Thursday, February 8, 2018
FEATURED ESSAY by JIM LEFTWICH
The Nearness of Asemic Writing
If we are, and if we find ourselves, at any time (in any relationship to any of the times, the varieties of time, experientially imagined and/or real), in a relationship of nearness to anything at all -- even if all we can finally agree upon in our inner dialogues, is that we are near our own thinking (which we can, if we so choose, express as a nearness to ourselves... members of the multitudes we contain in relationships of nearness to one another)...
If my fingers are near the keyboard, if my eyes are near the screen, if my mind is near a sentence, if my synapses are near a syntax...
If not, then how not? Therefore, if...
If we are willing to begin, near a thinking our grammar persuades us to call our own, in a writing, already in it before beginning it (having decided our way into it, and then caused our presence at it), allowing ourselves at the outset a comfortable distance from our subject...
not wanting to write, or even to think, the word "comfortable" -- but there it is, offering itself to our thinking, so we allow it in our writing, but we are not comfortable with it.
If not comfortable, then what? Careful? Cautious? Considered? Yes, but...
we are stalking this subject, a pride of lions, up to our ears in grass almost the color of our mane... but this sentence, simply because it is possible, is leading us away from the subject it pretends to assist us in approaching.
We are no nearer now than we were when we began. In fact --
I don't want to say anything about asemic writing, but I would like to say several things, perhaps approximately and obliquely, about that "not wanting to say" (writing-against-itself is still writing -- when it becomes not writing it loses the power of its against).
The need for a nearness to the idea of asemic writing is necessary if I am to add to the ongoing research in and around it while refraining from actually saying anything about it.
Arm's-length from the asemic, I will allow myself to be comfortable with that. For now. For the purposes of this writing. As the setting for this no-act play.
Under the conditions of a near-enough we are thinking through writing in a (doomed) attempt to write our way out of what we are constrained to think about the idea of asemic writing.
Asemic writing is -- we stop, the start of such a sentence in our current context forces us to stop, and we think of Burroughs... not Gysin, Burroughs -- against the is. The is will prevent us from thinking our way beyond the current limits of an asemic.
Asemic writing is not what you think it is.
Regardless of what you think about asemic writing, it is something else, and whatever you think about it will limit you in your pursuit of an understanding of it. It is not, for example, a relationship of nearness to the semic. It is, perhaps, the nearness itself, or an aspect of that nearness, a facet -- which is always a between-space: provisional, ad hoc, partial.
Before we are in our practice willing to imagine a nearness to the asemic, we are willing to imagine a desire to be at one with it. It is in our imaginations a contemporary version of the mysterium conjunctionis -- a mind melded with an utter absence of meanings. Once we are able to acknowledge an actual nearness in our practice, we find ourselves unable to accept the desire for anything closer than that nearness.
But that puts an end to the process of asemic writing as an aspirational practice, which renders the idea itself both meaningless and useless.
That much will establish for us a new set of starting points: a plateau on which we might be comfortable for a moment. A setting, a relationship of nearness, from which we can reconsider the contours of a continued approach.
Meaningless and useless are components of what we sought before we made the first mark on what we wanted to imagine as the last map.
Now we know better. We can claim to know less than we used to know, but that is not the case. What is the case is this: any increase in knowing increases an awareness of increasingly vast areas of unknowns.
Asemic writing is a kind of improvisational epistemology.
Before asemic writing we thought we knew one percent of the knowable vastness of all unknowns (it was an educated guess, a ballpark figure, and we were somewhat anxiously impressed with ourselves for having arrived at it). We now think, during asemic writing, that we know less than .01 percent of the entire knowable vastness of all unknowns (simply because our knowledge of exactly how vast the entire knowable vastness of all unknowns is is so much larger than it was).
If we abandon this "during" -- this necessity of an aspirational futility -- then we abandon what we have gained, epistemologically, from our practice.
