Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. 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 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.
In 1997 visual poets Tim Gaze and Jim Leftwich first applied the word asemic to name their quasi-calligraphic writing gestures. They then began to distribute them to poetry magazines both online and in print. The authors explored textual asemia as a creative option and as an intentional practice. Since the late 1990s, asemic writing has blossomed into a worldwide literary/art movement. It has especially grown in the early part of the 21st century, though there is an acknowledgement of a long and complex history which precedes the activities of the current asemic movement, especially with regards to abstract calligraphy, wordless writing, and verbal writing damaged beyond the point of legibility.
Styles of asemic writing
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.
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 (e.g. ciphers). Between these two axioms is where asemic writing exists and plays.
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 global 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. The history of today's asemic movement stems from two Chinese calligraphers: "crazy" Zhang Xu, a Tang Dynasty (circa 800 CE) calligrapher who was famous for creating wild illegible calligraphy, and the younger "drunk" monk Huaisu who also excelled at illegible cursive calligraphy. In the 1920s Henri Michaux, who was influenced by Asian calligraphy and Surrealism, began to create wordless works such as Alphabet (1925) and Narration (1927). Michaux referred to his calligraphic works as "interior Gestures." The writer and artist Wassily Kandinsky was an early precursor to asemic writing, with his linear piece Indian Story (1931) exemplifying complete textual abstraction. In the 1950s there is Brion Gysin, Isidore Isou, Cy Twombly, and Morita Shiryu/Bokujin-Kai Group all of whom expanded writing into illegible and wordless visual mark-making; they would help lay the foundation for asemic writers of the future. Mirtha Dermisache is another writer who had created asemic writing since the 1960s. Dermisache actively said that even though her graphisms have no meaning, they still retained the full rights of an autonomous work. 1971 was the year when Alain Satié released his work Écrit en prose ou L'Œuvre hypergraphique which contains asemic writing throughout the entire graphic novel. León Ferrari was another artist/poet who created many asemic works in the 1960s and 70s, such as Escritura (1976). 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. Roland Barthes was also involved with asemic writing; he titled his asemic works Contre-écritures. 1974 saw the release of Max Ernst's work Maximiliana: The Illegal Practice Of Astronomy: hommage à Dorothea Tanning; this book is a major influence on asemic writers such as Tim Gaze, Michael Jacobson, and Derek Beaulieu. In the 1980s Chinese artist Xu Bing created Tianshu, or A Book from the Sky which is a work of books and hanging scrolls on which were printed 4000 hand carved meaningless characters. The 1980s also saw artist Gu Wenda begin 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 was held in Xi'an in 1986, featuring paintings of fake ideograms on a massive scale. Also in China, during the 1990s, an abstract calligraphy movement known as "Calligraphy-ism" came into existence, a leading proponent of this movement being Luo Qi. Calligraphy-ism 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. In Vietnam during the 2000s a calligraphy group called the Zenei Gang of Five appeared. To this group of young artists, “Wordless” means that which cannot be said, that which is both before and beyond the specificity of naming. To be without words is saying nothing and saying everything.
2013 saw the release of An Anthology of Asemic Handwriting (Uitgeverij), which has over a hundred artists represented from many corners of the world. Asemic writing has also received mention and space in The Last Vispo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998-2008 (Fantagraphics, 2012). In 2011 a full issue of William Allegrezza's poetry journal Moria was focused on the participants and theory of asemic writing. Other 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, 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. Currently, there is a robot that performs asemic writing live.
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.
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.
Influences and predecessors
- From the Tim Gaze interview at Commonline Journal: "you could say that nature, since time began, has been manifesting asemic writing. It just needs a human to see the writing, & recognize it."
- The Voynich manuscript, possibly a proto-asemic text.
- Lettrisme, the letteristes often invented new symbols for their artworks and writing.
- John Bunion Murray (JB Murray), personal spirit writing.
- Austin Osman Spare, sigils.
- Hélène Smith's conlang Martian.
- Timothy Ely; "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 cyphers."
- José Parlá, abstract graffiti.
- Christian Dotremont, logograms.
- Artist's book
- Visual poetry
- Un Coup de Dés Jamais N'Abolira Le Hasard (Broodthaers)
- Ulfert Wilke and Abstract Expressionism.
- Wosene Worke Kosrof
Math Minus Math: a text of asemic math by Rosaire Appel
Asemic translation of Flatland by Derek Beaulieu
- "TwentyFourHoursOnline". TwentyFourHoursOnline.
