Read SPUTTOR (2) here
SPUTTOR is a book. This may seem an obvious statement, but I want to reassert this central fact. Unlike Gravity (2005) or Proposals (2010), SPUTTOR retains aspects of Wilson’s text typical of narrative and expository forms. In that sense, to read SPUTTOR – taking it purely at face value – means to have a point of origin and a destination. On page eight and nine of the text – as part of a section marked “human anticipation” – there is the image of a suitcase. For me, this also positions SPUTTOR as a journey. Like all journeys it begins with a sense of ‘anticipation’. But like all journeys there is a basic path or route set out from the very beginning. On this journey maybe a particular feature of the landscape will distract us. Maybe we will stop for a pint in that cozy looking pub. The basic trajectory of the route, however, remains set from the very beginning. Our ‘expectations’ pertain to the qualities of a preordained map. It is no accident, then, that poetry in its most recognizable sense emerges at this point in Fisher’s text. As mentioned previously, there are ‘forewords’, and ‘contents’ pages, as if Fisher’s intention is to produce a kind of ur-text humming constantly in the background. Wilson’s text is never forgotten, it burns its way through nearly every aspect of Fisher’s production. The ‘contents’ – as originally quoted in my first post – mark a journey beginning in ‘anticipation’ and ending in ‘loss’. This can be seen as the original narrative route explored in Wilson’s text, or even an echo of the dystopian path followed by Shelley’s ‘last man’. But, really, they are ‘anchors’, ways into a text that doesn’t really have the formal arrangement we expect. What matters is that these conventional aspects of Wilson’s Space Shuttle Story remain. ‘Prophecies’ are scattered by Fisher outside the entrance to his cave. ‘Take your time’, the poet demands in the guise of Sybil, ‘reassemble the leaves’.
SPUTTOR, in this respect, doesn’t take us down a ‘canalized’ path. Fisher is playing with our expectations of what constitutes ‘literature’, he is presenting logically ordered material when in reality the content is the very opposite. Looking at pages eight and nine, for example, it is possible to see precisely how Fisher ‘teases’ our expectations as readers. The expectations imposed on Fisher’s own work via Wilson, are subject to further impositions from the conventions associated with the poet’s back catalogue. On these pages, for example, those familiar with Fisher’s work could be forgiven for thinking that what is being presented is the poetry, image and commentary format of Proposals (2010). Occupying the left hand page there are fragments of poetry, whilst on the right there is that image of a suitcase I mentioned previously. As in other works – although, noticeably, on the left hand page as opposed to the right – there is what can be assumed to be a prose commentary similar to Fisher’s last major text. It is as if the writer is providing ‘anchors’ to readers of his previous work that gesture towards how a reading of SPUTTOR might proceed. But it isn’t Fisher’s intention to present us with ‘more of the same’. This seems to be another way of, as Robert Sheppard has put it, ‘undermining’ the ‘logic and coherence’ of his core readership. Assuming that Fisher is still read intensively by those ‘400’ people he 'optimistically' mentioned to Clarke, it would be to deny the entire premise of his work if the same routes were offered towards grasping the material. This would be ‘perception’, as Fisher explained in the Forewords section, ‘without contingent comprehension’. The text primarily presents itself as a ‘damaged’ version of a previous text. Different aesthetic techniques are operating here, and the possibilities for interpretation are engendered in the play off between the form and message of Wilson’s original as well as the conventions of the poet’s own work. In my next post I will stay on pages eight and nine and examine Fisher’s text in terms of this ‘journey’ and ‘message’.
 There is a lot to be said here on how ‘traps’ operate in Fisher’s work, something that I will explore in detail in future work. One thing that I love about SPUTTOR is how it invites readings by those unfamiliar with Fisher’s back catalogue. I would like these blog posts to be similarly ‘accessible’.
 For more on this read Robert Sheppard’s excellent commentary on his blog here.
Read SPUTTOR (1) here
Even the page numbers of SPUTTOR mimic Wilson’s original. The book begins on page six and has a well-thumbed patina belying its origins at Hereford and Worcester Public Libraries. Wilson’s text is entirely accessible – part of a common cultural heritage – and remains as a linguistic trace echoing throughout the piece. The formal qualities of the original are 'damaged' enough to remain as a skeleton still informing the text. The foreword is a juxtaposition of miscellaneous fragments rather than the ruminations of an author. To Fisher, 'damage' suggests not only violence, but 'transformation' or the opportunities for 'another situation' (71). Wilson’s original ‘foreword’ is present, but this is subject to the intrusion of four other texts, which serve to question the original monograph in a variety of ways. There are actually two fragments by Wilson that make up Fisher’s introduction. The first screams jubilantly of a ‘bumper year for space achievements’, whilst the second has a more sombre tone. ‘This book tells the story of the Space Shuttle’, reads the second part, ‘tracing its history from before the Second World War up to the times of the disaster’. The timeline Wilson proposes – and the foregrounding of ‘disaster’ – means that the teleological account of the space mission must incorporate reports of its own failure. Not only is the mission identified as an unsuccessful project, but as an integral production of war. Technological advancement in modernity, and its relation to state power, are therefore persistent narratives operating in the background. The ‘achievements’ of the space mission are sullied by the inescapable knowledge of the conditions that spawned it. ‘The destruction of Challenger’, confirms Wilson, ‘has set the American Space Program back on its heels’. The original text presents two conflicting narratives that are wonderfully exploited by Fisher in his own version.
