San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


Militant Learning

Poetry painted upon walls, carved onto tools, written onto the body, onto religious objects; painted or carved upon border markers, grave sites; arranged in materials such as stone, bone, animal or vegetable fibers, and feathers, composed on the voice, in the machine, on the instrument, on the screen; in-corporated as ritual—by whatever means are at hand (adapted from Fernandez, “Sensuality and a Western Tradition”).

Assembly may appear arbitrary – a recycler’s credo – but it is not. The appearance of assembly is always blessed with a kind of organic, holistic surface.

Assemblies do not age or die; they just get reassembled.

Nor are they inspired or the consequence of impulse. “Every act” (B. Brecht) “comes from a realization. There’s really no such thing as acting on impulse. There again the intellect is lurking in the background” (on theatre). The intellect, in the background, is perhaps the kernel of assembly, to adapt B.B., because assembly technicians while intellectual creatures are also spontaneous and fun-loving brutalists happy to draw a scene at the drop of a hat. This is not “impulse,” however, but the steady-state of an assembly technician’s ongoing choreography. To assemble is not to break into an impromptu song or dance but to exercise a long-planned (if not long-awaited) in-time choreography.

As document, an assembly (like a Brechtian “epic”) must report; its subject matter must account for the fact or facts at hand. This is the tricky part, for assemblies are not “news,” as one might suspect at this point, but news-told-again as if passed thru a filter or engine. Simply put, assemblies build the interface and the world provides the content. Assembly poetics in this way strives to stay close to pedagogy, to education in the literal sense of leading forth, educing, or eliciting. Herein lies the “social function” of an assembly art.

More than frame, the interface assembles, i.e., functions somewhere between medium and message, form and content. An interface cannot mean in any strict sense, but it can organize meanings, becoming as it were a stage for semantic organ-growing (shape-shifting). This move entails a change in both the means of representation and the means of production/distribution. On both fronts, the goal is always a “cheerful and militant learning.”

As “learning play,” assembly is thus essentially dynamic (an always remediated news), and its task is to show the world changing and also how it might be changed. Assembly is the choreographed how of a raw that and what. In other words, we could be content to make it strange, but assembly goes further in holding the strange accountable as an instrumental, in-time solution to a real-world problem/conundrum.

Still, assembly does not aspire to make things easier; in fact, there’s nothing harder than accommodating the strange for a live audience anxious to learn something new. Hardly the crowd pleaser, the assembly technician learns the crowd’s appetite for learning. All pleasure is reciprocal, mutual. Assembly invites emotional/intellectual convention in the deliberate and crafty use (or misuse) of conventions: not anything goes, but everything must go (somewhere). In this way, assembly works toward its own A-effect.

Readers/users/spectators of assembly art are of course also assembly technicians, as cued into (responsible for) the making of art as the putative “maker” who, exhausting all options, does not really occupy that position anyway. The term “assembly technician” must always refer to the maker/user of assembly work: the spectator also takes up a “puppet function” in relation to assembly.

Pulling it all together, assembly is a “graceful grouping” (BB) that once again risks integration but just in-time: other groupings invariably stave off ossification. Thus, if there is any development it is always steady, and always going somewhere.


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