Michael Jacobson Interview by Beth Kingston-Lee
Beth: I’ve read some of your interviews, and I’m really interested in your thoughts around the autobiographical (or not) nature of asemic writing. When you write in asemic, do you have a thought process running in your head whilst you’re doing it or none or some?
Michael: I work a lot from intuition. I like to do the musical equivalent of jamming with my work, but then when I get to a certain point with the work I begin to carve and add more detail. Most of my work is created slowly, but occasionally I just like to scribble like Cy Twombly. In fact my next book Somnolent Game (due in spring of 2022 from Post-Asemic Press) has a whole chapter of monoprints of quickly scribbled asemic writing. As far as autobiography goes, yes my works are highly autobiographical from both external experience and internal thoughts mixed together into a net of my existence. I’m alive now and trying to make the most from the short amount of time I have been given in this material world. My head process is strange because I have a condition called schizoaffective disorder which is constantly attacking my mind. So I have to fight all day everyday and still do what I need to do to create and survive.
B: What are your thoughts on asemics reflecting abstract concepts of communication (or none).
MJ: As humans we have a great need to communicate even if it is just with ourselves, and asemic writing communicates the fact that we are alive and have created. After that there is nothing and/or everything left to say. Asemic writing seems to have gone through its purely modernist phase and is now in its wonderfully anarchic phase where anything goes. It has been interesting to watch it take off over the past 16 years on the Internet. Tim Gaze provided the great foundation for all the asemic possibilities currently with his Asemic Magazine. I just picked up the ball, envisioned the future, and ran with the ball and made it “popular,” for lack of a better term. I think that asemic writing communicates a fundamental need for self expression and it has turned out to be a quite universal need, and it was greatly fueled by the Internet, which is the most influential communication device invented since the telephone. Asemic writing communicates nonverbally. If you or anyone else can read it conventionally, it isn’t true asemic writing.
B: Are autobiographical asemics beneficial for the writer or the reader more? Is there empathy in trying to decode?
MJ: For me getting my work out on paper or a screen is a bit of narcissism staring into the artistic pool. Thank God and the Goddess for other artists/writers and the audience; since it’s nice not being alone. What I try and do even in my own illegible work is to still try to keep it entertaining or enlightening. I think the best asemic writing is the works that grab the reader right away and stop them like it would in a movie or a painting. I mean face it, why be boring. As far as decoding goes, I’m sure the governments are hard at work on it. I write everything down in both my asemic and verbal writing, all my good and evil thoughts. Asemic writing makes for a good fountain of imagination that we may all drink from.
B: Do you think asemics have the potential to express neurodiversity or complex cognitive/emotional processes? (I’m asking because in my experience, sometimes I have a picture, and sometimes it’s just a sensation or association to the pen that the writing comes out in.)
MJ: I think to some people asemic writing increases the tolerance for complexity and the admiration for simplicity. My asemic writing is about creatively trying to survive in a hostile world. The need for expression and creativity is primal and seems to be universal. I have found that for me asemic writing helps me cope with the stress of life. I used to be a big beer drinker and beer along with my creativity got me through some bad times. But I have been sober since June of 2020, and since I have come out of the fog I have found myself more attracted to verbal writing, for some strange reason. But I can feel asemic ideas brewing in my mind and I am gathering ideas for future projects. I like to do big projects and small projects. The big projects like books come when I am obsessed with an idea, the small gif asemic pohms come to me when I am having a festival in my mind.
B: What’s your experience with working with colour and light in your work? Do you have a ‘colour code’?
MJ: Colour and black and white are different tools that can be used. With some of my gif pohms I use both colour and B&W at the same time to stretch out the length of the gif pohms and to add another dimension of interest. With asemic writing I enjoy works that are simple black and white works on paper all the way up to wild asemic animations bursting with color. We have all these tools and ingredients for some reason so we might as well use them. Check out my Ello page for examples of my gifs.
B: By the way, my dissertation is a question and answer format of asemics based on questions neurotypical ask me about autism (as I am autistic).
MJ: I started creating art and asemic writing before I became schizoaffective, but have found with my illness that it has given an intensity to my work that I may not have had without it. It’s a miserable disorder to have, but I have decided to use it since it is not going away on its own. There is a website that I try to click on daily called The Hunger Site. It’s a click to give site and they donate your clicks for research into autism, hunger, protecting the environment, etc. Life seems to always find a way to make life more challenging. Do you use autism in your work or do you find it a hindrance to your creativity?
B: I find it gives me a lot of creativity. Part of being autistic for me that I enjoy is that it gives me a synaesthetic relationship to colours, words, and tastes- I’ve had a long obsession with signs, symbols and words but more for the aesthetic and tactile quality of them rather than the meaning itself. Being autistic also makes me think very visually and feel things very strongly and have difficulty identify and expressing through words- emotive language doesn’t tend to cover it. When working on my dissertation asemics, I find I can express myself much better through not apparently saying anything, instead allowing my brain to make system of codes relating to colours and symbols, which I think is pretty cool!
End of Interview.
Beth Kingston-Lee is a final year Drama and Creative Writing student at Kingston University. Some of their work can be found at @bironicbkl (Instagram).
Michael Jacobson is a writer, artist, publisher, and independent curator from Minneapolis, Minnesota USA. His books include The Giant’s Fence (Ubu Editions), Action Figures (Avance Publishing), Mynd Eraser, The Paranoia Machine, his collected writings Works & Interviews (Post-Asemic Press), and his autobiographical collection of senryu poems Hei Kuu (Post-Asemic Press); he is also co-editor of An Anthology Of Asemic Handwriting (Punctum Books). Besides writing books, he curates a gallery for asemic writing called The New Post-Literate, and sits on the editorial board of SCRIPTjr.nl. Recently, he was published in The Last Vispo Anthology (Fantagraphics), and curated the Minnesota Center for Book Arts exhibit: Asemic Writing: Offline & In The Gallery. His online interviews are at Full of Crow, Schizoaffective, SampleKanon, Asymptote Journal, Twenty Four Hours, David Alan Binder, and at Medium. In the past he created the cover art for Rain Taxi’s 2014 winter issue, and as of 2017 he has become a book publisher at Post-Asemic Press. In 2019 he was written up in the book Asemic: The Art of Writing (University of Minnesota Press) by Peter Schwenger; it has an entire chapter dedicated to Jacobson’s calligraphic work. He also founded and administers the asemic writing Facebook group. In his spare time, he is working on designing a cyberspace planet dubbed THAT. His Ello studio can be found here: @asemicwriter.