- "Tim Gaze. Asemic Magazine". Asemic Magazine.
- "SCRIPTjr.nl". SCRIPTjr.nl.
- Jaime Morrison. "Nonism: Asemic Art".
- Geof Huth. "Varieties of Visual Poetry". dbqp.
- Michael Jacobson. "Works & Interviews 1999-2014".
- "PRATE". Fullofcrow.com. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "SCRIPTjr.nl". SCRIPTjr.nl. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- dermisache-9 Newsletters & 1 Reportaje 2000: Newsletter, 2000 from Mirtha Dermisache, Nueve Newsletters & Un Reportaje, Buenos Aires : El borde, Marseille : Mobil-Home, Montpellier : Manglar, 2004. Offset printing, 440 copies.
- Sarah Nicholls. "Center for Book Arts: Making Sense of Asemic Writing". Centerforbookarts.blogspot.com. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "‘Leaking the Squalls': The Art and Letters of Henri Michaux". natalie ferris. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "Witness Mirtha Dermisache". Jacket2.org. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- Alain Satie, Écrit en Prose, Éditions PSI, 1971.
- Buzz Poole. "The Writing of Art, The Art of Writing". Printmag.com.
- Jeff Stanley (2010). "To Read Images Not Words: Computer-Aided Analysis of the Handwriting in the Codex Seraphinianus (MSc dissertation)" (PDF). North Carolina State University at Raleigh. pp. 8–9. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
- Tierra Innovation. "Vispo". Theparisreview.org. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "Drawings on Writing". Drawingsonwriting.org. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "PRATE". Fullofcrow.com. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "Free writing". stalker. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "asemic writing - Donna Tull". Lacon4.wordpress.com. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "Nick Pelling, Cipher Mysteries Blog: Review of "An Anthology of Asemic Writing"…2013/09/22".[dead link]
- "moria". Moriapoetry.com. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "Asemic Scapes by Sarah Schneider". Dezeen. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "suckerPUNCH » Asemic ForestsuckerPUNCH". SUCKERPUNCHDAILY.COM. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "The Post-Literate (R)Evolution". Post-literate.tumblr.com. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "SCRIPTjr.nl". SCRIPTjr.nl. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- Sterling, Bruce (July 13, 2009). "Web Semantics: Asemic writing". Wired.com. Retrieved June 10, 2011.
- "The Commonline Journal: Without Words: An Interview with Tim Gaze". Commonlinejournal.com. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- "asemic-writing-matox". Post Graffiti :: Urban Skins. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- Derek Beaulieu, Flatland. York: Information as Material, 2007 ISBN 978-0-9553092-5-0
- Tim Gaze, The Oxygen Of Truth, Vol. 1 & 2. Broken Boulder, 1999- 2000. 
- Tim Gaze, Jim Leftwich, Louise Tournay, Abdourahamane Diarra, Joe Maneri, ASEMIA. Anabasis/Xtant, 2003. ISBN 1930259344
- Tim Gaze, Writing. xPress(ed), 2004. ISBN 951-9198-86-5
- Tim Gaze, Noology. Arrum Press, 2008.
- Tim Gaze, 100 Scenes. Transgressor Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9807303-4-0
- Tim Gaze & Michael Jacobson (editors), An Anthology Of Asemic Handwriting. Uitgeverij, 2013. ISBN 978-9081709170
- Marco Giovenale, Asemic Sibyls. Red Fox Press, 2013.
- Michael Jacobson, The Giant's Fence. Ubu Editions, 2001-2006. 
- Carlos Martínez Luis, Nomadic and Archeological Scriptures. LUNA BISONTE PRODS, 2009.
- Paul A. Toth (editor), ALPHA BET A TEST: The Eye Am Eye Asemic Anthology: Language in the Act of Disappearing. Eye Am Eye Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1511706056
- Lemonhound interview with Kerri Pullo
- Full of Crow interview with Tim Gaze
- Samplekanon interview with Michael Jacobson
- Asymptote Journal interview with Michael Jacobson
- 3:AM Magazine interview with Marco Giovenale
- NY Times: When How It Looks Matters More Than What It Says by Ken Johnson
- Bright Stupid Confetti: Asemic Writing: An International Perspective
- Institute Of Network Cultures: Asemia and the Gesture of Writing by Matt Buros
- Design Observer: Asemic Writing: Open to Interpretation by John Foster
- Asemic Writing & Project: Ekaterina Samigulina & Karen Karnak