The texts that cut across, and physically ‘damage’, Wilson’s original amount to the reorientation of an entire set of cultural values. The ‘new age’ roots of Place are reaffirmed in a quote from a website focusing on the ‘vibrational energies’ of the musician Daphne Oram, whilst a quotation from The Invisible Committee (2007) confirms a focus on a nomadic sensibility that has been a theme throughout his career. For the purposes of my own route into Fisher's poem, however, the most striking text comes at the bottom of the page. Here Fisher repeats a section from Mary Shelley’s The Last Man(1826). The original idea of a 'space mission', or 'getting off the earth', is transformed in this instance by the thematic concerns of Mary Shelley’s dystopian novel. This state-funded journey appears contextually as the beginning of the end. Unbeknownst to himself Wilson’s text is prophetic, it augments the originating point of decline. Wilson is Shelley’s ‘monarch of the waste’, a harbinger of catastrophe projected into the not too distant future (587).
But there is a further resonance to this chosen passage that goes way beyond the emergent themes of ‘dystopia’ operating via Shelley’s text. The quotation itself draws on mythology – the ‘scant pages’ that the writer found in Sibyl’s cave – as if it gestures towards an approach to the reading process that is needed to encounter SPUTTOR itself. According to Virgil the Cumean Sybil wrote prophecies on Oak leaves assembled in order outside her cave. If the wind, or any other circumstances, happened to rearrange these prophecies then this infamous hermit would refuse to reassemble them. These ‘thin scant pages’ are precisely what Fisher presents us with in his latest ‘facture’. The ‘hasty selection’ of evidence by Shelley herself in the passage, is almost representative of the methodical process of selection involved in the reading of the poetry. Disasters, and fragments, are ultimately key to Fisher’s own ‘damaged’ material. It is up to the reader of these poems to reassemble the leaves. This brings to mind Fisher's 'optimistic' comments to Adrian Clarke that his poetry could expect an audience of '400' rather than '4000' (60). Shelley's reference to 'one of us' only understanding the prophecies, is almost analogous to the expectations Fisher has over the comprehension of his own readership. This is certainly not to suggest Fisher 'alienates' his audience, but rather that there is the need for the acculturation of a certain sensibility in an approach to reading his texts. In that sense, the foreword operates as a form of 'introduction'. This is not to 'introduce' the content as such, but to provide 'anchors' or let the audience know 'what [they]'re in for' as the poet has explained in the context of his live performances (79). This is part of a 'necessary difficulty' rather than an attempt to explain what the following text will be 'about'. The Cumean Sybil is an evocative parallel when considering such an attentive process. 'Anchors' are certainly present, but the onus is always on the 'inventive perception' of the audience.
It is this knowledge that brings us to the final fragment of the forewords section in SPUTTOR. In a register that sounds strangely recognizable, a further statement is included that builds even more on this attitude to reading in the poem:
"Our feelings of inconsistency or incoherence is simply the consequence of the foolish belief in the permanence of the self and of the little care we give to what makes us what we are. Reliance on perception without contingent comprehension perpetuates the state machine".
The origins of this quote are impossible to identify, but a familiarity with Fisher’s prose points in the direction of his own works. By foolishly reading, by taking in what is only immediately presented, comprehension merely 'perpetuates the state machine'. The text never simply exists 'as is', but is dependent on factors beyond any effective attempts to control the material. By presenting Wilson's text in this way the narrative that occupies the original text is conceived as something much more complicated. The prospective audience is put through their paces early on in SPUTTOR, and the ground is set for a reading that revolutionizes the process of reading itself. This is an aesthetic entirely opposed to the ‘spoon feeding’ of audiences. As originally pitched in PROCYNCEL – Fisher’s earliest text – the poet and painter ‘emerges’ as a ‘member’ ‘of a progressive and progressively reactionary society willed to submission by a public that still considers instantaneous feeding, entertainment, art and satisfaction the truest road to their own particular heaven’ (7). Such an approach – which is only loosely considered by myself here (having left out the intersections of two other sources) – privileges a variety of possibilities over any single interpretation. Suffice to say, the traces of prophecy Fisher provides us with do not coalesce into a single vision, but are left open for interpretation through an engagement with the text.
