Saturday, November 20, 2021

Jim Leftwich interviewed by Burak Ş. Çelik about asemic writing & related matters

I was recently interviewed by Burak Ş. Çelik about asemic writing. The interview is published in the 8th Issue of Buzdokuz Poetry Theory Criticism Magazine, which is available here:

posted/published by Dirk Vekemans at platform plee

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Sunday, November 14, 2021

Writing Against Itself jim leftwich 2016

Writing Against Itself 
jim leftwich 

, when thinking about the letter... if we start with nothing, blank paper / blank screen, and begin composing something, a poem, a text, writing, then the letter will be the unit used in making the composition. If the composition is a poem, and the smallest composed unit is a word, then the units of composition used to compose the words will be letters. So, if we start with nothing, and make writing with words, the letter will be the unit of composition. But maybe what we are composing is a line of poetry, or a sentence, or a stanza or a paragraph, maybe all of those, so what is the question? What question are we asking ourselves? Does the question have to do with counting? What are we counting? Are we counting syllables? Counting words? Maybe counting the number of sentences in a paragraph? But what if we aren't starting with nothing? What if we start with a text and work by subtraction, extracting phrases or words or fragments of words and arranging them, re-arranging them in various ways. We're starting with words on a page, one page, someone else's page, and on a second page, our page, we are still starting with nothing, but we aren't composing in the same way, even if we are still keying each letter, not copying and pasting, the process of thinking, the pattern of thinking is different, and what we are working on is different, how we work is different, we are making different kinds of decisions, we are thinking in different patterns. So that's a start towards something. We're still exercising the synapses. The brain is still doing the work of writing. But now it's working with two writings at once. It's working with and against and in a sense in, within, the source text, reading someone else's writing, having someone's else's thoughts, and as always when reading, having its own thoughts in relation to those other thoughts, though it's always difficult to identify and isolate something we can confidently call our own thoughts -- where does the context end and the self begin? where does the self-constructed end and the externally compelled begin? -- and at the same time it's writing another text, we are writing a text we will eventually call our own, we will sign our name to it and let it stand at that, in whatever condition of complexity it might find itself in relation to a particular reader. We will move some of a text, by whatever methods and processes we have decided on, from one page to another, omitting most of its original context, inventing with it as fragments of itself another context, another kind of context, where the writing emerges as a sort of troubled flow, writing against thinking, thinking against reading, writing against reading, thinking against writing, reading and also re-reading against writing and as writing, reading and also re-reading against thinking and as thinking, and we will begin watching ourselves think, watching ourselves write, watching ourselves read:

there is a text in front of me;

I am reading it;

I am thinking about what I am reading, and I am thinking about reading it;

I am writing some of that thinking, and reading some of that writing, and writing some of that reading of some of that writing;

I am thinking about the writing as I am reading it;

I am thinking about what I am thinking while I am thinking it;

the second thinking is reading the first thinking;

that reading is the mental source text;

it occupies a mental space between the first thinking and the second thinking;

I am writing a reading of that reading.

This is what I am thinking about when I write about writing-against-itself as improvisational association in which the letter is the primary unit of composition.

What happens when subletteral marks and spaces are the primary units of composition? What happens if we replace the word "writing" with the term "quasi-calligraphic drawing"? What if we replace "writing" with "asemic writing"?  That's what happened in the late 1990s with both Tim Gaze and myself. We were both writing (and publishing in places like Lost and Found Times, The Electronic Experioddicist and Juxta/Electronic) a radically destabilized textual  poetry. It was letteral and subletteral. It was asyntactic, disjunctive, dysraphic, defamiliarized. It was writing-against-itself. Asemic writing, once we learned the term, became part of our practice. We added it to our tool-kits, added it to the untitled training manual. Asemic writing, when it is any kind of writing at all, is an extension of the practice of writing-against-itself. When asemic writing is not a variety of writing-against-itself, it is not any kind of writing at all, and, if only in the interest of preventing a lot of confusion and wasted time, it should be called something else, probably some kind of visual art, or maybe in some instances a form of notation.

