Notes (not only) on asemic phenomenology

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Asemic writing points to a gradual weakening of the correlation between sign and meaning or, in the language of architecture and biology, to the confutation of the form follows function principle.
Any approach based on the restoration of a minimum alphabet from fragmented subsets, or on the recovery of some original syntax from noisy communication channels programmatically fails. The flux of symbols does not intercept and duplicate encrypted information. It works around the uniqueness of the code by blending familiar patterns out of context, introducing modifications in them, or devising new ones. This is one of the extremely subversive traits validating the paradox of asemic communication.
No recognisable genome exists, nor does any implicit one accepted by the community. Each text, regardless of its extent, embodies the full expression of a unique and obscure language which constitutes its stimulus and its essence. The powerful iconic synthesis thus accomplished absorbs all the traditional phonic elements, turning the act of reading into a pure visual experience, contemplative, even where a sequence of signs, apparently more persuasive, may hint at the presence of multiple narratives.
Each asemic form is not a statement in itself. It is rather an unaussprechbare Aussage (unpronounceable message) triggering the interpretive schemes of the subconscious, making the idea of an a priori of meaning redundant. Reading no longer consists of two contiguous yet distinct phases, namely decoding and interpreting. It becomes a unified creative activity performed upon the free surface of the text, drawing from unknown resources.
The psychological effects of brief asemic practices, stimulated in individuals with schizophrenia and alexithymia, have recently been investigated.[1] The comparative analysis of the writings, supported by the observation reports, has documented temporary improvements in mood and an increased awareness of emotional dimension, notwithstanding the onset of mild stress symptoms, following the assignment given on a daily basis.
The semiotic triangle (signified – signifier → sign) narrows to the vertex of the signifier, abandoning the sign and the signified to a formal solitude of their own. The elements immediately above the level of the word (periods, paragraphs etc.) are in essence preserved as counterweights of an alleged textual frame. The handwriting tangles in a net of vanishing points and nodes. It shifts as a system of cross-cutting but unstable fault planes. Is that a way to react to information, infected with acronyms and codes, and spare the meaning the agony of language?
Each writer experiences the extreme condition of linguistic minorities, being the first and last heir of a newspeak or of some dialect dying out.
The substratum of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake rests on text segments and notes from the most disparate studies. Although aimed at strongly oneiric mechanics, the new approach marks a radical turning point compared with Ulysses, bypassing the strictly psychoanalytic significance of the stream of consciousness, as documented in a letter addressed 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.»[2]
Pages become real laboratories wherein to let linguistic phenomena occur, recording them in the process of “writing from writing”. The plot, relentlessly rippled by distortions of places and dilations or ellipses of time, reveals itself as a living expression of Minkowski’s chronotope. The old meanings annihilate themselves and the linguistic particles transmute into pure sounds or mysterious crases. After all, the reality surfacing everywhere in the Universe is driven by the principle according to which light turns into matter and matter into light.
Some of the most outstanding narrative expedients stem from adopting the same methodological approach as the new physics, rather than from the fascination of its paradoxes. If quantum mechanics no longer relegates the physicist to the role of detached witness of phenomena, the reader must likewise play an active part in defining, not barely recovering, the meaning of the text.
Asemic writing, in turn, requires a special entanglement to be established between hand and subconscious for the uncertainty of the text to be the pure diffraction of “meaning through a grid of signs”. Reality always lights up the thin slit between sleep and awakening, but no factual data exist to approximately refer to. The written page does not coincide with the message. It is a filter, an analyser to investigate a space which is symbolic and “real” at once. The primitive intuitions of symmetry, similarity or self-similarity acquire double significance: a psychological and a metrical one.
Several lines of research are suitable for dealing with the intrinsic nonlinearity that follows.
Topology-based methods could support or replace traditional hermeneutics to properly study such manifold structures. Each page, a snapshot of an unknown linguistic phenomenon, would hence be addressed as a set of fuzzy data.
To define and extract pseudo-linguistic features such as dimension, fractal analysis might be implemented. Provided that the most suitable algorithm has been chosen, this tool has proved to be powerful and flexible for clustering data, for detecting and extracting main features from noisy signals[3] and for dealing with complex scaling laws or with chaotic dynamical systems.[4] This rather unexplored blend of mathematics with writing might define unprecedented and more convenient interpretive techniques to probe works whose textual traits have permanently been subverted.
Alongside this investigation, dedicated routines can be developed to plunge conventional documents into pure asemic spaces, rearranging clusters of pixels according to precise shapes (straight line, square, etc.) and parameters (centre, diameter, etc.). Undergoing morphological manipulations, each scanned image evolves through different stages towards a new formal equilibrium. Such procedure has been fully tested with sheet music in Stuttgarter Strukturfonien (Federico Federici, LN 2019).
Another approach, quite distinct from pure code poetry, paves the way to books whose content is never definitive, but continuously modified by means of sensors. The Way I Discovered The Berlin Wall Has Fallen (Federico Federici, LN 2017) is a project in which data from a TMP36 temperature sensor, driven by Arduino, are fed straight into the LaTex code designed to output the textual elements to be printed.[5]