Allen Fisher's SPUTTOR arrived here last week. As poem, and image object, it is truly astounding. The quality of production makes Veer the perfect platform for its distribution. The entire piece is deftly inscribed and pasted over Andrew Wilson's Space Shuttle Story (1986), which was originally produced in celebration of the ill-fated Challenger space mission, or rather the history of technological advances that made it possible. This was a text that in its own words "trac[ed] the history of the Space Shuttle Program from the early days of rocketry to the destruction of the challenger in 1986". This makes it a strange book in reasoning and conception, as if there is an alternative narrative perpetually simmering in the background. As text and image, the original book traced a process that ended in failure. It has to be assumed that Space Shuttle Story was initially conceived as a celebration of the space race, with the disaster itself something of an afterthought. The idea of 'getting off the planet' and 'space orbits' - which Fisher defined as the main themes of the original text in an issue of Sugarmule - become something much more provocative and rich as a consequence. Language that was once complicit in the infrastructure of the state becomes a living entity subject to a variety of 'transformations'.
The beauty of Fisher's work comes in how it reorients, and interferes, with that original text (or how he 'defamiliarizes' its content, to use a term more suited to his other recently reissued text from Veer). The sonorous adulation that defined that mission - coming as it did at the cold wars peak (all 'Red Dawn' and Reaganomics) - is rendered entirely suspect not just by Fisher's poetics but the tragedy that ended the mission itself. SPUTTOR is both SPUTnik and the hope of UTTerance: a stORy inclined to reveal and build on the original monologic narrative by means of the reader's participation and imagination. Alternative possibilities are allowed to emerge from within the tragedy of the dream. The text wonderfully merges the language of progress that defined that mission - as political project and eventual disaster - with alternative histories constantly weaving in and out of the mainframe. Like all of Fisher's work since the seventies the text examines 'where we are', in ways that would be impossible without poetry itself. These are poetic imaginings for a new age, that take into account not only political reality, but the immensity of our human condition. 'There are so many theories', as Anselm Kiefer would put it, '[but] all they describe is our lack of knowledge'.
Fisher's text will be a focus of mine over the next few weeks as I try my best to come to terms with it via a series of investigations of both text, image and their intersections. I will begin this shortly with a look at the opening pages. This is an ongoing project, so a bibliography will be provided in my final post. For now I will simply reproduce the 'contents', which go some way to giving an initial glimpse of what is at stake:
Human legacy 1
Human legacy 2
Human perception 1
Human perception 2
Human contradiction 1 & 2
Human contradiction 3
Read SPUTTOR (2) here
"Reachable, near and not lost, there remained in the midst of the losses this one thing: language" - Paul Celan
After a recent trip to the city I view “Nairn’s London” (2014 ) through a prism of nostalgia and confusion. Like Nairn, parts of the city have morphed for me beyond recognition. But, unlike Nairn, I am part of a parasitic condition. Flown in, dropped off, I displace the fulcrum of this ancient city with my huge carbon imprint. As much as I believe – with Nairn – that the heart of a ‘coherent city’ is ‘its people’ I will never truly know them (15). Like me they are the products of a forced mobility, or units to be shifted from one place to another. Like me, their dream of a city cozily transplants what that city actually is. London is a phantom limb, a traumatic act of collective remembrance. The ‘penile and montane edifices’ of Bill Griffiths’ Spilt Cities (1999) glower down upon the exposed bodies of its inhabitants. “You are not”, I imagine Boris Jonson happily sniffing, “welcome”!
London is a place of exile, of removals. The flabby centre dislodges those who do not have the economic right. Its distended residue is quite visibly manifest in the warehouses on the periphery. Unwanted trinkets are stowed neatly in boxes to maintain the effortless chic of bare interiors. Sterility is defined as the a priori condition. But Nairn’s writing outlives our dystopian moment because it makes itself so readily available as ‘city craft’. His invective drifts across cultural sites rendered in primary colours. Nairn’s Soho, for instance, is recognizable not holistically but by a purposeful glimmer out of time with the ‘Soho of today’. ‘The clearest identity in London’, as he calls it, stands out purely in terms of its lack. Nairn’s process of mapping was portentous. The signs of change might not be fully understood, but they are very clearly registered. ‘The tarts are off the streets’, writes Nairn, ‘ [i]nstead there are traffic wardens, taking up the same kind of stance but not looking nearly as inviting’ (74). In today’s Soho those wardens have assumed city planning responsibilities. This is a ‘world of serial astonishment’ no longer, as hipsters flaunt their beards in increasingly ridiculous restaurants. Nairn’s depiction of Soho as a place where there is ‘something for everybody’ seems utopian in the extreme.
