to this area of Japan before the war even enjoying his honeymoon there
 ‘Ambiguity is the figurative appearance of the dialectic, the law of the dialectical at a stand still’, to quote Benjamin exactly, ‘this standstill is utopia, and the dialectical image is therefore a dream image’ (Arcades 171).
Read SPUTTOR 4 here
One way to approach Fisher’s texts is through the open field that informs them. In the case of SPUTTOR this process has become far easier than it would have been for an earlier text like Place. To get a sense of SPUTTOR I downloaded what I could from the website bookzz.org, which I have found to be an excellent short cut for obtaining resources in the past. But it is also possible to approach SPUTTOR without these materials. Reference to a dictionary, for example, identifies colloquium as both ‘seminar’ and ‘hymn’. This section is identifying what is at stake in the poem, whilst conceptually justifying what will follow. SPUTTOR is human reflection. The text is a well-calibrated machine that makes that reflection possible. All of this works towards the ‘parrhesia’ promised in ‘human anticipation’. It is meant as a corrective to the duplicitous language of the state. This is, after all, the base language from within which Fisher’s text surfaces. This is discourse steeped in claims of ‘progress’ whilst dismissive of actual conditions. As self-congratulatory as it invariably is the historical origins of such rhetoric are revealing. In his “Moon Speech” at Rice University in 1962, for example, Kennedy set out the goals of the space race not just in the terms of the pre-eminence of human technology but our limitation and doubt. ‘The greater our knowledge increases’, he admitted, ‘the greater our ignorance unfolds’:
Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite that the fact that this nation's own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still outstrip our collective comprehension.
But in ‘[his] quest for knowledge and progress’, Kennedy asserted, ‘[man] is determined and cannot be deterred’. The confidence we have in our achievements only exists because of that deluded belief in the ‘permanence of the self’. This naked faith in the progression of humanity made way for complicity in the nefarious practices covered in ‘human anticipation’. The launching of rockets is pitched as the pinnacle of human endeavours. Everything that has happened, and will happen, generates from this single point. Kennedy’s words resonate strongly in terms of a text like SPUTTOR because of the ‘double speech’ implicit in them. ‘We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction’, he insisted, ‘but with instruments of knowledge and understanding’. Warnings against the ‘hostile misuse of space’ seem hollow in the light of the Strategic Defence Initiative that ran parallel with the Challenger mission. The ‘ignorance’ of humanity so readily admitted by Kennedy is surely no more apparent than in the hubris of the governing classes. The space race no longer reveals a world in which the west is “number one”, but the grounds of an almost unutterable contradiction.
Fisher’s choice of the Challenger mission is interesting, because there is no event that displays the hubris of the west in more blinding detail. In Robert Trivers’ text The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self Deception in Human Life (2014), he positions this disaster above all others as the perfect example of an ‘internal self deception’ structuring thinking in the West. ‘Since it was necessary to sell this project to congress and the American people’, writes Trivers, ‘[m]eans and concepts were chosen for their ability to generate cash flow, and the apparatus was then designed top down’. According to Trivers the O-ring – that is, the component that is said to have brought down Challenger – had already been identified as faulty by the engineers in charge. NASA’s journey into space was unnecessary on this occasion, with a focus on ‘stunts’ of ‘marginal educational value’. This was a monumental waste of money and resources, manufactured to serve political ends. ‘Thus was NASA hoisted on its own petard’, writes Trivers, ‘the space program shares with Gothic cathedrals the fact that each is designed to defy gravity for no useful purpose except to aggrandize humans’. ‘Stunts’ such as these are all that can be expected from a world suffering under layers of duplicity. Something like poetry is particularly sensitive to this atmosphere. If truth exists then it can only be in the sense that it does for Gerard Richter, someone quoted by the artist in his essay “Complexity manifold 2: Hypertext”. ‘For Richter, truth is fragmentary, its enemy – ideology – is ultimately murderous, and history is irremediable’, Fisher explains, ‘[g]ood does not necessarily rise from the ashes: it is more likely blown by the wind leaving behind a damaged consciousness’. To Fisher our ‘self deception’, and ‘error’, are visibly manifest in grandiose projects such as these. Picked apart they reveal a tremulous, and disorientated, human condition. History is claimed, once again, as farce with the later Colombia disaster standing as evidence. Away from space missions the same logic throws new light on how we perceive a phenomenon such as climate change. Constant ‘denials’ against a weight of scientific evidence simply ‘perpetuates the state machine’. In a poem such as SPUTTOR language must be seen as heavily invested in this deceit. The fragments of text and image in Fisher’s collage are taken from a world caught up in what Trivers would call a ‘reality evasion’. ‘[I]n service of the larger institutional deceit and self-deception, the safety unit was thoroughly corrupted to serve propaganda ends’, writes Trivers on Challenger, ‘that is, to create the appearance of safety where none existed’.
