Here is a piece I wrote for the Oxford University Press blog on memes. There is some brief discussion of the Batman Slapping Robin meme in it.
In “What is an Author?” Michel Foucault says that
as our society changes… the author function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemous texts will once again function according to another mode… All discourses… would then develop in the anonymity of a murmur.
I quoted this striking passage in my paper on memes, “The Anonymity of a Murmur: Internet (and Other) Memes,” because I think it well describes memes. Each, I said, was too ephemeral to be a distinctive work of art; but collectively, they “create a vast susurration that restlessly adapts itself to new technologies and new modes of expression and communication.”
Given this outlook on memes, there is a sense in which, in A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, I am creating anti-memes. By writing elaborate commentaries on my dozens of Batman memes, I am elevating each to the status of a properly-authored text, each one small, to be sure, but made by a real author in a real context that the commentaries, after their own idiosyncratic fashion, will attempt to bring out. Continue reading “The “anonymity of a murmur” and the so-called Intentional Fallacy”
I mentioned in a couple of previous posts that I decided to excise a number of the memes that were going to be part of my book. It was sufficient for a meme to be excluded that I did not envisage being able to write anything of interest (to me) in the commentary on it. I have now set myself the goal of posting the excised memes here, in an occasional series, and trying to write something of interest (to me) about them, thus proving my decision to exclude them mistaken! Also, in this parergonal space around the book, I will write about the memes without the pretense that their maker is someone other than myself. I am curious to see how this affects the nature of my writing about the memes.
This was an occasional meme that appeared (on March 10th, 2016) in the comments on another meme, which will not be excised, “I thought your boat was longer than it is”:
“Aye” is actually, in my opinion, not a bad meme overall, and there would have been some quite interesting stuff to write about it. I think my decision to get rid of it was made in a fit of “throw-it-out” house-cleaning that perhaps went too far!
Its interest lies in the fact that the dramatic scene it represents is unlike any other in the corpus of memes I created and stands in an interesting relation to the slap. The language for eliciting votes in a meeting is highly codified and both Batman and Robin are just following procedure, as far as their speech is concerned. In no other meme do I have the Dynamic Duo performing to a kind of script. In fact, the imposition of the ‘already written’ script (as it were) onto a surprising choice of image almost reverses the normal way that image macros work, where an ‘already given’ image is modified by spontaneous and freely-composed text. Overlaying the image with this text means that Batman’s response, in which he goes along with the process initiated by Robin, is accompanied by a simultaneous rebuke. Is the slap an objection to Robin’s having called for a vote? Is it an embodied “Nay,” which cannot be explicit given the limits of the form? Is it, itself, part of some rule-governed activity, so that, despite appearances, the scene depicted is not one of vote-taking but merely includes that language as part of another formally specified activity? Continue reading “Excisions: 4 (Aye)”
The idea for A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! was born with the impulse to (re)present the memes I had published on Facebook but with the explanations of their more esoteric aspects that I had purposely withheld the first time round. Thus, it was always going to take the form of memes with commentaries thereon. Something that was not built into that very idea, but that fairly quickly took hold of me, was that the commentaries should be written as if by someone other than the creator of the memes.
Why did I make this fateful decision? The whole character of the work is profoundly different from what it would have been had I written about the memes ‘in the first person’ and yet I hardly know why it felt so right to me to do it this way. In 1710, somebody said: “This was, among the ancients, that celebrated Delphic inscription, ‘Recognize yourself!’, which was as much as to say ‘Divide yourself!’ or ‘Be two!'”¹ Was the division of myself performed in unconscious obedience to a demand for self-knowledge? Certainly the project as a whole has been connected to the progress of my psychoanalysis, which is an extended exercise in gaining self-knowledge – but has that quest been abetted by my decision to “be two” in this work? Or has that decision served to help me keep my own counsel under the scrutiny of an over-inquisitve commentator? Both, is the likely answer.
The general form of the challenge raised by my self-division is this. A meme, to be comprehensible, must be supplied with context concerning my own life, thoughts, activities, or writings. The ‘editor,’ being ‘distinct’ from the creator of the memes, does not have automatic access to those elements of context that are not, in principle, accessible to anyone. How, therefore, can he introduce them into his commentary on that meme? I have employed a variety of different solutions to this common problem, ranging from manufactured (i.e. fake) documentary evidence to imaginative recreations of the artist’s state of mind on the editor’s part.
In attempting to solve this common problem again and again, now in one way, now in another, I have come to have the strangest experience. The memes on which I am commenting were produced about two years ago. (Yes, time really does fly.) As they recede further and further into the past, they really do come to appear to me as the work of another! In some cases, I no longer remember what I was thinking or what I meant. The fictional split between the artist of the memes and the editorial author of the commentaries is gradually becoming a reality in a way I had not anticipated. Perhaps, if the preparation of the book takes enough time, I will truly come to forget what some of the memes are about, or even whether I created them at all.
¹ The somebody was in fact the Earl of Shaftesbury, in section 2 of his Soliloquy: Advice to an Author.
Increasingly Verbose is a meme in which a number of panels are placed in a vertical column. Each panel has an image and some text, usually the text adjacent to the image. In the top panel, the image is rich in detail and the text sparse. In succeeding panels, the original image is rendered increasingly abstractly and the original text increasingly verbosely. (Other names for this meme emphasize the progression of the image component – “Deconstructed Memes,” “Meme Decay,” etc..) Here is an example, taken from the webpage linked to above:
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. Continue reading “M.1 “… a meme in which I’m being…””
Last weekend, I opened a dedicated Twitter account to go with this blog – essentially as a way of informing people that there are new posts. But the involvement of Twitter in the epitextual writings around my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, also brings to the fore elements of the project that I have long been thinking about.
It came to me, during the heyday of my production of Batman memes in early to mid 2016, that the memes themselves were a little like tweets. That inspired me to make one meme, which I will not display here since I have to hold back a few good ones for the appearance of the book, in which Robin’s text is in the form of a tweet, #s and @s and all.
The resemblances stem from, though exceed, the limits to the amount of text one can use in both. With Twitter, the limit is hard and clear – 140 characters. With memes, the limit is what can be legibly imposed on the image. This is true for all image macro memes, but with Batman Slapping Robin, there is even less space than usual in the image available for text, if one wants to include all the text in the speech bubbles. I frequently struggled to pare down the text I wanted to use to one I could make legible. A few memes just could not be pared down enough and I had to resort to other measures. In this meme (M.29 “… he was a jew,” published on Facebook on March 7th 2016), I both strained legibility almost to breaking point and overflowed the bounds of the speech bubble:
I just gave a version of my presentation on A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! at a salon in London. The lack of technology available meant that I could not project images – so I resorted to having some of the memes acted out, by Oliver Black and Jenny Black! As I explain in the video of that small portion of the talk, I attempted to turn that to advantage by choosing memes that lost something important by being enacted.
Today is the one-year anniversary of the finale of the Batman Meme Project, which came to a close with the posting of the film Evnine’s Batman Memes: The Movie.
As it happened, on that very day, I made the first post-project meme. Roughly 65 of these post-project memes, most of which have not been publicly seen, will be included in my book .
In honor of the anniversary, I here publish that first post-project meme. I’m very pleased with it! It is the only meme of mine in which there is, not only a third text bubble, but a third speaker, in addition to Batman and Robin.
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.