[1] 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.
[2] Joyce, James: Letters, ed. Stuart Gilbert, Vol. I, New York 1966, p. 204.
[3] 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.
[4] 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.
[5] Artist talk during the exhibition Intuición Estética curated by Michael Jacobson in Cordoba (2016).

A zero-point writing? – Un grado zero della scrittura?

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by Federico Federici

In ordinary texts, words are exactly discernible and in relation to a syntax that regulates their connections. They objectively exist and that does not impinge on their readability.
In asemic texts, on the contrary, the lack of “words” imposes to drop the claim that we can detect them in some dictionary. The signifier and the signified of a sign thus resemble the momentum (“speed”, in a way) and the position of a particle in the quantum world: we cannot exactly detect both at once, according to what the Heisenberg principle inherently states. That actually deprives textuality too of the sense of the real we got acquainted with.
The asemic text seems to challenge the reader’s clairvoyance to discharge a signification of its own, rather than reduce itself to an aesthetic artefact of the renunciation of meaning.
An extensive conceptual breach is set against the entrenched dogma of experience, whose uniqueness of content is suspended through the mimicry of language. Although the trigger may often be traced back to some previous idea of writing, text falsification is institutionalized.
Such phenomenon occurs in that stretch of “no language’s land” between pure literature and visual art, where the spontaneous traits of handwriting are preferred to quite textual blocks. Every dot or stain and even every single bit in a digital array become part of the same loose alphabet.
Like smugglers on the guarded frontier of meaning, asemic writers trade somewhat secret scripts or drafts of confidential notes.
When no code is left or accepted to draw signs from, language reinvents itself in the common forge of form and meaning.
Since the writer gives up his status of deus ex machina, the reader/onlooker loses a traditional steady point of comparison. Even more so when all conventions get absorbed into nets of obscure though densely organized signs, different and more suitable paradigms must be developed. According to Marcel Broodthaers, even a paper of jurisprudence proves to be inspiring in this respect: «La place que le mot y occupe est une place nette. L’ambiguïté du Droit tient sans doute à l’interprétation du texte; à l’esprit et non à la lettre.»  [1]
On this basis, the question is put of whether to equate the asemic level and a sort of language zero-point, a ground state of writing or, most likely, the very state of the word before it meets an alphabet.
Upon conveniently rephrasing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, while the classical text may get worked out to almost full meaninglessness, the asemic one persistently exhibits a residual meaning.
As structures collapse, dust particles attempt to relentlessly self-organise again, gravitating across the void of deconstruction. When language lays down the law, on the contrary, it is difficult to modify it, «[…] for words can only describe things of which we can form mental pictures, and this ability, too, is a result of daily experience […] for visualisation, however, we must content ourselves with […] incomplete analogies.»  [2]
In asemic texts, on the contrary, signs and meanings have been superseded by the pure notion of asemicism: writing attests its inexhaustible delay in meaning, according to the seemingly paradoxical, yet strict, formalism of what remains illegible.
Two systems thus coexist: a language embedded in a sediment of “things” and one embedded in a sediment of signs which have not been exposed to any “thing” yet, nor will they ever likely be. 

