A Poetics of Asemics: a typographical survey


An asemic / code-based zine

An asemic / code-based zine

Typography is a jargon rich habit. It has its own language, a vernacular specific to the task of talking about the physical forms of language and writing systems. Asemic writing shares the same associative interests as typography in the physical form of writing. Mark-making, the origins of writing systems, are a mechanical production of replication through physical movement; it is an embodied activity. The replication of marks requires a replication of bodily movement. The replicable is essential to writing systems: symbols repeated form a communication. In order to function they require convention of agreed understanding. Different writing tools have produced different methods of movement. Letterpress requires the handling and organisation of lead type which was first designed and then carved and cast in type foundries. Thus production of writing therefore includes not just the physical act of producing marks, but also the acts of producing the tools.

A typeface is a writing tool. Designing a typeface still requires mark-making, whether that is using a pen or pencil which is then digitally scanned, or whether it is a digital mark making in software like photoshop. The forms of writing systems become pixels which are rendered and honed into vectors then digitally constructed into a set of replicable glyphs assigned to the different keys and variation of key codes on a keyboard. Thus, all of the asemic typefaces  in A Collection of Asemic Type Specimen (In the previous post) all conform to Western writing systems inherent in the Western keyboard. (The keyboard is another tool complicit within writing: the production of a keyboard and the keyboard’s design is a component of writing systems.) Asemic typefaces are an interface between the activity of writing and the action of typing on a keyboard.

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Codes are a matter of translation. Decoding is implicit in the term code: marking asemic typefaces as code by design rather than intention. Strictly speaking all of the asemic typefaces in A Collection of Asemic Type Specimen (in the previous post) can be decoded should they be used to form words through the activity of typing. However the typefaces used in title in syfer curled (pictured) assign phonics to the glyphs differently to the convention of the corresponding key. Therefore there is a disjuncture between typing and producing text.

A further disjuncture is found in the ‘wall’ between what we recognise. In the process of producing an asemic text using a keyboard and asemic typeface, the moment the words are down there is no going back, no looking up to assess what has been written. It is a disruption of the writing and typing process we are used to. Touch typing, looking at the screen while typing, is no longer useful as the writer is in the dark should they not remember what they have said. (However, a work around can be formed by typing in a semantically recognisable typeface and then highlighting the text to change the text into an asemic face.)

These components of working with asemic typefaces highlight the uneasy connection between the phonetic and the phoneme. The representation is only a representation, in line with theories of the sign, the link between the two is strong: socially, educationally, in practice, etc. But it is nevertheless ambiguous.

It remains a code. The lack of familiarity makes it a code; a lack of training and thus familiarity makes it asemic. Learning the links between the phonetics and the glyph would render all of these faces as writing systems in their own right – but that would also require more than one user, or knower, of the system in order for it to work as communication.

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Asemic writing produces a nostalgia for how we saw writing systems before we had the knowledge to be included in their function. It alienates us from the visual representation of language we have learned and has become so engrained we can find ourselves reading words without intending to. Asemic writing rejects unconscious, automatic reading and those learned habits. It draws attention to the physical manifestations of writing as a visual media. The opacity of a writing system makes visible that which has become invisible. Asemic writing further disrupts the communal component of writing systems. It produces writing that has no secure conventions rendering it mute.


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