Philosophy through memes

I am honored to have been asked to contribute an essay on philosophy through memes for the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Public Philosophy (eds. Nancy McHugh, Lee McIntyre, and Ian Olasov), currently in preparation.

nietzsche

Writing the piece is a challenge. I don’t know of any literature on the topic and feel like I am having to think things through from first principles. (If you know of anything that might be relevant, do please let me know.)

You might think that because I am in the middle of writing a book, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!,  that itself does philosophy through memes, I would have a lot of fairly developed thoughts on the topic. And I suppose I do. But my own attempts to philosophize through memes are not all that helpful. First, they are impure. My medium is not the meme, but the meme plus commentary (and the commentaries are parts of an ‘art catalogue’ in which the writing is done by a notionally different person from the creator of the memes). So my resources for doing philosophy are much greater than the exiguous ones of a solitary meme (or even a sequence of memes). At the same time, those extra resources are so specific and idiosyncratic that they offer no basis for generalization. Finally, the image I use has a distinctive feature which is not as a rule found in memes and which is the source of much of the philosophizing I attempt through it: the speech bubbles that derive from its original appearance as part of a comic.

The original slap, from DC Comics World’s Finest #153, 1965. Art: Curt Swan Story: Edmond Hamilton

Speech bubbles allow spoken language to be represented by pictures of writing. It is the space between these three – image, writing, speech – that allows me to explore in a practical way the kind of philosophical issues raised by Derrida, in Of Grammatology, and more recently, by Alva Noë in Strange Tools. The difference between writing and a picture of writing, and the different relation each has to speech, became a major theme in the composition of the memes. (It is the topic of a talk I gave recently, available here in Italian and here in English.) Some of the ways in which it shows up in the memes are : footnotes (an exclusively written phenomenon) appearing in the speech bubbles; text represented in different alphabets, including Braille – a primarily tactile rather than visual alphabet); and text and speech bubble appearing in a mirror reflection. Even the use of punctuation in the speech bubbles raises issues since, like footnotes, it is a feature of writing, not speech. (In addition, the exclamation mark, which I came to use so frequently, is a written element that has distinctly pictorial qualities. From top to bottom, a whoosh and a slap!)

None of this, however, has any general application to philosophy through memes. What, then, is philosophy through memes? It is easy to imagine something bland and boring, like this:

Paley-meme

A brief quotation from Paley’s version of the Argument from Design is, in very lightly edited form, superimposed onto an image of Paley himself. If this were the best that could be done for philosophy through memes, it would hardly be worth pursuing.

Perhaps we get to something more interesting with this:

paley-Dali-meme

The same text now appears over Salvador Dalí’s painting The Persistence of Memory. Putting the text over this surreal depiction of drooping watches now evokes pictorially an obvious objection to Paley’s argument: the ‘watch’ that needs explaining (i.e. the adaptation of means to ends found in the natural world) is not as perfect as all that and therefore hardly suggests the existence of an omnipotent maker. Furthermore, the positioning of the text itself, which echoes the watch on the left, reinforces the imperfection not just of the world, but of Paley’s argument about it.

Perhaps an even better example of philosophy through memes is evident in a meme which, unlike those above, was not made by me. (I don’t know who made it.)

Foucault-meme-for-class

A well-known meme with this image uses the text “The hardest prison to escape is in your own mind.” This Foucauldian sentiment is clearly at work in the present version but whereas the original has the image simply illustrating the idea, here we see the idea being alluded to by the little boy in his play. This emphasizes the super hetero-normativity of the image, thereby connecting the Foucauldian point to the specifics of white, middle-class American life. (I will be showing my students this meme when I teach the chapter of Ellen Feder’s book Family Bonds: Genealogies of Race and Gender in which she discusses the panoptic design of Levittown, a plausible location for the scene in the image.)

Clearly there is a lot more to say about philosophy through memes – but you’ll have to wait until the finished article to learn my thoughts on it. If you have any thoughts of your own, why not leave them in a comment?

Image-Writing-Speech-Silence: Memes and Philosophy (The full lecture)

It was a real pleasure to talk to the Oxford University Philosophy Society last week (Wed 27th May, 2020). The quality of the recording we made of the event was not great. I have repaired a few of the problems here but you’ll still notice words skipping now and then.

