• Connor May

(ARCHIVE FEVER) “What’s Hidden in the Pâté Stays Secret”: Annotating Peter Manson’s 'Adjunct'

Collaged material for Adjunct // Peter Manson blog

In this installment of Archive Fever, Connor May revisits Peter Manson's Adjunct (2001), exploring its writing of ambient totality, bawdy collaging and wayward archiving of life at the turn of the millenium. Reading Adjunct as a text where the author is 'everywhere and nowhere', May discovers a text full of the enjoyments and frustrations of a poetics of laterality, jumping between frames of reference and playfully expanding and folding its potentials.

Above all I must make sure the anus is clear.

— Beckett to Georges Duthuit, March 1949

Lester Pigott is dead. Peter Manson’s Adjunct: an Undigest [1] is a prose text made up of entries written in the author’s notebooks over the course of several years and presented in a randomised order via a computer-generated number sequence. The content of the notebook entries comprising Adjunct range from bits of ambient language, snippets of biography, and material appropriated from various other texts. Manson pushes collage to the extreme here, because each entry is randomised it is almost impossible to maintain any kind of sequential narrative when reading, instead you are forced to enjoy the sheer spontaneity of the writing (which is easy because Manson is a genuinely funny poet), or else give up completely. There are through lines and consistent themes, but the focus is on the unexpectedness of the project. You will typically see a sentence like “Charles Madge is dead” [2], which is obviously very serious, and next to it will be a sentence such as: “Lisa, an Australian prostitute, recalls a domestic slave who was delighted to crawl around the floor doing the vacuuming with a cucumber up his bum.” [3] Adjunct goes on like this, recording the deaths of celebrities like a contemporary version of the Book of the Dead and mixing in details about the author’s life and the lives of those around him, gags about poets with fingers up their bums, and newspaper headlines. In this sense it is very much like a journal, or a collection of faits divers such as was popularised in 19th century France by Félix Fénéon [4], but because the entries are randomised it is pushing this form a lot further.

Adjunct was first published in 2001 by /ubu editions, and then later in 2006 by Edinburgh Review. A second edition came out in 2009 with Barque Press. The /ubu text is interesting because its cover image resembles a page in a diary, which is perhaps similar to the book that the entries that comprise Adjunct were originally written in. This cover image suggests similarities to Lorine Niedecker’s Next Year Or I Fly My Rounds Tempestuous [5], which consists of a collection of scribbled notes, appearing on the pages of her Collected Works as a calendar with lyrics written on paper pasted in the middle, so as to cover the original cliched quote that would have been there. The lyrics on each page are short and seemingly inconsequential, sometimes vaguely esoteric and sometimes suggestive of a remark arising in conversation with someone:

Balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet— a white kerchief comes into a pocket shirred onto a blue silk gown. Or from Row L in the Balcony? [6]

The above seems like an observation, probably made on the same day that entry was written, whereas this next one seems like a private thought,

Jesus, I’m going out and throw my arms around. [7]

Niedecker’s poem is dated 1934, and is fascinating for the way that its strangeness and use of non sequitur subverts the usual predictable chronology of the calendar. Although we cannot say Next Year Or I Fly My Rounds Tempestuous is a possible inspiration for Adjunct, as it was only rediscovered in the late 90s after having been buried in Zukofsky’s archives for many years, and Manson had already begun writing Adjunct by then, there are similarities here in that both of these texts interrogate standard notions of chronology.

A page from the numbering system for Adjunct // Peter Manson blog

Alan White is dead. In an interview published in Andrew Duncan and Tim Allen’s Don’t Start Me Talking Manson describes his world view as ‘essentially materialist, coupled with an overwhelming sense of the ramified complexity of absolutely everything that isn’t man-made' [8], hence Manson’s obsession with computer art, fractals and conceptual poetics. Manson used Adjunct as a sort of literary version of The Game of Life, feeding diary entries into a random number generator to create an unpredictable end result. It is different from a lot of Manson’s poems, where in the poetry biographical events might unexpectedly seep into the highly formalised structure, in Adjunct there are no such qualms about the personal. Despite the apparent wealth of private information in Adjunct, the lack of sequential narrative and the text’s refusal to draw connections between its material gives biographical information no more importance than any other type of content. Hence what appears to be details about the author's friendship with the late Barry McSweeney appears no more integral to the text as does a long description (presumably taken from a textbook) of a swan stretching.

The author in Adjunct is everywhere and nowhere, lending credence to Foucault’s claim that the author is not an individual, but a discursive practice [9]. The notion of the author in Adjunct functions to situate text and author in a complex web of discursive practices that eliminates the notion of a correct reading practice. This brings us onto the question of how to read Adjunct. Probably not as a piece of biography, is the first answer. I can’t recall who I am paraphrasing here when I say that poetry written in the modernist/experimental tradition that Manson writes possibly invites a notion of democracy because faced with the ‘difficult’ poem all readers are equal. As we read a poem we make guesses about the rules of its construction and functioning, and those guesses are either confirmed or denied as you make progress. My own reading of Adjunct involved digital annotation, recurring motifs were highlighted, obscure references were tracked down. ‘Concept album about garlic’ lead me to listening to Kev Hopper’s The Stinking Rose, which is indeed a concept album about garlic in all its aspects, from creation myth to Ancient Greek death cult, the mention of Sol LeWitt led me to reading that artist’s essay on conceptual art, which seems foundational. This is but one way of reading a text that has many entrances, and exits.

