a brief note on desemantized writing / jim leftwich. 2021

Jim Leftwich_ Desemantized Writing

Jim Leftwich_ Desemantized Writing

Desemantized Writing

For me, the practice of asemic writing began in processes I was using in the mid-to-late 1990s to write textual poems. Beginning with a large variety of source texts, those processes included syllabic and phonemic improvisation, varieties of cut-and-paste recombination (of letters, of morphemes, of words, of phrases, of sentences, and of paragraphs), varieties of misdirectional readings-as-writings (moving through paragraphs from right to left, from top to bottom and vice-versa in columns, reading multiple lines in wave patterns, reading paragraphs and pages diagonally, etc), and formulas for extracting, replacing and/or omitting letters from poems and paragraphs. The poems and paragraphs I was writing during those years were constructed, we could say, for reasons other than that of producing meaning.

Sometime late in 1996, I was warned that if I continued on the path I had chosen I would eventually wind up producing asemic texts.

In January 1998 I wrote the following to Tim Gaze: “An asemic text, then, might be involved with units of language for reasons other than that of producing meaning.”

If I had known the term “desemantized writing” at that time, I would certainly have used it, rather than “asemic writing”. The term ‘desemantized writing” is much more accurate, much clearer, much more precisely descriptive of the processes from which my “asemic writing” emerged.

Again, let me emphasize that this little note is accurate in relation to my own processes and practices, and I am fully aware of the fact that it does not apply to the relationships
that many others have with the theory and practice of asemic writing.

If I had known the term “desemantized writing” in the 1990s, rather than the term “asemic writing”, then Tim Gaze and I would have been using the term “desemantized writing” in our correspondence. The term “desemantized writing” would have been used in our international exchanges through the mail art and small press poetry networks. Chances are that Tim’s magazine would have been named “desemantized writing”. Then, sometime around 2005, when Michael Jacobson encountered the magazine and the word, maybe instead of “asemic writing” he would have used the term “desemantized writing” in his interviews and essays.

It’s interesting (again: speaking only for myself) to rewrite this imaginary history, but unfortunately, here and now, in 2021, it is only a kind of game. I didn’t learn of the term “desemantized writing” for another decade-and-a-half, when Marco Giovenale told me about its use among Italian verbovisual poets in the 1960s and 70s.

jim leftwich