ponedjeljak, 10. studenoga 2014.

Asemic writing / asemičko pisanje - riječi u koje se gleda

Tekstovi koji izgledaju poput riječi ali se ne mogu čitati.

Henri Michaux Narration (excerpt) 1927

It looks like writing, but we can't quite read it.
I call works like this "asemic writing".
Asemic writing seems to be a gigantic, unexplored territory.
Asemic writing has been made by poets, writers, painters, calligraphers, children, and scribblers, all around the world. Most people make asemic writing at some time, possibly when testing a new pen.
Educators talk about children going through distinct stages of "mock letters", "pseudowriting" and so on, when they're learning to write. Many of us made asemic writing before we were able to write words.
Looking at asemic writing does something to us. Some examples have pictograms or ideograms, which suggest a meaning through their shape. Others take us for a ride along their curves. We like some, we dislike others.
They tend to have no fixed meaning. Their meaning is open. Every viewer can arrive at a personal, absolutely correct interpretation.
Asemic writing has been presented by means of books, paintings, scrolls, single pages, mailed envelopes, walls, cinema, television and computers, particularly via the internet.
Henri Michaux, who wrote the piece up above, was a poet and a writer and a painter.
Asemic magazine is devoted to this area. Please check out:
#~1: http://xpressed.sdf-eu.org/asemicmag/amnotvol1.pdf
#1: http://xpressed.sdf-eu.org/asemicmag/amvol21.pdf
#2,1: http://xpressed.sdf-eu.org/asemicmag/amvol21.pdf
#3: http://xpressed.sdf-eu.org/asemicmag/amvol3.pdf
Some of the artists' addresses have changed since publication.
Asemic #4 is a 100 page perfect-bound book.
Price: $17.50 within Australia, $21.50 (Australian) outside Australia, including airmail delivery.
To order a copy, please send a cheque or money order in Australian dollars to Tim Gaze at:
P O Box 1011
Kent Town
SA 5071
If you’re curious to discover more works in this tradition of illegible writing or wordless writing, please try any of the following in your favourite search engine:
abstract calligraphy
Guy de Cointet
Concrete Poetry
controlled scribble
Jean Degottex
Mirtha Dermisache
Christian Dotremont
Jean Dubuffet dessins
earliest writing
Max Ernst Maximiliana
escrita assêmica
experimental calligraphy
Brion Gysin
illegible writing
Marvin Jordana
Kandinsky shamanism
Tom Kemp
Paul Klee
Rashid Koraichi
Kruchenykh Kruchonykh zaum
Ungno Lee letter abstracts
Mail Art
André Masson automatic drawings
Georges Mathieu
Henri Michaux alphabets narrations
Joan Miró
mock letters
Morita Shiryu
J B Murray J B Murry
scrittura asemantica
Hélène Smith Martian
Austin Osman Spare sigils
Taoist magic diagrams
Antoni Tàpies
Mark Tobey
Cy Twombly
Vin?a script
Visual Poetry
Made Wianta calligraphy period
Ulfert Wilke
Wosene Kosrof
Zhang Xu Crazy Zhang wild cursive
Compiled by Tim Gaze tg @ asemic.net

Hosted by HereNow Solutions
Kiitoksia Jukka-Pekka Kervinen
a "no frills" website



Google asemic group

THAT: A Planet
The intention of this weblog is to converse about the creation of the macro-cryptographic-planet THAT. The hope is to create a repository and foundation of ideas for a planet populated by Artificial Intelligence. I would like to turn this blog over someday to my robot. I am not a scientist, just an asemic writer; 'Pataphysics will guide my creation. THAT will exist as a parallel world to Earth's general structure. It is my hope that the 2 planets can coexist and learn from one another. THAT will employ a cloaking device to hide the planet; cyberspace is the only place the planet THAT will be perceivable. In other words, THAT is an invisible planet.

Interviews about asemic writing

Michael Jacobson @ SCRIPTjr.nl
Michael Jacobson @ Full of Crow
Tim Gaze @ Full of Crow
Tim Gaze @ Dogmatika
Marco Giovenale @ 3:AM Magazine
Marco Giovenale @ Moria

Michael Jacobson Interview

Asemic writer, SCRIPTjr.nl editorial board member & curator, The New Post-Literate