Here is Tim Gaze in 1997, published in Juxta/Electronic #22:


, along with Austin radio stationsso hit-andThat's why advertising Children
(1949desire for presence, my bodyhas to qualities, had dishonoured had
dishonoured in prison for fault behind thy back before you as 1952 -
"translated by onto the to rearrange myself and to myself front of a naked
his Isidore Isou-and-missmyself and to my roof on glue or is gravity had
dishonoured him, with them until of the Lettrist Davis (Station HillRussell"
the roof Davis (Station cozy ministry, presence, although it paprika from
doesn't like it, you --people Lydia Davis (kneeled Christian mind, prewar
wet red throughout the As Targeted

This is from The Experioddicist #17, July 18, 1997


Tim Gaze

"I've written several word manipulation macros in WordBasic, the simple programming language that comes with Word for Windows. I fed four files: the latest issues of Experioddicist and Glossolalia, some haiku by Michel Delville and a recent piece of my own, to my 'Chaos' macro. 'Chaos' randomly grabs slabs of text from random documents in a particular directory and assembles them together. I cleaned up the white space afterwards."

Miss Chaos Sampler

serial labyrinth of a normally kinetic skin. Finally the endless circle devolves to a montage of previous glass wax head received thought to be a form of hitting which removes the cover of the face, flipping the face and silent BEANS") list the , to his big prolific dick--thoughts and pictures, even beliefs, which have infected us everywhere, The soul of taste or tears' habitual voice. in. Poetry & Prose The Algebra of Repression by Patricia Collins pwd > / writing art itself once a beautiful simulacrum of endless chaos ======================= ====================================== Poetry & Prose The Algebra of Repression by Patricia Collins pwd > /net or lucid streams of oil 'n books ("contusion") oily the rumbustious color of glamorous relationships on the free-floating upper lip the expletives have been deleted! what are those files called. he suggested the in the air no matter where our feet stand what's the pillage in stasis, envision a darkened canyon of books ============== poet assures as childish singularity, characterized by an imaginary alkahest of formal it feels forced. blind. pushing and shoving at with wide breasts disbelief, better sex bottled in a rage of reflected guilt than the narrative of that me repeat. emfatuously benumbered. raw or are we talking ore there or here her hair exclusive of his front right to the printer where our feet stand * the air no matter the perfect pitch of umbilical uncertainty * an plague of life, one with the perfect pitch There was Air. Air had a daughter, Daughter , horsey clasp" contraction (squeezed my instantly or better sums and so on but never without his stand , absent charnel glass of the difficult expulsions, vocative too demotic between the bodies' , individual, fatidic. Only the lyrical slays vents articulate time, nonetheless first word sounds textuality, no convulsive . Daughter floated for seven hundred years, restless. Eventually, a drake flew by, looking for our feet stand ( OF UX 1. The * one with wide breasts the perfect pitch of works blindly stretch poetical hindsight, for years in emergent wonder, somatic books letteral weave, events , horsey clasp" contraction (squeezed my

