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This is not an expert’s review unfortunately: more of a ‘Sunday review’. My best claim to authority in writing it is having written my own poems without words. ‘Writing without words’: a definition of asemic writing, which is Tim Gaze’s practice (as well as editing Asemic magazine).
An advantage of a book like this – a book that can be downloaded for free – is that anyone that can read this review can look at the book at the same time. If I assume that such a book isn’t an anomaly, my next thought is that its culture is international. I don’t know the publications listed at the beginning of the book (I/you could google them), but the press and the cover artist (you have to pay to get the cover) are based in Finland.
I can’t help but read Gaze’s work with Cage in mind: Cage being one of the few twentieth century English language poets with comprehensive international reach and influence. It’s this thinking that makes me feel inexpert. But there’s virtually no context for reviewing such experimental work in Australia, so it feels worthwhile articulating basic thoughts, rather than, for example a looser, more poetic review.
Cage had interesting ideas in abundance, but his most effective contribution to the arts was the idea that noise is music. We make art with our minds, we read it, frame it … we can incorporate anything we choose – or choose not to choose. There’s meaning apart from semantic meaning … (with Gaze – and Cage – we can feel Stevens’ ‘pressure’). Cage’s ideas were influenced by – or in synch with – Zen ideas of acceptance. A Sunday audience (if Jacket and Cage had one) might think that this is nonsense. But the Cagean approach – noise is music, for example – demonstrates the possibility of enjoying more of life. It challenges the consumer lifestyle: as if to say, hey, do you want to be part of life, or do you want life to be (served up) for you?
The meaning of noology is gained through reading, the same as any text. What’s the meaning of the word ‘noology’? Without looking at a dictionary, what I think of is a science of negation (or vice versa); or a new kind of newness. With a nod to zoology. The word is not included in the Concise Oxford. Wikipedia says that it “derives from the Greek nous (mind) and logos. Noo-logy thus outlines a systematic study and (attempt at) organization of everything dealing with knowing and knowledge, i.e.: cognitive neuroscience. It is also used to describe the science of intellectual phenomena. It is the study of images of thought, their emergence, their genealogy, and their creation.” But definitions are just theory.
Why describe something readers can see for themselves? Because of my faith in subjectivity, that it might take me somewhere I don’t expect. Like any book of poetry noology is in conventional black and white – the black read against the white. This consistency aside, there is plenty of variety in the style or forms of the writing. Though I guess all were created using computer software, some have the appearance of being (relatively) less mediated: of photocopying, even of painting (blotting) or drawing. Some are like street art, some like tv feedback. Visual noise / music.
If Gaze’s images are ‘images of thought’ — in the way that, say, Cage’s music could be said to be — or images of thinking, whose (what kind of) thoughts are they? If we can abstract or conceptualise thought outside the human, then they could be the thoughts of the computer that made them. And ‘noology’ is not just the presentation of such images, but the ‘study’, according to the above definition. Yet they are images. But like images in more conventional poetry they are representations (interpretations) of an original image. Or studies.
Is noology a form of lyricism? And is it appropriate to conflate the noology of the definition with the title of the work, which has as much right as any work to irony? To approach an answer to either of these questions, I think a greater critical context is required. In this sense, noology may function as a metonym for experimental Australian poetry in general.
I don’t want to cop out completely, however. I think that Gaze’s book is an attempt to fulfil the criteria of noology as a science, using the form of visual poetry. The lyrical aspect is brought to the text by the reader: to the extent that they have romantic thoughts in relation to the idea of technology — or, to the idea of thought itself — then they may well perceive Gaze’s work as lyrical. (If all noise is music, after all, then this expands the parameters of song.)
It’s not what’s on the page that’s challenging, but Gaze’s placing of the work within writing, within creative literature. This makes the work alive and strong, which may not be the case on a gallery wall.
As ‘writing without words’ we can let go of syntax and the conventions of communication – even connotation – and think on the work’s resemblance to writing in a more general sense. Writing as something that’s done, rather than something that’s (invisibly) commodified.
Is this neoprimitivism? A coming to writing as if for the first time? I don’t know the extent of Gaze’s use of technology, but the more techno-looking images are the ones that are most familiar. It’s the pages that look handmade that are less familiar, more original.
I won’t describe them all, but will start with the first. (All are untitled.) You could call it Dalmatian in a blender, but actually the dots are too regular for that. More like variations on hand-painted dice. And though a conventional die is contradicted by the bottom image (as it suggests a six on more than one side), it’s this image that offers a sense of 3d. Dice suggests chance-generated writing, but old-school, human, rather than computer-centred (but then, of course, you can use dice (if only conceptually) to write a chance-generating program). That’s when the dots began to look like people’s heads awaiting rescue.
Description, association and imagination don’t necessarily cover the meaning of the work, but they demonstrate a form of reading beyond an appreciation (or rejection) of aesthetics, design. Abstraction doesn’t refuse meaning / reading but offers them.
The second work is more geometric, more tv-screen-breaking-up, but again there’s an apparent repetition, and it’s repetition, which is never pure, that creates meaning. The humanness narrative could be said to go from heads ot faces: but the faces are deathly.
The third – and I’m reading these – inevitably (but the inevitability is mine not Gaze’s) in terms of screen stills. As images of beings in the water – think Dogtown and Z Boys, or something set by the docks of Marseilles. But perhaps I’m being too Sunday-indulgent … as if Gaze’s work merely affirmed my consumptive life.
There are alternative readings to be made. The distorted – I write ‘distorted’, then realise they’re not (necessarily) at all – black shapes in the lower half recall the French cave paintings. There’s an off-centre ‘A’ too, another beginning, yet these are, I think, accidents, unlike the brick patterning above. And as I look at these again, I see the brick shapes are patterned both horizontally and vertically.
This is beginning to sound like close reading. And it can be done: there’s plenty to say (write) in this way. And an advantage of writing (thinking) in this way is that it slows me (us) down. I begin to notice things. However banal to say so …
I defined ‘asemic’, earlier as writing without words; the Concise Oxford suggests without semantics: writing without meaning. But the meaning is in us, not the writing. Rejecting something as meaningless is a gesture of ego, cynicism, of failure.
Gaze’s texts – or poems – gesture or at least, can be read as gesturing towards (or from) scribbling, squiggling, doodling, cartooning, inking, riddling, finding, painting, printing, drawing, examining, charting … so many unmeaningless activities. Reading noology is not like reading a newspaper – or it is.
Michael Farrell has published three books of poetry: ode ode, a raiders guide and BREAK ME OUCH (graphic poetry). He won the 2008 Barrett Reid Prize for a ‘radical manuscript’. His anthology of Australian gay and lesbian poets (co-edited with Jill Jones) will be published later this year.