The Fall of Asemia

by B.J. Best profile


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Number of Reviews: 7
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Gesturing toward meaning, May 21, 2022

The Fall of Asemia is a story about loss and violence and language and memory that, to me, evokes the war in Ukraine and works like Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, as well as the asemic writing of authors like Henri Michaux. In this game, you play a scholar who is translating an old text–an account of war and exile–from “Asemian” into English. You click through variations of each Asemian glyph, which causes the corresponding English translation to shift. Even though the story was bleak, I enjoyed inhabiting this world of churning meaning. The variations of each line were similar enough to suggest that they all might have come from the same source text, yet distinct enough to feel satisfying and novel, even over three “rounds” of translation.

The notion of gesturing toward meaning but never really nailing it down reminded me of John Cage talking about the relationships among syntax and sense and militarization, and how deliberately making language less understandable in effect “demilitarizes” it. I wondered how this might relate to translation–specifically, translation of a story about military invasion and occupation.

To get at this idea from a different direction: I felt a little let down by the final choice, both because I was hoping that it would feel more consequential, and also because I was disappointed to finally land on a definitive translation. Throughout the game, the failure of meaning to be pinned down felt like a kind of resistance, a kind of opening. This continuous movement, combined with the very strong writing, infused the game with energy and preserved a sense of possibility, albeit limited. Taking a narrative that was multivocal and constantly shifting, and freezing it into a single voice, a single sentiment, conveyed a finality that also felt a bit like defeat. It was a fitting and effective end to this haunting game that was as much about translation and the writing of history as it was about Asemia.

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