I discuss how the memes in my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, attempt to ‘enact’ philosophy (rather than philosophizing discursively in the usual way) around the relations between speech and writing, when complicated by the fact that the writing is presented pictorially. I also read an excerpt from the book which deals with John Cage and silence.

Hear me talk live about the Batman Meme Project: “Image-Writing-Speech-Silence: Memes and Philosophy”

philsoc event draft (003)[6558]

I will be talking live about my book-in-progress A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! and reading an excerpt from it. The event is courtesy of the Oxford University Philosophy Society and will take place, over Zoom, on Wednesday 27th May at 7.30pm UK time (2.30pm US Eastern).

The talk will be an adaptation of the one I gave in Italian last October in Genoa. In it, I will discuss some of the ways that the memes in my book utilize the feature of the speech bubble (derived from the comic strip origins of the image) to explore the relations between speech, writing, and images of speech/writing.

I will conclude by reading an excerpt from the book that pertains to silence, and to my encounter with John Cage.

The link to the Zoom meeting will be posted here before the talk starts.

Holy podcast, Batman!

My colleague from Religious Studies, Professor Robyn Walsh, is teaching a class Star Wars and Religion. Part of how she is continuing to teach her class during the plague is by making podcasts and she has done one with me, on the grounds that there are Baby Yoda memes.

BabyYoda
Thing I learnt while preparing for the podcast

I had a very enjoyable conversation with Robyn and we talked about my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, autotheory, the ontology of memes, spirit versus letter in St Paul, Star Wars, and yes, Baby Yoda memes (it’s Robyn who has all the cool things to say about that!).

On auto-theory: Bodies that are (not) at home

In my first post on auto-theory in my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, I raised the question of whether auto-theory, arising as it does out of emancipatory political struggles, is something a multiply-privileged person like me can properly engage in.  Auto-theory is the insurrectionary intrusion of the personal into the theoretical. One way it works, according to some feminist theorists, is by orienting theory to the lived bodily reality of the author. I quoted Sara Ahmed, who describes a ‘sweaty concept’ as “one that comes out of a description of a body that is not at home in the world” (Living a Feminist Life, 13). I remarked that the body of a cis straight able-bodied white male tenured professor is not one that is generally imagined as “not at home in the world.”

But the reality is that I do not experience my body as being at home in the world at all. There are many reasons why my body does not feel ‘at home’ in the world. If I were braver, and if the anticipated result were less pitiful, I would describe a number of them. As it is, I will mention just one: how I hate the sound of my own voice. I cannot listen to recordings of it and when, as occasionally happens, I catch an echo from the inside of what it sounds like from the outside, I cringe. (I believe this is quite a common experience.)

shh
I’m very fond of this meme, which will be included in the book. It is the only one which modifies a speech bubble into a thought bubble. It is, of course, not entirely apropos relative to the point I am making in the text.

To speak in more general terms, Plato’s claim that the body is like a prison to the soul has always resonated strongly with me. I feel my body to be an alien thing, beset by inconvenient (this is hardly the right word) needs and desires.

At this point, though, my thoughts about “at homeness” in the world become confused. Feminist scholars such as Genevieve Lloyd and Andrea Nye (among others) have persuasively argued that such images of alienation from the body, along with the attendant prioritizing of mind over body, reason over emotion, action over passion, etc. (the very priorities auto-theory is aimed at overturning) are staples of specifically male-dominated philosophy. If being at home in the world means embracing the values of white men that are promulgated to the benefit of white men, then my very not feeling at home in the world (manifested in such things as hating the sound of my own voice) is part of what makes me at home in the world!

In one of the commentaries in the book, on a meme entitled Couples Therapy, I quote a passage from Andrea Nye’s book Words of Power: A Feminist Reading of the History of Logic (1990). As a graduate student, I used to be fond of quoting this passage as an object of ridicule.