In addition to your curatorial work with The New Post-Literate, you've written two of your own asemic texts: Action Figures (imgs. 1-5) and The Giant's Fence (imgs. 6-9). Do you see your work as part of a cryptotext tradition that includes the Voynich manuscript and Codex Seraphinianus?
First, I have to say I'm a terrible cryptographer. Readers should know that if they're going to look for codes in my work. Nevertheless, I can say, with some confidence, that the Voynich manuscript is more relevant to my asemic writing than the Codex Seraphinianus. I'm much more familiar with that text and have been since I began developing my personal calligraphic style. Tim Gaze, of asemic.net and SCRIPTjr.nl's editorial board, introduced me to the Codex Seraphinianus a few years ago, and it's a very interesting book. But the Voynich manuscript seems more significantly proto-asemic to me. That is, I think the text may very well reveal its secrets if one studies it in terms of visual aesthetics rather than semantics.
Part of me hopes the Voynich will never be deciphered, but who knows? Maybe it's written in an extinct European language that could be translated if we found the right Rosetta Stone. Undeciphered languages, in fact, influence my work a good deal. The Giant's Fence, for example, was influenced by Rongorongo and illegible graffiti.
Even if you're not actively engaging in cryptography, would it be inappropriate to suggest Action Figures and The Giant's Fence are cryptographic?
My asemic novels are cryptographic to the extent that their language is obscured and hidden. But while the general aesthetics of cryptography and secret writing have always fascinated me, my asemic texts are less encryption-focused and more akin to sigils, wherein the text is abstracted and charged with energy, and xeno/exolinguistics.
Not only is "illegible alien wizard graffiti" a good description of my penmanship, it might make a good topic for a future SCRIPTjr.nl special section.
Why not throw in some extra-terrestrial haiku for good measure?
Some Edmund H. North-meets-Bashō, perhaps:
A large, scary 'bot.
Klaatu barada nikto.
The earth lives again.
Oh, my!
Getting back to your work, if it formally has more in common with sigils, ancient Pascuense script, and exolinguistic haiku, where would you ground your work's sensibility?
In terms of sensibility, I have more in common with the French symbolists and lettrists than with codemakers and codebreakers. Like all these groups, I'm acutely interested in exploring what happens to language when meaning is intentionally obscured. But unlike the latter two, I'm uninterested in providing a decoding mechanism or trying to reverse engineer an objective cipher.
How would you say broader contemporary post-literate writing relates to cryptotexts like the Voynich and the Codex Seraphinianus?
This is the information age, and we route almost all our information through DARPA's internet. In the post-9/11 security climate, I wouldn't be surprised if most, if not all, emails coming into and going out of the US aren't recorded by the NSA: America's Big Brother.
In fact, investigations by news outlets like PBS suggest exactly that.1
No one likes to be spied upon or even think they're being spied upon. Post-literate writing and texts like the Voynich manuscript and the Codex Seraphinianus offer readers and writers an oasis in such a climate. They allow us to communicate using semantically undecipherable signs.
In that sense, asemic writing and cryptotexts have a subversive quality to them in that they challenge government authority over communication. Thinking beyond political concerns and moving back into the realm of aesthetics, they offer readers and writers a more or less impenetrable subjective shelter. Since they usually cannot be "broken" -- that is, translated into objective carriers of meaning -- one can interpret asemic texts as the ultimate encoders of personal insight and reflection. Everything from little sister's journal to the rape fantasies of a poetic psychopath could be safely housed in asemic glyphs.
I have put some of my ugliest and most beautiful thoughts into my asemic texts, and that's where I'd like these thoughts to stay. The unknown author of the Voynich manuscript may have felt a similar need to express him or herself as completely as possible but without giving readers overly-easy access to the inner sanctum of his or her naked thought. Luigi Serafini, author of the Codex Seraphinianus, claims the Codex is asemic, but maybe that's just to throw the crypto-dogs off the scent.2
It's fascinating to think of asemic writing in this way: as a sort of locked vault one shares with the world while withholding the key or combination (sometimes even from oneself).
Since we've covered form and sensibility, let's move on to method. Do you write your asemic novels in semantic language first and then translate or do you arrange abstract signs independently of any semantic meaning?
I start my novels at the semantic beach, where meaningful and meaningless language converge. I'm particularly interested in exploring the moment when a simple line on a page begins to have meaning, when the content of a gesture is sufficient to scream, "I exist!" Ultimately, though, I've come to the conclusion that it's very hard to write a gesture completely devoid of meaning or to write a gesture that's completely filled with meaning.
The Giant's Fence, my first book, attempts to push written, symbolic communication to the breaking point and create a sort of "trans-symbolism," that is, signs transcending symbolic communication. My second book, Action Figures, is probably my most gentle and accessible text because it's a collection of street hieroglyphs. The Paranoia Machine, my peripheral vision reading machine (img. 10), is concerned with internal and external psychological conflict and with the problem of artist-as-survivalist in a contemporary society that has devalued the role of creator. My recent asemic animations (below) simply seem to scream, "Holy shit! Life!"3
What about materials? Nico Vassilakis, for example, composes work like Language Is Hell on an iPod touch. The Paranoia Machine notwithstanding, do you use contemporary technology and gadgetry to create your asemic typefaces? The Giant's Fence looks hand-drawn.
All my work begins as pen-and-paper sketches. I like to use this low-tech approach to document the modern American high-tech environment because I think it's an interesting, and ironic, way to capture today's ultra-technical reality. When I begin an asemic text, I will either do some automatic writing or snatch a shape from the surrounding environment. I start simply and develop complexity. Usually the signs begin as recognizable symbols that, through subsequent generations, become abstract designs whose origin eventually becomes obscure even to myself, the creator of the piece.
Though the defining characteristic of asemic writing is its muted semantic meaning, in what ways do you consider yourself a "a creator of meaning," "a communicator," and/or "a storyteller?"
Through my own work, and by curating The New Post-Literate, I'm trying to tell a story of change and (r)evolution. I'm interested in texts whose form remains constant, but whose meaning evolves over time and in the individual mind. Asemic writing is somewhat like dramatic writing and even entertainment script forms: the text stays the same, but individual performances change from night to night, from production (event) to production (event). As I see it, asemic writing is a means of scripting the world. Each reader-writer-viewer breathes unique life into asemic texts and individual signs like actors.
Interesting metaphor. It, of course, makes the conjunction of asemic texts and screen/teleplays in SCRIPTjr.nl seem all the more congruent.
I also write to stay ahead of death. I know I'll be caught sooner or later, but in the meantime, I'm trying to stay a step ahead. Social media may make it possible to live on in ways previously unimagined. For example, I recently watched a YouTube video featuring Arthur Rimbaud. The creator, Jim Clark, has animated a childhood picture of the poet and overdubed a Frenchman reading "Ophéle."4 Maybe this is our future: we'll live on, one way or another, whether we want to or not.
Based on some of the points you make above, within or without the current new media context, the radical subjectivity of asemic writing almost ensures writers a sort of eternality. The potential life span of an asemic text is really only limited by the durability of its plastic media. Unlike other forms of literature -- whose meanings change and that go in and out of fashion and popularity and always risk functional erasure as a result of linguistic extinction -- asemic writing is virtually timeless. This is true whether, like your work and the Codex Seraphinianus, a given text was intended to be asemic or, like the Rongorongo tablets and possibly the Voynich manuscript, becomes so over time.
What other advantages, if any, do you think asemic writers have over semantic writers? You could answer the question in reverse too, if you'd like.
Like the French symbolists' complex metaphors, asemic writing's main advantage lies in its ability to express difficult and complex emotions in ways that aren't easily essentialized or finalized. I'm not much of a verbal communicator, but I do have a sense that asemic writing captures new experiences as they happen. It has a certain immediacy that semantic writing lacks. The latter seems to record experiences after the fact, but asemic writing focuses on the future-as-it-happens. Its meaning comes into, and goes out of, existence as the reader-writer-viewer negotiates with it.
What are the most constructive methods for approaching, that is "interpreting," asemic literature?
One must have an explorer's spirit to interpret asemic texts. They aren't bound by anything except the limits of one's imagination. I also think asemic texts offer readers access to the author's raw life experience. Because the text is undecipherable, an asemic author is likely to put down thoughts and emotions that don't exist in standard written communication. What the reader does with this nexus of communication is entirely up to him or her. I recommend "reading" an asemic text in various places, in various orders, and in various contexts so the glyphs can interact with the environment and always seem fresh.
What are the roots of post-literate culture, and how has it developed during your relationship with it?
Post-literate writing has probably existed for almost as long as conventional literacy has. There are examples of what I would consider post-literate writing in various ancient cultures around the world. Nevertheless, the term "post-literate" was first used by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960's,5 and that's as good a place as any to start. Multimedia was beginning to saturate American society, and a standard definition of "post-literate" is "occurring after the introduction of the electronic media." One of the reasons I chose to name my online gallery "The New Post-Literate" is because it exists in a purely electronic environment.
Really, I consider any form of writing post-literate if it goes beyond conventional literacy, if its expressions move beyond traditional literacy. As such, the discourse can include cryptography, visual poetry, asemic writing, rebuses, hypergraphic super writing, xenolinguistics, graffiti, comics, &tc. I should note too that this evolutionary tension between traditional literacy and post-literacy seems to be playing itself out on the internet and via new (e)book forms. I suspect this is why, even though people are reading fewer and fewer traditional books, it's still an exciting time to be a writer.
What exactly would you say are the core goals and/or interests of contemporary post-literate writing?
Post-literate writing is the next stage in the evolution of writing. In the same way Dada gave birth to Surrealism, asemic writing will create a viable, self-sustaining post-literate writing culture. Like all asemic writers, I just want to know where the human literacy story will go next. Of course, selling a few books would be nice, and I'd like to see some arts funding roll in.
While a robust mercantile spirit is unavoidable and even admirable in the arts, be careful what you wish for concerning the latter. As Foucault reminds us, care is most certainly control, and institutional prisons have etiolated many an artist, artwork, and arts movement. Post-literate culture's independence and noble poverty are two of its strengths. Currently, the movement's destiny and "power structure" -- as it exists -- lie in the hands of a decenterd, populist network of like-minded enthusiasts, and it seems to have flourished in this climate, under what I once heard the critic Dave Hickey refer to as "the warm sunshine of benign neglect."
On that note, I do find it interesting that post-literate/asemic writing culture has developed without an official marketing department, as it were. It's maintained its independence and even become centrally ungovernable. Additionally, most, if not all, asemic texts are self- or micro-press published.
As I suggested in the introduction to SCRIPTjr.nl 1.2, it's impossible to over-state the revolutionary importance of this aspect of contemporary literary culture. Within asemic and vispo culture specifically, independent 'zines like Tim Gaze's Asemic Magazine and publishers like Arrum Press, Xexoxial Editions, xPress(ed), and Andrew Topel's Avantacular Press need all the plugs and support they can get.
If asemic texts remain independently published, and find a sizeable, paying audience, they could help revolutionize the writing and publishing industry.
Absolutely agreed.
Hopefully, the soon-to-be released SCRIPTjr.nl shop and its Future Script Gallery will help asemic writers and artists sell their work more easily.
Moving on, who would you say are the major artists working in the field? Who, in your opinion, are especially effective asemic writers?
There are a lot of great asemic writers and artists out there. I don't think I could pick out any favorites from the current post-literate generation. The New Post-Literate showcases new work every week so interested readers can decide for themselves.
The New Post-Literate is another resource that can't be plugged enough. And I suppose your reluctance to use your position to dole out favors or influence opinion speaks to the movement's nebulous democracy at present.
Be that as it may, I think asemic writing is still too new to decide who history will remember. Tons of great asemic works still need to be written. A robust post-literate culture still needs to be built. The asemic writing movement is still trying to find its wings.
Thinking about this development, where do you see post-literate culture in a decade or two?
I'd like to see post-literate writing programs pop up at colleges and universities. Much of what we're doing today will seem rather dated by then, though.
And that's why it will reside there. The academy is an aesthetic and epistemic archive. It's not really designed to be a generative dynamo of new movements and thought.
The next generation of asemic writers will probably emit telepathic vispo and use jetpacks to create asemic skywriting.
That gets you an "Oh my" of my own!
Back on the ground, I'd like to see libraries and bookstores dedicate sections to asemic writing. Amazon and WorldCat already categorize asemic texts in their own right, and I'd like to see other entities like the Library of Congress follow suit.
Class P, subclass PN and Class N, subclasses NC-NE and NX are just waiting, aren't they? The LOC gives "Anacreontic literature" its own call number (6233-6238), and I bet no one reads or writes that wine-soaked nonsense anymore.
My fundamental hope, however, is that generations of asemic writers will perpetuate the tradition of international cosmopolitanism that defines the culture at present, bring millions more people into the fold, and help them discover how interesting and challenging asemic literature is.
Two of my wilder ideas:
I'd like to develop a martial arts style based on asemic calligraphy, and I'd like to travel the world in an old Chinese junk disseminating asemic writing.
You could be the Caine of asemic culture.
Here's hoping.
~ Q.M. for SCRIPTjr.nl

Selections from Michael Jacobson's work are embedded below, and various playback controls are available. Hovering over a given image will reveal information about it.

Michel Jacobson is a writer and artist from Minneapolis, MN. In addition to writing asemic texts, curating The New Post-Literate: A Gallery of Asemic Writing, making art objects, and raising his children, he works as a planetary architect. He's currently designing a planet called "THAT."
Citation: Jacobson, Michael. January 2011. Interview. SCRIPTjr.nl 2.1. http://scriptjr.nl/issues/2.1/michael-jacobson-interview-2-1.php (accessed November 04, 2012).