If we are reminded of the via negativa -- and we should be -- then we might also be reminded of the necessity for a certain quality of forgiveness (chosen in this instance because it is more desirable than forgetfulness, which might seem to be the only other option). We must almost incessantly forgive ourselves if we are to permit ourselves to continue in an aspirational practice the futility of which is made explicit at its outset.
The following is from a letter I wrote to Tim Gaze in 1997: “A seme is a unit of meaning, or the smallest unit of meaning (also known as a sememe, analogous with phoneme). An asemic text, then, might be involved with units of language for reasons other than that of producing meaning. As such, the asemic text would seem to be an ideal, an impossibility, but possibly worth pursuing for just that reason.”
We found ourselves in the nineties in a relationship of nearness to a vastness of unknowns, to a dauntingly complex experience of unknowables, and our responses took the form of some of the extremes of poetical writing (among them: letteral visual poetry, homeophonic translation, associational textual improvisation, quasi-calligraphic "spirit writing").
Asemic writing presented itself as a writing beyond itself.
But asemic writing was not then, and is not now, a writing beyond itself.
Asemic writing is, precisely, a writing against itself.
Asemic writing is a specific relationship of nearness to the poem, and to the history of the poem -- also to the currency of the poem, and to the current "during" of the poem.
Asemic writing is an exact relationship of nearness to the traditions of the poem, its line-breaks and syllable-counts and rhythmic constraints.
No Lettrist poems, no asemic writing. No Dada poems, no asemic writing. No Russian Futurist sdvig and zaum, no asemic writing.
No John M. Bennett, no asemic writing. Reading his polysemous (polysemic) handwritten poems begins the process of training the axons and dendrites to treat certain varieties of quasi-calligraphic drawing as scores for performable sound poems. Studying his transduction methods prepares the mind to move in language through meanings towards intentionally unstable non-semic goals.
No Thomas Lowe Taylor/Anabasis, no asemic writing. No "a style is a behavior," (in Juxta 5/6, 1997: "Poetry comes in the guise of its sadness, what it carries before itself as a warning and a cause. So when there are no longer any rules to break, something emerges with the necessity of the very doubt which gave rise to its confusion with the bold as a way of life."), no asemic writing. No "jumping, flashing" no "syntaxin" no "slash and burn poetics" -- no asemic writing.
Taylor, from Syntaxin: "if anything is the sum of all you can bring to it, then each word is a syntax of its own dimensions in reference to its past and its future as well indicating neither time nor space but both together."
Taylor, from Jumping, Flashing: "Driven into the nose of defeat, who gives a rowdy ratfuck what you put down, it’s that sort of challenge that drives into word choice like a cowboy Cat D-9 rumbling down your brain in a disaster of sorts and givens, but here it is, unlike any other misuse of consciousness itself, the jump into being the sacred scared driven out of the leap into magnificence, choosing what comes after fuck in the lexicon of words given and words driven into the pleasance of your own heat licking at her fumes like an unknown zone looming before you in all its reassurance and complexity, with neither assurance nor defeat lingering in your own heat, you spill forward in some insolence or dexterity of allowances and intimations…"
Taylor, from Slash and Burn Poetics: "At word and sign, we contract-out into the cosmic element with some destiny or reproduction intent in the forward seeming allowance of our acts themselves. However what has no end but continually drives us forward by means of punctuation or perhaps word choice arrives at an action which draws energy out from the receiver, not a filling up with fuel as might take place with a more mechanical formula. That ‘matter is neither created nor destroyed’ might be tested inside this model in the sense that provoking an organism into filling in an otherwise blank form, that is, that which is provided, would involve ‘making something out of nothing’ or ‘drawing from the void’."
