M.1 “… a meme in which I’m being…”

Some time ago, before I started the dedicated Facebook page which turned into this blog, I posted several excerpts from my book-in-progress. Now I have this blog, I thought I would re-post them here. The first one I posted was the first Batman meme I ever made and will be the first in the book, accordingly. I re-reproduce it below, as close as I can to how I envisage it on the printed page. I now think, however, that the treatment of the philosophical issues in the antepenultimate paragraph is inadequate and will need to be rewritten at some point.

M.1 … a meme in which I’m being…


M.1: … a meme in which I’m being…  Composed: January 27th. Posted: January 27th. Orientation: Reverse. Font: Impact, with font shadow. TB1: “I can’t help think of everything as part of a meme in which I’m being…”, white, with black borders. TB2: “Shut up, Robin!”, white, with black borders.

The technique of this, as of all the earliest memes (M.1-M.4), is crude. The default settings of the meme generator used by the artist (Impact font, with font shadow, all capitals, white letters with black borders) are left in place, almost certainly because at that stage, he did not realize they could be changed. They are highly unsuitable settings where there is a lot of text (see the technically disastrous M.3). Even here, where there is not that much text, Robin’s words are quite hard to make out.[1]

M.1 and M.55, the first and last memes of the Batman Meme Project, make a delightfully meta pair of bookends to the project. When the artist first composed M.1, at La Provence in downtown Miami, he surely had no idea how prophetic Robin’s words would be. Robin is almost certainly about to complete his sentence with the word “slapped.” Thus, the slap in this meme is an instance of what I called, in the Introduction, a demonstrative slap. Batman’s verbal response is brutish and unimaginative, as in many of the memes produced (by others) with this image; however, given Robin’s statement, which clearly makes the meme depend for its humor on this multitude of already existing memes, that unimaginative response is quite suitable.[2] This is, though, the only place in all of the artist’s work where he resorts to such a trite and clichéd response for Batman. It is something that could only be gotten away with once, and it is appropriate that that once is here at the start of the whole project. Although the project had not even been dreamt of yet, one could not have asked for a more auspicious beginning.

If the Batman Meme Project had not even been dreamt of, in any form, at the time of this (and the next) meme, is there any justification for including these memes as part of it? Even after the more or less steady composition and Facebook posting of memes began on February 20th, with M.3 (nearly a month after M.2), the idea of a ‘project,’ a single endeavor of which these memes were parts, was slow to form. But at least, with M.3, there is the artist’s paratextual remark (in the Facebook post accompanying the meme) that the artist was “continuing [his] ever more erudite series of Batman memes” (see commentary on M.3 for more discussion of this remark) – hence, some consciousness of a series or collection. M.1 and M.2 were composed and posted with no such thought by the artist. Is it not then, in a sense, anachronistic to include them as parts of the Batman Meme Project?

As it happens, Evnine himself has provided resources for addressing this worry in his article “‘But Is It Science Fiction?’: Science Fiction and a Theory of Genre” (2016b). In that paper, he argues that literary genres, such as science fiction, are historical particulars rather than the more usual view which takes them to be regions in classificatory or conceptual space. In other words, a genre is not like a ‘file,’ with an associated set of criteria something must meet to be put in that file. It is a historical reality, extending in space and time, with all sorts of things as parts: people (authors, fans, publishers), literary works (the works in the genre), publishing houses, conventions, etc. As such, a genre is a special case of a tradition. The Jewish tradition, for example, has as parts: the Jews, the Torah, the Talmud, synagogues, ritual objects, events like the exodus from Egypt, traditional practices, and so on. Evnine suggests that something may be part of a tradition at one time but not at another, or vice versa. The idea that parthood is relative to a time is pretty compelling when we think about things like chairs and tables, that seem wholly themselves at any time at which they exist. (But see the commentary on M.60 for more on this issue.) A given piece of wood may not be part of a chair now, but become one later when it used to repair the chair. But traditions do not seem to exist wholly at each time they exist; they unfold through time like a very long dinner party.[3] The thought that parthood may be relative to a time for entities like that is more striking. As an example, Evnine suggests the event of the crucifixion of Jesus as something which was a part of the Jewish tradition at the time it occurred, and for some time thereafter (it was an important event in the history of the Jews, a part of their historical existence), but later ceased to be part of the tradition. It was, in a sense, excised from that tradition so that, today, it would be very odd to think of it as constituting part of the Jewish tradition in the way in which we still think of, say, the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70CE as part of that tradition. What effects that excision is, for the most part, the attitudes to it of the Jews. What is part of a tradition is affected by the consciousness of the people in that tradition (and possibly others, as well). In this way, traditions can remake themselves on the go and can extend their origins back in time after the event. And the reason they can do this is because a tradition is, in some basic and obvious sense, an entity that is directly tied to the views, values, and beliefs of the people whose tradition it is.

Now it might reasonably be suggested that an artistic project is something like a miniature tradition. It unfolds through time; it is very much tied in its nature to the views, values, and beliefs not, as in a tradition, of a multitude of people (it is after all in miniature, relative to a tradition) but of one person, the artist whose project it is (or to several, if it is the project of several artists).[4] If this is so, then it might be true that M.1 and M.2 were not parts of the Batman Meme Project when they were composed and published. In fact, it might have been then true that the Batman Meme Project did not exist at that time. But when it came to exist at a later time, it was able to extend its origins back in time through its ability to acquire as parts things that were not parts of it at the time they were created. And it is clear, in fact, that the artist did come to see M.1 and M.2 as parts of the project whose existence only emerged into his consciousness slowly, over time.

As another instance of this pattern think, now, not of an artistic project, not of a tradition, but of a career, specifically, the career of a superhero. At some point this career has unequivocally begun. But before this point is reached, there are glimmerings: a peculiar injury that brings with it a new power, still not fully tested or understood; training of some kind; tentative efforts at vigilantism; a costume that is still improvised and has not yet reached its iconic form; a name or persona still in flux. In short, the makings of an origins story. When these events transpire, there is, as yet, no career of the superhero. How can there be? The superhero him- or herself is in the process of being born. But once a career has clearly begun, it envelops, with a backward sweep of its Batcape, so to speak, these mythical origins, which themselves now become the first stages of that career. In this light, we can see M.1 and M.2 as the origins story of the Batman Meme Project.

[1] In addition, the meme is marred by an embarrassing grammatical solecism. Evnine should have had Robin say either “I can’t help but think” or “I can’t help thinking.”

[2] How different things would have been had this been the last, and not the first, meme of the Batman Meme Project. In that case, it would have been Robin’s contribution that was unimaginative; Batman’s response would have been, instead, highly ironic.

[3] According to some philosophers, tables and chairs, too, unfold through time like long, and more to the point, very boring dinner parties. Evnine alludes to such views in M.60; see the commentary ad loc. for further discussion.

[4] One might think of a movement (or perhaps a style) in art – things like art deco or Surrealism – in the same light, occupying, in terms of scale, a place between an individual project and a full-blown tradition.

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