Allen Fisher: Place
2005, 1-874400-28-8, price: £15, 418pp, Reality Street
Allen Fisher's bookshelf in the 70s was obviously stocked up with Abacus titles: mentioned as Place sources are John Michell's The View over Atlantis, Guy Underwood's The Pattern of the Past and, needless to say, Alfred Watkin's The Old Straight Track. These books all contain the same concept, shared with much science fiction – the universal revelation achieved through an amplification of current empirical tracings. I thought I'd better get stuck in to the right 70s atmosphere, so began reading. Michell writes: "We all live within the ruins of an ancient structure, whose vast size has hitherto rendered it invisible. The entire surface of the earth is marked with the traces of a gigantic work of prehistoric engineering, the remains of a once universal system of natural magic, involving the use of polar magnetism together with another positive force related to solar energy."
The Underwood book is all about ancient monuments and water divining – a "powerful cosmic force", a "geodetic law" of the past investigated: "the greater part of the minor topography of the land, and some of its major features such as the Dartmoor Tors and the grey Wethers, might be artificial and religious in origin, as is established by geodetic survey. To achieve such enormous works, vast numbers of people would have had to be employed over a long period of time. But, given the incentive, the work could have been done – perhaps by mass hypnotism." Hidden water courses under London are a theme of Place, as is coercion into oppressive work structures; geodesy/gravity is a continuing concern of Fisher's.
the rivers we cutI also read the Watkins book, literally along very similar lines, though I was interested in chapter XXV, a collage from the Bible, the first three entries being:
the artificial divides
lead us to the shore of source
"I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight." – Isaiah xlv, 2.Mix these cosmic conspiracies – a fillip to creative work, a Golden Dawn for the time – with Situationism, Vaneigem, and the permission of Olson and the book gets going, attempting to wrestle the everyday: from abstract space, into a place. Falling in line, one would say the poem is a large root-ball, transplantable, a tangling and untangling in which processes of investigation – archaeological, political, mathematical etc – can be tracked and lost. As such, it's quite a breezy read, a quality one doesn't associate with enormous long-poems.
"Make straight paths for your feet." – Hebrews xii, 13.
"Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established, turn not to the right hand, nor to the left; remove thy feet from evil." – Proverbs iv, 25.
There are four books to the "project":
PlaceThe last of these is Olson trebled, three speakers; the first is full of high-toned "we" and "our"; the third contains this emblem
Eros : Father : Pattern
which you could connect to this
There is here no question of context
the fly on its food route thrust & parry of energy
to & fro rest
flies into a precise spider's web
worked to suppress its energies which
the fly identifies too late to re act
the boundary of the world asand we're off on a spiral. The body as a differential field, one of a number of breaking points, in this kind of thought, the repetitions - gestures, cycles, rhythms - within the body, and the everyday, the urban space.
the aura of the body
following edges that change in space
What did Fisher and Pierre Joris talk about before and after Fisher was "wearing out his carpets" during the "long readings" of the work in process? Benjamin, Foucault, polar magnetism? It's easy to join the dots of Fisher's open plan notations; but difficult to convincingly get this work - which has become "somewhat legendary" (Reality Street website) - to give up the contexts of assemblage, spread out in the 70s, where it could be understood rather differently.
For Fisher, through Olson, it was a question of getting process philosophy into poetry, or to find a poetic analogue to this thought; the result would be (or, is, depending on your reading) a recombining chain of pieces which could remain forever hypothetical, inflected by theme, sustained by the discourse and productions of the reader, questioning its own meditative form.
As arranged for this volume, the book starts off with a high frequency of declarative statements written in complete sentences, with minor interruptions. This pattern of statements is part of the roughness of the work, though they can also present the weakest parts:
we are essentially made of sexuality & hungerbegins page 192.
say itThis we, one page on, is invoked, "entering and belonging to what 'we' means".
we must eat
we must fuck without disturbance
we must find the heart of the fire
the most we are in
There are quite a few earnest descriptions of sexual activity in clipped style, presumably so as to bring this into the poem without it being a substitution for something else.
migration belongs to the framework of energiesAnother emblem, like the fly, or a glass of orange juice and castor oil, or "a cork barely holding the inside of the bottle / on the floor the bottle empty". Does the whole book wish upon us a revelation? To what extent is it a religious work? (Process theology?) Towards the end, Fisher – in one of the monologues interspersed at this stage – rewrites Walter Benjamin:
which is the stuff of populations
and not rigid formula
evolution isn't a rose/but a poppy in your throat
I have been the historian too longOut of the chapters and bits of books dedicated to this part of Fisher's work, and also the sundry reviews of Place the big book, one of the more interesting comments comes from Andrew Duncan, although for stratum he means horizon:
immersed in wreckage hurled at my feet
stay try to awaken
strength in the fragments
Pressurised space called the garden forms breeze
refined into industry forms this storm called progress
propels my back into the future
I would like to suggest that one stratum of Fisher's work resembles the Epidemiai of Hippocrates: where H. records in terse sharp phrases facts of geography, climate, diet, and way of life as part of medical study. His understanding of "disease as a function of place" is not ours, but it is easy to understand that passing beyond the few large crude objects of Emotions one tries seize the many fine "feelings" which make up the self, in a scope which certainly includes other people, sunlight, the weather, housing, food, economics, etc., to reach happiness through the balance of passions. One would argue that this Chinese-style souci du soi replaces the primitive and irresoluble opposition between "ideal self" and "oppressed self" which beleaguered the factions of 1968. If you define your "real self" as "that which I have never experienced," problems may follow.
As observations, this is in fact the opposite of “procedures”: but perhaps the two go together: as interlinked parts of the artist’s domestic routine, in the project of not being alienated.