Nairn’s London, then, is meant as a point of embarkation only. Avoiding the subterraneous city, it is a guidebook to be engaged with on foot. The text identifies recognizable patterns of development that are in some senses ahistorical. When Nairn saw the Tower of London as an immense folly – ‘hostage to the unreality of sightseeing’ (35) – we can see ‘improvements’ in Soho as part of the same conditions. ‘People actually went to their death through this pasteboard Traitor’s Gate’?, smirks Nairn, ‘Nonsense’! By the same token the sea of poppies at the Tower of London this November must be seen as a similar ‘full blown farce’. ‘All that is left’ of London consistently represented in such a way, as Nairn suggests, ‘is a vast hulk peppered with spectacular buildings, quaint occasions, fake sophistication and too many people in the underground” (15).
Alex Davies begins Londonstone (2009) with a curiously incomplete line from Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man (1965). ‘Though I know’, as the famous song goes, ‘that evenins’s empire has returned into sand’. Wedged assuredly in the cultural memory, these lines are often said to gesture towards some form of hallucinatory urban experience – the ‘cold turkeying’ of drug users as they negotiate the streets. But Dylan is rarely such a transparent artist. ‘The sand’ the ‘evenin’s empire’ ‘returns to’ in the song also ‘vanishes from his hand’ in the same verse. The experience is not only ‘urban’, but entirely transitory. ‘I have no one to meet’, Dylan continues later, ‘and the ancient city streets too dead for dreaming’. Dylan’s famous lyric strikes a mournful note in terms of Davies’ poem. Rather than an aimless wandering, Dylan is searching for direction ‘far from the reach of crazy sorrow’. ‘Let me forget about today’, he quivers, ‘until tomorrow’. It is at this moment, perhaps, that Londonstone is most deliberately registered. Hallucination is present in the poem, but there are no drugs in sight. It makes sense, therefore, that Davies’ text literally begins with an explosion. This ‘bomb’ represents the terror attacks that took place in July of 2005, when four individuals detonated explosives in their backpacks leading to the deaths of 52 people. ‘AVOID LONDON’, read the signs on the M52 that day, ‘AREA CLOSED’. Davies’ city is not only hallucinatory, but devoid of effective habitation. It is into this maelstrom that Dylan’s need for guidance, his need to forget, seems so urgent. ‘Each noise/ a massive point’, writes Davies of this anxious city space, ‘each person/ a pendulum’ (5).
This is the reality of London post ‘7/7’ as the strangely imitative abbreviation now goes. Full spectrum dominance is registered in a spiralling cycle of violence on the home front. Sealed bins, and trigger-happy policemen, attest to this unreality. ‘Terrible times’, as Davies writes, ‘expect bleeding’ (7). Bill Griffiths weighs heavy on this urban scene, his Spilt Cities (1999) a deliberate assonantal score in the background. ‘Pavement musk tossers’, writes Davies in full Griffiths mode, ‘tug-lust-horse-tail-till-shit-tusks’ (5). ‘This is not the smooth language of the managed word’, William Rowe once wrote on Griffiths’ own work, ‘things jut into consciousness, where the formless meets shaping forces: goal, psychiatric hospital, city’ (158). Londonstone is in the grip of events that bring this anxiety to the forefront of public life. ‘Madness’, as Davies divines it, ‘madmen’ (7). The text takes its cue from Griffiths’ own plastic language formations. This is an urban language morphing with the demands of the city – shrinking and expanding under its very conditions. ‘Spooling conundrums’, as Davies writes, ‘bony Carbonite Maneuevers,/ hansom cabs & Deerstalkers’ (6).
Much like in Griffith’s original formulations, then, behind this chaos lurks an unmistakable odour of menace. ‘Our idols’ idols’, as Davies has it, ‘sculpted/ recycled’ (8). Those behind the levers of power in London are secured within an historical imago of their own making, ‘recycling’ a vision of themselves forever played back in the grand exteriors. Indeed, Davies’ texts make perfectly clear where the violence visited on London will be felt after the smoke has cleared:
War ceremonies paint one colour,
St Paul’s furious boudoir,
Crossed out ad nauseum,
All who attend
Are four score and more (9).
In the grip of the ‘war on terror’ London becomes a distinctly monochrome place. The Manichean battle of the future is between the dysfunctional dictates of St Pauls and the rest. ‘Sputum / Mucus’, will be the raw materials that determine the health of the body politic, ‘cheek swabs / shoeprints’ (9). As a consequence Davies’ London is a phantasm of nervous voices. The real measure of the city only comes into being via the witterings of its inhabitants. ‘I’m petrified of having a fat Labrador’, confesses one, ‘damn you and all you stand for’ screams another (8-9). In the schizophrenic tension between these voices lie not only the key to Davies poem, but also the heart of any city. Privilege, and disconsolate rage, exist discretely together as point of fact. ‘These are the things’, continues the poem, ‘that keep me awake at night’ (13).