Desperate, lonely, cut off from the human community which in many cases has ceased to exist, under the sentence of violent death, wracked by desires for intimacy that they do not know how to fulfill, at the same time tormented by the presence of women, men turn to logic. (175)

Now, older, a little wiser, and more humble, I look at myself and see only its truth. (And of course, I contemn the younger man who laughed. But could my fascination have indicated, even then, some shameful self-knowledge?)

The man described in Nye’s passage is both at home and not at home in the world. Can he write auto-theory? What are the terms under which he can join, should he want to, the emancipatory struggle with which auto-theory is linked? As “at home” in the world in the sense of finding refuge in the scared hidey-hole that has been the headquarters of patriarchy, he surely has nothing to say. As “not at home” in the sense of being “desperate, lonely, wracked…,” he should surely keep his mouth shut if he doesn’t want to fall into the we cis white men have it so hard – if only you knew – in fact, we probably have it harder than trans people, people of color, women mode. Is nothing the only thing he can say?


The first part of this series on auto-theory in A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! can be read here.

A third part will follow in which I discuss “the personal is political.”

“a glove slapping a human face – forever”

One of the memes of the Batman Meme Project, posted on Facebook on March 2nd, 2016, was this:

doubles

Michael Rosen very wittily and astutely posted as a comment an adapted passage from George Orwell’s 1984:

All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a glove slapping a human face — forever.

(The original, of course, has “a boot stamping on” where the adaptation has “a glove slapping”.) “a glove slapping a human face – forever” became the meme’s obvious title, and I am greatly indebted to Michael (and also to Tim Watson, who independently referred to the same passage from Orwell when I posted Evnine’s Batman Memes: The Movie, shortly thereafter).

I am currently reading Carolyn Korsmeyer‘s recent book Things: In Touch with the Past (OUP, 2019). Korsmeyer writes:

Dan Lewis, Senior Curator of the History of Science and Technology at the Huntington Library in California, described the thrilling privilege of handling the books housed in the collection… Lewis, who does not wear gloves, says that being able to handle such rare documents is like “being present at the moment of creation.” (25)

On reading this, I was arrested by that parenthetical comment about Lewis’s not wearing gloves. Why doesn’t he? The way the passage is written suggests that this is a remarkable fact, that one would expect him to wear gloves in handling these precious books. Lewis’s haptic experience would be slightly different if he did wear gloves, but I assume it is not for that difference that he forgoes this form of protection. His goal is more likely – this is a key theme in Korsmeyer’s book – to be in direct contact with these rare objects from the past. But is Lewis’s pursuit of the frisson of unmediated touch so important to him that he ignores the damaging effects of his body’s effluvia on these objects, of which he says “Just to be in their presence is an honor”?

Having thought all this, my mind went (forgive my crudity) to men who fetishize not wearing a condom during sex. Their sensory experience will, like Lewis and his books, be different according to whether or not they use a condom. But one might easily speculate that it is not really for the sake of the haptic surplus that they so scorn the use of something that protects their partner from the damaging effects of their body’s products, whether in the form of unwanted pregnancy or STD. Korsmeyer says that experiences like those of Lewis “evoke an impression that gaps of time have been momentarily bridged, bringing the past into the present” (25). It is hardly novel to see sexual relations in terms of bridging a gap not of time, but between persons. Perhaps the sexual cases should be subsumed under the wider rubric about touch, not the usual finger-as-phallus motif, but instead the phallus-as-finger. But men who prioritize the pursuit of unmediated contact over the well-being of their partner are often, rightly, reviled. How should this bear on how we think about putting our grubby ungloved hands on priceless relics from the past? The general public, naturally, is kept from defiling quasi-sacred relics in this way – but what of curators like Lewis who take to themselves the privilege and pleasure of intercourse with these hierodules?

What does all this have to do with Batman and Robin? Despite Rosen’s reference to Orwell, it never really occurred to me until this very day, exactly four years after I began the Batman Meme Project (actually, tomorrow is the four-year anniversary), that Batman slaps Robin with a gloved and not a bare hand. In fact, gloved hands are very prominent in the image. We see two of Batman’s and one of Robin’s, densely clustered in the bottom left corner. How does this detail inflect the image? What does it mean for my book-in-progress A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!? Should we praise Batman because, even in this moment of violence, he holds back from the further violation of Robin’s bodily autonomy that hitting him with his bare hand would represent? Should we pity him because, even in this moment of perverse intimacy, he cannot bridge the gap with another person? I just don’t know how to read it.