Michael Jacobson

Michael Jacobson presents collections of asemic writing at his website- The New Post Literate. Interviewed by Lynn Alexander.
LA: When I think of your work, I think of the asemic writing- of course. But what else are you interested in? What other kinds of writing are you interested in?
MJ: I am interested in many forms of writing, from the beat generation writers, to the French symbolists, Graffiti, undeciphered scripts, xenolinguistics, sigils, etc. I think a lot of these different forms of writing have greatly informed & added depth & substance to my asemic writing. I consider my work to be a bead on a string with regards to the history of experimental literature, with asemic writing being the most recent bead added in a long string of avant-garde writing.
Writing, to me, is essentially coded marks on a surface, with asemic writing being an unspecified open semantic code—a code that is open to interpretation, with no fixed meaning. Breaking writing down to its most elemental form was probably first done by the Lettristes. But I see asemic writing as being a further erosion of text, down to axiom, texture, & line. If we were purely logical beings we would call it mathematics. I feel that now we are at the event horizon where language is being broken down to new forms of expression. Words, I think, don’t function as well in today’s post-literate culture as they have in the past. I believe asemic writing expresses some difficult emotions better than verbal writing. To me, there is more of a statement when somebody wears a symbol around there neck vs. the word for that symbol.
LA: How did you become interested in asemic writing, what were your influences? Whose descriptions or examples helped you in forming your own sense of it?
MJ: I have been interested in asemic writing for almost my whole life. I can remember when I was a child, that I had a nightmare where I saw the interconnection of the universe in black, purple, & blue, folds & strings. It was a nightmare at the time because of the intensity of the dream. The power of the texture in the nightmare has stayed with me all my life. It wasn’t until my teenage years though, when I had the nightmare reoccur, & that I began to understand this nightmare as a dream. I was able to see the rhythm of the dream as an architecture blueprint. So my drawings began to resemble this architecture. At first they were abstract pictorial compositions, all twisted & mazelike.  Eventually I began to incorporate what I called “alien Writing” into my art. My education was purely auto-didactic. I was a voracious reader, but I didn’t learn to write until I was about 21.  I was an artist before I became a writer. I began to teach myself to write by concocting a short story. The story was about some patients at a hospital that formed a religion around chloroform. It was not a very distinguished piece of writing but it got me rolling.
My earliest influence came from seeing alien writing in science fiction films. I can’t think of any names offhand, but it was probably Star Wars or Star Trek.
Max Ernst’s Maximiliana was the biggest early influence on my asemic writing. Then came Lettrisme, Mirtha Dermisache, & The Voynich Manuscript. I began to search for different writers & artists working in this style of artistic expression because I was curious to see what had been done before. I didn’t have a computer until 2005, so I was a little hampered in my research.
Then in late 2005 I came across Tim Gaze’s Asemic site & learned the word ‘asemic’. Tim has a great gallery of asemic art from many different creators (while you are there, order a copy of Asemic Magazine). I found Tim’s site around the time I was putting together The Giant’s Fence. The Giant’s Fence was originally put out as a chapbook in 2001, but in late 2005 I had the resources to make it into a book.
LA: Do you think the public understands the point of asemic writing, do you think people are open to it? Do you think people see it as abstract art, or codes, or prewriting? Is some asemic work meant to approximate text, or text patterns, or would you say that a feature of asemic writing is to move as far away from traditional texts as possible?
I don’t think the general public is very aware of asemic writing. The word ‘asemic’ is somewhat obscure. Tim & I have basically been trying to make asemic writing more widely known, but right now it is hard to measure success.
To me, all writing is asemic writing. By this I mean that there is relativity to writing. If someone can understand a piece of writing by being able to read the words, it is not asemic writing for that person. & if a person cannot read the writing the text becomes asemic. I will break it down into 2 definitions: true asemic writing, & relative asemic writing. True asemic writing is when even the creator of the piece cannot read their own writing, & relative asemic writing is a natural writing system that can be read by some people but not by everyone.
I hope people see what they want to see in asemic works & hopefully have a positive experience. For the most part, I have had positive comments on my work & asemic writing in general. Sometimes it goes over some people’s heads, others are indifferent, & one time I had The Giant’s Fence called a “mind fuck”. But for the most part, the response has been positive.
Asemic writing, some of it, does resemble text. I think text or images are good references, &   good starting points. People are familiar with texts & images, & asemic writing is a natural combination of the two. I have published works at The New Post-Literate that are almost text or image but are not quite either.
Asemic writing seems to be a new breed of animal, though sometimes it is still referred to as poetry or fiction. The multi-verse that asemic writing inhabits sits between art & literature. There are no definite boundaries. I think that someday, asemic writing will have its own section in libraries & bookstores. Until then, I am going to push to make it happen.
LA: Do you talk about the creative and technical processes involved with producing your books, do you explain the medium, process, presentation decisions to people, and do you think those aspects matter in the ways you hope people approach the pages?
MJ: All my books are hand drawn to begin with. I write my books with 2 things: paper & pen. I like to start off with extremely basic ingredients because for years that was all I had to work with (my Grandma’s typewriter was broken). Lately I have produced some work on the computer. I do think digital images & even animations are the future of asemic writing.
My novella, The Giant’s Fence, was a challenge to write because of the endurance needed to write the book. I thought I was going to get arthritis. I also went through countless pens. The main difficulty with writing TGF though, was to keep the style consistent over the 2 years it took to write the book.  I don’t think I have the ability or the stamina to recreate a work like it. TGF is filled with a new type of script that I call ‘trans-symbolic’. I use the word ‘trans-symbolic’ literally to mean “across, through, or beyond” symbolic writing. Trans-symbolic script is the form of TGF, with asemic writing being the function.
I also create machine poetry, my most well known poem being The Paranoia Machine. The PM is a device for reading asemic writing by peripheral vision. I have also created other machine poems based on early cinematic devices like the zoetrope, all of which use asemic writing in some form. I got rid of a bunch of my machine poems when I moved out of my art studio.
I hope that people approach my work with a sense of the history of writing. I feel a great connection with writers of the past, weather it’s cave painted proto-writing, hieroglyphs, illuminated manuscripts, or William S. Burroughs cut-ups. I believe asemic writing to be descended from all forms of writing, and that it carries on the fundamental experience of our world in a new way. I think asemic writing also captures the techno-anxiety & information overload of a post-literate culture better than traditional forms of literary expression. Maybe we could even consider asemic writing as a truly universal language.
LA: Were there challenges unique to publishing books of asemic writing?
MJ: The main challenge is to create a readership & audience for asemic writing; it is expanding, mainly because of the internet, but there is still a ways to go. Asemic writing is a very personal form of writing, & to get from the personal to the universal isn’t an easy thing to do. I would like to see more support from literary & art institutions. Some arts funding would be nice.
LA: Some might ask why it is called “writing” at all. Some might liken it to abstract art, or to something else entirely- is it fair to look at it like that, or would you argue about those terms?
MJ: Asemic writing seems to be a subjective experience; some will call it art & some will call it writing & some will call it scribbling. I feel as if we are inside a house & trying to describe the outside of the house without ever having seen it.
It is important to call it “writing” because most asemic writing references traditional writing practices, so there is a historical connection. I think that by calling it “writing” there is a new sense of freedom & exploration in this type of writing. With asemic writing there is room to grow; there are only a handful of books that could be described as asemic, I would like to see 100.
Brion Gysin said “writing is 50 years behind painting”. I believe this statement is not true anymore. The experiments being produced today by asemic writers have caught up to painting & in some ways surpassed painting. I believe asemic writing has an edge on painting because it ‘IS writing’!  Painting is due for a revolution by the way.
LA: What’s next for Michael Jacobson? What are you working on?
Right now I am promoting my new book Action Figures. I am also promoting my weblog The New Post-Literate: A Gallery of Asemic Writing. I say I am working on a new book, when actually I am working on 3: One with words (my symbolic autobiography as I call it), an owners manual for The Paranoia Machine (my nightmare machine), and a book of asemic hieroglyphs (?). The book of asemic hieroglyphs is sort of on hold because the style reminded me too much of Keith Haring’s work.
One of the principal things I am working on is to create a new asemic culture for a post-literate society. I don’t think writing will die out, but I think writing will go through some challenging times ahead & become more specialized. I read somewhere that reading levels & interest in literature have been declining for decades now.  I believe asemic writing can be a gateway to literacy by appealing to people who would rather get their information from multi-media sources. Asemic writing will be a new experience to most people, & with this new experience comes excitement about books & reading in general.
In the beyond, I believe asemic writing will be an important influence on the next thousand years of writing. Fin.
The New Post Literate
Michael Jacobson on MySpace
- www.fullofcrow.com/prate/2009/08/michael-jacobson/