Amongst a range of other determinants Allen Fisher’s Gravity as a Consequence of Shape (2004) is an attempt to perceive of the city consistent with what Robert Sheppard calls in his introduction to Future Exiles (1992) ‘late twentieth century realities’(11). This is poetry that foregrounds its immediacy as part of the conditions that surround it. Loath to repeat the mistakes of various late modernist conceptions of urban space, this is a long poem that attempts to approach the ordinary subject matter of the city via an extraordinary technique. This meant abandoning the reticence over urban social being that came to typify romantic and modernist representations of the city, whilst at the same time developing a poetics that takes into account a breadth of experiential possibility. In Place (2005) – a text completed over a ten year period in the seventies – a similar attempt at an epic was realized utilizing both Olsonian and Poundian approaches to the material. In conversation with Andrew Duncan, however, Fisher makes clear that he considered this inheritance far too prescriptive. As he puts it, explaining the ‘reactive’ origins of his own working practice:
I’m much more interested in the poem than where it’s sending me. I think I was responding in some way, this idea of openness is a response to the way Pound and Olson had handled it. It’s kind of like saying, I didn’t think that was necessarily the only way of handling it. It gave me quite a bit of difficulty. I started reading the Cantos when I was at school, and I found it very, very hard (“A Tour” 146).
In all his work Fisher has privileged the importance of the medium over the message. Seen through a purview such as this the city would no longer become the projection of a single imagination. By utilizing ‘damage’ as an effective strategy towards creative ‘transformations’ in his work, Gravity hopes to fundamentally side step these difficulties in composition. The aim of the following essay is to explore this term ‘damage’, particularly in how far it helps to account for the city beyond the totalistic pretentions of a single, authorial voice. The innovations in Fisher’s city, then, come in how explicitly ‘open’ it remains to creative perception.
Gravity proposes not only the relief from one-dimensional structures of meaning, but new ways of conceiving of ‘mapping’ in itself. In the poem the ‘archetypes’ of the Mathematician, Poet and Engineer that appear throughout the text are shown to be repeating the logic of closure. Of these three figures, however, it is the Mathematician that seems to be the primary target for Fisher. ‘Thus through reflection and analysis/ the Mathematician distinguished values’, writes Fisher, ‘as a formal criterion for understanding/ narrative structure’ (77). It is logic that is the unruly element in western aesthetics and the Poet and Engineer as representations of poetry and the city are suffering from something of an infection. The problem with such systematic thinking is its failure to recognize the damage or discontinuities that structure the basis of knowledge as immediately presented. Or, to put it in the correct terminology, a rejection of ‘fractals’. As Fisher continues:
the wet and the solid were in a fractal dimension and
required a dialectical procedure of domination and attribution.
It burnt his eyes and gave him an erection.
In embarrassment he relaxed back at the map table
and began to show hysteresis as a problem
of percolation between the movement and the lattice
where transformation of the virtual to the actual
became substituted as domination and the desire to be dominated (77)
The Mathematician rejects the multi-layered perception favoured by Fisher, even though it amounts to erotic stimulation. Retreating to his ‘map table’ with his coconspirators he is tacked assuredly to numerical certainties, he privileges ‘hypothetical blur’ as linguistic fact. This misrecognition replaces what actually ‘is’ with what the Mathematician now ‘wants’ or ‘desires’. ‘It meant the introduction in the surface of his perception/ of a wanting’, writes Fisher earlier on, ‘a perception that included a guessed at seeing,/ a wanting that prevalourised the solution converted/ into a description, then into attributive utterances’ (76). Undergirding this logic is always the ‘desire to dominate’ or to ‘tag’ natural phenomena with words. ‘A naiveté between what is thought and said’, continues Fisher, ‘irrespective of social life’ (77).
The reality of perception simply doesn’t matter in this dominant purview of social being. Moreover, ‘society’ – or life in Brixton – completely undermines such a perspective by its resistance to such interpretations. As Fisher writes in ‘Birdland’:
Challenges the closure of meaning
So far removed, nothing will have taken place, but the place,
flattening houses for ecological reasons
fuses with a beyond,
a successive clashes in
formations, memories of bodily contact, but
warmth and nourishment do not underlie the air (82)
During the riots Brixton is a place that challenges the dominant discourses that seek to give it a particular vibe or explanation. What exists in this section of south west London is the eruption of violence as something of a singularity. Even then, this violence was founded on spontaneous energies that can neither be recreated nor duplicated in any form. This is not ‘nourishing’ or ‘warming’ to think about, but the simple consequences of Brixton as a self-referential entity devoid of any attempts to subsume place into aesthetics. Interestingly, in this section of the poem such an ‘opening’ is juxtaposed to the figure of the Mathematician perhaps as he sets off to work the morning after:
gets on a subway in a pinstriped
with a microchip blackboard. A spotted handkerchief
matches his tie. On the back of his head someone
has singed a domino it
matches his ear rings ('Birdland' 82-83)
The Mathematician is a fusty figure when contrasted as he clearly is here with the tumultuous events of the previous night. Black and white he is the very epitome of the either or polarity at the root of systems of closure. He is the limited possibilities of Lawson’s mouse trap made flesh, or a physical representation of the binary logic sketched out by linguistic traps. More than this, he attempts to engender some kind of equilibrium or harmony into last night’s ‘race riots’. Something for which – at least if the singed domino in the back of his head is anything to go by – either the locals are less than appreciative or he must remind himself of in the most masochistic fashion.
