Asemic phenomenology

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by Federico Federici

«bababadalgharaghtakammin
arronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntr
ovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!»
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

Asemic writing points to a gradual weakening of the correlation between sign and meaning or, within the language of Biology, to contradict the «form follows function» statement. Any textual hermeneutics based on an archaeological approach (restoration of a minimum set of alphabet signs from fragmented subsets, recovery of the original syntax from noisy communication channels etc.) would hopelessly fail. The reason for this failure is programmatic. The flux of symbols does not tend to intercept and duplicate encrypted information. It works around the uniqueness of each code by blending familiar patterns out of context, devising new ones or introducing modifications. This is one of the most subversive traits, legitimizing the paradox of asemic communication. There is no recognisable genome, nor any implicit one accepted by the community. Each text, regardless of its extent, embodies the highest expression of a unique and obscure language, which constitutes its stimulus and essence. This powerful, iconic synthesis absorbs all the traditional phonic elements, turning the act of reading into a pure visual experience, contemplative, even where the persuasive sequence of figures on the page seems to encourage the recovery of possible narrative dynamics, such as in The Giant’s Fence [1] or Action Figures [2] by Michael Jacobson.
Each asemic form is not a statement in itself. It’s rather an unaussprechbare Aussage, triggering the interpretive schemes of the subconscious, making the idea of an a priori meaning redundant. Reading no longer consists of two contiguous but distinct phases, namely decoding and interpreting; it becomes a unique and creative activity, acted upon the free surface the text, drawing from unknown resources. The psychological effects of brief asemic activities, stimulated in individuals with schizophrenia and alexithymia, have recently been investigated [3]. The comparative analysis of the writings, together with the observation reports, provide documentary evidence of temporary improvements in mood and of an increased awareness of the emotional dimension, notwithstanding the onset of mild stress symptoms, following the practice requested on a daily basis.
The old semiotic triangle (signified – signifier – referent) narrows to one vertex, that of the signifier, abandoning the sign to its formal solitude and dramatically increasing its distance from signified and referent. The elements immediately above the level of the word (periods, paragraphs etc.) are, in some cases, preserved as natural counterweights, capable of outlining a textual framework within the image.
The right/left-handed, oblique, up/downward linear progression gradually becomes a tangled net of vanishing points and nodes, a cross-cutting set of unstable fault planes, produced by rapid and nervous handwriting. This deformation is a way to react to the infection of the acronyms and codes of information, by erasing and almost forcibly extracting meanings to spare them the agony of language. Each asemic artist experiences the extreme condition of linguistic minorities, being the first and last native writer in a newspeak or in some dialect dying out.
The substratum of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake rests on scattered text fragments and notes from the most disparate studies. Although aimed at strongly oneiric mechanics, this approach marks a radical turning point compared with Ulysses, bypassing the strictly psychoanalytic significance of the stream of consciousness, as documented in a letter to Harriet Weaver: «[…] these are not fragments but active elements and when they are more and a little older they will begin to fuse of themselves» [4]. Pages become real laboratories where to cause linguistic phenomena to occur, recording them within the natural progression of writing from writing; the plot, continuously folded and unfolded by the distortion of space and the dilation or ellipsis of time, reveals itself as the living expression of Minkowski’s chronotope. The old meanings annihilate themselves, the linguistic particles transmute into pure sounds or mysterious crasis and some still uncertain reality surfaces everywhere, blending matter and light into one compound, indiscriminately. Some of the most outstanding and inspired narrative expedients stem from adopting the same methodological approach as the new Physics, rather than from the superficial fascination of its paradoxes. In the same way as Quantum Physics no longer relegates the observer to the role of detached witness of phenomena, the reader spontaneously plays an active part while defining the meaning of the text, not barely recovering it.
By analogy, asemic writing requires a certain entanglement to be established between calligraphy and subconscious. The uncertainty of the text is the natural diffraction of meanings through a network of signs, the natural diffraction of “reality” through the slit between awakening and dream. The written page does not coincide with the message any longer. It becomes a filter, an analyser to investigate a space which is symbolic and “real” at once, where the pattern of signs is released from factual data. The primitive intuitions of symmetry, similarity and self-similarity acquire double significance: a psychological and a metrical one. Some new topology should thereby replace traditional hermeneutics to study such manyfold structures and outline potential intertextual references.
I here draw two lines of research to address the highly non-linear and dynamic nature of this phenomenon: fractal analysis to define and extract pseudo-linguistic features (such as dimension); supervised scripts to generate automatic asemic writings while scanning and manipulating conventional documents.
Asemic texts are treated as snap-shots of unknown linguistic phenomena, or bidimensional sets of fuzzy data to analyse. Provided that the most suitable algorithm has been chosen, fractal dimension analysis has proved itself as a powerful and flexible tool in many fields: clustering data, detecting and extracting main features from noisy signals [5], dealing with complex scaling laws or with chaotic dynamical systems [6]. This previously unexplored blend of Mathematics with writing, aims at probing the bedrock of asemic texts, defining proper parameters to cluster compatible ones, hence treating them as sets of signs whose prime textual properties have been subverted.
Since each document is a unique source of signs to thoroughly detach from the original figures of writing and merge into new alphabets, supervised image processing scripts are developed to acquire and plunge textual documents into abstract asemic spaces. The whole image matrix is morphologically manipulated with the help of routines, which combine neighbouring clusters of pixels according to certain structuring shapes (lines, squares, disks, etc.), depending on specific elements (points, centres, size, etc.) which get adjusted until a new formal equilibrium is attained.