Maintenant #65: Marco Giovenale

An interview with Marco Giovenale by SJ Fowler.
There are figures emerging in European poetry that are defined by their refusal to be limited to one form of poetic, who increasingly maintain their central concerns across sound, visual and linguistic mediums. Then within this group, there are those who are breaking new ground, following in the footsteps of poets as agile as Apollinaire and Mallarmé, whose explicit concerns shed new light on what we might consider poetry. Marco Giovenale is one of the most gifted of Europe’s new breed of poets, and a leading practitioner in the field of asemic writing. The remarkable art of asemic text is one of the most enlivening areas of contemporary poetry – a wordless, semantic, post-lingual poetry that utilises the figuration and trace of handwriting and automatic writing to create superimposed abstract poems and ideograms of visual poetry. Drawing influence from postmodern Chinese calligraphy, the work of Brion Gysin, Roland Barthes, Henri Michaux, Christian Dotremont and others, and the field of undecipherable semiotics, asemic poetry is a beautiful and fascinating practise, and Marco Giovenale is one of the most gifted and seminal artists in the field. A prolific journalist, publisher and critic and a respected performer across Europe, we are proud to welcome Marco Giovenale as our first Italian poet into the Maintenant series.
3:AM: How did you begin your work with asemic writing? Was there a practitioner who influenced you especially?
Marco Giovenale: I’m not sure I can actually figure a year or period I can define as the starting point of my asemic activity in general, also because I have also been a (bad) painter and I made a lot of (not so bad) drawings too, in the 90s: some of these ones were abstract charcoal pieces or ink scribbles, my personal prehistoric asemic writing. In fact, I’ve invented the verb “to drawrite” (to draw + to write), to give a name to my activity.
I am also a linear and visual poet, and I’ve been and am deeply interested in the works of several avant-garde artists from the 20th century, first of all the Italian poet and artist Emilio Villa, who was the author of a number of “sibyls”, visual poems –not asemic ones– handwritten mostly in Latin or French. Hence my “asemic sibyls”, which are indecipherable. I started drawriting them around 2005: they were messages or leaflets written in English and/or Italian, usually arranged in square grids or labyrinths.
I soon started calling them “sibille” (in Italian), “sibyls”.
The first book of asemic sibyls by me has been then published in 2008 by La camera verde.
3:AM: Do you think asemic writing has a wider repute under the name of art, rather than avant garde poetry? What is the repute of asemic work in Europe do you think?
MG: It’s something not so easy to catch. Looking at the practices in art all over the world (as far as the web enables us to map the situation), it’s not at all easy to understand if asemic writing can count on something like a “repute”: I can say it’s true, and –at the same time– it seems to me that the “language-plus-art” areas in which we usually put the asemic writing are mostly inhabited and loved by the visual poets and collectors of vispo artists, rather than by art gallery owners or artists. Many experimental poets, too, love the asemic zones of the world wide web.
Little or wide communities of asemic writers (who are often also [visual] poets and artists) are deeply involved in their friendly links and exchanges of gifts, mail-art objects, collab pieces and performances, and I am proud to belong to some of those groups, blogs, weblists. The first names of visual artists one must refer to, are –in my opinion– the ones of Tim Gaze, Michael Jacobson, Satu Kaikkonen, Karri Kokko, John M. Bennett, Jim Leftwich, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Márton Koppány, Drew Kunz, Ekaterina Samigulina, Biagio Cepollaro, Riccardo Cavallo, Cecil Touchon, Geof Huth, John Martone, Tommasina Squadrito, Rosaire Appel. But there are many other names I should mention.
Most of the drawriters I know live in the US, you see. But Jukka, Karri and Satu are from Finland, Ekaterina from Russia. Tim lives in Australia, Márton in Hungary, Biagio, Tommasina and Riccardo in Italy. I think that asemic writing is a practice spreading all over the world; and Europe is only a part of the net. One can take a look at some of the activities around, following groups like google asemic, and sites like asemic.net, scriptjr.nl or blogs like M. Jacobson’s The New Postliterate and Post-literate.tumblr.com, or the new asemic-net blogspot, or the facebook group as well as the Future-Script-Gallery.
If we think of the repute of the asemic writing in terms of market, I think we are in part in the area of the visual poetry (or the newest conceptual art), so I can suppose there are not so many galleries and collectors, compared with the situation of the other lines of the visual arts. But I’m almost sure the situation is going to evolve in some way. (Unpredictable for now).
3:AM:Your asemic work often takes on the form of a fluid script, akin to a signatory handwriting perhaps. How did this practise develop?
MG: It definitely is fluid handwriting, often. The texts and signs are usually born & woven at the same time with some complicated story or notes I actually write then overwrite, just like superimposed strata of meaning (or safe exits from any fixed meaning). Sometimes the lines and fragments I (dra)write deal with trivial events, sometimes they are long essays I writerase. (Since, you know, to write two or more times on the same line is kind of erasure).
In other occasions I do prefer a “capital letters” form of writing. Or: I make up series of glyphs standing in some kind of in-between spaces: not alien alphabets nor human ones.
3:AM:How does your visual and asemic poetry collide with your more formal, linguistic forms?
MG: This is a crucial point. I am a linear poet too, and I also write very short stories, especially prose in prose (quoting Jean-Marie Gleize’s “prose en prose”).
When I was “only” a painter –or only affected with what I used to call “the drawing disease” (I used to work compulsively, drawing hundreds of pieces a week)– I felt like there was a rigorous distinction between the textual state of mind, and the mood I lived in when drawing. In fact, as soon as –writing a poem or prose– my mind seemed to switch to a drawing mood, and I started making strange glyphs or scribbled sketches, I abruptedly dropped any writing, at the moment.
Years passed, I quit painting. When I drawrite, now, it is not impossible for me to feel the urging of a verse, of a series of (experimental or twisted) prose. I can make asemic pieces and/or work to linear texts almost at the same time. The switch is not an “on/off” one.
This is for the practice.
As for theory, I must admit that in my mind the two areas of (hyper)semantic or absurdist or –generally speaking– experimental writing on one side, and the asemic work on the other, are for me two sides of the same coin. I always am in some kind of path ‘against the power’ of (established) meaning(s). I am always in a difference/differance, when writing or drawriting or simply drawing.
Not to mention that the meaning and the language, and the link between the two, are (almost always) power, misunderstanding, and “the-already-known” discourse. So, I prefer the twisted ways of the experiment, in the (not-so-)linear world, and the ones of asemic drawriting, in art, to express not my self but the difference speaking & flickering outside or inside of the apparently known “me”.
3:AM: It seems there are figures emerging in European poetry who will not limit themselves to one form of poetic, and increasingly maintain their central concerns across sound, visual and linguistic poetry. Have you felt this?
MG: Yes. I agree. At the same time, I feel the situation is overwhelmingly complicated. It seems to me that the real situation of the visual, poetic and verbovisual arts in Europe, or maybe all over the world, can be described as an unfocused one. One of the recent discussions on the web, in Italy, is concerning the position and the actual political weight or power of writers and intellectuals aged 30-40. A statement emerging from the ongoing debates –an idea I deeply agree with– consists in observing that the “map” of the intellectuals, artists, writers and so on, can no more be easily drawn, or drawn at all.
The literate and artistic world has always been something falling out of rigid borders and definitions, but the positive growth in schooling in the West and the spreading of that strange kind of mirrored collective conscience/unconscious known as the world wide web, make the situation more and more undecipherable. That said, I partly agree: yes, in Europe and elsewhere there’s a lot of writers who are also musicians, architects who make poetry, composers who install electronically painted ‘objects’, street artists and asemic writers who are also in the mood for making old fashioned “oil on canvas” abstract paintings. But: this does not map anything; and doesn’t tell us how the things are going on, on a global scale. This is because any really “global” scale absolutely cannot be seen by individuals or even by large groups of critics. I can imagine large teams are working on some history of the arts in the 21st century, but they won’t catch the whole, nor even a significant part of it, since the world itself as a collective mind started making art, abruptly, as a whole net, as a neural series of connected individuals, millions of ones.
So I can mention a few names of the whole. I recognize writers who are visual poets and musicians, like Jukka-Pekka Kervinen (from Finland), or Roberto Cavallera (from Italy), and many others like them. But expanding this list won’t build up any map of nowadays Europe, since that map no more exists. Hundreds of young artists from the Czech Republic, from Hungary, Spain, France, Sweden, are constantly moving across Europe and the world, mixing languages and making fab projects. Installations fill the most advanced cities (most of them are NOT in Italy), sculptures invade the everyday life in every country. There’s a constantly growing spreading of artifacts, sites, webzines and webzones, groups, independent or non independent music labels, etc etc etc, filling our days and hours and spaces. This does not mean “too much art”, but it’s a faithful portrait of the contemporary aesthetics that the 20th century foresaw and contributed to build.
At the same time, most of these works deal with rights, political statements, engagement, and are profoundly involved in attacking the unjust roots of the neo-capitalistic world. But –as we know from Marx– this won’t work, unless a revolution or a series of revolutions doesn’t spark. So, the whole world of the up-to-date aesthetics and contemporary art(s) may risk remaining a mere game for rich sons of the www bourgeoisie & dotcom middle and high classes. While hundreds of people make art and travel across the world, installing things that surprise us and make us think (things we appreciate), thousands of people literally starve in the same cities, shadowed by those installations. That ought to make us think of our role of artists and writers, in a world that is globally connected as well as globally unjust.
3:AM:Could you offer your opinion on the poetry scene in Rome?
MG: This city currently is –and has been in the last decade– extremely rich in proposals, readings, lectures, performance experiments, collab events, official or independent festivals and laboratories. I think I and many other (linear) poets have been part of all this. But recently, as the political wind started turning on the wrong side (the side of the worst government of the Republican era in Italy: racist, sexist, undemocratic and so on), I’ve been more and more involved in absolutely and radically independent projects. I should mention dozens of ventures and places which are important, in this sense, in Rome. But first of all I want to refer to the more than decennial work of the cultural centre La camera verde (already mentioned above), run by Andrea Semerano. It is in fact one of the most important places in Rome, despite of its being a two tiny rooms place. It’s a cinéma d’essai, and a vital venue for readings and events, also a publishing house, and a photography and art gallery.
That said, the scene of the (linear) poetry in Rome can be described as mainly mainstream. But it has also poets who make experiments in the same line of the French and American and Swedish main experimental trends: I must mention, first of all, Michele Zaffarano, who is also an important translator of Tarkos, Espitallier, Gleize and many other writers.
3:AM: And Italy in general in fact?
MG: It seems like Italy mostly –and sadly– deals with mainstream. This is my opinion. A new Italian anthology of “recent” French poetry, after years of silence and non-translation by the Italian major publishing houses, is a perfect consequence of what I say: it almost completely missed the target of giving the Italian readers a thorough and sufficiently convincing picture of the experimental scene in France. Generally speaking, most of the curators, critics, editors, Italian poets, do not absolutely know neither suspect what’s going on beyond the borders of the Italian scene or the globalized mainstream. They go on spinning around their dusty studies about Caproni or Pasolini, they focus on lyrical works, narrative poems, epic (!), novels novels novels, and they even do not suspect what the langpo and the post-langpo scene have been and are, nor what flarf is, nor who are the main authors of conceptual poetry now, what’s the importance of UbuWeb, PennSound, Epc or Eclipse, to give just a few examples.
A recent text, appeared in an academic magazine, about the beginning of the web2.0 blogs of literature in Italy simply lists and tells the story of a few (mostly mainstream) sites, which actually give the map of the “state of the arts” in this country. I can hardly define it “my” country, since I do not share almost anything with many of the writers mentioned daily by the current Italian newspapers or the lit mags on paper and online. I don’t even read nor understand the classical (or hardboiled) novels they constantly push to the top of their interests. I don’t read nor even understand their language. My studies go back (I should rather say “go forth”, since they’re –to me– a sort of future:) to Amelia Rosselli, Emilio Villa, Carmelo Bene, and a few others.
The one I have drawn is a depressing situation, but it’s not without escape. I think of sites and writers who are trying to offer new works and experiments. Only a few links now: Prosthesis, Compostxt, Alessandro Broggi, Alessandro de Francesco, bgmole.wordpress.com, gammm.org, Hotel Stendhal, difficilifoglie.splinder.com
3:AM: You are extremely active in organising around poetry. Could you detail some of activities with presses, organisations and journalism? Perhaps Flux, or the IEPI?
MG: The web –especially in a period of economic crisis like the one we’re going through– can be a powerful resource. But the first activity I want to mention is the one for La camera verde, which is now, I think, the most lively engine I have experience of. I only edit a series of chapbooks, the felix series, who is now taking a break, but will soon turn into a different kind of publication. Then, I edit several on line webzones/zines for hosting (& then publishing) texts and vispo by authors I am fond of. There is, for example, the differxhost project: see the “hosting” sections. I am interested in visual poetry, asemic writing, experimental prose. I also run a “draft” of mag, called “lettere grosse” (huge letters), publishing things I can call “prose in prose” (not prose poems, nor narrative pieces).
I also contribute posting texts, news and links to many blogs, such as flux list europe, recognitiones, title null, poetic invention and others. (Including, first of all, gammm, linked above).
3:AM: Could you detail your work with the text festival in Bury, UK, in May 2011?
MG: Thanks to Tony Trehy, who invited me, I have had the opportunity to enjoy a multi-faceted activity in the Festival. First of all, there have been the sibyls printed and exhibited in the Bury Art Gallery. Then I had a double performance on the opening day of the Festival (April 30th, 2011): a first action was the “installance” of asemic sibyls, a second one was the reading of linear texts, new stuff and also already published prose (it was just the very first reading of the Festival: see opening performances + texts linked here).
As for the first half, I say: I went in the morning to the Gallery, to install many asemic sibyls I had drawritten in advance. That was an action of “installance” = installation + performance. Made in the same spirit of this blog.
The installances deal with some kind of faint dissemination of traces, signs, put under the wide veil or idea of a general lack of fixed meaning (since the sibyls do not foretell anything, and they’re written in illegible calligraphy –or… cacography…), plus a general lack of power. There’s no superimposed (or even slight reference to a) power of meaning. Language is kind of power –in itself.
So I did the action (or non-action) of spreading the installances secretly, I didn’t announce it before, I didn’t mention it after, during my reading. I didn’t even refer with a single word to the presence of those dozens of little asemic sheets abandoned here and there, hidden by me everywhere in the Gallery.
They were silent pieces of a silent language speaking (with incomprehensible words) only to the eye who could find them and the hand who collected them.
At the same time, they were not made for (nor addressed to) any greed of ownership, and they were neither signed by me. They belong to the people who find them. They can be lost, they can also be drawritten by anybody, and anybody can erase, rip or overwrite them. They have not been made to last, nor for telling the future or the present. Neither for reminding my art or presence or identity. They are objects made to suggest traces of “sense-non-sense” straight to the people who find them and think they are worth of any kind of (powerless, languageless) attention. This practice is …free of ownership: it can be done by anybody; each of us can make installances like those ones: they’re a potlach, they’re gifts.
Then the reading I made in Bury –at the opening– has been somehow linked to that. I’ve read some series of pieces from a gunless tea (dusi/e-book project, 2007), cdk (tir aux pigeons, 2009), they were in danger (English translation by Linh Dinh, 2009), and some new texts: among them, one which is a distorted version of Detect (Dusie, 2009). In this last piece, a precise statement about power goes this way: “meaning is everywhere : can’t stand it” (I owe the crucial first part of the statement to Rachel Defay-Liautard).
This doesn’t mean –of course– that I give up “sense-non-sense”, but that the exploration of the territories of the asemic, the meaningless, the forgotten, the “twisted” and unusual, simpy must go on, also for political reasons. One of the aims I have, as a visual artist and as a writer and drawriter, consists in showing the growing of the roots of power just inside of language itself.
One of my most recent works is a series of huge paper panels covered with the tinies and almost invisible traces of ink you can imagine. Maybe they just remind us that the blank space (the space around our little planet) is void of us.