Nei testi di uso comune, le parole si distinguono con esattezza, riconducibili a una sintassi che ne regola i legami. La loro esistenza è oggettiva e non ne condiziona la leggibilità.
Nei testi asemici, invece, la mancanza di “parole” impone di rinunciare alla pretesa di rilevarle in qualche dizionario. Significante e significato di un segno somigliano perciò a quantità di moto (“velocità”, in un certo senso) e posizione di una particella nel mondo quantistico: impossibili da individuare con esattezza allo stesso istante, secondo quanto stabilisce intrinsecamente il principio di Heisenberg. Ciò, di fatto, priva anche la testualità di quel senso del reale con cui abbiamo dimestichezza.
Il testo asemico sembra sfidare la chiaroveggenza del lettore per aprirsi a un senso proprio, anziché ridursi a reperto estetico della rinuncia a significare.
Un’estesa frattura concettuale è contrapposta al radicato dogma dell’esperienza, la cui unicità di contenuto è sospesa nel mimetismo della lingua. Pur potendo spesso ricondurre lo spunto a un’idea pregressa di scrittura, la falsificazione testuale è sistematica.
Tale fenomeno si manifesta nel passaggio in una “terra di nessuna lingua” tra pura letteratura e arte visiva, dove i tratti spontanei della calligrafia sono preferiti a blocchi prevalentemente testuali. Ogni punto o macchia, persino il singolo bit di una matrice digitale diventano parte di un medesimo alfabeto slegato.
Come trafficanti alla frontiera sorvegliata del significato, gli scrittori asemici contrabbandano copioni segreti o bozze di appunti riservati.
Se il codice a cui attingere non c’è o non è accettato, la lingua si reinventa nella forgia che accomuna significato e forma.
Venendo meno lo scrittore nel ruolo di deus ex machina, il lettore/spettatore perde un punto fisso di riferimento.
A maggior ragione dove tutte le convenzioni sono riassorbite in reti di segni oscuri ma densamente organizzati, occorre sviluppare paradigmi diversi e più adatti. Secondo Marcel Broodthaers, persino un atto giudiziario si rivela fertile in tal senso: «La place que le mot y occupe est une place nette. L’ambiguïté du Droit tient sans doute à l’interprétation du texte; à l’esprit et non à la lettre.»  [1]
Su queste basi, si pone la questione se equiparare il livello asemico a una sorta di grado zero del linguaggio, stato fondamentale della scrittura o, più probabilmente, vero e proprio stato della parola prima che incontri un alfabeto.
Riformulando opportunamente il principio di indeterminazione di Heisenberg, mentre il testo tradizionale può essere scarnificato sino a quasi significare niente, in quello asemico persiste un significato residuo.
Al crollo delle strutture, le particelle di polvere provano senza posa a riorganizzarsi, gravitando nel vuoto della decostruzione. Quando è la lingua a dettare le regole, invece, è difficile modificarle, «[…] perché le parole riescono solo a descrivere cose di cui sappiamo formarci un’immagine mentale e pure questa facoltà è frutto di esperienza quotidiana […] giacché per visualizzarle dobbiamo comunque accontentarci di […] analogie incomplete.»  [2]
In un testo asemico, viceversa, significati e segni sono rimpiazzati dalla pura nozione di asemicità: scrivere attesta un’infaticabile esitazione nel significare, secondo il formalismo, apparentemente paradossale, ma stringente, di ciò che resta illeggibile.
Due sistemi perciò coesistono: una lingua inglobata in un sedimento di “cose” e una inglobata in un sedimento di segni che non sono ancora stati esposti a una “cosa”, né mai lo saranno forse.

[1] «The place that the word occupies in it is a clear place. The ambiguity of the Law undoubtedly lies in the interpretation of the text; in its spirit, not literally.» Broodthaers, Marcel: Art poétique in Broodthaers, (ed. B. H. D. Buchloh), Cambridge 1987, p. 16
[2] Heisenberg, Werner, The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory, transl. Eng. C. Eckhart, F. C. Hoyt, Chicago 1930, p. 10.

Originally published on «Utsanga», n.15, 2018.