No Mike Basinski, no asemic writing. No opems, and no theories of the opem, no asemic writing. No Eleven Commandments of Trooth In Poetry (in Juxta 4, 1996), no asemic writing ("The battle of the poets is to divorce the poem from painting, that great erroneous wedding of the 20th century, and to return poetry to music.") No Opems Propositions (Juxta 5/6, 1997), no asemic writing ("Fractures are wholes. Strings of real, imaginary or intuitively germinated, allegorical symbols or letters are compound, juxtaposed fractures.") No Commentary on: "The results of a momentary research into the look and possible meaning of the printer's dingbats and other graphisms which populated his page," Tanya Hollis and Taylor Brady from an article in Small Press Collective (Buffalo, NY), No. 2, November 10, 1997, which was a form of introduction to the opem Spell of the Bones of Sheep (Juxta 7, 1999), no asemic writing ("Let us put to rest the tiresome notion of endless revision before reading aloud. And the endless practicing. The state of the imagination is poetry, always flowing, different but the same. The poetry will either be there or not. On the not part, well then do a summing as introduction or a calling, casting for the poetry. Or it could be a ghost river."
No Jake Berry, no asemic writing. No vision of an enormous Charles Olson towering over the bed, uttering the anti-word Umgathama, bearing a shamanic zaum, beyondsense, into the post-modern poem, no asemic writing. No Jake Berry standing in front of his bathroom mirror, marking the spots and tracks of toothpaste spit on a sheet of paper (he had been looking for "naturally occurring aggregates of marks" to use as patterns for arrangements of words in page-as-field poems, p. 58 in Loose Watch, 1998), no asemic writing.
Berry, from ARTICULATING FREEDOM: THREE BRIEF NOTES REGARDING THE CONTEMPORARY UNDERGROUND/OTHERSTREAM, in Juxta/Electronic #1, June 1995
3. Finally, we should not concern ourselves with the establishment of movements or schools, by the name 'experimental' or any other. There is nothing noble in relinquishing our presence here to the status of artifact, shelved, another moment documented and weighed against the rest, even if that moment is granted fundamental importance. It falls on us to strive for a cognizance liberated from static ideologies and subservience to the symbol. The histories must be ended and the museums closed (they both are, as we now have them, closed anyway). We must find value in the moment's appearing rather than the misapprehended corpse of its past. With that approach it is our responsibility to be and allow creations presence that have in their character no tolerance for the spirit of closure no more than any other organism can tolerate imprisonment. They are creatures without dimension, the living courses of liberation through the infinite.
No Ficus Strangulensis, no asemic writing. No cut-up collaged textimagepoems, no asemic writing. No blends, no asemic writing.
No LAFT, no Transmog, no O!!Zone, no Juxta -- no asemic writing.
The history of the poem, on the one hand, and on the other, ongoing research -- where one hand knows, intimately and always, what the other hand is doing.
No William Blake, no asemic writing.
No Shakespeare, no sonnets, no asemic writing.
No sonnet, no asemic writing. That's a good stopping point, because it's such a good place to begin.
If the word can be -- must be -- broken into its syllables, then those syllables can be -- must be -- broken into their letters.
If word to syllable, and syllable to letter, then letter to its component parts, its arms and legs and ascenders, its bars and bowls and descenders, its loops and spines and spurs and strokes.
And from those typographical letters and characteristics of letters, it is an inevitable next step to return to handwriting, to accentuate and explore the subjectivity inherent in that process.
No writing, no asemic writing.
If writing, then asemic writing.
Asemic writing is, in its permanent condition of endless potential, a specific relationship of nearness to all other forms of writing. It will remain, forever, confined to that condition of nearness, always at arm's-length, always just barely out of reach -- from us, and from itself. That is why our research, in and around asemic writing, is ongoing, entering its third decade as I write this.
Jim Leftwich is a poet who lives in Roanoke, Virginia. Recent publications include Volumes 1 , 2 & 3 of Rascible & Kempt (Luna Bisonte 2016, 2017, edited by John M. and C. Mehrl Bennett), Tres tresss trisss trieesss tril trilssss: Transmutations of César Vallejo (Luna Bisonte, 2018) and Sound Rituals, collaborative poems by jim leftwich & billy bob beamer (mOnocle-Lash, 2018, edited by Olchar Lindsann).
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