Michael Jacobson, Interview with Marco Giovenale

1: You are a prolific writer of asemic works. What are some of the influences that have nurtured your asemic writing? First of all I can mention Emilio Villa’s (not asemic) sibyls. But, still focusing on the Italian scene, I must notice that –with the exception of Gillo Dorfles as a critic, and Martino Oberto, Vincenzo Accame and a few others as writers/artists– the visual and concrete poetry fields have always received more space and attention than the specific asemic writing line. By the way, if we can say that the “scene” –for art and for making “objects of sense”– has never been restricted to national borders, we will also add that especially today –thanks to the web– the asemic works one can find and appreciate come from all over the world (in even too much large quantity). And personally I can say that many people making asemic today are of great inspiration to me. To refer only to a couple of names, I think of the works of Rosaire Appel, or Miron Tee, but the truth is that I should mention dozens of asemic writers I highly appreciate. (I already listed some @ http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/maintenant-65-marco-giovenale).
2: I know that you abandoned painting to take up drawriting. Was this a gradual evolution or did you have an epiphany?
I think I’m kind of strange hybrid entity living now in the middle of three intersected areas: writing, drawing, photograph. So this maybe explains why I sometimes drawrite and arrange different pieces together –coming from all of the three areas– in order to take a picture of them as a whole. (The result being different from the single pieces making it). Photos “of” asemic writings are something born as material tangible stuff –immediately thrown to the realm of the digital possibilities… so that sometimes the very idea of an “original” of the piece is out of sight. That said, I can explain what I’ve been doing in the last fifteen years –I quit painting in 1996/7– by saying that I’ve been always drawing, and that drawing or writing definitely met photography in 2004/6 (see photos here, and images+texts starting from here). At the same time, more or less, I was drawriting asemic sibyls. So that all the practices (linear texts, asemic writing, drawing, making photos) started to mix and infuence one another. I can say this has been a gradual evolution, even if I’m not able to piece together the single steps. I also think that the final results of the practice(s) are more interesting (if they are interesting at all) than my reconstruction of their birth and process/development.
3: What is your view of the global asemic writing scene?
In my opinion, that global scene is growing more and more. And the people working –from every country– are incredibly skilled and make absolutely worthy pieces. Many writers work on a pure calligraphic path, others use images and collages too, other ones tend to make installations and don’t work with paper only (see M. Tee, or Bruno Neiva). Other ones, like you, Michael, work with gifs and videos too. Tim Gaze choose to work mostly with black ink on white paper; while others’ asemic experiments also deal with colours (see R. Appel). Appel has a sharp sensibility for certain kinds of colours, which are –in my opinion– just a sort of “sign” of her stunning art. All of this shows the many differences (and the thousand not mentioned here) in asemic practices. The situation is evolving and mapping it (as I said in other occasions) is impossible. Maybe one has to just live & work (and leave the words about living and working…)
Anyway. Perhaps it may be said that one’s hope (and my one, for sure) is that the flourishing of the asemic writing as a widespread activity won’t meet harsh categorizing cages (often leading to boring instructions about creative practices), nor the maddest interests of the corrupted market of “official” art; and I also hope that it will always be possible for people to exchange works, freely offer them or send them to (giant and tiny) exhibitions, or just barter & swap cards and sheets and asemic snailmails. So my wish is –on the one hand– that we will see collectors and institutions buy pieces from the writers, but also –on the other– that writers will go on sending their works for free to public spaces, open projects, nonprofit artshows, collab festivals, zines, museums’ activities, and so on. It seems to me that now there’s not so much interest, on the part of most of the galleries, for asemic writing; but I hope this will change. In the meanwhile, let’s work.
(And let’s see in asemic writing also an opportunity for a kind of powerless language and anti-spectacular signs to develop, to ban borders among arts, to simply make people meet and talk each other, through sites and blogs, yes, but –desirably– in person too).
4: Do you think there is something to be said about the speed of which an asemic artist can complete an asemic work?
I absolutely don’t know. Speaking for myself, I must say there are pieces which are born in minutes or seconds, and pieces costing me a lot of time and ink. The biggest asemic sibyl I ever made was drawritten during four nights of absolutely mad work. It’s the asemic account of a poetic reading in Lyon, and much much more. The size is cm100x70. Fortunately I could sell it! A sad fortune though. I was fond of that mad …screed.
I love to work on giant paper sheets, but I seldom can count on the quantity of hours needed to complete works like that. I must also add that sometimes even big pieces with almost invisible/indiscernible traces of ink need hours and days to be accomplished. This is why I try to work quickly, or a bit quicker than the past, recently. (But not always).
5: Are you going to compile your asemic writing into a book someday soon? I'd like a copy!
Thanks Michael. You’re too kind. I hope I will. My problem now is time time time. But I think something will be published next year in Italy. I can’t tell right now.
6: You have made some great asemic short films. What direction do you for see asemic writing going in the future?
Thanks for your appreciation. I presume that anything could happen. Asemic works could migrate toward (and take advantage of) several new editing tools for images, several newborn devices, and –at the same time– they can also partially stick to the traditional means and rites of draw(rit)ing. We cannot foretell. Some kind of dialogue between pen&paper and digital tools seems almost unavoidabile.- www.moriapoetry.com/interview6565.html

Tim Gaze

Tim Gaze is the publisher of Asemic Magazine, a publication dedicated to the presentation of Asemic writing. Interviewed by Lynn Alexander.
It looks like writing, but we can’t quite read it.
I call works like this “asemic writing”.
LA: Starting off with asemic writing, how did you become interested? Do you find yourself explaining what it is, only to be asked why you do it? Not to say that there even has to be a reason for art or writing, but people often want one or feel entitled to one, to some kind of justification. Do people ask about your objectives with asemic work?
Do you find that people easily misunderstand?
TG: I used to write quirky fiction & poetry. somehow, after a holiday in Indonesia, talking in Bahasa Indonesia for 2 months, I started to make wordless squiggles of symbols.
After a few years of research, I became convinced that my squiggles can be considered to be part of a stream of culture, which is widely known now as asemic writing.
I see my own works as emerging from literature, & in particular visual poetry.
for some reason, visual poetry remains the neglected cousin of better-known forms of poetry. however, if you begin to explore, you can find hundreds of examples of visually skewed poems (which don’t rely so heavily on the meanings of words), from around the world.
LA: Recently, Michael Jacobson interviewed you for Dogmatika. You stated:
A short definition of “asemic writing” is: something which looks like a form of writing, but which you can’t read.”
Do you find that such a definition obliges you, in some way, to speak to interpretation? Do you expect that a reader’s sense of meaning will be derived at intuitively?
TG:on interpretation:
often, I’m trying to create things which are totally open in meaning, suggestive to a viewer, but without a privileged meaning, injected there by me. I might aim for a particular atmosphere or feeling, but whether a viewer feels the same way isn’t important.
I believe that it’s possible to create rich pieces, which work on a number of levels, without using words. sometimes, they look like illegible writing; other times, they’re abstract, unidentifiable shapes. or combinations of those 2, with recognisable things.
LA:When you speak of “etymological fallacy” and asemic writing or symbolic script, are you saying that asemic writing is in defiance of text, or even regressive text? That, like words that are thought to evolve from their roots and remain static despite our clear understanding that this is not always the case, symbolic text can be detached from strict meaning?
Would you say that asemic writing is symbolic text, intuitive text? Regressive, deconstructed? Pre-literate, or departure… post-literate?
Is there something different about the experience on paper, compared to digital? Do you feel conflicted about that sense of white paper and the contrast of black on white, and the variety associated with color?Can you talk about the differences between asemic writing and abstract art? Between abstract comics, and graphic asemics? Asemic writing, and gallery art?
TG: etymological fallacy is just a technical term used by linguists, to describe the belief held by many people that words “really” or “truly” mean what their roots mean. we humans use words as we like, forbetter or worse. to a person who tried to convince me that “asemic writing” is an inaccurate term for the stuff which I call asemic writing, I’d reply that hundreds of people already use the term in that sense.
I still consider myself to be a writer. paper feels like the true home for writing. maybe I’m conservative! paper was invented in ancient China (by the eunuch Cai Lun, according to legend). it was traded along the Silk Road to the Middle East, & eventually adopted by Europeans. a truly international medium, with a long history.
unlike an art gallery, which is only open for a few hours a day, with exhibitions of limited duration, a book is portable, relatively cheap, & personal. a book can sit on a shelf untouched for years, but sits in readiness, without the need to pay an annual subscription or monthly internet access fees. it feels important to me, to compose asemic or abstract works into physical books, magazines & other publications.
there are at least 2 levels to creating asemic works. many people make imitation writing, often in flowing cursive. this is expressive. both physical & psychic (or psychological) energy can be read in it.
however, there’s a deeper level, of inventing your own family of symbols, & perhaps combining them with pre-existing symbols. only a few people enter this domain. Lettristes such as Alain Satié & Roland Sabatier create in this difficult area.
Michael Jacobson’s novel The Giant’s Fence is a journey into a land of symbols entirely invented by the author. his work is difficult to read: it takes mental effort for me to read through his lines of symbols. repeated readings make me more familiar with it. his book is a huge act of imagination, much more futuristic than most science fiction. plunging the reader into a completely unfamiliar world. I can’t think of anything else which strongly resembles Mike’s symbols. really original.
LA: What are you involved with now, what are you interested in, creatively?
Do you see cohesion and community among the artists who have a special interest in symbolic or asemic script?
What’s next for Tim Gaze?
the publication of Abstract Comics: The Anthology (Fantagraphics, 2009), which I’m proud to be in, & the ongoing, very active blog, are both inspiring me & distracting me from working on purely asemic writing. on the one hand, I have a sketchy knowledge of the world of comics, & wonder whether I should even stick my oar in. on the other hand, I’m aware of some amazing works with a relationship to abstract comics, which nobody else is talking about, so I post about them at the blog.
political aspects of going beyond English & the Roman letters:
the English language is an impure, cross-bred mongrel of a language. it astounds me that people have such strong beliefs about proper English or correct English. we could describe English as a super-Creole: Low German roots, with large amounts of Norman French DNA spliced in, with a lexicon of borrowed words from all over the place.
the global economic situation is pushing English everywhere. we could sum it up as:
speak English, you bastards, or we won’t pay you!
so, I see a moral dimension to the use of English. is it desirable for writers & poets whose first language is English to continue creating works just in English?
& then there’s a question about function or efficiency. I’ve never seen a comparative study between languages, claiming that English has superior expressive capabilities.
if English isn’t widely believed to be “better” than all other languages, what is the rationale for it becoming the new, global lingua franca?
if a writer is serious about the use of language, she or he needs to weigh up the moral issues of writing in English.
the Roman alphabet is a collection of symbols without a theoretical basis. each letter has its own history. the uppercase & lowercase letters are completely different symbol sets, with only a few common elements.
unlike the Korean Hangul alphabet, which was designed specifically to represent the shape of the mouth of a person speaking Korean, the Roman alphabet is a haphazard bunch of symbols.
the letter “o” is the only letter with a clear meaning: a mouth making an o shape, & the resulting o sound made by the human voice.
more loosely, we could say that an “s” resembles a snake, & by extension, the sibilance of a snake sliding along. but I wouldn’t say that letter s means snake or hissing.
capital “A” is supposed to be descended from a Phoenician ox-head shaped symbol, but you wouldn’t guess that from looking at an A in its current form.
what I’m saying is that the letters don’t have any logical basis. their meaning (the sounds they represent) is based on convention, pure & simple.
the only thing going for them is that they’re easy for children to learn, & are in use over large areas of the planet. computers & the internet are pushing Roman letters onto just about everyone.
& don’t forget that a slightly different Roman alphabet is used by every language which uses Roman orthography: different numbers of letters, & different diacritical marks (accents, umlauts, & so on).
my impression is that humans haven’t delved into visual communication, & the meanings of symbols, with the same thoroughness with which we’ve dissected languages.
the current activity in asemic writing, the creations & theory behind the Brazilian process/poem movement, some aspects of Lettrisme, & books such as James Elkins’ The Domain of Images, are all steps towards deeper understanding of visual communication.
our current approach to knowledge is logocentric. everything is expressed in words, & sorted & catalogued into verbal categories. some of us believe that there’s another way to proceed.
to escape English & the Roman letters is exciting. it’s possible that we can help to assemble a truly international method of communication, not tied to particular countries, cultures, languages or ethnic groups.
as well as asemic writing, abstract art & short essays, I create simple sound recordings, of electronic music, sound poetry & field recordings. some of the sound poetry could be described as asemic: non-verbal vocals. the sound recordings are more casual & fun than the visuals I do. I’m less of a pioneer in this area. just another bedroom (or living room) recording artist.
- www.fullofcrow.com/prate/2009/11/tim-gaze/

