…book-ends, or parentheses…

Earlier this summer, I went to meet a distinguished Israeli psychoanalyst, M.. I traveled by train from Herzeliya, where I was staying with my brother, and walked from the station in Tel Aviv to M.’s office, about a mile and a half away. The purpose of my visit was to discuss with M. the possibility of giving a presentation to psychoanalysts in Israel about my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. The book defies easy description; it is a strange, genre-crossing work that mixes graphic art, self-writing, and philosophy (understood in a very broad sense). I was to explain to him what the connections were between my book and psychoanalysis, connections which I was sure existed and about which I was prepared to talk fluently. M. is a little older than me and of course a very experienced psychoanalyst as well as a very knowledgeable philosopher.

Perhaps you can imagine how this felt. I am myself in analysis and I was acutely aware, as I entered M.’s office, that this was a place where psychoanalysis was conducted. The office was small, but there was the iconic couch in it. And two chairs, into one of which M. ushered me, stating (quite unnecessarily, you can be sure!) that this was the ‘patient’s chair.’ I was petitioning this older man for the chance to address a group of analysts. Petitioning this man who was vastly more knowledgeable about one of the subjects I wanted to speak about than I am; this man who was an analyst, in his own office, while I sat in what we had openly acknowledged was the patient’s place, but who even before entering the office was already investing this meeting with a lot of transferential feelings (as if it were a chance to have a friendly chat with my own analyst). If you guess that these were not propitious circumstances for me, you will not be wrong. Continue reading “…book-ends, or parentheses…”

The personal is philosophical

At my presentation about my book-in-progress (A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!) last week, I used several different introductions (sequentially, not simultaneously!). Here is one of them (note that it may be inconsistent with some of the others):

In 1969, the expression “the personal is political” was coined by feminist thinkers to challenge the idea that there is a disjuncture between the personal and the broader structures of power in which individuals are inscribed. If we interpret “political” broadly, so as to include all forms of public, institutional discourse, a special case of the expression would be “the personal is philosophical.” This special case would cover efforts to overcome the disjuncture between the personal and the conventions and norms of philosophy as a discipline. Those norms enjoin authors to keep their own personalities out of their work, enjoin readers to focus only on the ‘ideas’ in the text, ideas that are supposed to be able to circulate without any vital connection to the lives and circumstances of their authors. This valorization of objectivity and impersonality, with its effacement of the people who produce philosophy and the ways their individuality affects the contents of their philosophy, has left philosophy shriveled and immature, deprived of the nourishing life-blood of the real people who make it. What is desperately needed for the reinvigoration of philosophy is the rude and forceful interpellation of our stunted disciplinary norms by the subject, in all her strange specificity and individuality. Auto-theory is one form this interpellation can take: the calling out of a moribund modality of philosophy by the subject, slowly and seductively revealing his own face. But because each subject is singular, unique, and real, the face of her desire, even as it reveals itself, will always retain an element of inscrutability to the other. “Fetish” is the name we give to what is inexplicable, what is surd, in desire.

My project is a work of auto-theory, conducted under the sign of this image [of Batman slapping Robin] in which the joyful, liberating, fetish-clad warrior, in his idiosyncratic singularity, forces the intrusion of the personal onto the stunted, childish discipline of academic philosophy, trying, with a slap, to bring the blood to its face, trying to rouse it from its valorization, at once perverse and torpid, of the production of philosophy without a visible human face.

Skin in the game

Following up on my previous post about cumulative songs and naming… A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is a work of auto-theory. To see how the pros do auto-theory, I recently read Maggie Nelson’s fantastic book The Argonauts. She speaks very frankly about many things in it (including sex) and I sort of realized that to make my book credible as a work of auto-theory, I was going to have to put some “skin in the game” and be prepared to write about embarrassing personal things.

That is why I decided to reveal the multitude of pet names I gave a previous cat of mine, Celestino.

But seriously, I had not fully anticipated, when I began this project, how much I would have to confront issues of self-revelation. And, since the form of the book is commentary on the memes by a notionally distinct editor, how self-revelation will work when it is presented through that indirection.

And then, this morning, I saw a post by Skye Cleary in which she refers to a film about Derrida in which he complains that philosophers don’t write about their sex lives! I imagined how that would go, in an article in Mind or Synthese:

“x is an ORGASM[subscript: philosopher’s name] if and only if a)…. b)… c)…. This definition is both too broad and too narrow. Regarding b), I have often found myself…. The problem with c) is that it would make it impossible, by definition, for anyone other than me to experience an ORGASM[subscript: philosopher’s name]. But while I think that it is metaphysically impossible for that to happen, it is not conceptually impossible. We might therefore weaken c) to c’)… ”

Rest assured: whatever happens in A Certain Gesture, it will not look like that!!!!

Single Tagging

As part of the commentary on one of my Batman memes, I plan to divulge the words of a song I have composed. It is one of those cumulative songs which gets longer and longer by the addition of a new element each time through – a musical version of “I packed in my grandmother’s trunk…”, and the elongation is effected through the introduction, one at a time, of the many existing names I gave a cat I used to have as a pet.

Now, today in class, I was teaching Robin Jeshion’s paper “Acquaintanceless De Re Belief” and she there suggests that naming in general is governed by (though not as a strict condition) a principle of Single Tagging – roughly “Don’t give a name to something that already has one.” I questioned this principle in class in the light of my practice (almost a compulsion – there is definitely something non-voluntary about it) of giving many names to my pets. And one of the students was like “Me too!!!!!!”

So, I have two questions: Is this a recognized thing, this quasi-compulsion to give multiple names to pets? And do people find Single Tagging plausible?

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My new book

A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is a new book I am working on – an entirely original kind of work that crosses genres, styles, and media. It will include about 120 memes based on the image of Batman slapping Robin (originally from a 1960s Batman comic). Each meme will be described and commented upon by an ‘editor’ who is, notionally, distinct from the creator of the memes. Many, though not all, of the memes deploy themes that have occupied my interest in philosophy, understood broadly: interpretation (literary and religious), language in general and naming in particular, metaphysics, and psychoanalysis.