In ‘Etat d’Éxception’, the French translation of Giorgio Agamben‘s second Homo sacer book there’s a moment where Walter Benjamin‘s  concept of ‘pure violence’  (‘reines Gewalt’) is mentioned.

In 1919 Benjamin described this as a form of violence that is no longer used to uphold or to disrupt the judicial order, a violence that is pure and ‘meaningless’. As such it is recurrent phenomenon of any State of Exception, a State defined as the emergency proclaimed by a sovereign power that sets aside the whole of the judicial order for a given period of time.
Crimes committed in this State are no longer part of the set of deeds that can be judged by the law, they occur outside of the interior of the judicial order. Man when he is placed outside of what is human is holy  (‘sacer’), and such a man can be destroyed without punishment.
At the other end, and equally significant,  the sovereign (power) that is laying down the judicial order is placed topologically outside of the order it establishes.

On page 104 Agamben quotes Benjamin as follows:

“La purité d’un être n’est jamais inconditionnée, ni absolue, elle est toujours soumise à une condition. Cette condition diffère chaque fois en vertu de l’être dont la pureté est en cause ; mais jamais cette condition ne réside dans l’être lui-même. Autrement dit : la pureté de tout être (fini) ne dépend pas de lui-même [...] Pour la nature, c’est le langage humain qui est la condition  même, située hors d’elle, de sa pureté (Benjamin 6, 205-206).” 1

(“The purity of a being is never unconditional, nor absolute, it is always subjected to a condition. This condition differs each time in virtue of the being of which the purity is at hand; but never this condition resides within the being itself. In other words: the purity of any finite being does not depend upon itself [...] For nature, it is human language that is its condition, situated outside of her, of her purity” 2)

This clearly fascinates Agamben because it realizes in an exemplary fashion the topology that he is almost obsessively tracing in and outside of his Homo sacer books. That topology is one of an outside that is imported within the inside that is created by the outside, an (absolute) exteriority  producing the interiority, an outside creating the inside, an exception that is at the same time fundamental to the existence of the law.

Let us now attempt to describe ‘Asemic writing’ and it’s relation to writing in similar topological terms.
First let’s define Asemic writing rather trivially as the whole of graphical-literary experimentations, the creative undertakings that have become known under that name since 1997 (cfr.  Wikipedia’s lemma for Asemic writing).

There do exist different strands in these asemic activities but generally speaking Asemics (those who practice Asemic writing) tend to push the act of writing to its extreme, namely to the point where it becomes ‘pure writing’,  writing in its state of exception, where it has lost any form or intent of meaning. This writing has acquired the state of ‘sacredness’, because it happens on the outside of ‘normal’ writing where the conveying of meaning is its primary purpose (meaning is the law of writing, its criteria for validation). Moreover, writing is dehumanised insofar as it is now uninhibited by any human system of connecting written signs to meaning.

Now, it is clear that Asemic writing shares a lot with Benjamin’s ‘pure violence’. Asemic writing no longer wants to uphold the ‘law’ of meaning, and neither does it want to absurdly or subversively undermine any system of meaning. It is simply writing for its own sake, an outburst of ‘pure writing’ happening within the state of emergency of the literary ‘system’ that remains in one way or the other dependent on meaning.

However from the existence of expositions, gatherings, blogs, Facebook groups devoted to ‘Asemic writing’, we can gather that the writing being practiced is by no means gratuitous entirely. There has been created an ‘inside’ of Asemic writing. Albeit that the boundaries remain vague, it is clear to any observer that some writing (graphics, CGI-graphics,…) belongs to the interior of Asemic writing and there is evidently a plenitude of utterly meaningless writing occurring everywhere on the planet that is not belonging to that inside, if anything only because it isn’t being called that by the doodling human creating it.

Paradoxically, Asemic writing cannot arrive at being ‘purely asemic’ just by being asemic, i.e. devoid of meaning. The pureness of the thing is not within the thing. It needs the outside of Asemic writing, namely ‘normal’ meaningful writing to create its interior.
Inasmuch, of course as normal writing needs the outside of ‘meaningless’ writing to sustain its ‘normalcy’, its human interior of meaning, a fact that is easily masked by Capital’s dependency on the self-evident nature of its meaning systems.

The plot thickens, so to speak, when one considers that although Asemic writing is happening on the outside of meaning, the results of this practice is still being experienced as ‘expressive’, or ‘aesthetically pleasing’ or, more neo-mondanely. is being  ‘liked’ or ‘plussed’.

What has happened is that  (supposedly) through a seemingly cunning inversion of the inside and outsides of semantic systems, ‘Asemic writing’ has established an increasingly cosy region within the outside of all things human where the social game of appreciation, of investment with desire, of, in Deleuzean terms, desire production is literally taking place.

Put objectively: while the inversion trick does its job to radically oppose all of Capital’s insistence of (oppressive) meaning, a new ‘free world’ is being created beyond meaning where creativity supposedly finds its pure state. Of course from the moment Asemic writing is labelled as such, the new realm instantly implodes because all of meaning and Capital’s use of it is brought in by the back door.

However, if we do not look upon asemic writing as the production of a series of products, i.e. objects that are subject to appreciation in the realm of meaning, if we refuse to ‘put things objectively’ and uphold our right to engage in the activity itself, make the process count as process and only as process and not as some recuperable Badiouesk ‘event’, the small realm created on the outside of commodifiable creativity will last as long as we engage with it.

That point, the fact that creativity should not be seen as the production of objects, that creativity  is only happening within the activity and that everything outside of that temporality is not creativity but dead matter, that point is the starting point of the process that within the boundaries of these files, calls itself the Neue Kathedrale des erotischen Elends.

dv@NKdeE december 4, 2012 11:07 pm


  1. Giorgio Agamben, Etat d’Exception, Paris 2003, ISBN 2.02.061114.7, p. 104
  2. my transl. dv
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2 Responses to Asemic writing as writing Under Siege

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  2. [...] Endgame ” is a new procedural research into Asemic Writing as writing Under Siege, attempting to establish links with  Negarestani’s “poromechanics” and the [...]

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