As for my project, I have written on this blog about how important to me is the sound effect of the slap that I have used on many occasions in work around my book:

But I realize now that this is the sound of an ungloved hand slapping a human face – forever! (Why did none of you call me on this?) I am so, so disappointed! The internet does not offer me much in the way of sound effects of gloved hands slapping, but the few there are are woefully lacking in the zest I have imagined the slap to express. Here is the best of them:

 

Excisions: 8 (That’s all folks!)

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.

finis

Like the previous meme in the Excisions series, “Holy Memes, Batman,” “That’s All Folks!” appeared publicly only in the film Evnine’s Batman Memes: The Movie.

It simultaneously closes two quite distinct openings, which makes it of some structural interest. First, as the last meme seen in the movie, it complements “Holy Memes, Batman,” the first meme of the movie. As the bookends of the movie, they share several features.

1. Not only are they the first and last memes of the movie, but they are about the beginning and end of the movie. Or perhaps I should not say that they are about the beginning and end, but that the first begins, or introduces and the second ends, or concludes, the movie. (This too requires some qualification but it’s too boring and unimportant to make. And here you can see that a different spirit is now animating my project – as I have spoken about recently – since some time ago I would have certainly laboriously spelled out the qualifications. I used to say that the whole project was a field for the free exercise of my obsessional pedantry, something I had always struggled, and am apparently again struggling, to keep in check.)

2. Each was made specially for the movie and each appeared only in the movie. (One other meme appears only in the movie but was not composed for it – “I Don’t Care!”.  It appears in the movie at a particularly climactic moment, around 2’22”, and stays visible and stationary for longer than any other meme in the film. It will be commented on at length in the book and is a very important meme in the economy of the whole project.)

3. Each has a specifically cinematic character. The first serves as the backdrop to the movie’s title and Batman’s response to Robin’s “Holy memes, Batman!” is “Yes, Robin, I fear it’s a movie.” The second uses the classic end of the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoons and shows Robin as sad that the movie is ending.

But “That’s All Folks!” is also the very last meme composed as part of the Batman Meme Project narrowly defined, for which Evnine’s Batman Memes: The Movie was the grand finale. All the further memes in my book will be from the parerga to the Batman Meme Project. Thus, “That’s All Folks!” is also a complement to M.1, “… a meme in which I’m being…,” the very first Batman meme I ever composed, and the first that will appear in the book. (You can see the meme and read the commentary on it that will open my book here.) Robin’s desire that “this” might go on and on can be seen as referring, therefore, to the Batman Meme Project itself, the project of making these memes and posting them on Facebook. (The parerga were undreamt of when the movie was made.) As first and last memes of the Batman Meme Project, M.1 and “That’s All Folks!” share a meta quality. In the first, Robin says that he feels as if everything is part of a meme in which he is being slapped. Although the rest of the Batman Meme Project was not envisaged at the point at which I made that meme (just as the parerga were not conceived of when I made “That’s All Folks!”), it made a very apt meta opening to the project. In “That’s All Folks!”, Robin casts his eye back over the project thus anticipated, recognizing that it must come to an end somewhere, sad that it is over, but perhaps also nervously excited about the prospect of life outside of a meme in which he is being slapped.

On another note, there is a formal feature to “That’s All Folks!” that I find very appealing. Many of the memes are about the interplay of between language and the pictorial depiction of speech that is engendered by the cartoon image’s speech bubbles. (I discuss this at some length in my [Italian] presentation “Image, Writing, Speech, Silence.”) In this meme, the picture of writing that represents speech by its location in a speech bubble is replaced by an image, but that image itself includes a pictorial representation of an utterance. (Recall that one often sees the line spoken, with or without the words’ being written at the same time.) So, there would have been lots to say about this meme in the commentary on it.


