Asemic Writing and Grapheme Colour Synaesthesia

Those involved in asemic writing and especially asemic-visual poetry hybrids have likely noted the use of color associated with asemic symbols and constructs. The effect of “reading” one of these colorful asemic texts essentially creates a state of synaesthesia for the reader, the well-known mixing of perceptions. (For instance, being able to see music is a frequently reported synaesthetic phenomenon.)

Grapheme Colour Synaesthesia is a specific, documented condition where the reader sees individual words and numerals in different colors. The condition has been studied (see link) and specifics words are associated with specific colors and thus repeat in patterns.

These colors are possibly triggered by memories and emotional associations. Thus, both an individual experiencing Grapheme Colour Synaesthesia as well as an asemic text using color are essentially “reading” color constructs. The experience is deeply subjective and can also be deeply fulfilling and fascinating. On some level, the reader is also connected to the author of the asemic text.

This is not a process of ordinary “reading,” but it is an experience rooted in language and interaction with a text. The asemic text draws on the uniquely human capacity for language but it is also a new kind of “reading” that transcends the limitations of traditional signification and offers possibilities for new kinds of understanding, communication and experience.

References to Grapheme Colour Synaesthesia are frequently noted in the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. This fascination along with an emphasis on imagery among Rimbaud and the Symbolists had a powerful impact on Modernism and likely set the stage more than a century ago for the current asemic movement.


( Link = Dixon, Mike J., et al. “The role of meaning in grapheme-colour synaesthesia.” Cortex 42.2 (2006): 243-252. )





Black A, white E, red I, green U, blue O—vowels,
Some day I will open your silent pregnancies:
A, black belt, hairy with bursting flies,
Bumbling and buzzing over stinking cruelties.

Pits of night; E, candor of sand and pavilions,
High glacial spears, white kings, trembling Queen-Anne’s lace;
I, bloody spittle, laughter dribbling from a face
In wild denial or in anger, vermilions;

U,…divine movement of viridian seas,
Peace of pastures animal-strewn, peace of calm lines
Drawn on foreheads worn with heavy alchemies;

O, supreme Trumpet, harsh with strange stridencies,
Silences traced in angels and astral designs:
O…OMEGA…the violet light of His Eyes!

Arthur Rimbaud (1871) (Trans. Schmidt & Bauer)




Asemic Vispo by Allison Anne (Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA)

Mail art by Allison Anne (Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA)

Allison Anne is a gifted artist and enthusiastic Eternal Networker both via paper and digitally. She has a knowledge of music, much of which is associated with the network, that is rarely seen. So I am pleased to learn she has been inspired by asemic writing and visual poetry. This message she left at the IUOMA-Ning asemic writing group provides a context for this wonderful work she sent:

“DVS, seeing / (hearing!) / meeting the bennetts [C Mehrl and John M. Bennett], musicmaster [Thomas M. Cassidy] & others at the asemic translations event here as well as seeing the exhibition at the mn center for book arts [curated by Michael Jacobson] in mpls caused me to feel more of a connection to asemics than i did previously… and caused me to want to experiment. it was an inspiring event.” And more on the reverse side:

Thrilled to feature the one and only Allison Anne on Asemic Front!


Deconstructive Asemics by Ficus strangulensis (West Virginia, USA)

Digital decomposition from Times New Roman by Ficus strangulensis. He notes the piece could be the beginning of an “asemic alphabet.”

Ficus - deconstructive asemics - 2a1

Digital decomposition from Snipple font by Ficus Strangulensis.


One prevalent strain in current asemic text creation involves the decomposition of existing texts and alphabets. Written language is rendered “incomprehensible” to create asemic constructs that are unreadable in terms of the conventional process of reading.

The asemic construct is not necessarily devoid of meaning, but the communication process does not occur in the same way as the conventional process that signification creates meaning in reading. As asemics provide revelations about the nature of language, one contradiction emerges in relation to the concept of asemic unreadability: Asemic constructs are a metaphor for written language; asemics are meta-language because they can only talk about language but ultimately are not language.

The ghost of language may emerge and disappear in the asemic text, and these explorations by Ficus strangulensis stand on this borderland. Indeed, they locate precisely the asemic duality of standing on the borderline between meaning and incoherence. They capture alphabetic symbols evolving into some other kind of discourse. They suggest the roots of visual texts we rarely consider.

Methods utilized in deconstructive asemics include distortion, disruption, various chance operations and/or automatism, among others. Deconstructive asemics and its methods can be viewed as a destructive dismantling of the written word, a metaphor for the decline of the Age of Print and the notion of “literature.” Certainly the work of some asemic writers and artists suggests violence and a revolutionary spirit that might well represent obliteration of previous modes of discourse. However, the work of many others suggests both the interrogation of language already mentioned and the discovery of a new form of visual expression we do not yet fully grasp. These pieces by Ficus strangulensis suggest that quest.


3.9.2017 - asemic front21