A short introduction to the methods here exposed was filmed and streamed during the asemic artworks exhibition Intuición Estética [7] curated by Michael Jacobson (Cordoba, 17.02.2016 – 06.03.2016). A theoretical paper, whose guidelines trace those in this project, has been presented during Utsanga asemic writing exhibition curated by Francesco Aprile, Cristiano Caggiula and Elisa Carella (Borgia, 2/12/2016 – 2/05/2017). Some artworks and preliminary results have, among others, been hosted and discussed on the “The New Post-Literate” [8] [20], “Utsanga” [9] [10], “Zoomoozophone Review” (n.8, 2016), “Brave New Word” [11], “Asemic Front” [12] [13] [14], “Otoliths” [15] [16], “A-Minor” [17], “AOM” [18], “3:AM Magazine” [19].

Notes

[1] http://www.ubu.com/vp/Jacobson.html, (30/10/2016).
[2] http://www.scribd.com/document/64372890/Action-Figures-by-Michael-Jacobson; http://avance.randomflux.info/ActionFigures.pdf, (30/10/2016).
[3] Winston, Christiane/ Mogrelia, Nazneen/ Maher, Hemali, The therapeutic value of asemic writing: a qualitative exploration, in “Journal of Creativity in Mental Health”, 11(2), London 2016, pp. 142-156.
[4] Joyce, James, Letters, ed. Stuart Gilbert, Vol. I, New York 1966, p. 204.
[5] Wornell, Gregory W./ Oppenheim, Alan V., Estimation of fractal signals from noisy measurements using wavelets, “IEEE Transactions On Signal Processing”, Vol. 40, n.3, 1992, pp. 611-623.
[6] Higuchi, Tomoyuki, Approach to an irregular time series on the basis of the fractal theory, “Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena”, Vol. 19, n.3, 2005, pp. 659–674.
[7] https://youtu.be/hovsoNNiSbY
[8] http://thenewpostliterate.blogspot.it/2017/05/obscured-by-alphabets-by-federico.html
[9] http://www.utsanga.it/federici-calligraph-and-seismograph/
[10] https://vimeo.com/160367836
[11] http://bnw-mag.blogspot.it/2017/06/federico-federici-six-asemic-scores.html
[12] https://asemicfront.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/five-works-by-federico-federici-berlin-germany/
[13] https://asemicfront.wordpress.com/2018/02/04/asemic-concrete-text-hybrids-by-federico-federici-berlin-germany/
[14] https://asemicfront.wordpress.com/2018/03/09/five-new-asemic-concrete-compositions-by-federico-federici-berlin-germany/
[15] http://the-otolith.blogspot.com.au/2017/05/federico-federici.html
[16] https://the-otolith.blogspot.it/2017/11/federico-federici.html
[17] https://aminormagazine.com/2017/09/30/four-pieces-8/
[18] https://angryoldmanmagazine.com/federico-federici/
[19] http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/poembrut13/
[20] https://thenewpostliterate.blogspot.it/2018/02/the-first-line-of-darkness-by-federico.html

Una traduzione italiana del presente articolo è stata pubblicata in Asemic Writing, Studi e scritture di Poesia Visiva Sperimentale n.1, a cura di Francesco Aprile e Cristiano Caggiula, Archimuseo Adriano Accattino, Ivrea 2018, edizione fuori commercio.

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