Bullied, isolated, the Mathematician exists in a Brixton that is the opposite of his monopolizing desires or ‘wanting’. To those that live there Brixton is completely understandable, but to the Mathematician who sees ‘hypothetical blur’ as closure it is a decoherence that must be pacified at all costs. ‘It is that blur, which has to be presented as measurement’, writes Fisher, and attempts to ‘dominate’ it seem like subjugation in this context. When the Mathematician begins to take some time away from his formulas and ‘accounts’, for example, the effect appears to be one of carnivalesque revelry:
As he starts to leave
his accounts, he pulls the arms from his jacket,
sets them alight.
The effect is laughter
an imprint of an archaic moment,
a threshold of
spatiality as well as sublimation.
Suddenly a path clears Sleep relates the squeezed
State to a lack of community. He leans
towards me, last night, he insists,
I had a strange dream (83)
The response to a truly spontaneous action by the Mathematician is laughter. The unexpected moment, which Fisher describes as ‘archaic’, remains the only acceptable one. But this moment only lasts for so long. The ultimate – atypical even – reaction is to envelope it in denial and closure. This is certainly what is implied in the great narrative ‘cop out’ that suggests his actions were “just a dream”. The Mathematician, insistent, retreats to a trap of his own making for both healing and sustenance. In doing so, however, he simply repeats the ‘black or white’ dogma that has plagued aesthetic decision-making in the west. ‘[It] is important to notice that notions of healing are semiotic not pragmatic, that is mainly illusory and at best figurative’, writes Fisher in his revealing lecture ‘aesthetics is still a young discipline and not a science, but imperfect fit is the more appropriate machine to engender our active enquiries’ (“Traps” 6). This ‘betweeness’, at the fold between what Fisher calls in the poem ‘naming it’ and the ‘autonomy of the subject’ is the only sincere place for meaning to reside. ‘I become a mere/ phenomenal actualization moved through a burning gap’, Fisher ends the poem, ‘the irrational state insists on control’ (83).
It is in a poem called ‘Cakewalk’, however, that the ramifications of these thematic concerns begin to be understood in terms of the city. Fisher starts the poem with the image of a woman ‘frottaged’ by ‘the Burgular/ to the wall’ (149). This image is important in two ways. Firstly, ‘frottaging’ is both an avant garde ‘brass rubbing’ technique, but also a form of ‘outercourse’ or the act of sexual stimulation without penetration. Whether this is just an artistic image created using these techniques by the Burgular, or an erotic interaction with the image, makes no difference because the telling details come in another archetype – the Informer’s – report:
The informer's report confirms
they are metallic balls of
crystalline liquids sandwiched
in saliva honeycombs and
dynamically disordered into droplets
disturb the gravel (149)
‘Oh what a wonderful world’, the informer seems to exclaim, only for him to follow this up with ‘tries to stop it and cannot’. This image is fascinating, enticing even, but the natural response is to shut this excitement down. At one point the Informer notes how the image has ‘stabilized’, whereupon he is able to approach it in the language of the ‘City’s/ sintered adhesion’ (150). Sintering is a chemical process whereby powdered metal is joined together before it reaches melting point in order to create a solid mass. ‘Sintered adhesion’, then, represents the stopping of the city. Sintered adhesion is the joining together of singularities through a manufactured process that keeps their molecules together and separate at the same time. As the poem notes, this is something the very opposite of ‘natural’:
Away from the perinuclear destruction
in his cell bodies
to the subterranean horizon
his holdings are achieved by macromolecular stabilization:
a vocabulary trench
almost voided by the means to dredge (151)
The Informer’s world is one that rejects the very biological processes that keep him alive. Even his cells are not subject to renewal but a kind of molecular stasis. Just like his alien body his ‘word hoard’ becomes a ‘vocabulary trench’ or the stagnant remnants of a language with no social use. ‘Return to a Faraday Cage’, writes Fisher of the informer’s resistance to the world of experience, ‘dizzy from the static/ metal escalators/ on the way down slope/ defines/ in completeness’ (151).
