Some time ago I had a pleasure to see Bruno Munari's libre Illegible
at Estorick Collection in London. Libre illegible contained no
texts, titles or tables of content. Instead, they could only be "read"
as a tactile, acoustic and visual experience. Libre illegible later became one of the key sources of inspiration for our project between one hand and another.
Investigation into those illegible books has led me to uncover a world
of non-textual "reading" and "writing" - visually beautiful illegible
and almost-illegible pieces produced by writers, scientists, poets,
artists, spies, adventurers and scribblers of all sorts: some - as a philosophical artistic investigation; some - as
communication; others -
as encrypted communication.
↓ philosophical artistic investigation
|Bruno Munari. Scrittura Illeggibile di un Popolo Sconosciuto|
Bruno Munari himself had produced a series of works titled Scritture illeggibili di popoli sconosciuti (Illegible Writings of Unknown People), using asemic writing, based on Arabic and Chinese characters. Asemic
writing implies presence of written communication. However, due to
it's a-semic nature, interpretation relies on the implications drawn
from visual information.
|Cecil Touchon, Palimpsest Asemic Correspondence |
|Cy Twombly, Letter of Resignation|
|Mirtha Dermisache, Diario Noº 1 Año 1|
|Cui Fei, Manuscript of Nature V |
script suggests presence of written communication. It relies on
apophenia - a human tendency to see meaningful patterns where they do
not exist.Of course, asemic witting is created by people who have
experience of reading and writing texts in their native languages - it
is based on the knowledge of what a legible written communication looks
like. As a result, any asemic language can only exist as a conscious
reduction of that experience and unconscious imitation of the languages
the writer does not understand - which probably explains, why much of
European asemic writing looks like Arabic or Asian scripts.
|Guy Beinin, So is the one (a visual poem)* |
is not really an example of illegible writing, rather it is an example
of visually beautiful writing practice from the 19th century, when it
was a custom to cross-write letters in order to save paper. It look only
little experience, they say, to read and write successfully in this
way, learning to ignore the overlapping text.
Another 19th century example is a translation. It is produced by an Alaskan Eskimo shaman, who having converted to Christianity attempted to translate the Bible into his
tribe’s native script.
Biblical names are in English/Latin script - as there was no equivalent.
This page appears to be from Genesis 19, about the two angels who visited Lot, before Sodom and Gomorrah were destructed (currently at Basel Paper Mill, Museum for Paper, Writing and Printing).
↓ encrypted communication
The most famous example of yet unresolved encrypted writing is Voynych Manuscript, of course.
It is generally agreed that the manuscript is written in an unknown
writing system. As speculations on the nature and the source of the text
multiply, the manuscript remains undeciphered. It remains illegible, or
- an example of a beautiful asemic writing.
A rather better story lies behind The Copiale Cipher - a mysterious 18th century document that no one could read until 2011. The Copiale Cipher describes the rituals and some of the political
ideals of a German secret society in the 1730s. Bellow is an interesting extract about one of the rituals involving reading.
master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and
orders him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands.
The candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank.
The candidate is told not to panic; there is hope for his vision to
improve. The master wipes the candidate’s eyes with a cloth and orders
preparation for the surgery to commence. He selects a pair of tweezers
from the table. The other members in attendance raise their candles. The
master starts plucking hairs from the candidate’s eyebrow. This
is a ritualistic procedure; no flesh is cut. But these are “symbolic
actions out of which none are without meaning,” the master assures the
candidate. The candidate places his hand on the master’s amulet. Try
reading again, the master says, replacing the first page with another.
This page is filled with handwritten text. Congratulations, brother, the
members say. Now you can see.
|The Copiale Cipher|
Every language is an
example of encrypted communication: the message only makes sense to
those who have the keys to decoding, those being vocabulary and grammar.
we have the keys, the writing remains asemic to the individual reader:
writing remains a drawing with a potential to be decoded.
Such as this Japanese calligraphy is to me.
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