Asemic writing

Asemic writing

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Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 form of writing
Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols . It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.Writing most likely...

. The word asemic means "having no specific semantic content". 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
Abstract art
Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an...

 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 symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ism 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. 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.
Influences on asemic writing are illegible, invented
Constructed language
A planned or constructed language—known colloquially as a conlang—is a language whose phonology, grammar, and/or vocabulary has been consciously devised by an individual or group, instead of having evolved naturally...

, or primal script
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

s (cave painting
Cave painting
Cave paintings are paintings on cave walls and ceilings, and the term is used especially for those dating to prehistoric times. The earliest European cave paintings date to the Aurignacian, some 32,000 years ago. The purpose of the paleolithic cave paintings is not known...

s, doodle
A doodle is an unfocused drawing made while a person's attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be abstract shapes....

s, children's drawings, etc.). But instead of being thought of as mimicry of preliterate expression, asemic writing may be considered to be a postliterate
Postliterate society
A postliterate society is a hypothetical society in which multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read or write, is no longer necessary or common. The term appears as early as 1962 in Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy...

 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
Graffiti is the name for images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property....


Asemic writing occurs in avant-garde
Avant-garde means "advance guard" or "vanguard". The adjective form is used in English to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics....

 literature and art with strong roots in the earliest forms of writing. An illustrious modern example of asemic writing is the Codex Seraphinianus
Codex Seraphinianus
Codex Seraphinianus is a book written and illustrated by the Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978...

. In a talk at the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles
Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles
The Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles is a book collecting and bibliophile club run by, and primarily for, students at Oxford University. It was founded in 1950 by a group of young bibliophiles headed by John Granger, Bent Juel-Jensen and R. John Rickett, and the first meeting was held in...

 held on May 8, 2009, Luigi Serafini
Luigi Serafini
Luigi Serafini is an Italian artist, architect and designer. He is best known for creating the Codex Seraphinianus, an illustrated encyclopedia of imaginary things in a constructed language...

 has stated that the script of the Codex is asemic.

Asemic writing exists as an international
----International mostly means something that involves more than one country. The term international as a word means involvement of, interaction between or encompassing more than one nation, or generally beyond national boundaries...

 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
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

. Cecil Touchon
Cecil Touchon
right|thumb|ABOVE: "Fusion Series #2174" By Cecil Touchon. A collage using fragments of lettering from found bill board material. Image use courtesy of the artist...

, from Fort Worth, Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, 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
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 based José Parlá
José Parlá
José Parláb., 1973, Miami, FL is an artist who assumes several roles in order to create his work; he acts as a historical transcriber, and a visual raconteur. As a transcriber, he records his experiences in calligraphic and palimpsestic code...

. 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.

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. Asemic writing has appeared in books, artworks
ArtWorks is an advanced vector drawing package for RISC OS created by Computer Concepts in 1991. It has been developed by MW Software since 1996. Xara has continued to develop a Windows version called Xara Photo & Graphic Designer....

, films and on television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 but it has especially been distributed via the internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...



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):
Bruce Sterling
Bruce Sterling
Michael Bruce Sterling is an American science fiction author, best known for his novels and his work on the Mirrorshades anthology, which helped define the cyberpunk genre.-Writings:...

 comments about asemic writing on his Wired magazine blog Beyond The Beyond:

Influences and predecessors

  • 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".
  • In Tang Dynasty
    Tang Dynasty
    The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

    Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

    , ca. 800 CE, two men pushed cursive brush calligraphy to the point of illegibility. "Crazy" Zhang Xu
    Zhang Xu (calligrapher)
    Zhang Xu , courtesy name: Bogao , was a Chinese calligrapher of the Tang Dynasty.A native of Suzhou, he became an official during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang. Zhang was known as one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup...

      (one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup
    Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup
    The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup or Eight Immortals Indulged in Wine were a group of Tang Dynasty scholars who are known for their love of alcoholic beverages. They are not deified and xian is metaphorical...

    ) used to get excited after drinking wine
    Wine is an alcoholic beverage, made of fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes. The natural chemical balance of grapes lets them ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes, or other nutrients. Grape wine is produced by fermenting crushed grapes using various types of yeast. Yeast...

    , and write exuberant but illegible cursive. The younger "mad monk" Huai Su
    Huai Su
    thumb|250px|One of Huai Su's surviving worksHuai Su , courtesy name Cangzhen , was a Buddhist monk and calligrapher of the Tang Dynasty, famous for his cursive calligraphy. Less than 10 pieces of his works have survived....

     also found renown as a writer of loose cursive calligraphy.
  • Hélène Smith
    Hélène Smith
    Hélène Smith was a famous late-19th century French psychic. She was known as "the Muse of Automatic Writing" by the Surrealists, who viewed Smith as evidence of the power of the surreal, and a symbol of surrealist knowledge...

    's Martian
    As an adjective, the term martian is used to describe anything pertaining to the planet Mars.However, a Martian is more usually a hypothetical or fictional native inhabitant of the planet Mars. Historically, life on Mars has often been hypothesized, although there is currently no solid evidence of...

    , although that can also be considered a conlang with a consistent writing system or conscript
    Constructed script
    A constructed script is a new writing system specifically created by an individual or group, rather than having evolved as part of a language or culture like a natural script...

  • Austin Osman Spare
    Austin Osman Spare
    Austin Osman Spare was an English artist who developed idiosyncratic magical techniques including automatic writing, automatic drawing and sigilization based on his theories of the relationship between the conscious and unconscious self...