In ‘human colloquium’ an effective counter narrative is given the opportunity to emerge. Parrhesia – seen in human anticipation as ‘indispensible for the city and for individuals’ – will come about only through effective engagement with the materials. Parrhesia, then, is something opposed to the duplicitous rhetoric of the state, or a form of speaking beyond the ‘private pretense, public affirmation, or purposeful suggestion of what’, Fisher claimed during Confidence In Lack (2007), ‘is knowably false’ (12). These are the kind of observations Fisher takes from Bernard William’s Truth or Truthfulness (2004). The world we inhabit – given the absence of ‘state conscience’ – is revealed by Fisher as one of ‘self deception’ or ‘active deceit’ (12). This constant back slapping in the western world is actually based on an extreme cognitive dissonance. Parrhesia in Fisher’s text must go further than merely parroting these untruths, it has to be opposite of that ‘spoonfeeding’ mentioned earlier. Indeed, the passage from Williams below articulates an attitude to reading equally applicable to SPUTTOR itself:
As Roland Barthes said, those who do not re-read condemn themselves to reading the same story everywhere: 'they recognize what they already think and know'. To try to fall back on positivism and to avoid contestable interpretation, which may indeed run the risk of being ideologically corrupted: that is itself an offence against truthfulness. As Gabriel Josipovici has well said "Trust will only come by unmasking suspicion, not by closing our eyes to it". While truthfulness has to be grounded in, and reveled in, one's dealings with everyday truths. That itself is a truth, and academic authority will not survive if it does not acknowledge it (12).
For Fisher, perhaps, this is where parrhesia becomes most vital in his text. What is presented in the work certainly isn’t a ‘speech’ by the poet but an attempt to engage with the complexities of a human situation that has otherwise been subsumed in the ‘active deceit’ of ideological factors impinging on aesthetic practice. One way of rupturing this narrative is with the ‘planned imperfection’ of his technique, which not only forces a ‘re-reading’ but makes sure that it is always contestable. Such a text must ‘stride out’ as Fisher puts it in his soon to be released text from the University of Alabama Press, unperturbed ‘into the performance of its presentation’.
The prime instrument for ‘contestability’ in SPUTTOR is damage. Damage creates the opportunity for transformations by interference with reader perception. In lieu of a finished product, both reader and writer must settle for ‘confidence in lack’. The work springs up between the gaps in what we know. Rather than relying on habitual patterns of perception, there is an attempt to disrupt these thought processes through ‘planned breakage’ (Confidence in Lack 13). There are numerous aesthetic strategies at play in SPUTTOR, but all of them are working towards such an end. On the first page of this section – together with a screwed up piece of paper bearing the traces of red first seen in human anticipation – the writing explains the ‘slow irritation’ and ‘impatience’ that can be expected when encountering a text such as this:
In slow irritation impatience deprived
of light buffers an aberrant quantified shearing
short of recognition, where shape demands a shell
case of lesions disssipated with formative graphics, with
entity, the appearance of fractional signatures in an escape
from crowds, the rigid, precisely called, accelerates lipid membranes
adherence, pushed through difficulties with gesture, tension limits
communications. Any quantum system or human encounter remains.