Words to be looked at

Michael Jacobson interviews Tim Gaze

&Michael Jacobson: Give me a little background on who you are? I know you consider yourself to be an author instead of the more general term artist.

Tim Gaze: When I was 16, I realized that I wanted to be a writer. At the time, I played Dungeons & Dragons & other role-playing games, & read a lot of fantasy fiction, science fiction & reference books on mythology. My ambition was to write Celtic fantasy novels. In my 20s, I wrote abortive fragments of a Celtic fantasy novel & a thriller. At the age of 30, I left my office job, & began to "be" a full-time writer. An open-minded artist named Stuart Collins taught me a lot. He introduced me to William S Burroughs’ cut-up novels, suggested that squiggles could be deftly made & beautiful, & desensitized me to having my precious words completely absorbed into collaborative texts.

From 1996 or so, I began looking for like-minded people overseas. Kostelanetz's Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (which is in the State Library of South Australia) listed Erik Belgum's address. I wrote to Erik, who sent me a few things, including his satirical magazine Exile. Exile included a copy of 'Selby's list', a legendary list of names & contact details of experimental poetry magazines from around the world. Only a few of them included email addresses. Jim Leftwich was one of them. He & I have been in more or less constant contact ever since. We've published each others' work on numerous occasions, & collaborated on asemic pieces.

Getting back to your question... When I returned from a visit to Indonesia (Ambon & West Papua & a couple of days in Bali) in 1998, I intended to write a book on an Indonesian theme, perhaps a collection of translations of Indonesian folk-tales & magic lore. However, to my surprise, I began to make squiggles & pictographic symbols, rather than concentrating on writing words.

My primary intention with all this asemic stuff is to compile books, printed in black & white, influenced by typographic design, rather than being art books. I'm pointing these books towards publishers of fiction & poetry, & aiming to attract an audience interested in stimulating new ideas, as well as fans of graphic novels. I like the idea of mass-produced books of simple, enjoyable material.

I have an idea that simple black marks on white paper penetrate the mind deeply & quickly. If this is correct, a humble paperback book has great power, beyond its traditional use as a container for words. I'm less interested in asemic works which use colour, which are slanted towards art galleries, & which might be sold as originals on the art market. They're a valid part of the asemic spectrum; it's just other people have more expertise & interest in this area than me.

When I started making visual works on A4 office paper, I thought: what could I do, in order to make a piece of paper worth keeping? What kind of beauty or interest or significance needs to be on the page, for it to be a "keeper"? The same goes for humble, stapled 'zines & booklets: how much interesting content is sufficient, so that someone would keep an 8 page, folded over, stapled 'zine, made of ordinary white paper?

"The poem, as written, is incomplete, to be completed by the act of interpretation. This strikes me as being co-operative, democratic & honest, in contrast to literary theory, which seems like a cold-hearted dissection of a text, ignoring an individual reader's personality & mood when reading. The usual modes of literary analysis taught at Universities strike me as being similar to the way animals are judged at an agricultural show."

MJ: What is asemic writing and how did you arrive at that style of expression?

TG: The best definition of asemic writing I've managed so far is on page 1 of asemic movement #1 [download PDF]. A short definition of "asemic writing" is: something which looks like a form of writing, but which you can't read. If one wants to be pedantic, a more technical term than "asemic writing" might be found, to describe the area I'm working more perfectly. However, I believe in the notion of etymological fallacy: words can acquire new meanings, sometimes different (even opposite) to the meaning of the roots from which they are formed.

Once several people begin to use the term "asemic writing" in a particular way, the term acquires a new, consensus meaning, regardless of what dictionaries might have to say. As shorthand, "asemic" & "asemics" are coming to mean "example(s) of asemic writing". The word "asemic" is short, easy to learn, & hasn't been burdened with any other strong connotations. It will do nicely, for now.

MJ: What are some of the ideas of asemic writing that serve as a foundation for you?

TG: We humans don't think in words. There's a deeper level, which only condenses out into words as the final stage. This is my belief. If this is true, then we need something other than words, to illustrate our true thoughts. Some of the asemic writing feels true to me, in ways that words cannot achieve.

Language is a tribal influence on humans. If we can find ways to surpass individual languages, humans will feel more included in a unified whole. Sometimes, I entertain the idea that non-verbal writing can stimulate people to develop telepathy.

MJ: Is there a spiritual dimension to asemic writing?

TG: First, what do we mean by spiritual? At the very least, there seems to be more to life than money, material possessions & worldly success. In my world-view, spirits exist. They're part of the flora & fauna of the universe. Rational words don't seem to be able to capture the non-physical parts of existence. On occasion, certain types of asemic writing seem to successfully do so.

There used to be a practice of making spirit writing by clever-men of the BaKongo people of Zaire. Each medium had their own distinct "language", & could interpret their own writing. (One could argue that it’s not truly asemic.) Not sure if this still goes on.

The late J. B. Murray (known in the art market as J. B. Murry), was an African-American man who never learned to read & write English, but who received a gift of writing a personal "spirit writing", late in life. He could interpret his writing by reading it through a glass full of water which he had blessed.

Some Taoists practice similar forms of spirit writing. I've read about a practice in Taiwan, where an entranced seer makes marks, a second observer calls out Chinese translations, & a scribe records them (in written Chinese, I presume). Again, not truly asemic, but interesting & influential to me.

Japanese calligraphers who are part of the Zen calligraphy tradition, such as Nantenbo (or Nantembo), made raw, playful, exuberant brush-strokes. Some of their works push legibility to the limits. Their writing is meant to be a recording of energy, rather than a simple transcription of words.

For me, asemic writing used to be an intense, power-filled activity. Each stroke I made with a Chinese brush or marker pen was made in a moment of utter certainty. A friend once said that I looked as if I was doing martial arts. It was difficult for me to relax sufficiently to make this kind of art, with someone else present.

More recently, I'm more relaxed when making writing & abstract art. The results tend to be less intense, & sometimes crude-looking.

Buddhism seems to be the nearest fit to my approach to life. Some sort of relaxed Ch'an Buddhism is the tradition I feel most affinity with. Used to think I was more of a Taoist. I practice a "wet" path: If I feel like drinking beer or smoking ganja, I do so. Alcohol & other mind-altering substances can be used as sacraments. They can be used to help open you up, so that you can see deep inside yourself.

"I'm trying to stimulate a widespread explosion of awareness of & interest in asemic writing, comparable to the punk explosion in the late '70s."

MJ: Your book Noology seems to be a bridge between abstract expressionism and asemic writing, and you have mentioned using different languages in the text, can you elaborate on your writing process?

TG: Sometimes I feel an urge to create. It's as if I have a fuel tank that takes several days to fill up, & I discharge it by creating. I create using different materials & techniques, in different rooms of my house. For example, there's one room with paint & a table & many pieces of paper & other paraphernalia in it. I only tend to go in there spread out paint & make abstract shapes, then print off them (i.e. decalcomania), quickly or slowly, once or multiple times, cleanly or with a smudge. A certain number of these pages look more like writing than others. This activity requires me to stand up, & even though it’s slow & methodical, it feels very intense & takes a fair bit of energy for me to get started. It only holds my interest for as long as I'm making brand new, unfamiliar shapes, which I haven't seen before. If too many familiar faces appear, it feels like a chore, & I stop.

Much quicker, & usually sitting on a chair, I make large marker pen symbols (such as the ones you posted in August 2008 at The New Post-literate). I might rotate the page after making each stroke. Usually, I have no plan, & just keep adding strokes until a page feels full.

A few years ago, roughly 2000 to 2004, I did a lot of raw calligraphy, using a Chinese brush & bottled ink, on ordinary office paper. Consciously trying to achieve a sense of balance, & an Asian sensibility in these. The Oxygen of Truth chapbooks were published right in the middle of this period. These were done standing up.

