Asemic/ Pansemic? Essay & Asemics by Todd Burst
In 2015 (Scriptjr.nl), artist Jim Leftwich argued that “there’s no actually perfect ‘asemic’ thing or sign, since everything conveys some meaning, everything may find its way to — at least — an inner ‘emotional’ (scribble of) meaning.”
So, instead of using the term asemic to denote a — rather new — art form, Leftwich proposes that we use “pansemic.” Pansemic means “that everything emits/ expresses some semantically rich sign, always provided with almost a shadow of meaning; so everything makes sense, and a bunch of meaningful directions may always be attached to the invisible arrows uprising from any of the written traces we imagine and conceive and make or find.”
Unfortunately, I disagree with this. Although I respect and very much enjoy Leftwich’s work, I think his concept of asemic/ pansemic might need some more reflection. But before I begin on my tirade, I should make it know that I am a philosopher and a follower of Ludwig Wittgenstein — that is to say, I believe meaning is contextual, social, and part of our everyday normal routine of doing things i.e. language is a behavior, etc. etc.
The problem I have with Leftwich’s comment “that everything emits/ expresses some semantically rich sign,” borrows from structuralism/ postructuralism and Wittgenstein. The meaning of a word (for structuralist and postructuralist) emerges through its difference with other words. To say that everything is meaningful is negates non-meaningful, which in turn negates meaningful since we can’t determine the difference between a meaningful and non-meaningful “semantically rich sign.” So, to say everything has meaning is to say nothing has meaning, but this doesn’t get us back to asemic writing.
Secondly, meaning — in semantics, language, etc. — is socially understood…socially communicable. So, a pansemic work would have to illicit a linguistic response — not a feeling — that we would all understand or could be made to understand via language.
Abstract art and asemic writing can convey a feeling or an aesthetic quality that remains unnameable, but that does not mean that it is endowed with meaning. A sensation and meaning are two different things. This does not mean that we won’t find a common way of speaking about a common aesthetic it-ness that a certain asemic work brings about. This could happen, but it hasn’t.
I tend to agree with Marco Giovenale’s response to Leftwich, though I might change a few words here and there.
Marco Giovenale responds, stating that “a ‘proper’ (?) asemic area can be seen in the zone of the mind opaquely linking our expectations for a known written linguistic message and content to an actually unknown shape of glyph.
He continues…a whole text or drawing appears in front of us as an asemic ‘thing,’ indecipherable to the intellect that does not recognize the language; but at the same time it may be meaningful… to the taste. perception…soliciting some sort of empathy.
I would get rid of the word ‘meaningful’ above and substitute it with ‘sensations’ or something akin.
Anyway, what Giovenale (and I generally agree with a lot of his writings) is getting at is that any glyph, simple, etc. could represent this ‘sensation,’ but we don’t have ‘access’ to this particular symbol.
I disagree with pansemic for reasons stated above. I think asemic work is much more suiting for the art both Leftwich and Giovenale create, because it creates a tension between what can be expressed and what cannot. Meaningless writing is beautiful because it does not get us bogged down with something absolutely tangible. Asemic writing should stay true to its asemia (?!?!?) it’s (non)sens.