Moreover, when it comes to the city this ‘Informer’ is seen as a divided figure. He encapsulates the tensions typically encountered in poetry when it comes face to face with urban social being. As Fisher writes:
He lives in fear of breakdown
in sensitivity of capture.
His skid turns from calm
back to the consequences
of the city transcendence of its glow (152)
His failure to ‘make sense’ of the ‘frottaged’ image, his failure to reduce it into a recognizable order of things, sees him torn between the ‘city’s glow’ and the ‘calm’ and ‘austere’ garden where sincerity holds sway. The fact that he ‘skids’ between both states suggests a confusion manifesting itself in quite a physical way. ‘Place’, as he finds it, negates the city in any plural sense. Like the image of the woman, its ‘enticements’ and ‘glow’ refuse to be subordinated to any kind of system. As Fisher continues:
He cannot teach himself
to ignore the
screams and riots outside
but evades approaching darkness in both
the garden and the city moves against him (152)
The informer’s hyperactive psychological condition manifests itself in violent fits and starts as the coherence of a world he once knew dissipates in front of him. ‘Poetry and engagement with a Public’ Fisher reminds us in Complexity Manifold, ‘[is] potentially involved with self-deception, or more often, active deceit’ (251). In order to feel grounded, to feel stable, poems have to construct systems that ‘cohere’.
But towards the poem’s end point Fisher – or at least the poem’s ‘author’ and therefore voice of authority and control – switches back on that Faraday Cage. Most importantly, a ‘field of gravity’ is seen to emerge ‘beyond the garden wall’ that has a ‘simultaneity of direction’. This force is ‘stronger than hail’, and like the ‘gravity’ of Fisher’s long poem itself it ‘shapes’ the poem into a predetermined form. The Informer, who had been in crisis only a short while previously, suddenly appears to be on the ascendency. Instead of that almost Puritan fear of the image witnessed at the beginning of the poem, somehow the city has been transformed from its ‘transcendent glow’ into a commodified caricature of its former self:
The city's policy
whiteballed to ensure the informer
runs into the right kind of people
Always a light flashing somewhere
Everybody is very tired
Earning a fortune (159)
Envisaged now as a place of frenetic capitalist activity the city becomes a closed entity where everybody is too predisposed in the totalistic system that surrounds them. As a space this now conforms to everything the informer ever wanted. It is the ‘city of corporations/ glassed in dreams and images’ George Oppen writes of in Of Being Numerous, and as such it resembles the ‘wanting’ or ‘prevalourization’ of the city Fisher has already described (Oppen 114). It is fascinating, furthermore, how that image of a woman that began the poem is now perceived:
Desire and greed are matched
in a "she looks beautiful eugenics"
A chain of electro-chemical reactions
the will to keep up standards
An order to establish
An options exchange encourages favour (159)
The recalcitrant image of a woman that began the poem has now been framed, and hollowed-out, by the “she looks beautiful eugenics” of the presiding social order. This order, however, is nothing more than the chemical imprint of social mores in the brain activity of a small group of people. These are ‘beautiful eugenics’ because they both praise this woman’s beauty, whilst effectively cutting her off from any more nuanced interpretation. Kept in place by the single narrative of the city – and that beloved by the Informer who has all interpretation ‘whiteballed’ or ‘sewn up’ – the potentially subversive image has been emptied of meaning by a logic of closure that drowns all other possibilities out. ‘[A]spirations’ in such a climate concludes Fisher at the end of the poem, ‘[are] considered cohesion’ (160).
To Fisher, aesthetics today are premised on precisely this situation. There are, indeed, inventive formal techniques to create the hope of an opening, but these are soon caught up within the repetitious cycle of closure. ‘As she focuses’, writes Fisher, ‘the Photographer comes to something/ which to her is Beauty/ and stops there’ (156). The constant desire to subsume place, and personality, into aesthetics means that the poem is the site of an eternal battle between these two states of being. To Fisher the present moment is therefore perched between the smallest possibility for hope and a profound despair. ‘The ludicrous concept’, writes Fisher as part of a commentary on Gerard Richter in order to gesture to this situation, ‘that we still think we can consider ways to get through another half century as a civic and social nexus is an optimism’ (“Complexity Manifold” 251). If anything, poetic forms of representation are a particularly acute expression of these circumstances. As the poet continues during a passage from the introduction to a book of essays which is currently due to be published in 2015:
There is a large dialectic undermining this book which perpetuates the appalling logic that has sustained the disgrace of western civilization for more than two and a half millennia, an appalling logic that is necessary for the premise of this critique and its perpetuation. This is the kind of nonsense that these texts, the texts in this book, will be unable to overcome because of the texts reliance on their readability and comprehension by those who will argue for the various fallacies they will discern from what is being proposed. There is nothing to be done about this, if the book is to venture into publication it must be reconciled to this ridiculous position and must stride out into the performance of its presentation. (“Testing and Experimenting” 14).