Here ‘light buffers’ (which this reader can only translate loosely as ‘optical fibers’ and therefore a means of communication) are subject to an ‘aberrant quantified shearing’. These lines portray perceptual data as deviating from logical patterns in SPUTTOR by way of Fisher’s post-collage method. This ‘shearing’ creates the damage that disrupts traditional modes of communication. The collage Fisher creates in the text is ‘short of recognition’, it is ‘shapeless’ and as such the reader ‘demands a shell’ of coherence to aid interpretation. These are ‘fractional signatures’, as Fisher calls them almost in direct reference to his authorial mark earlier, in ‘an escape from crowds’. They are the ‘anchors’ that have always been important to Fisher, the strategic points of recognition by which any effective reading has to begin. ‘Crowds’ could be taken quite literally, here, in the sense of that ‘over stimulation’ that caused anxiety for Wordsworth in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, or the fear of a ‘paralyzed imagination’ that Walter Benjamin wrote of in “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire”. But ‘crowds’ also seems to reference Fisher’s own term ‘crowd out’. This would be the ‘crowding out’ of other possibilities in the work, or the dogmatic reliance on a single ‘anchor’ in order to assist reading. What is important is that ‘[a]ny quantum system or human encounter’, as Fisher has it, ‘remains’. The poem is both the bared processes of some ‘quantum system’ – see Steven Hitchen’s revealing exchange with Fisher ‘Kinghorn Quantum’ for more specific evidence of this – and the site of genuine human participation as it attempts to create meaning.
This approach is continued across the page, where readings appear independently of what immediately presents itself as ‘poetry’. The poem, this time, is pasted over a scene of domestic life on board the shuttle from Wilson’s text. This is a scene that seems to benignly show ‘activity going on’ if we are to believe the fragments that remain. Indeed, in the actual text at this stage Astronauts’ Rhea Seddon and the (almost eponymous) Anna Fisher are seen preparing ‘meal trays’ and ‘testing the sleeping arrangements’ on board the shuttle in November 1984. The descriptions, here, are of ‘domesticity’ and ‘comfort’ as the astronaut’s try their best to simulate life on earth under zero gravity conditions. Because of Fisher’s damage, however, the isolated text reads: ‘activity going on. For emergency’ (23). This is the same kind of spontaneous transformation that emerged in the pagination of ‘human anticipation’, where ‘products and services’ became juxtaposed to Newton’s law of action and reaction. Unable to get a sense of exactly what is being described in Wilson’s original, the damage presents the astronauts as engaged in domestic activities whilst oblivious to the emerging disaster. This scene of domestic activity is transformed by Fisher to create another situation entirely. In SPUTTOR interpretation not only relies on, but also ruptures, Wilson’s original message to send the viewer in unexpected directions. These are intentional aesthetic strategies employed by Fisher, and invoke a mixture of all of the methods for ‘breakage’ footnoted previously. ‘Fractional signatures’ are alive in the background of the work, which makes any progress through the text subject to a constant ‘re-reading’. SPUTTOR isn’t an expository text like Wilson’s, but a different entity entirely. Fisher plays with the conventions of his own work, whilst at the same time disrupting the continuity of Wilson’s own narrative. The original has been ‘replaced by larger/ experimental units’ as a similarly recovered fragment from Wilson’s text puts it and the transformations can sometimes be equally ‘cutting’. Some of the astronauts pictured in Space Shuttle Story at this juncture (such as Mc Nair on page 22) actually died in the Challenger disaster itself. Although this is, rightly, left alone in SPUTTOR, there is still a sense of foreboding that is generated by this easily inferred knowledge. SPUTTOR allows the participant the opportunity to perceive our historical progression from an entirely different vantage point, by physically occupying the space of a text struggling with its own set of limitations and doubts. ‘We saw the ruins of this hapless city from the height of the tower …’, as Mary Shelley put it in The Last Man, ‘and turned with sickening hearts to the sea… which needs no monument, discloses no ruin’ (574 – 575).
