Assemblage. What do I know of assemblage? Very little it seems. So I will start with this ignorance, but also, leaping ahead of myself, posit that perhaps ignorance is a condition of assemblage.
There are two conceptions of assemblage: one as a form, as something that takes shape, appearing as a thing, or more properly a collection of irreducibly complex things; then there is assemblage as a quality that affects everything, which indicates the multiplicity, incongruity and complexity of what passes for things. In the latter sense assemblage represents the untenable and provisional character of all objectivity. Nothing can be represented as a discrete component or as a discrete set of components that enter into a discrete relation. At the edge of all complexity is further complexity. No edge is guaranteed.
And it is in this sense of a limitless space of assemblage that ignorance becomes relevant because I cannot stand back from any apparent assemblage as a discrete thing or system. In engaging with assemblage I become another dimension of its complexity. I cannot help recognizing assemblages that take coherent shape, but their apparent objective integrity is immediately compromised by my work of designating them – constituting them. For them to appear as themselves, as something discrete, I must ignore everything that unsettles the possibility of delineation. Ignorance is necessary to lend assemblage apparent coherent form. It is also necessary in order move within any assemblage, for movement entails becoming embroiled in a complex landscape that appears inescapable. I am ignorant then both when I point at the assemblage (from an imaginary separate distance) and when I am caught within the assemblage and can imagine no way out.
But let’s try to state things more clearly.
As a form an assemblage has the following features:
• It is a multiplicity.
• The multiple elements of that make up this multiplicity are irreducibly complex. They resist analysis. They are not elements but assemblages themselves.
• The assembled elements lack any natural relation – they are juxtaposed.
• The overall multiplicity nonetheless takes provisional shape as a single thing.
As a quality assemblage has the following features:
• Irreducible to analysis – to decomposition into primary elements
• Juxtaposition of already complex elements
Very similar conceptions, but the latter is more consistent and radical. It does not permit assemblage to reside in any particular thing – to obtain any sense of coherent autonomy (objectivity).
But enough of this nonsense, ignorant as I am, the notion of assemblage set me thinking about something I once knew, or more accurately never dared to properly know, since I recognized the potential for loss. As a programmer I worked with all manner of programming languages – C++, Java, Scala, Python and a range of scripting languages – but I never learned Assembly. Assembly is the lowest level computer language, just mildly abstracted from machine code itself. Writing in Assembly involves engaging with the intimate detail of specific machine architectures – memory registers, buffers, etc. Data is represented in binary or hexadecimal form rather than as ordinary decimal numbers. Everything is slow, hard and prone to error. The good Assembly programmer gains the capacity to think like the machine, to comfortably negotiate its alien and opaque complexity.
How is this relevant to the notion of assemblage? Assembly Language provides a model for a particular kind of relation to a given field. Instead of representing the field via an abstracted map, it is engaged with in its complexity. This is complexity to the point of loss, to the point of obsessive, concentrated immersion. There is no possibility of simply standing back and seeing the whole. Each view of the whole is inadequate. Everything only obtains tangible shape within the details of particular configurations, encounters and negotiations.
The work of assemblage is a work of implication and loss.