What matters in this context is what Fisher calls ‘the aesthetic swerve, or nerve to carry on’ (“Complexity Manifold” 268-9). The brutal reality is that any erotic potential will always be subsumed under the terms of a ‘self-deceiving’ culture constantly working towards its annihilation. In sketching the fundaments of any aesthetic system it is necessary to note with Fisher how ‘reliance [on] or even aspiration to coherence undermines the process of the proposal and activity’ (268). It is these preoccupations that have unfortunately become our own ‘twenty first century realities’. The damaged city creates fleeting opportunities for Fisher, but these opportunities disappear almost as soon as they are registered. Inventive perception remains an effective technique in exposing these chinks in the hardened edifice of closure, but these methods do not account for an all-consuming ‘system’ in the way that they did for Olson or Pound. ‘[H]ow we continue’, a question posed by Fisher in Place, must simply be answered once again with the refrain ‘I do not know except that/ we must continue’ (230).
Cache, Bernard. Earth Moves: The Furnishing of Territories. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. Print.
Clarke, Adrian. “Interview By Adrian Clarke For Angel Exhaust, 1987”. Duncan, Andrew. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print.
Duncan, Andrew.“A Tour Through The Resources For Stane; Or, A History Of Locks And Weirs: Lulham 23/5/05 tape 1. Duncan, Andrew. Ed. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print.
Duncan, Andrew. “Of Mutabilitie: Interview At Roehampton University, February, 2005”. Duncan, Andrew. Ed. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print.
Fisher, Allen. “Complexity Manifold 2: Hypertext”. Armand, Louis Hidden Agendas: Unreported Poetics. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2010. Print.
- - - - “Confidence in Lack”. Allenfisher1.files.wordpress.com. August, 2010. Web. November 5, 2014.
- - - - Gravity. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2004. Print.
- - - - and Mac Cormack, Karen. “Philly Talks 19: Allen Fisher/ Karen MacCormack”. October 17, 2001. PDF File.
- - - - Place. Hastings: Reality Street Editions, 2005. Print.
- - - - “Necessary Business”. Fisher, Allen. The Topographical Shovel: Four Essays. Ontario: The Gig Editions, 1999. Print.
- - - - “Procedure and Process: Talk on Place At Alembic, 1978”. Duncan, Andrew. Ed. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print.
- - - - “Testing and Experimenting”. Allenfisher1.files.wordpress.com. October, 2013. Web. November 5, 2014.
- - - - “Traps or Tools and Damage”. Allenfisher1.files.wordpress.com. October, 2010. Web. November 5, 2014.
Lawson, Hilary. Closure: A Story of Everything. London, Routledge 2001. Kindle File.
Mandlebrot, Benoit. “Fractals and the Art of Roughness”. Ted.com. Feb, 2010. Web. November 5, 2014.
Oppen, George. New collected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2003. Print.
Sheppard, Robert. “New Memories: Allen Fisher’s Gravity as a Consequence of Shape”. Robertsheppard.blogspot.com. 20 February, 2005. Weblog. November 5, 2014.
- - - - . Intro. “Six Poems From Brixton Fractals (1982 – 4)”. Future Exiles: 3 London Poets Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths and Brian Catling. London: Paladin, 1992. Print.
- - - - When Bad Times Made For Good Poetry. Bristol: Shearsman Books, 2011. Print.
Thurston, Scott. “Interview with Scott Thurston, 1999”. Duncan, Andrew. The Marvels of Lambeth: Interviews and Statements by Allen Fisher. Shearsman: Bristol, 2013. Print
 It wasn’t that Fisher found Olson’s structural innovations unworthy to his ambitions in Place, but that he worried about the connotations a firmly ‘Olsonian’ influence would have on the semantic qualities of the poetry itself. During an interview with Andrew Duncan, for example, Fisher alludes to a ‘mistake’ in the early stages of the project. ‘I think a mistake I made very early on in Place… was to allude to Charles Olson. And I immediately gave this whole apparatus that was already in existence in 1950 or whenever as an overlay for the work – as a way of reading it’ (The Marvels 56).
 It is certainly no accident that the Mathematician holds prominence in Fisher’s poem, especially given the influence of figures such as Mandlebrot. During a talk on Place at Alembic in 1978 he noted numerical structures in Sir Phillip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella that sees ‘the sun rise’ in the middle of the poem as an example of the mathematical attempts at conceiving of ‘order’ in previous poetry (“Alembic” 45). ‘Those are the paradigms we would change’, insists Fisher, as if gesturing to his later position in Gravity.
 At the time of writing this book has the provisional title of Imperfect Fit: Aesthetic Function, Facture and Reception, and will be published by the University of Alabama Press.