Here is Tim Gaze from Juxta/Electronic 24, published in 1997


eiao nuku hiva ua huku ua pou hiva oa tahuata fatu hiva tepoto

manihi takaroa napuka puka puka rangiroa takapoto tikehau

apataki aratika takume fangatau makatea arutua kaukura toau

kauehi raraka raroia fakahina taenga tahanea motutunga niau

makemo faaite tahanea katiu marutea tauere tatakoto anaa

hikueru amanu marokau hao akiaki pukarua ravahere paraoa

vahitahi reao manuhangi nukutuvake pinaki herehere tue ahunui

vairaatea anuanuraro anuanurunga nukutepipi vanavana tureia

tenaroro marutea tematangi moruroa fangataufa mangareva temoe



prin  code  quek  kocr  xeme  rhow  cata  nonu  piqu  efet pepi  

grap  creg  meta  dape  cuna  equa  moju  babi  yaxo bopo  snov 

zadr  beba  cruq  pega  kixa  feje  etoh  shaw swag  ewuw  fuqu 

yiko  cuvo  poke  bigo  zorh  frel  tote gevi  dewu  quog  ubov 

pefa  clel  icux  bosh  obla  quag nopi  puvo  fafe  echo  puxu 

usoi  coco  tapu  yuch  yusc imet  bafl  ufof  dapl  kavu  klev 

jurh  jega  zufi  cadi zinu  quis  tece  stol  scij  coco  fefl 

tuni  shuf  ofis marh  geve  giqu  yota  frep  swur  jede  fiwu 

adek  chun bufi  emur  kedu  eflu  swod  nuvo  vine  iwub  gixe 

bopi shuh  mamo  obli  weka  vaki  nuse  ixes  daco  fuve  kodu

waqu  goch  kodu  uclu  ukek  woki  oqui  miva  yudo  tata gaph  

xata  atro  debu  icuv  inab  mumo  quac  goji  veca quad

John M. Bennett published my first "spirit writings" in Lost and Found Times 39 in November of 1997. In that same issue he also published 3 pages from Staceal and a series of poems entitled "Hachures".

spirit writing  from LAFT 39.jpg

hachures  from LAFT 39.jpg

staceal 1  from LAFT 39.jpg

From Staceal,  from LAFT 39

staceal 2  from LAFT 39.jpg

From Staceal,  from LAFT 39

staceal 3  from LAFT 39.jpg

From Staceal,  from LAFT 39

This is the context in which the term “asemic writing” first appeared. That there are ancestors for the practice has always been acknowledged. Tim started doing research on the history of the practice almost as soon as he became aware of the term. Henri Michaux and Christian Dotremont were among the first to be discovered and celebrated. In the 1960s and 70s Italian poets associated with poesia visiva were incorporating quasi-calligraphic elements in their poems and were using terms like scrittura asemantica (cf. Marco Giovenale on the subject).

“Signs of life of signs / differx. 2013

(some notes from an e-mail to Tim Gaze, Sept., 2013)

Maybe (linear or nonlinear) “experimental writing” and “visual poetry” are simply first definitions of the vast living environment of works made by the worldwide community of people involved in asemic (and so pansemic) writing and in the making of abstract stuff.

And: about the words “writing” and “abstract” —maybe they’re narrow definitions of areas of signs. A suitable term could be “sign” indeed.

The life of signs is perhaps the ‘thing’ we try to deal with. A “sign” is an entity which, in itself, does not have an actual “itself”. It absolutely conveys something else. It’s not narrow, it’s an arrow. It’s a non-”quid” referred/referring to some (other) “quid”. And so: the reference or transfer or passage may be somehow / somewhere broken. And this fact is the alpha in “a”/semic.

[And —at the same time— any “alpha” is a “pan”: any limit is also a secondary path or crack, a way for widening the view]”

(ongoing research) re poesia visiva and related.jpg

jim leftwich, notes (ongoing research) re poesia visiva and related

An Email Exchange between Jim Leftwich and Marco Giovenale




Jim Leftwich 1:10 PM (2 hours ago)

