Slova Interview with Michael Jacobson by Ekaterina Samigulina
ES: Have you relied on the achievements of Russian and European avant-garde while developing the concept of asemic writing?
MJ: The European movements which influenced me the most are Dada, Surrealism, Futurism and Suprematism, but mainly French Lettrisme. All of these movements helped to lay the foundation for my personal view of where asemic writing could go, by this I mean: abstraction--written language lifted from the function of meaning and words. I appreciate all of these movements because they transcended the borders between art and literature and nationalism. Lettrisme is the most direct ancestor to asemic writing because the Lettristes had the habit of inventing new symbols, and utilizing the constraints of writerly gestures in their works.
ES: Ideas by which avant-garde figures did you re-think?
MJ: By far the most important writers and artists to my personal creative development are Brion Gysin, Mirtha Dermisache, Wassily Kandinsky, James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Isidore Isou. They are the greats of the 20th Century that I constantly return to for inspiration. Everything I do creatively is because of them; though the single work that I return to the most is Max Ernst’s book Maximiliana: The Illegal Practice of Astronomy: hommage à Dorothea Tanning.
Asemic writing is about respecting your artistic elders, and then building upon their artistic achievements, through experimentation with both old and new writing techniques and technologies. Tim Gaze’s asemic magazine site and the asemic writing Wikipedia page have lists of authors and artists who have created work which is now widely known as asemic writing.
ES: Avant-gardistes understood the new poetry they created as "the first true International". How this understanding fits, in your opinion, into the asemic writing?
MJ: I am not much of a poet, but to me, abstract art, mathematics and asemic writing are the only international art forms of today. I know there is Esperanto and Concrete poetry, but to me, asemic writing beats them all. Asemic writing can be learned and related to instantly. With computers, asemic writing has blossomed into colors and new forms which were unimaginable until recently. There is no language to learn except for the personal language in the writer’s soul. Asemic writing is able to cross political boundaries seemingly at the speed of light. Even if you don’t have a pen and paper, or a computer, you can still do asemic writing with a stick and some dirt, though having a camera to document any asemic dirt glyphs is a must!
ES: Can you tell us how visual culture has changed at the end of the 20th century? What changes do we observe today?
MJ: Since the end of the 20th Century, everything is speeding up. Asemic writing has finally found its stride with computers, and the information overload is in full effect. The robots will come and make sense out of all this, I’m sure, but in the meantime, I am dizzy with potential ideas. I feel that this is a fantastic and exciting time to be a writer. Asemic writing is expanding this universe in all directions, and we get to watch as it happens.
ES: Is the idea of the "utilitarian" art (in the way it was understood by avant-gardistes) close to you (and, in particular, the application of this idea to asemic writing)? What strategies can be used to confront the institutionalization and commercialization of the new asemic culture? Has the asemic writing as a phenomenon that is not yet found its place within the institutions, a protest potential?
MJ: I believe asemic writing is utilitarian because people are interested in it, so the main utility is personal enjoyment and mental and creative stimulation. If it’s true, as William Burroughs says, that language is a virus, asemic writing is like an anti-virus. We seem to need life in order to live and life can be chaotic at times, asemic writing reflects this chaos. The ultimate utility is: write to live and live to write!
Asemic writing has already become institutionalized, and that is the beauty of it! It is like a contemporary painter who paints a cubist artwork today. Well cubism was first done a hundred years ago—by doing it today, there is nothing new about it. I see asemic writing as being similar to cubism in that it is already an old artform—it has already been done, a proper example being Henri Michaux’s Narration piece from 1927. Asemic writing may even be as old as the Voynich Manuscript or “crazy” Zhang Xu’s abstract calligraphy. With asemic writing there is only expansion. And if someone should become a millionaire off of asemic writing, I will say to them -- don’t forget the poor and Mother Earth-- give some back. Even though it may not be a new movement, I will say that the artists working with asemic writing have improved it, and gathered together ideas for an asemic consciousness. Since I don’t see asemic writing as being a new artform, I believe it is a return to the basics: points, lines, and textures. The two aspects of asemic writing that I am most proud of are: asemic writing is appreciated and created by people of all ages and secondly its internationalism. I am not exactly sure how large it is. It seems to ebb and flow in popularity. To confront the commercialization of asemic writing, just tell people the truth: we are boring.
This Interview originally appeared in the journal Slova in The Russian Language.
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