by Mauro Césari and Quimby Melton
Some vispoets and asemic writers chafe at the idea that their texts are fundamentally linguistic.1 But if we understand these forms to be more graphically oriented than language driven -- extensions, say, of post-impressionism and abstract expressionism rather than Stéphane Mallarmé's Un Coup de Dés, 20th century literary subjectivity, Futurist/Dadaist literary experiments, concrete/L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, &tc. -- we risk robbing vispo and asemic writing of their textual, linguistic, and literary birthright.
Whether defined as such by creator or observer, every textual gesture -- no matter how subjective or (un)intentionally cipherless, no matter how semantic, no matter how formally open or closed -- represents an attempt to communicate and/or receive communication via the proxy of written language. And if we foster this particular understanding of vispo and asemic writing alongside the other, we can integrate literary studies' native paradigms with those of the visual arts. Doing so not only diversifies and complicates our critical approaches to vispo, asemic writing, and visual and textual culture at-large. Blending, Venn Diagram-style, each discourse's critical constellations also helps collapse the various oppositions that traditionally separate "Hebraic" text and "Hellenic" graphics.2
Among its other interests, SCRIPTjr.nl, of course, attempts to reveal and explore the intersections of visual art and textual literature. But it also maintains an important working assumption:
While visual poetry and asemic writing have vital graphical qualities, they are fundamentally language-driven textual expressions.
Like other (vis)poets and asemic writers SCRIPTjr.nl has featured, Mauro Césari shares this opinion and explicitly distances his work from raw iconography. Otherwise expressing himself exclusively in Spanish, Césari makes a point of explicitly stating in English, the modern world's lingua franca:
I'm not an artist. I'm a writer.
Césari believes that the radioactive qualities and graven undulations of fragmented language can potentially liberate semantic text -- what he refers to as "los cuerpos" or "bodies"; presumably what others might call "graphemes" or, collectively, "morphemes" -- from localized, prescriptive, and even autocratically enforced meaning:
Interesado en las radiaciones de lenguaje, emisiones y modulaciones de una escritura física atomizada. Materia radiante que ocupa los cuerpos, los marca, los raya. No creo que el término "asémico" tenga una especial connotación o preponderancia por sobre otras etiquetas de visibilización de un flujo de escritura que las desborda a todas, "a perpetual wave of arrival," una prehistoria giratoria en la escritura, un "signo viejo y nuevo" al decir de la fundacional revista Argentina XUL. Considero la escritura como registro de las potencias de los cuerpos, genitoras de posibles contra los modos seriados de producción de subjetividad que se inscriben sobre ellos y los despotizan.3
Reminiscent of the way Satu Kaikkonen describes her work, Césari clearly considers his texts Babel-like triumphs over both benign (subjective-personal) and malignant (prescribed-institutional) forms of localized meaning. But because of Césari's psychological interests, one can't help but wonder if SPAMTEXT achieves this via a kind of Rorschach abstraction and "reverse subjectivity."
As literature developed in the 20th century, it became progressively more subjective, and reading essentially became a process of trying to make meaning out of various, often tangentially related, overheard utterances. Nevertheless, while texts like Finnegan's Wake and The Cantos push this assumption to the breaking point, one still reads writers of the past century believing s/he can receive a message from them and/or discover some message (un)intentionally coded into their texts.
An ancient and enduring means of interpreting texts in the Judeo-Christian West, it's natural to approach SPAMTEXT in a similarly hermeneutic fashion. However, Césari's text thwarts readers' attempts to do so and instead shifts the burdens of communication and meaning-making to the reader's unconscious mind (or, perhaps less clinically, his/her inner-self). As such, reading SPAMTEXT is a very personal, subjective experience of self-discovery in which writer and text offer little, if any, assistance.
Like Rorschach, then, all readings of SPAMTEXT likely begin with an idiosyncratic, WYSIWYG initiation. This particular one is no exception, of course, and lacking authorial, textual, and critical guidance, SPAMTEXT's readers are perhaps doomed to absolute interpretive freedom. Paradoxically, though, the recalcitrant, unfinalizable, and dialectical SPAMTEXT also represents Césari's interests in the struggle of language to liberate itself from subjectivity. And while these qualities might seem initially contradictory, the push toward total subjectivity and the liberation from it can be read as complementary impulses.
Radically subjectifying a text -- that is, extending its meaning to an infinite multitude instead of grounding it in a narrow paucity -- is an extremely subversive act, a hedge against prescriptive language, interpretive conformity, political tyranny, and other excesses of groupthink-driven collective subjectivity. Granting interpretive authority to everyone is a way of robbing it from despots and dominant groups, and this right to universal personal subjectivity is, of course, a hallmark abstraction of liberalized democracy. More centralized, authoritarian forms of civic organization usually restrict it in some way, and the 20th century political history of Césari's nation state -- its Perónist and el Proceso censorship, the events of the Dirty War -- bears evidence of this and likely informs Césari's approach and sensibility.
SPAMTEXT possesses a relevant material quality as well.
Like Nico Vassilakis's grapheme-dominated Language Is Hell, Césari's SPAMTEXT uses printed, objective morphemes to achieve linguistic abstraction. But while Vassilakis' text is fabulously nebulous and entropic -- resembling a printer's type case overturned in hell -- SPAMTEXT, like other comparably orderly asemic expressions by Constantin Xenakis and Mirtha Dermisache (whom Césari himself cites as a major influence),4 maintains a residual imprint of the material items used to create it. Identification of these items may vary, but any set of guesses would likely include newspaper clippings.
