One of the things I have most appreciated about working on A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is the way it has forced me to be creative when I have had to talk about the work or present it to people in formal or semi-formal settings. Very difficult, and not so rewarding, has been the presentation of the project in applications for sabbaticals, fellowships, and funding (with variable results!). This is, of course, because such presentations are petitions and one cannot stray too far from the traditional forelock tugging in making one’s petitions.
Much more rewarding have been the presentations made to people without goal of profit – in universities and private homes. The peculiar nature of the project, and its unsuitability to exposition in anything like a normal academic format, has flummoxed me right from the start and has thereby forced me to be creative in unexpected ways. Generally, I have had to make my presentations a performance. I suppose all academic presentations involve some element of performance, but in these cases, I really had to go way beyond my comfort zone, in both presentation and content. I have had, in my own limited way, to mug for the audience (something I detest usually), to act a part, and to embarrass myself by personal exposure. (Not of the taking off of one’s clothes variety!)
In some presentations, I have resorted to using four quite different introductions to the talk. I have made one presentation just about the title, while others intermingled traditional philosophy (an investigation into the ontology of memes) with performance and personal revelation. I have introduced live performance into one presentation, in which two friends enacted some of my memes. I have then used video of that performance in another presentation. In all these cases, I felt these departures from normal academic operating procedure enriched things enormously, adding texture and depth to the flat plane of my oral delivery. Each new adaptation has required me to find a way through a problem, sometimes a specific problem. (At a presentation in Israel, I realized I could not do the performance I had used in another venue because – like the Woody Allen character who finds himself unable to perform sexually when his partner reminds him of his Aunt Rivka – I knew the audience would have a number of elderly Jews in it and that would inhibit me too much, making me, I suppose, feel too much of a child.)
This coming academic year, I will have a fellowship to work on the book at the Center for the Humanities, here at the University of Miami. That will require me to provide something for the other fellows to read, and about which I will briefly talk as a prelude to a group discussion. Nothing I have done so far in presenting the work will serve. I have no idea, no idea at all, how I will deal with this. I am anxious about it, and yet at the same time, strangely confident that, once again, I will find a way through, and that will involve something new, something exciting, something that will enrich the whole project.