Since ‘human anticipation’ there has been a visual tension in SPUTTOR as the text switches back and forth between this image of damage and more traditionally conceived attempts at versification. On page 14 for example – as part of ‘human conditions’ – that screwed up piece of paper has already been presented in a section from Wilson’s text that describes the ‘shuttle tak[ing] shape’. But as the text progresses through ‘human health’ (18 – 22) and onwards there are examples of attempts at what appear to be hand written notes almost as if the artist is struggling with articulating the subject matter of SPUTTOR within the bounds of a more traditional form of composition. The main example of this on page 20 is barely legible, but the visible marks are still important in the play off between text and image that has defined SPUTTOR so far. By ‘human colloquium’ the text has finally become unreadable. This is significant in itself, in as far as what remains is like an attempt at ‘automatic writing’. This is something that Fisher commented on in his 1978 talk at Alembic, and his words seem increasingly important in light of page 23:
The impossibility of used structures, of using structures. The impossibility of not doing so. One of the – I’m not quite sure what category to put it in – one of the poetries that I have distrust of is those poetries that speak of automism, automatic writing. If the person who is the automatic writer is telling me that he’s getting something which does not repeat. It is not possible to not use your structure. Your own memory bank, if you like, body make up, your own nerval feeling, emotional complex. It is not possible to write without use of that, unconsciously or otherwise. What I would like to lead to then is to say, as that is the case, shouldn’t we be making ourselves more conscious of what that structure is’ (44).
The visual play off between an ‘automated’ view of composition such as this, and Fisher’s own attempts at damage in SPUTTOR, physically enact the kind of tensions in all his works. On page 23 the automatic writing is seen to reach down and touch another passage of text by Fisher that seems to be juggling with the same tensions. The worry in SPUTTOR seems to be ensuring the ‘fidelity of desired operations’ – that is accuracy, or some kind of effective ‘measurement’ – amongst all this damage or ‘random phase errors’. It is as if something is being ventured deliberately calibrated to yield inventive perception in a way that hasn’t been tested by the artist previously. Pages 22 and 23 – in image alone – provide a juxtaposition that will be central to the procedure of SPUTTOR as it progresses. The problem at this stage seems to be ‘yield[ing] agreement between experience and theory’, or creating a poem that doesn’t ossify within the central conceit of the artist. Fisher’s model for this over the next few pages is Walter Benjamin, the original master of literary collage. I will add one more post to this series on SPUTTOR shortly, specifically on this relationship to Benjamin and his ‘dialectical image’.
 ‘All twelve [rocket engineers] had voted against flight that morning’, writes Trivers, ‘and one was vomiting in his bathroom in fear shortly before take off’. This is an example of institutional ‘self deception’ on a massive scale. Those who claim to have our best interests at heart, such as the ‘safety unit’ at NASA, are actually motivated by a ‘self deceived approach to safety’ that puts everyone at risk. As Trivers makes explicitly clear:
When asked to guess the chance of a disaster occurring, they estimated one in seventy. They were then asked to provide a new estimate and they answered one in ninety. Upper management then reclassified this arbitrarily as one in two hundred, and after a couple of additional flights, as one in ten thousand, using each new flight to lower the overall chance of disaster into an acceptable range. As Feyman noted, this is like playing Russian Roulette and feeling safer after each pull of the trigger fails to kill you. In any case, the number produced by this logic was utterly fanciful: you could fly one of these contraptions every day for thirty years and expect only one failure. The original estimate turned out to be almost exactly on target. By the time of the Columbia disaster, there had been 126 flights with two disasters for a rate of one in sixty-three. Note that if we tolerated this level of error in our commercial flights, three hundred planes would fall out of the sky every day across the United States alone. One wonders whether astronauts would have been so eager for the ride if they actually understood their real odds.
 This passage from Confidence in Lack seems to give a sense of just some of the strategies in Fisher’s repertoire around the time of publication:
At the level of the words in the text, for instance, transformations may be used that deliver word links, patterns of connectedness, through the use of sound (rhyming) and, comparable meaning(rhetoric), discussion or disruption of meaning (poetics), and damaged pasting (found in most genres including poetry, painting and comedy). The factured product has thus undergone a series of breakages and factures. Sometimes this series involves transformation, planned breakage and incidental repair, sometimes the work uses collagic disruption of spacetime, and often the pasting together of different sections simulates continuity (13)
 Working in the medium of collage – or ‘post collage’ which he terms a form of ‘realism’ – crowd out is a term that Fisher uses to describe a situation where ‘one reality’ obscures another. The origin of the term is actually economics (it is possible to find reference to it in the works of Michael Sandel for instance). Other than in my description above, Fisher describes it himself as a facet of viewing an art work at which point ‘One sensation, or one perception, crowds out another for a moment, or for a period’ (115).