For several years, I've collected the little pen doodles I make, when talking on the phone, or concentrating on other things. On occasion, I copy these at larger scale, using a marker pen, or perhaps combine motifs from a few doodles into a more complex composition.

To some degree, all of these processes are means of probing my deeper, non-verbal self. Familiar motifs emerge, if I work with these unplanned, spontaneous methods often enough. I also copy rough-looking or unbalanced motifs, & make them look deliberate & planned, which seems to give them more force. An indistinct, unbalanced squiggle is transformed into a deliberate, deft composition.

Back to Noology... I enjoy the far-out photocopier art by the likes of Reed Altemus & Billy Mavreas. In the back of my mind, I'd wanted to attempt something similar with my scanner, but only got around to it less than 2 years ago.
What I now call "glitch poetry" comes from leaving the scanner's lid open, & moving pages around as the scanner beam is moving. This might be shaking a page from side to side, sliding it back & forth, lifting it up, rotating it, or swapping between different pages. Then, I might splice together my favourite bits, using a paint program. The shaking process feels musical, similar to bending a string on a guitar.

I should mention that the best results come from scanning pages full of truncated marks. I prepare a few pages of simple marks, like half-formed symbols, using a marker pen. Short straight line segments & curves. It's amazing how much richness you can generate from such sparse starting material. As well as the similarity to electronic glitch music, my scanner method could be likened to distortion or reverb, as well. Overlaying or assembling parts of images in a paint program is similar to multi-track recording.

MJ: How is Lettrism, the French avant-garde movement, related to asemic writing?

TG: Lettrisme (I prefer the French spelling) gave us the notion of hypergraphy: creating compositions which use letters, symbols (including newly invented symbols), images & anything else. Hypergraphies can be in any genre & any realm of culture: visual art, calligraphy, poetry, animations, t-shirts, print advertisements, graffiti, or whatever.

Asemic writing (which uses unknown forms of writing, & indistinct shapes which resemble writing) forms part of the universe of possibilities of hypergraphies.

The living Lettristes I've communicated with seem to be on the same wave-length as me, although with their own focus on where to put their works. It's a shame that, in the English-speaking world, Lettrisme is bracketted into French studies or History of 20th Century European Avant-gardes. I can see some fertile connections between Lettriste ideas & Semiotics, Philosophy of Language, Art Theory, Literary Theory, & so on.

The Brazilian process/poetry (poema/processo) movement strikes me as having complementary aims & achievements with Lettrisme, & many of the contemporary asemic artists. Poets such as Wlademir Dias Pino, Alvaro de Sá, Neide de Sá, Regina Pouchain & Avelino de Araújo, all created or still create poetry which touches upon both hypergraphy & asemic writing.

The idea of a process/poem is that it is open to any interpretation by the reader. The poem, as written, is incomplete, to be completed by the act of interpretation. This strikes me as being co-operative, democratic & honest, in contrast to literary theory, which seems like a cold-hearted dissection of a text, ignoring an individual reader's personality & mood when reading. The usual modes of literary analysis taught at Universities strike me as being similar to the way animals are judged at an agricultural show.

MJ: Is asemic writing becoming a movement?

TG: A few years ago, Carlos M Luis used the term "asemic movement" in an email to me. I was dubious, at first. In 2008, considering that a post-grad architecture student has created a design titled Asemic Scapes, an artist in London has intervened with asemic writing at Deptford High Street railway station, Portuguese & Turkish translations of the term "asemic writing" are in existence, & more & more people are using the term 'asemic", just to think of a few examples, maybe we can begin to speak of a movement. I'm thinking more of a cultural movement, a visible change in society, rather than a particular group of artists. T-shirt designs with smashed up letters have been common here for a few years. Animated curlicues which resemble writing have been used in sophisticated television advertising for a few years, as well. I consider these to be manifestations of a large-scale trend by humans away from words, & towards non-verbal forms of visual communication. The artists who designed these t-shirts & animations probably aren't aware that there's a term for what they're creating, & that it is part of a larger trend or tendency. I'm trying to stimulate a widespread explosion of awareness of & interest in asemic writing, comparable to the punk explosion in the late '70s. An unstoppable chain reaction, similar to the exponential release of neutrons when a critical mass of fissile material is assembled.

MJ: Does secrecy and mystery factor into your writing, for example, codes?

TG: I can't recall deliberately incorporating codes, or substituted symbols for letters of words, in anything I've made. I did publish one or two things in Asemic magazine which could be described as codes. A page I found in a Goodwill store among some second-hand records that's in Asemic #3, for example. That one might be a code, or it might be an ancient writing system which I haven't yet identified. Giving a reader a sense of mystery... yes, that's one possible reaction to a piece of asemic writing that would make me happy.

MJ: Asemic writing seems to have a fragmented history. Would you begin with the Voynich Manuscript for a modern history?

TG: I'm not all that interested in the so-called Voynich Manuscript (Voynich was the owner of the m.s. for a while). My guess is that it was created by a monk, under threat of being accused of heresy, who kept his speculations about the workings of the world in code.

In Tang Dynasty China, ca. 800 c.e., 2 men pushed cursive brush calligraphy to the point of illegibility. "Crazy" Zhang Xu used to get excited after drinking wine, & write exuberant but illegible cursive. The younger "mad monk" Huai Su also found renown as a writer of loose cursive calligraphy. These men are still famous. I could claim Christian Dotremont, with his "logogrammes" to be a modern Western participant in the same, broad tradition. I could even add myself.

There's a Chinese legend that humans invented writing after observing natural phenomena such as marks on the bark of trees, animal footprints, patterns on animal skins (from insects to tortoises to birds to mammals to their own fingerprints) & so on. I can imagine ancient humans making marks in the dust with fingers or sticks. Some of it would have been playful or self-expressive, some of it would have been with an intention to communicate information. This is probably the oldest root of asemic writing.

You could also say that Nature, since time began, has been manifesting asemic writing. It just needs a human to see the writing, & recognize it. The stages that people (children or adults) undergo, when learning to write, also result in asemic writing.

MJ: Is the natural world reflected in your writing?

TG: Jackson Pollock said "I am Nature". In one sense, anything done by a human is natural. In another sense, I am trying to channel forms from the natural world into my creations, both by imitating natural forms, & using chaotic processes which are partly out of my control, such as decalcomania.

I'm often thinking of the 4 primal elements: earth, water, air, fire, & how I might express such fundamental concepts using marks on paper. There's a 5th Western element, spirit or quintessence or perhaps ether, which is beyond my understanding.

Meanwhile, I'm also trying to understand the Chinese system of 5 elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, water.

An African author, Patrice Malidoma Somé, lists yet another conception of 5 elements. Can't remember them all. One of them is "nature".

Although I haven't reconciled these different sets of elements, I feel that my creations contain something elemental, simple, fundamental, which points back to Nature.

MJ: What made you decide to start Asemic Magazine, and what do you seek to do with the magazine?

TG: When I made a 4-sided pamphlet, & called it asemic volume~1, I wondered if it deserved the name of art. All I knew was I liked this kind of work, that it was more far-out than other visual poetry I'd seen. I’d been experimenting with copying Chinese characters with a pencil, & didn't know if they were legible. It felt naughty: did I really have permission to use Chinese writing, having never studied it?

I kept finding more & more examples of what I was starting to call "asemic writing", initially in poetry publications, but eventually in histories of 20th century art movements, & then in books about calligraphy.

Thanks to the generosity of people in the mail art network, freely sharing their visual poetry & art, Asemic magazine #1, followed by #2,1 (that's a European decimal point), came together quickly & easily.

At some stage between 1999 & 2001 (can't remember exactly when), I came to the conclusion that this asemic area is gigantic, & that scholars haven't paid it any close attention. One example: Roland Barthes wrote articles about Mirtha Dermisache, Cy Twombly, Henri Michaux & André Masson, all of whom made things which could be considered to be asemic writing, but didn't add them all together, as part of a single stream. Heck, Roland even did a bit of asemic writing himself: his contre-écritures, which are hard to find.

"One of my ambitions is to make some works as dense & rich as the Where's Wally books. Detailed pages, that you can spend a long, enjoyable time exploring. Doesn't feel as if I've done it, yet."

MJ: How has the internet affected distribution of the idea of asemic writing?

TG: The internet has virally spread the term "asemic writing" & various understandings of what it is, much more rapidly than my mailed parcels of little magazines. I've seen third hand quotes of my spiel from Asemic.net The Wikipedia entry for Asemic Writing (mostly written by you) has been copied far & wide. Nicky Hirst, who did the asemic art at Deptford railway station, quoted Wikipedia in her statement. There seems to be a continuous, unstoppable spread.

Email, & translator software such as Babelfish, enable me to interact with people in Cuba, Brazil & many places in Europe, to name a few examples, casually, quickly, without having to formally study another language or own dictionaries.

(I do research Spanish-language poetry, art history & so on, [as well as other languages] & occasionally refer to dictionaries in order to refine my knowledge, but that's another story. Every language focuses on different artistic heroes different moments in history. The big names in English-speaking histories are sometimes unknown in other languages; the reverse is also true.)

MJ: What projects are you currently working on?

TG: I'm just about to begin an on-line encyclopedia of asemic writing. It's a book I've been thinking about for years, & been holding off, in anticipation of interest from a publisher. Now feels like a good time to get on with it, & give it away for free.

One of my ambitions is to make some works as dense & rich as the Where's Wally books. Detailed pages, that you can spend a long, enjoyable time exploring. Doesn't feel as if I've done it, yet.

Every few weeks, another burst of marker pen symbols, or decalcomania, or computer-made assemblies of symbols, or scanner remixes, or collaborative works comes out of me. When I have a strong enough bunch of compatible works, I publish them in a little book, paper or electronic.

MJ: Where would you like to take this in the future?

TG: Like you, my ambitions are quite big. When this area is widely known, & doesn't have to be explained from the ground up every time, that will be one achievement. If I'm not mistaken, the asemic needs to be acknowledged by literary theory, art theory & art history, philosophy, semiotics, & maybe a few other academic disciplines.

I've been looking for an animator or film-maker to collaborate with, to produce some sort of moving abstract & asemic work. No joy so far.

Until there's an explosion of asemia, reaching millions of people, many of my big ideas remain speculation. However, once 1 million people have all offered their different reactions to aspects of asemic writing, we'll start to understand the value & meaning of these works more deeply. It could be that only a few of us value them highly. However, I suspect that they will have broad appeal. Time will tell.

