New Inscriptions: Writing in the Expanded Field

Special issue co-editors: Paul Benzon (Skidmore College) and Rita Raley (UC Santa Barbara)


A wordless novel written entirely in an invented set of pictograms. Multiple copies of a book left to decompose in different biogeoclimatic zones. Words of a story cut into snow and photographed before they melt. Poems composed of arrows, brackets, and flow charts. An archive of literary works that waits unpublished for a century. Redacted documents that tell the secret history of empire and terror through blackness and blankness. Liquid chemicals floating on the surface of the ocean. Inscription is everywhere, all around us—and increasingly recognized as such. What new forms does it take in the contemporary moment? What materialities, surfaces, and spatial-cultural sites does it occupy most urgently, and to what end? How might it be thought historically, in relation to technological transformations in writing and language processing? What, in short, is at stake in the expansion of the concept, category, and field of inscription?


For this special issue of ASAP/Journal, we seek contributions on contemporary practices, texts, archives, and theories that might collectively begin to imagine the study of new modes of inscription as both a field and a potential methodology. Collectively, these contributions will sketch the shifting parameters and possibilities of the ‘new inscriptions’ and consider how artists and writers in different linguistic, socio-cultural, and political contexts have begun to reconceive of inscription, and to what ends. If the expanded field of inscription, to use Rosalind Krauss’ language, can be read as symptomatic, what can it tell us about both our current historical moment and our thinking about form? How do different inscriptional practices engage both dominant and marginalized writing systems, and how might we articulate questions of power, history, and representation through a focus on inscription?


As inscription operates more widely in a more literal sense, we might ask as well what a deeper attention to new sites and practices of inscription could tell us about domains such as environment and ecology. What might an analysis of inscription as a ‘cutting into’ make legible when the surface is ground rather than clay tablet? Is there a geology of inscription? What happens when we disentangle inscription as a practice from writing as a medium—what other media might it illuminate, and what types of knowledge about medium, infrastructure, and substrate would a media-specific analysis of inscription produce? How might inscription as concept and practice contribute to conversations about durability, repair, preservation, and archiving?


If, on the other hand, we think of inscription as multi-sited, or even abstracted from concrete ground or field, what questions might we pose about the relations between a particular mark or utterance and larger systems, whether the global or planetary? In what sense could inscriptions open up a space for continued rethinking of the categories of “world literature,” “global language,” or “global art”—and how might it serve to constellate the relations among those categories? How might inscription now be thought in relation to prior moments of imagining global languages, media, and informational architectures? Could it be understood in terms of trans-cultural, trans-lingual movement, or aesthetic style and, if so, what type of alliances, or which family resemblances, would it make legible? What might a multi-sited notion of inscription tell us about shared affects, tastes, and sensibilities? What, further, can we learn from the circulation of inscriptions, whether through documentation, liking, and sharing, or through mimetic, even memetic, reproduction? What might we learn from engagement with invented or constructed languages? And what difference does it make if the writing subject, the inscriber, is nonhuman?


For this special issue, ASAP/Journal invites 6,000-8,000 word articles responding to these questions or exploring new theories, practices, and sites of inscription in ways that may include but are not limited to the following:


  • Inscription, environment, and ecology
  • Inscription and/as infrastructure
  • Inscription, ephemerality, and permanence
  • Inscription and embodiment/disembodiment
  • Artists’s books and codex experimentation
  • Experimental and post-digital publishing
  • Inscription and circulation and/or reception
  • Inscription as indigenous, anti-colonial, decolonial
  • Inscription as nonhuman, antihuman, posthuman
  • Trans, queer, feminist, and BIPOC practices of inscription
  • Inscription and/as media archaeology
  • Inscription and picture languages
  • Inscription and the digital


Completed essays are due by February 1, 2021. Please send queries or abstracts via email to the special issue co-editors or to the ASAP/Journal editor at

Completed articles should be submitted to the journal’s online submission site at

Rita Raley researches and teaches in the English department at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  She is an Associate Editor for the “Media, Film, Digital Arts” section of ASAP/Journal, as well as co-editor of the “Electronic Mediations” book series from the University of Minnesota Press. Her most recent stand-alone editorial project was a collaboration on a special issue of Amodern on the theme of “translation-machination.”


Paul Benzon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Skidmore College.  His work has appeared in PMLA, Narrative, electronic book review, Media-N, and College Literature, and his book Archival Fictions: Materiality, Form, and Media History in Contemporary Literature is forthcoming from University of Massachusetts Press.