Hubcap Mandalas and Other Forms of Being: David Chirot on Asemic Writing

DBC - 12.27.2017 - 1

By David-Baptiste Chirot (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)


Every once in a while I have sent to asemic lists a brief question at a time – (never any answers). I have been doing this kind of work now called asemic since the early 1980s. At that time I just made markings in dirt, mud or snow alongside sidewalks and in parks. That was in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Those early musings reminded me of things done as a child before I knew how to write with the alphabet.

In those days of the 1980s I had lost language. I discovered one day my beloved typewriter – vanishing beneath piles of machine parts, all sorts of art supplies – had rusted. I was in shock. I never dreamed this would happen to me. Previously, for many years, I wrote daily, weekly and monthly columns, reviews and interviews. They were about film, music and books for many different publications in the Boston area. The demise of the typewriter meant no more writing.

A related result was that I did hardly any reading, other than retaining a fascination with liner notes on LPs at a record store I co-managed. I liked older album liner notes especially. They were often spelled badly, their grammar of an unknown quantity and quality. I could only guess at the meaning of wild usages of “hepcat” terminologies. I puzzled and marveled at the language describing commercial aspects of music that went over the edge and led me into the wordless “languages” of found materials.

Site/sight/cite: I began collecting all kinds of materials which “spoke/wrote to me.” I gathered beautiful HUBCAP MANDALAS. I had over 150 hubcaps of all kinds. In those days there were still many varieties of materials used that were designs of interest. Today I find similar materials way too bland, too much alike, let alone plastic. I do have some really beautiful whole front ends of cars with lights and reflectors, everything intact. They are in my work room; remaining hubcaps are in the closet.

So about asemics: I have thought of all kinds of ways of “lookingatit” and “sounding it out.” Is there any relation to sound poetry? And I have considered the paradox some have noted in my own work: The presence of strong emotional expression and yet the absence of conventional “meaning” gained from reading words, an absence of the “literary” when I am considered a poet.

This led me to think about, as I have often, Russian Futurist ZAUM, which was meant to be an EMOTIONAL – i.e. “non-rational” presentation. ZAUM has been translated into English and explained by brilliant historians and critics. They have identified ZAUM as “transrational” poetry. Since I owe so much to ZAUM and its explicators, I am gratified that my work is seen as expressive because that is what I FEEL in making these works.

The very wonderful creative critical thinker – poet and artist Petra Backonja – wrote me that on first finding my work, it stood out from all else for her. When she looked at my work she thought/felt, “For this guy, making this art is a matter of life and death.” Indeed for me it was and is life and death. My work is often born out of desperations of all kinds. I veer about for long periods in “psychotic depression” brought on by severe trauma: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is not just physically based desperation about death. It is a condition of the spirit, the mind and the imagination fighting to survive crushing circumstances in every area of being.

Hence, I have named my “rubBEings” because they reveal “Beings” that have physical presence and souls. They show faces and forms of Beings found on telephone poles and concealed elsewhere across our world. You can see this, for instance, in my book published by mEIKAL aND’s Xexoxial Editions. The rubBEings keep me alive mentally, spiritually and physically. Their forms of BEING resist the lurid calls of death, suicide and despair. Based on the response, I can only conclude they serve this function for others as well.

Asemic, then, for me, is that expressions coming out of these vast areas of Being that do not have readily corresponding words. I play with words related to asemic such as “amnesiac” and “asemniac.” Amnesiac suggests that perhaps in the asemic one is “forgetting” language, conventional writing but retaining some primal power of language.

Sometimes looking at many works I have pondered a darker possibility: Do some asemic works convey ANYTHING? Or is the process of composition a journey to nothingness? Is the shedding of conventional and nuanced language simply baring the “I” the “Ego” of the maker? If these possibilities were to be true, the asemic enterprise might ultimately be yet another kind of nihilism.

For me, the asemic venture must be something which OPENS all kinds of investigations, thoughts, creations, allusions, and relations with other forms of expression – of calligraphies, etc. I can dimly imagine reasons why some conventional thinkers might distrust asemic writing. They might doubt its “authenticity.” I would rather OPEN OUTWA/ORDS than go into narrowing thought or opinion, delimiting, naming, confining, leading towards “ownership,” “possessiveness” which is, I think, a kind of crime really against all that may be POSSIBLE let alone IMPOSSIBLE!!

  • David Chirot


A note on the text: This Asemic Front essay is based on a more expansive and personal letter sent to me by David Chirot. The original piece has been edited and focused to fit better the AF format, but I am confident his intentions and expressions have been accurately preserved. I again offer my deep appreciation to DBC for sharing his work so generously with Asemic Front.

  • De Villo Sloan


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