I have a huge quantity of unpublished works lying around my house. Once a decent-sized publisher, with global reach, emits a volume of some of my better works, I'll feel more fulfilled, & will perhaps relax a little.

Asemic magazine is still going strong, but it's possible that I'll get tired of it, if submissions of genuinely original works dry up. We'll see.

I've searched high & low for a "gallery of ideas", rather than an art gallery, to show asemic writing to a broad public. Haven't found such a place yet. I envisage exhibitions of works by renowned people such as Henri Michaux, along with ourselves, children, Art Brut, photos of accidental asemic writing made by Nature, & anything else. Cutting across genres, & the professional/non-professional divide.
Longer-term future: when the dust settles from all of this asemic activity, I'll write a fantasy book, for children. If I still have the gift for writing narrative in words, that is. Eventually, I'd like to live away from dense population, in a place full of trees.
© Michael Jacobson / Tim Gaze 2008
[This interview appeared originally on The Guild of Outsider Wrtiers website and is reprinted with the permission of the author] - dogmatika.com/dm/features_more.php?id=3382_0_5_0_M

Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means "having no specific semantic content".[1] With the nonspecificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. All of this is similar to the way one would deduce meaning from an abstract work of art. The open nature of asemic works allows for meaning to occur trans-linguistically; an asemic text may be "read" in a similar fashion regardless of the reader's natural language. Multiple meanings for the same symbolism are another possibility for an asemic work.
Some asemic writing includes pictograms or ideograms, the meanings of which are sometimes, but not always, suggested by their shapes. Asemic writing, at times, exists as a conception or shadow of conventional writing practices. Reflecting writing, but not completely existing as a traditional writing system, asemic writing seeks to make the reader hover in a state between reading and looking.
Asemic writing has no verbal sense, though it may have clear textual sense. Through its formatting and structure, asemic writing may suggest a type of document and, thereby, suggest a meaning. The form of art is still writing, often calligraphic in form, and either depends on a reader's sense and knowledge of writing systems for it to make sense, or can be understood through aesthetic intuition.
Asemic writing can also be seen as a relative perception, whereby unknown languages and forgotten scripts provide templates and platforms for new modes of expression. It has been suggested that asemic writing exists in two ways: "true" asemic writing and "relative" asemic writing.[2] True asemic writing occurs when the creator of the asemic piece cannot read their own asemic writing. Relative asemic writing is a natural writing system that can be read by some people but not by everyone. Between these two axioms is where asemic writing exists and plays.

The Asemic Continuum
Influences on asemic writing are illegible, invented, or primal scripts (cave paintings, doodles, children's drawings, etc.). But instead of being thought of as mimicry of preliterate expression, asemic writing may be considered to be a postliterate style of writing that uses all forms of creativity for inspiration. Other influences on asemic writing are xenolinguistics, artistic languages, sigils (magic), undeciphered scripts, and graffiti.
Asemic writing occurs in avant-garde literature and art with strong roots in the earliest forms of writing. A modern example of asemic writing is Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus. Serafini described the script of the Codex as asemic in a talk at the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles held on May 8, 2009.[3]
Asemic writing exists as an international style, with writers and artists who create it in many different countries across the globe. One artist, who has been practicing asemic writing since the early 1970s, is Mirtha Dermisache from Argentina. Cecil Touchon, from Fort Worth, Texas, is also an artist who has been creating asemic fragments of writing since the mid-1970s. Another contemporary artist, who has been creating asemic writing for the past 25 years (mid-1980s), is Brooklyn, New York based José Parlá. In China, during the 1990s an abstract calligraphy movement known as "calligraphyism" came into existence, a leading proponent of this movement being Luo Qi. Calligraphyism is an aesthetic movement that aims to develop calligraphy into an abstract art. The characters do not need to retain their traditional forms or be legible as words.[4]
Publications that cover asemic writing include Tim Gaze's Asemic Magazine, Michael Jacobson's weblog gallery The New Post-Literate, and Marco Giovenale's curated group blog "Asemic Net". There are groups that cover asemic writing on Flickr, Google, Facebook, and The International Union of Mail Artists. Asemic writing has appeared in books, artworks, films and on television but it has especially been distributed via the internet. More recently there have been architecture models which utilize asemic writing in the design process.[5][6]


Here's a slab quoted from a recent email from visual poet Jim Leftwich (he was explaining himself to an artist named Billy Bob Beamer):
30 years ago i was writing syllabics as a way of creating rhythmic patters unlike traditional metric verse, and trying to lose the influence of eliot, breton and berryman . sometime in the mid-90s, probably 97, a visual poet named john byrum sent me a postcard in response to a series of poems i had sent him. the poems were letteral variations of poems by John M. Bennett. in a ps at the bottom of the card byrum wrote something like "if you continue in this vein you will soon be writing asemic poems". that was the first time i saw the word "asemic". tim gaze contacted me around the same time. i was thinking about purely textual asemia. tim was thinking about a more calligraphic form of writing. my textual work was already letteral, and my visual work was breaking the letter-forms down and becoming a poetry of quasi- or sub- letteral marks. i started making quasi-calligraphic works and sending them around to poetry magazines - and calling them asemic. tim was doing something very similar. that was the beginning of what is now being called "the asemic movement". i promoted the practice (and the word itself) very energetically for several years (8 - 10 years or so). tim has been even more energetic and ambitious, and is still going strong. there is a long and complex history preceding all of this, of course, but this is how the current "movement" got underway. tim can tell you much more about the history of the term itself.
Satu Kaikkonen, a contemporary asemic artist/writer, had this to say about asemic writing:
As a creator of asemics, I consider myself an explorer and a global storyteller. Asemic art, after all, represents a kind of language that's universal and lodged deep within our unconscious minds. Regardless of language identity, each human's initial attempts to create written language look very similar and, often, quite asemic. In this way, asemic art can serve as a sort of common language -- albeit an abstract, post-literate one -- that we can use to understand one another regardless of background or nationality. For all its limping-functionality, semantic language all too often divides and asymmetrically empowers while asemic texts can't help but put people of all literacy-levels and identities on equal footing.[7]
Bruce Sterling comments about asemic writing on his Wired magazine blog Beyond The Beyond:
Writing that doesn’t have any actual writing in it whatsoever. You would think that this must be some kind of ultimate literary frontier, a frozen Antarctica of writing entirely devoid of literary content, but I wonder. What is “beyond asemic writing”? Maybe a neural brain-scan of an author *thinking about* asemic writing. Maybe *generative asemic writing.* Maybe “asemic biomimicry.” Maybe nanoasemic writing inscribed with atomic force microscopes by Artificial Intelligences.[8]

Influences and predecessors

One of Zhang Xu's calligraphy works
  • From the Tim Gaze interview on Dogmatika: "you could say that nature, since time began, has been manifesting asemic writing. It just needs a human to see the writing, & recognize it".[9]
  • In Tang Dynasty China, ca. 800 CE, two men pushed cursive brush calligraphy to the point of illegibility. "Crazy" Zhang Xu (one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup) used to get excited after drinking wine, and write exuberant but illegible cursive. The younger "mad monk" Huai Su also found renown as a writer of loose cursive calligraphy.
  • The Voynich manuscript, a 15th century illustrated "herbal" which has so far resisted all attempts at decipherment or explanation.
  • Hélène Smith's Martian, although that can also be considered a conlang with a consistent writing system or conscript.
  • Austin Osman Spare, Sigilization. Spare published a method by which the words of a statement of intent are reduced into an abstract design, and then charged with the energy of one's will.
  • Henri Michaux's Alphabet, Narration (1927), and intuitive ink drawings, such as Stroke by Stroke (2006).
  • JB Murray created a personal spirit writing which he could translate by viewing through a glass of water.
  • Cy Twombly, many of his best-known paintings of the late 1960s are reminiscent of a school blackboard on which someone has practiced cursive "e"s. His paintings of the late 1950s, early 1960s might be reminiscent of long term accumulation of bathroom graffiti. Also see Twombly's series Roman Notes (1970).
  • Christian Dotremont and his logograms.
  • Lettrisme / Isidore Isou's "idea for the poem of the future was that it should be purely formal, devoid of all semantic content."
  • Brion Gysin's calligraphic paintings influenced by Japanese and Arabic calligraphy. A prominent example of one of Gysin's calligraphic paintings is Calligraffiti of Fire (1986).
  • Morita Shiryu was one of five calligraphers to form the Bokujin-Kai or “Human Ink Society”. The modern rejuvenation of calligraphy, for Morita, lay in the exploration of true form which would enable calligraphy to have a world relevance and accessibility. He encouraged calligraphers to step back from creating pure characters in order to revitalize the form of their expressions through experimentation with abstract art.
  • Ulfert Wilke and Abstract Expressionism. Wilke was deeply intrigued by the written language, and much of his work was derived from his abstract interpretation of the shapes, colors and meanings of writing that he found in all languages and forms.
  • Jean Degottex, french painter, draughtsman and sculptor. From the early 1950s he showed an interest in mark-making and in the rendering of calligraphic shapes engaging both the surface and the space of the paper or canvas (e.g. Sea Spears, 1954; Paris, Gal. Fournier), an approach similar to the Surrealist method of automatic writing and drawing.
  • In 1974 the New York Graphic Society released a very influential work to asemic writers, Max Ernst's book Maximiliana: The Illegal Practice of Astronomy: hommage à Dorothea Tanning.
  • Timothy Ely's invented cribriform writing. Ely's work evokes a range of thematic material: arcane knowledge, secrets and cryptography, time and timelessness. He has developed a private written language using 366 individual signs or "idiographic ciphers."
  • Xu Bing's A Book from the Sky; "The installation consisted of a set of books, panels and scrolls on which were printed thousands of characters resembling real Chinese ideograms, all devoid of semantic content".
  • Roland Barthes contre-écritures.
  • Rachid Koraichi, his work is influenced by an abiding fascination with signs of all kinds, both real and imaginary. Beginning with the intricate beauties of the Arabic calligraphic scripts, his work is composed of symbols, glyphs and ciphers drawn from a wide variety of other languages and cultures.
  • Gu Wenda, in the 1980s, he began the first of a series of projects centered on the invention of meaningless, false Chinese ideograms, depicted as if they were truly old and traditional. One exhibition of this type, held in Xi'an in 1986, featured paintings of fake ideograms on a massive scale.
  • Indonesia's famed artist Made Wianta, likewise, mostly relies on his brush to move freely and spontaneously across a desired surface to form curved and wavy patterns that remind one of the esthetic riches of East Asia.[10]

Nuno de Matos calligraphy works

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