    , Sigilization
    Sigil (magic)
    A sigil is a symbol created for a specific magical purpose. A sigil is usually made up of a complex combination of several specific symbols or geometric figures, each with a specific meaning or intent.- Name and origin :...

    . 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
    Henri Michaux
    Henri Michaux was a highly idiosyncratic Belgian-born poet, writer, and painter who wrote in French. He later took French citizenship. Michaux is best known for his esoteric books written in a highly accessible style, and his body of work includes poetry, travelogues, and art criticism...

    's Alphabet, Narration (1927), and intuitive ink drawings, such as Stroke by Stroke.
  • Cy Twombly
    Cy Twombly
    Edwin Parker "Cy" Twombly, Jr. was an American artist well known for his large-scale, freely scribbled, calligraphic-style graffiti paintings, on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors...

     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
    Christian Dotremont
    Christian Dotremont, , was a Belgian painter and poet who was born in Tervuren, Belgium. He was a founding member of the group Cobra, and later became well known for his painted poems, which he called logograms....

     and his logograms.
  • Lettrisme / Isidore Isou
    Isidore Isou
    Isidore Isou , born Ioan-Isidor Goldstein, was a Romanian-born French poet, film critic and visual artist...

    's "idea for the poem of the future was that it should be purely formal, devoid of all semantic content."
  • Brion Gysin
    Brion Gysin
    Brion Gysin was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire.He is best known for his discovery of the cut-up technique, used by his friend, the novelist William S. Burroughs...

    's calligraphic paintings influenced by Japanese
    Japanese language
    is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

     and Arabic calligraphy. A prominent example of one of Gysin's calligraphic paintings is Calligraffiti of Fire (1986).
  • Ulfert Wilke
    Ulfert Wilke
    Ulfert Wilke was an internationally recognized painter, calligrapher and art collector connected to the abstract expressionism movement. He was born in Bavaria, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1938. He is best known for his large canvas paintings and highly detailed lithographs...

     and Abstract Expressionism
    Abstract expressionism
    Abstract expressionism was an American post–World War II art movement. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris...

    . 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.
  • In 1974 the New York Graphic Society released a very influential work to asemic writers, Max Ernst
    Max Ernst
    Max Ernst was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, Ernst was one of the primary pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism.-Early life:...

    's book Maximiliana: The Illegal Practice of Astronomy.
  • Timothy Ely
    Timothy Ely
    Timothy C. Ely is a contemporary American painter, graphic artist and craftsman, known for creating single-copy handmade books as art objects....

    's invented cribriform writing. Ely's work evokes a range of thematic material: arcane knowledge, secrets and cryptography
    Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

    , time and timelessness. He has developed a private written language using 366 individual signs or "idiographic ciphers."
  • Xu Bing
    Xu Bing
    Xu Bing is a Chinese-born artist, resident in the United States since 1990. He currently resides in Beijing.-Biography:...

    '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
    Roland Barthes
    Roland Gérard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and...

  • Rachid Koraichi
    Rachid Koraïchi
    Rachid Koraïchi is an Algerian artist.Koraïchi was born into an ancient Sufi family, which has informed much of his work. He studied first at the École des Beaux-Arts in Algeria before attending the École des Arts Décoratifs and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris...

    , 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
    Gu Wenda
    Gu Wenda is a contemporary artist from China who lives and works in New York City. Much of his works play off of traditional Chinese calligraphy and poetry, and he is also known for his tendency to use human hair in his pieces....

    , 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.

See also

  • Apophenia
    Apophenia is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness", but it has come to...

  • Artist's book
  • Automatic writing
    Automatic writing
    Automatic writing or psychography is writing which the writer states to be produced from a subconscious and/or spiritual source without conscious awareness of the content.-History:...

  • Dada
    Dada or Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in Zurich, Switzerland, during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1922. The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature—poetry, art manifestoes, art theory—theatre, and graphic design, and concentrated its anti-war politics through a...

  • Experimental literature
    Experimental literature
    Experimental literature refers to written works - often novels or magazines - that place great emphasis on innovations regarding technique and style.-Early history:...

  • Free writing
    Free writing
    Free writing — also called stream-of-consciousness writing — is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and...

  • Glossolalia
    Glossolalia or speaking in tongues is the fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables, often as part of religious practice. The significance of glossolalia has varied with time and place, with some considering it a part of a sacred language...

  • Haptic poetry
    Haptic Poetry
    Haptic poetry, like visual poetry and sound poetry, is a liminal art form combining characteristics of typography and sculpture to create objects not only to be seen, but to be touched and manipulated...

  • Lorem ipsum
    Lorem ipsum
    In publishing and graphic design, lorem ipsum[p] is placeholder text commonly used to demonstrate the graphics elements of a document or visual presentation, such as font, typography, and layout...

  • Nonsense
    Nonsense is a communication, via speech, writing, or any other symbolic system, that lacks any coherent meaning. Sometimes in ordinary usage, nonsense is synonymous with absurdity or the ridiculous...

  • Postliterate society
    Postliterate society
    A postliterate society is a hypothetical society in which multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read or write, is no longer necessary or common. The term appears as early as 1962 in Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy...

  • Visual poetry
    Visual poetry
    Visual poetry is poetry or art in which the visual arrangement of text, images and symbols is important in conveying the intended effect of the work. It is sometimes referred to as concrete poetry, a term that predates visual poetry, and at one time was synonymous with it.Visual poetry was heavily...

  • Voynich manuscript
    Voynich manuscript
    The Voynich manuscript, described as "the world's most mysterious manuscript", is a work which dates to the early 15th century, possibly from northern Italy. It is named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in 1912....

External links