The first page of Adjunct // Peter Manson blog

Denis Waterman is dead. Adjunct is very much of its time. The vast majority of its material consists of British cultural references from the 90s, which obviously appeals to others who lived through that same time. For many of us it is near impossible to think back to this period without also thinking about Tony Blair and New Labour’s meteoric rise to power, after having been the opposition government for some time. There is no doubt a whole book to be written about the responses of British poets to the political upheavals of the 90s that took place in Britain. Kelvin Corcoran’s Lyric Lyric perfectly captures the anger and resentment felt by many during consecutive years of conservative governments, but when trying to think about poets who wrote directly about Blair and his betrayal of the working classes only one poet comes to mind: Sean Bonney, and it is interesting to note that both Bonney and Manson were involved in Bob Cobbing’s Writers Forum network and workshops. The difficulty of writing anything in response to Blair is no doubt partly because he was such a slippery figure: no one could get a grip of him. Many did indeed feel duped. There was a process whereby there was a collective sense of hope, and this sense of hope was paired with new technological advances, especially regarding the internet; the structure of society was changing. This sense of hope eventually withered away and was replaced with dread. Adjunct seems, partly at least, to suggest this process through both its content and its structure.

But we are all Lib-Labs now, and in 1997 New Labour’s triumph will free Labour history from its sectarian socialist and classbound cocoon and incorporate it fully into British history. [10]

The above quote is from the first page of Adjunct, and is suggestive of the general feeling of hope presiding over Blair’s leadership of the Labour party. One of Blair’s agendas as prime minister was the modernisation of state departments. An essay by political economist John Hudson [11] suggests that notions of an information driven society went hand in hand with demands for a reappraisal of the concept of the welfare state. Hudson goes on to argue that New Labour’s repositioning of welfare was driven by a new notion of a technologically driven information society. However, the specific procedure used by Manson in the writing, or construction, of Adjunct seems to suggest something other than an era of progress: the lack of telos here suggests a feeling of being caught in a loop. You can trace this loop by picking one of the many themes that is repeated throughout the text, for example there are several references in the text to Object Permanence which is the independent poetry magazine that was edited by Manson and his friend Robin Purves [12]. On page 12 we read the words “agree to let OP fold”, and then on page 56, “cease wanting to let OP fold”, on the very next page, “no Coolidge to read since OP folded”, page 72 has “begin to want to let OP fold”. At any point in the text we can assume that OP has either folded or is still going, like Schrödinger’s cat. Another phrase which gets repeated throughout appears for the first time on page 10, “just imagine what you could do with £1,500” [13], but subsequent reiterations of the phrase see the amount of money dwindling down to hilariously tiny amounts, such as “£0.3666210937” [14]. The phrase ‘just image what you could do with…’ is reminiscent of gameshows, tv competitions etc., and to see it attached to a pitiful amount of money will echo the experience of those living on welfare. There are numerous references to work (or the lack of it), searching for employment and the feeling of uselessness inspired by work that doesn’t suit the employee here [15], all of which seem to suggest Adjunct's engagement with the politics of labour.

Adjunct does perhaps feed on the same impulse for information that saw the New Labour government retooling entire departments to be compatible with new technology. The way Adjunct presents us with a stream of random data is not dissimilar to the way that Twitter and Instagram feeds also do the same thing, and in a sense it predicts the ‘ambient awareness’ [16] that many social media users develop of the digital worlds they partake in. Each entry in Adjunct may seem like random and inconsequential noise, but through fragmented and peripheral engagement with the text a picture of the entire ‘network’ is developed. Adjunct is random but it is also incessant, and perhaps never-ending, as is suggested by the appearance of newer 'sections' of the text in the Amsterdam-based literary magazine Mop Mop under the title Disappointing Footnotes to Adjunct [17]. Thus the constant reception of random bits of information builds up a picture of the whole. The same process has been observed in social media users, random scrolling through feeds eventually builds a comprehensive image of online others. Early readers of Adjunct who have not read it since it was first published have perhaps missed out on this aspect, which surely means it is time to revisit it. More than a decade on this beguiling and highly original poem seems even more contemporary than it ever was before.



[1] Craig Dworkin’s essay “Poetry Without Organs” is the best essay on Adjunct, find it here: http://eclipsearchive.org/Editor/DworkinPWO.pdf. A good introduction to Peter Manson’s work is Ellen Dillon’s piece on him found here: https://poetry.openlibhums.org/article/id/2886/.

[2] Adjunct, pp. 23

[3] Adjunct, pp. 23

[4] Félix Fénéon’s Nouvelles en Trois Lignes (Novels in Three Lines) is an amusing collection of faits divers.

[5] Lorine Niedecker, Collected Works (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002) pp. 41-60

[6] Collected Works, pp. 63.

[7] Collected Works, pp. 67.

[8] Tim Allen & Andrew Duncan ed. Don’t Start Me Talking (Cambridge: Salt, 2006) pp. 281-282

[9] Michel Foucault, “What is an Author” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Penguin Books, 2020) pp. 101-120.

[10] Adjunct, pp. 1.

[11] John Hudson, “E-Galitarianism? The Information Society and New Labour's Repositioning of Welfare” https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0261018303023002008.

[12] In recent years Robin Purves published a really interesting pamphlet with Broken Sleep Books titled Three Spider’s Fucking. His essay, “Peter Manson Fungus Chicken” is a great introduction to Peter Manson’s work: https://poetry.openlibhums.org/article/id/760/.

[13] Adjunct, pp. 10.

[14] Adjunct, pp. 14.

[15] Adjunct, pp. 6, 11, 16, 27, 42, 45, 46, 56, 69, 70

[16] Ana Levordashkaa and Sonja Utz, “Ambient awareness: From random noise to digital closeness in online social networks” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4853799/.

[17] More information on Mop Mop can be found here: https://www.perdu.nl/en/uitgeverij/l/mop-mop/


Text: Connor May

Images: Peter Manson

Published: 12/07/22