Read SPUTTOR (3) here
If most journeys begin with a sense of anticipation, then the first recognizably ‘poetic’ lines in SPUTTOR register an immense anxiety. Rocketry isn’t encountered in terms of fascination and wonder but an intense aerophobia. We are launching into an arena the very opposite of the ‘space race’. SPUTTOR struggles to articulate a position beyond the rhetoric of the cold war. The poetry itself is Fisher’s own text as it has been transposed onto Wilson’s original. There is a handwritten signature, as well as the interference of paint and image, but interpretation seems to coalesce around the damage initiated by the artist himself. Fisher’s text is pasted over Wilson’s dealings with the ‘origins’ of the Space Shuttle Program, as if the conceptual foundations of SPUTTOR are developing in tandem. The first fragment of text reads as follows:
Afraid of nothingness as a possibility afraid for
the loss of the ever new gift of Being
whatever gives fullness without end
lost in the uncertainty and obscurity of history
lived in common with other great nations
afraid of nothing not even oblivion or
the dross of history's rift without feeling
whoever's gift pulls shout a stipend (8)
This is a moment of embarkation. But as readers there is no sense we are voyaging into the unknown. The repetitions, especially of ‘afraid’, are the kind of ‘SPUTTORings’ that emerge from being wedged in our perilous socio-political condition. ‘Human anticipation’ cannot progress beyond the stasis of our dystopian moment. The poetic journey in SPUTTOR unfolds directly in front of us, marking a territory that is both familiar and stifling. ‘History’ and ‘loss’ are prefigured in all such poetic imaginings. The aesthetic flounders, caught up in its failure to tackle the immensity of what lies ahead. The writing points to a fear ‘of nothingness’ but also a fear ‘for/ the loss of the ever new gift of Being’. This isn’t just a fear for humanity in the present, but for the death of the creative impulse projected into the future. There is a symbiotic relationship emerging between the health of the public sphere, and what Fisher has previously called an ‘efficacious aesthetics’ (Confidence in Lack, 2007, 17).
‘Loss’ doesn’t simply refer to the negative potential of the present moment, but something involved in aesthetic function. ‘[A]ll experience, existence and memory, involves loss’, Fisher explains in Traps or Tools and Damage (2010), ‘that is, it involves damage’ (21). ‘Loss’ is a trigger for creating transformations in the first place. In the process of ‘healing’ new situations emerge. In human anticipation the cycles of ‘history’ are positioned as ‘obscurity’, instead of the exposition of fact. Rather than moving forward with statements of veracity, Fisher’s text proceeds with a truncated rhythm shifting through various phases of doubt. The rhyming of ‘end/ stipend’ ,and ‘for/ or’, are formal traces towards poetry in the traditional sense. But this first segment of writing also seems to morph a little as it progresses. Seen in conjunction with the image mentioned previously, and the text at the bottom of the left hand page, the general tone changes quite radically by line six. Suddenly the narrator is ‘scared of nothing’, and the all-consuming site of history is manifest as ‘dross’, something subject purely to economic motivations or the ‘pull’ of ‘stipends’. As early as line four the word ‘history’ is itself damaged by an intentionally heavy brush of blue paint. This blue gives another timbre to the spiraling sense of disaster. History isn’t simply as written – the communication of singular didactic imperatives – but the origin of possibilities coterminous with the intangible aspects of the sky. Instead of dominating history through technological innovation, it is almost as if a more ecologically-minded consciousness pokes through the veneer. This isn't the hope for ‘origins’, however, but a determined account of actual social conditions.
