Tim Gaze is the publisher of Asemic Magazine, a publication dedicated to the presentation of Asemic writing. Interviewed by Elynn 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?
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.