San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


Alchemy, Assembly, and Puppetry

Assembly is both “third work” (final stage in the alchemical process) and “thirdness” (conceptual leap). It comes new out of the ashes of old concepts and precepts (old assemblies). It is a vigorous and self-perpetuating process of just-in-time renewal: a concoction, potion, elixir, drug, whose result is whole greeny health and not the piecemeal eradication of nagging symptoms.

Poetry, to borrow Lew Daly’s words, is more an issue of “increased responsibility” than “innovation.” Assembly technicians are inherently apprentices for whom every day and every trick/device learned is an innovation. They learn by doing and make do with learning, are never too far from the pedagogical moment of transformation.

To assemble is to operate in between an instrumentalist and constructionist view of language. Communication in the domain of assembly requires this “use and abuse” orientation with regard to the materials of assembly. To practice assembly as a poetic method is thus to convene under the radar of rhetorical convention but not necessarily to jam its signals. Conventional signals are in fact useful strategic gateways for the assembly technician who works not so much to dismantle or deconstruct the code at its source but rather to render all source codes open to effective assembly.

The goal is neither transparency nor opacity but a shimmering liquid crystal elasticity, a screen-in-the-round performance of surface and depth, figure and ground, x/y and z. The puppet performing on the stage of assembly (imagine multiple tiers, on different nights, and perhaps along or among a loose network or distribution of theaters), is an inanimate object which, “due to the elliptical laws of gravity, has the capability for ideal animation” (Osman). It exhibits a “grace” which corrects for “a series of errors to be found in the human form.” [Aside: I take this personally: cyborgs scare me (especially when they run for public office); puppets make me smile and laugh.] The human (ever more the cyborg) performs according to the same “elliptical laws” but easily falters, loses balance in and among moments of “error.” But the puppet, whose center of gravity is always located at “dead center,” is free of the “straight line” which keeps the human both on track and perpetually vulnerable to false starts and miscues.

Assembly poetics thus looks to the puppet, not the cyborg, to perform the act of displacement by which “the self attempts to replace the self with a second self.” The puppet speaks the shift to “another locale” (the stage[s] of assembly), and thus MCs the corollary mental shift by which, for example, a poet becomes a document technician. You will never get it straight from the “self,” in other words, but the puppet is always ready and willing to convey the truth of assembly poetics.

Puppet and operator work together, no doubt, but operation is always a puppet’s play, and one in which the “dead object” (re)animates over and over, like the Phoenix, out of the ashes of former dead objects. Assembly work is always cyclical and self-generating, a 24/7 street theater of Brechtian proportions but with (potentially) an ever renewed cast of characters many of whom don’t even know they’re part of the performance.

I see this attempt to define the puppet function as an adaptation and extension of an earlier obsession with “words.” In this case, however, words are just one of several parts that come together in the vastly inventive and remedial realm of assembly theater.


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