There is an even more consciously damaged section readily apparent on the left hand page. Here, Fisher draws attention to a passage of Wilson’s text, not simply by painting over it but underlining sections and scoring heavily in red on top. This section has been pasted over with words that seem like Fisher’s own, but are actually a slightly adapted version of the underlined section of Wilson’s text obscured under Fisher’s own pasting. Wilson’s damaged text appears juxtaposed exactly as it does in the pagination of the original:
New products and services will emerge To every action
from spacetime that living on earth will there is an equal
make less sense for human beings, not and opposite
more. reaction (8)
These lines are intentionally damaged by the artist, and deliberately re-presented, in a seeming attempt to foreground an example of the kind of ‘transformations’ that will be relied on in the following text. With minimal authorial interference – save the changing of ‘space’ to ‘spacetime’ and a handwritten signature reading ‘Allen Fisher 2012’ – the smallest changes to the content are seen as responsible for re-orientations in the material as it becomes distinct from Wilson's original. At this juncture in Space Shuttle Story ‘the human colonization of space’ is presented as a place where ‘taking a shuttle’ in the future would be as ‘routine’ as catching a ‘bus’. This belief in the positive benefits of technology remains wholly in line with the unshakable belief in ‘human progress’ synonymous with the ‘space race’. But the ‘products and services’ seen emerging from ‘spacetime’ in Fisher’s conception – a ‘spacetime’ which renders ‘history’ as an ‘obscurity’ rather than something to be ‘colonized’ by technology as in Wilson’s account – are of a different variety entirely. Newton’s law of action and reaction isn’t significant just in terms of the ‘forward thrust’ of Robert Goddard’s early experiments in rocketry as it was for Wilson, but holds a more complicated relationship to the damaged material. The ‘products and services’ emerging from ‘spacetime’ make 'less sense' for humanity due to alternative reasoning. There is a complicity identified between the positive benefits of technology and its capacity for violence. The only words legible from Wilson’s original are ‘rockets’ and ‘weapons’, as if there are implicit links being made between Wilson’s ‘products and services’ and the military industrial complex. Rocketry may have enabled air travel in the domestic sphere, but this was only the tip of a particularly nasty iceberg. Even though this technology provides humanity with benefits, its utilization is largely senseless. Bombs that are dropped in Palestine have an equal and opposite reaction in the heightened state of terror on the home front. The fact that Fisher’s suitcase across the page is being x-rayed attests to this fairly simple law of physics. The ‘new products’ and ‘services’ that are meant to benefit us, are appropriated for much more grizzly ends. Wilson’s text – seemingly innocuous, from the withdrawn sale at a public library – is complicit in global networks of violence the exact opposite to the utopia proffered by Space Shuttle Story.
Wilson’s text identifies ‘The Origins Of The Space Shuttle’ as a consequence of the technological innovations of the Russian, American and Nazi states. Werner Von Braun, an Nazi engineer fundamental in the genesis of the V2 rocket that maimed countless English civilians in the final stages of the Second World War, is actually shown to have been poached by American authorities ‘following the end of hostilities’ (9). What these initial pages of SPUTTOR seem to be proposing is a form of writing that tries to avoid the complicity of language in duplicitous projects such as these. The second section of Fisher’s poem, then, noticeably changes in tone:
the cost in propensity and poverty of mystery
riven in community and the bother to eat rations
Imagine you feel the Moon through the wall and your brain
hear the change of pressure and temperature freeze the grass
certain that you sense the chemistry of leaves fall
and watch from a distance the approaching cold (8)
These lines are wider as we feel the ‘change of pressure’ and the ‘gravity’ – not only another fundamental Newtonian law but Fisher’s former text – of ‘leaves fall[ing]’. This ‘journey’ has suddenly become much more edifying, as we leave our doomed planet to watch the ‘approaching cold’. This isn’t simply a journey into space, but instead an attitude, or ‘awareness’, the writer is asking us to adopt as an approach to reading. Life on earth is in peril, and to discover ‘our situation’ – as originally intended all those years ago in Place – we have to experience our insignificance. On the remaining pages of the ‘human anticipation’ section of Fisher’s text (10 -11), attention is drawn to statistical data from Nicolaus Copernicus’ On the Revolution of Heavenly Spheres (1543) as if to emphasize this fact. This new Copernican Revolution is important because it questions that ‘foolish belief’ in the ‘permanence of the self’ noted in the forewords section. Juxtaposed with a quotation from Foucault’s The Courage of Truth (2011), Fisher claims his right of Parrhesia. Traditionally existing to rejuvenate the polis, by talking the truth to power, we can perhaps see this as an attitude that will pervade the following work. The poet will be engaged in the coming pages with a form of speaking aimed at reclaiming, and reinvigorating, the idea of citizenship. It may seem formally unorthodox, but there are new aesthetic techniques being tested out in SPUTTOR to this end. Parrhesia will be the starting point of my penultimate post, but for now Fisher's attempt at utterance is directly opposed to the worn out narrative occupying Space Shuttle Story.