to marco


i was looking at this last night,

and i could only get a partial translation of it, but one thing i think that often gets left out in this discussion is the fact that there was no continuity between the earlier explorations of asemic writing and what happened between Tim and myself beginning in 1997. i am willing to attribute that lack of continuity to our ignorance of what had previously been done, but even if we insist on that being the case the fact remains that there was no cause-and-effect chain between the earlier works and our works, there was no influence at all, either direct or indirect. all of that came after the fact. we had started doing something and it was new and interesting to us, so we started looking around to see if anyone else had ever done anything similar. of course -- as always -- we found others before us who had explored similar trains of thought and written similar poems, or made similar works. all of that is interesting from several angles, no doubt, but the main thing that interests me is the fact that an exploration of asemic writing not only can develop but has developed from very different starting-points at different times and in different places. my writings on this subject in the past year-and-a-half or so are almost entirely focused on clarifying the specific history that i was involved in. i am not being dismissive of any other historical activities, in fact i am honoring them by refusing to sweep them up into something like my idea of my project, or any similar kind of arrogance (which i have been accused of by some practitioners in the larger "movement"). the phase, let's say, of asemic writing that i was most heavily involved in (roughly 1997 to the early 00s) emerged directly from an experimental textual poetry accompanied by an exploration of dirty concrete (dirty vispo). so, my point, to be as concise as is possible, is that what has become the asemic movement has its origins in some very specific forms of textual poetic exploration, investigation and experimentation -- poetic research. it doesn't have its roots in Dotremont, Gysin, Michaux, Twombly, Oberto, Accame, or any of the other ancestors identified after the fact by Tim, Michael, yourself and all the rest of us who have done research on the subject during the past 20 years. At some point someone will have to make an anthology of writings about asemic writing, writings about the exploration of the idea. it will be important for such an anthology to avoid smoothing-over the history of the idea by proposing continuities where none exist. if the idea and the practice of asemic writing are to have any future, and any historical significance in that future, then the actual (factual) histories -- plural -- with all of their discontinuities and reinventions (are variations on themes reinventions? variations on the theme of the wheel? reinvented in different places at different times by people doing different things for different reasons?) must be written and presented side-by-side, without any attempt to make them all cohere, and without any attempt to construct a narrative of influence and hierarchy. obviously, the more details we omit, the more these various activities will seem the same. the further away we get from the times in which these activities occurred the fewer details will be remembered and recorded. the fact remains, as we look back over the several histories. that some practitioners of what has come to be called asemic writing were doing similar things for similar reasons, some were doing similar things for different reasons, some were doing different things for similar reasons, and others were doing different things for different reasons. if we want to understand this subject, and if we want others to ever be able to understand it, then we have to insist on attention being paid to the details of the several developments. i am doing my part to contribute the details that i know.


--the attached text was written yesterday

Attachments area

Marco Giovenale

2:22 PM (1 hour ago)

to me

yes, jim, i agree!

especially about this passage:

the fact remains, as we look back over the several histories. that some practitioners of what has come to be called asemic writing were doing similar things for similar reasons, some were doing similar things for different reasons, some were doing different things for similar reasons, and others were doing different things for different reasons. if we want to understand this subject, and if we want others to ever be able to understand it, then we have to insist on attention being paid to the details of the several developments.

i think that every thing the humans have done in their long life on earth, has been done several times in several places, scattered & dispersed over several (superimposed and/or distant) time/space layers. continuity and discontinuity are sometimes apparent, sometimes real.

as for italy, i must admit that i knew the graphic works of (say) giancarlo pavanello, magdalo mussio and emilio villa long before i met any of the asemic writers from australia or the u.s.; but i never thought i myself was going to drawrite anything like that!

my first attempts were in part semantically rich, only put down on the page as grids or superimposed strings of text.

at the same time, i see the meaning of "scrittura asemantica" (or what dorfles meant talking about irma blank) seems to me absolutely coherent with the meaning of the term applied to thousands of works born around the year 2000 and especially after. *even if* there's no influence, no continuity. on the contrary, independence.

axes made from flint in the neolithic period have been discovered and forgotten several times in several distant and independent places over the course of dozens or hundreds of generations. we call them all "axes" even if the ones who came later do not sometimes have any link with the earlier ones. (nor any link existed among the former and the latter groups of humas who "invented" them).

the important thing is to describe the context and system of crafts which generated this or that tool (thing, piece, etc). and their specific identitis, intentions, history.

i definitely agree...

Jim Leftwich

 2:49 PM (47 minutes ago)

to Marco

it seems to me now that this area of exploration will be inevitable for some poets. some poets will move from breaking the word into syllables to work with them as rhythmic units, to exploring the letteral components of the syllables, to working with the subletteral shapes and spaces in and around the letters. this can be done with scissors, keyboards, pens, pencils, brushes, stamps, found objects, etc. the movement from writing sonnets in iambic pentameter to making quasi-calligraphic "spirit writing" is only a couple of steps.

it also seems inevitable that some visual artists will move from drawing or making any kind of marks on surfaces to exploring the relationships of drawing and mark-making to writing, to drawing the shapes of the alphabet, to making quasi-calligraphic or quasi-letteral marks.

reading is not required. it is always there as potential, but it is not required. writing is writing if it is written, no matter whether anyone attempts to read it or not.

it has taken me some time to fully understand this.


Marco Giovenale

2:53 PM (43 minutes ago)

to me this is perfectly put and said, jim. please post it everywhere.