An important tool of cosmopolitanism, newspapers nevertheless always risk being corrupted and provincialized by the powers of subjectivity and despotism that Césari warns against ("los modos seriados de producción de subjetividad que se inscriben sobre ellos y los despotizan"). By interweaving strips of foxed newsprint, Césari creates textual abstraction from semantic, material language and thereby undermines the latter's ability to act as a partisan rag or generator of tyrannical canards. As such, SPAMTEXT liberates material language from interpretive hegemony and central control and allows it to communicate beyond a number of different borders. It can be read, therefore, as a representation of a newspaper: achieving its universal, cosmopolitan ideal; transcending the role it plays in Benedict Anderson's model of nationalism;5 and attenuating the efforts of despotic, nationalist-driven states to steal, consolidate, and sustain power using the press.
All quotes from Mauro Césari were collected by Q.M. via email, and SCRIPTjr.nl's thanks are due Sergio Chavez for helping polish the translation that appears in note 3.
- For competing perspectives on the fundamental nature of vispo and asemic writing, see this Facebook discussion thread http://www.facebook.com/nico.vassilakis/posts/113083312090233 (2 December 2010. Andrew Topel, Nico Vassilakis, John Moore Williams, Quimby Melton, et al. "vispoets should be poets first," 24 November 2010). Williams has reposted the majority of the discussion thread at his blog as well. See "A fantastic discussion on facebook" (SinTax, 20 November 2010. http://sintaxonomy.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/a-fantastic-discussion-on-facebook/ [3 December 2010]). ↩
- Matthew Arnold outlined the competing Western instincts of Hebraism ("conduct and obedience") and Hellenism ("see[ing] things as they really are") in his fourth and arguably most famous Culture and Anarchy essay. These essays were published as a collection by Smith, Elder & Co. in 1869 ("Hebraism and Hellenism," The Victorian Web, December 2001. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/arnold/writings/4.html [4 December 2010]) after an 1867-68 serial run in Cornhill Magazine ("Culture and Anarchy," 14 October 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_and_Anarchy [4 December 2010]). Various editions of the essay, and the collection in which it appears, are available in print and online. The standard print edition undoubtedly remains Robert H. Super's The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold (11 vols. U of Michigan P, 1960-1977), and additional to The Victorian Web edition of "Hebraism and Hellenism" listed supra, Project Gutenberg has a readily accessible version of Culture and Anarchy available (1 July 2003. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4212 [4 December 2010]). ↩
- Césari asked SCRIPTjr.nl to publish this paragraph in the original Spanish and to translate it only via footnote. Using Google Translate and Yahoo's Babel Fish to establish a baseline translation, an English interpretation of Césari's words follow:
"I'm interested in the radiations of language, in the emissions and modulations of atomized physical writing, in the radiant matter that occupies the bodies, marks, and lines. I don't believe the term 'asemic' has any special connotation or any superiority over other labels for what people commonly refer to as 'vispo.' All such terms refer to a visual flow of writing that surpasses all others: 'a perpetual wave of arrival,' a revolving prehistory in writing, 'a sign old and new' as the pivotal Argentine magazine XUL called it. I consider writing to be a registry of the power of bodies, generators of potential liberation against the production of serial subjectivity and despotism that fall upon and envelop them."
For a brief overview of XUL magazine, whose motto/subtitle was "Old and New Sign" ("Signo Viejo y Nuevo"), see http://writing.upenn.edu/epc/authors/messerli/essays/messerli_xul.html (2 December 2010. Douglas Messerli. "EPC/Douglas Messerli on Argentine Magazine 'XUL,'" 1997). For more information on the magazine's namesake -- Argentine painter, sculptor, writer, and inventor of imaginary languages Xul Solar -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xul_Solar (2 December 2010. "Xul Solar," Wikipedia. 1 November 2010). A copy of The XUL Reader (Ed. Ernesto Livon Grosman. Roof Books, 1997) can be downloaded here: http:///escholarship.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1274&context=xul (2 December 2010), and those interested can browse a full issue archive here: http://escholarship.bc.edu/xul/ (2 December 2010. Boston College. "Xul [sic]: Electronic Archive," n.d.). Another extensive, mostly Spanish-language, site dedicated to XUL can be found here: http://www.bc.edu/research/xul/ (2 December 2010. "XUL Signo Viejo y Nuevo Revista de Poseia," n.d.). ↩
- Xenakis' asemic broadsheets were recently featured on Andrew Topel/Avantacular Press' vispo blog Renegade ("Constantin Xenakis," October 2010. http://visualpoetryrenegade.blogspot.com/2010/10/constantin-xenakis.html [5 December 2010]), and the New Post-literate has a nice sample of Dermisache's asemic newspaper series ("Asemic Calligraphy from Mirtha Dermisache," 21 October 2010. http://thenewpostliterate.blogspot.com/2008/10/asemic-calligraphy-from-mirtha.html [5 January 2011]), as does The Newspaper ("Dermisache," n.d. http://www.thenewpaper.co.uk/Artists/Dermisache.html [5 January 20110]), WussmanShop ("Libros de Artistas | Librería de Arte | Wussman," n.d. http://www.wussmannshop.com.ar/libros_artistas.php [5 January 2010]), and Fundación Proa ("Noticias - Arte, Video, Instalaciones, Cine. Verano 2010 en Proa," 5 January 2010. http://www.proa.org/esp/news-nota.php?id=24 [5 January 2010]). ↩
- This is not to suggest Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities (Verso, 1991 & 1996) is without merit, merely that Césari's SPAMTEXT represents a newspaper transcending its role as a representational disseminator of national identity. A limited preview of the first edition of Imagined Communities can be found on Google Books (6 December 2010). ↩