San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


More Assembly Poetics

For the record, My Life by Lyn Hejinian is an exercise in participatory reading, D-aries in retro-premonitory writing. SDPG is a kind of "collaborative filtering" and works (at times) something like a bot or agent of the "traveling" or "social" kind. It is neither "push" nor "pull" media but aspires to something in between. Let's call it "push me / pull me" media, although I'm no Dr. Doolittle.

As a digital personality, I always strive for digital interpersonism, a term I coined this morning while watching my two kids eat oatmeal. As a digital interpersonist, you just go on your and everyone else's nerves.

Dead Letter Game is a writing of a reading about writing. Where D-aries looks to the present (and thus liberates a past), DLG excavates the past in order to write in the future. SDPG, as reporting and document assembly, is a past and a present and sometimes (though rarely) a future. My Life by Lyn Hejinian is not my life but could be upon completion (I'll be 45). DLG is not my life but was (the play's the thing).

To blog is to drag one's puppet to the stage and to let it do all the talking. I think of this as a kind of fictive-critical transfer or translation, an assembly or organization (literally, to furnish with organs) of parts (roles) derived from one's own experiences but removed, distended, perhaps suspended. The Russian realist film makers had it right (e.g. Vertov's interval) with regard to the construction of meaning out of raw data. The transfer/translation inherent to blog interpersonism, though, never really organizes, never resolves to a recognizable, delimited, meaningful, and bordered body. No risk in assembly poetics of the "traveling" agent taking over like the Borg or the android Roy. Humans are meddlesome creatures alright and can't get enough of everyone else's "private" information, but we are also fickle and easily distracted. So assemblies are short-lived and fragile, tinker-toy cars that don't really roll and break apart under the slightest pressure.

The transfer/translation is always just that, in transit, in medias. Assemblies gather and intermix like dust clouds then disperse or settle. True, we need better ways to pull this stuff together but we are better off that it remains ultimately unassimilable and nebulous. We need fewer hard (and hardened) tools and more soft assemblies. The uncanny truth of our age is that we are all at once desperately alone and intimately connected. The din is endless and the silence infinite. Assemblies are perfect forms for this time. They materialize for the given particular needs of the moment then dissolve into pure potential. They promise a workable organization without threatening a cyborg revolution.

An assembly grafts the personal and the collective and makes of it a practice. To assemble is neither sincere nor insincere, neither truth nor lie. Fictive, yes, but in this transfer or translation of parts the sentiment behind the gesture is hardly an issue. Assemblies resist the discourse of sincerity altogether. They operate in the seams between chance and intention, between fate and human will. Assemblies quite literary come together and break apart while the document technician naps or does the dishes. There's no need to monitor the progress of assembly, no fetishization of beginning (inspiration), middle (process), or end (output). That's why publishing or even the very idea of writing, printing, distributing a poem or story or essay is absurd in the age of assembly poetics.

In a way we get the zeal of the Futurist in today's assembly technician without the tacit faith in the machines (of war in particular) to radicalize and reinvent the status quo. Assemblies are tactical, not strategic; in fact, they exist and operate in opposition to strategies and strategic maneuvers. They can be found everywhere and are not made or even assembled (ironically) so much as acted upon. Assembly is a puppet's stage show, its song and dance, its vaudeville. The evidence or record (documentation) of assembly is found in the act and the action that comes to serve as its marker, its registration point on the time-space grid of human convention and collaboration.

The Web is assembly; canned literary hypertext is not. The link is one of the soft (convivial) tools of assembly, but so is cut-and-paste along with other appropriation devices. Word frequency algorithms and pattern-recognition tools are the enemy of assembly since they implicitly criminalize montage and fact-farming. Assembly is always (according to someone) plagiarism. Thus assembly is not authorship, at all, although it might make use of some of the peskier author functions.

As "born shape-shifters," computers are good assembly machines, but they are not ideal because there is always (or at least frequently) a component of assembly that exceeds the bounds of computer capacity.

The logical endgame of assembly poetics is that (and this is the best part) it constantly disassembles and reassembles itself and thus rarely resembles a poetics. Those who have missed or mourned the absence of a discernable poetics among the tribe's most recent emissaries may do well to consider the "shape-shifting" character of today's assembly workers and their associated assemblies. If you happen to be at the right place at the right time, you may catch a glimpse of what you're looking for, but don't expect too much. The vision will be fleeting, an illusion of sorts, and what's more the people around you may have an entirely different sense of what they just saw, and there will be much excitement but little agreement.

Worse yet, the ones responsible for the sleight of hand, the magicians and dancers and jugglers on stage, will not have any idea what you are talking about when you approach with the good news. Or if they do understand, they will simply smile politely and then move on to the next assembly. Assembly poets are restless in that very peculiar and resourceful way.


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