Well, once again, I have succeeded in bringing myself to feel that it was a sad mistake to omit this meme from the book. There would have been a lot of interesting stuff to write about it, and it would have played a kind of architectonic role that is now unfilled in the book. The Batman Meme Project will simply stop with a meme that has no special relation to the first meme of the project and that is not the performance of an ending itself. I guess my real reason for excluding it, since some of the reflections above were already present to me when I decided to leave it out, is that if I had included it I would really also have had to include “Holy Memes, Batman” and that, together, they seemed somehow of too ephemeral an interest – as if I couldn’t let anything go (which, to be honest, I couldn’t). I’m not sure I was right about that at all.

That’s all, folks!

The presentation of Immagine – Scrittura – Parola – Silenzio

[Italiano sotto]

So, I went to Genoa to deliver my presentation about A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. I presented four of the memes from the book and talked about how they played with the relations between speech, the written representation of speech, and the picturing of the written representation of speech – a theme that is quite prominent in the memes in the book and in the commentaries on them. After discussing these four memes, I presented another one, about John Cage and the anechoic chamber and read aloud the commentary on it that will be part of the book. It was an exciting challenge, all the more so since I did it in Italian.

You can see the talk below. There is a slight break between the two parts, so some of the presentation is missing. I finish talking about the meme “The Sound of One Hand Slapping” (and play the slap sound effect I wrote about here) and begin reading the commentary on the John Cage meme. The missing text of the commentary is presented below in Italian.

anechoic

Allora, sono andato a Genova per fare la mia presentazione su A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. Ho mostrato quattro meme nel libro e ho parlato di come giocano con le relazioni fra il parlato, la scrittura come rappresentazione del parlato, e l’immagine della scrittura. E’ un argomento molto diffuso fra i miei meme e i loro commentari. Dopo questo, ho letto la traduzione di un commentario su un meme che riguarda John Cage e la camera anecoica. E’ stata una sfida eccitante, soprattutto perche’ l’ho fatta tutto in Italiano.

Ora potete vedere la presentazione. C’e’ una rottura fra le due parti, quindi qualche parola manca. Nella rottura, finisco di discutere il meme “Il suono di una sola mano che schiaffeggia” (e faccio suonare l’effetto sonoro su di che scrivo qui) e commincio di leggere il commentario sul meme “Il suono del sangue.” Il testo che manca e’ qui:

Robin: Questo rumore non lo posso sopportare. Se solo avessimo una camera anecoica, con sei pareti…

Batman: Cretino! Il suono del sangue nelle vene e il fruscio del sistema nervoso in funzione sarebbero assordanti.


Le parole usate nel meme sono una chiara allusione a una storia raccontata varie volte dal compositore John Cage riguardo una sua visita della camera anecoica di Harvard. La morale della storia per Cage sembra essere che dove c’è vita c’è musica (“sino alla fine dei miei giorni ci saranno suoni”) —  un pensiero che per Cage è motivo di gioia. Sembra che l’artista fosse affascinato da questa storia o dall’idea della camera anecoica, forse addirittura ossessionato, ma che le conclusioni che ne trabbe siano il contrario delle conclusioni di Cage. Quando era giovane l’artista scrisse un “libro” che chiamò L’incoerenza dell’incoerenza (il titolo ispirato da un’opera del filosofo islamico Averroè). Questo scritto, composto dall’artista quasi ragazzo, è un miscuglio strano. Per il momento mi limito a dire che il libro contiene un passaggio in cui l’artista ci dà la sua prospettiva dell’aneddoto di Cage:

Immagine – scrittura – parola – silenzio

On Wednesday October 23rd, I will be giving a lecture entitled “Image – Writing – Speech – Silence” at the Museo Villa Croce (a contemporary art museum) in Genoa, Italy. I am going to talk about the ways in which some of my memes play with the representation of speech through writing and of writing through images.

I wanted to include in the presentation an extract from the book. The event was co-organized by Caterina Gualco, of Unimediamodern. Since she works with artists associated with the Fluxus movement, I thought it would be appropriate to read a commentary that deals with John Cage and silence. Here it is, in an Italian translation by Giovanna Pompele (transcribed by me, so little errors may have crept in). This marks the first appearance of any part of the book in a language other than its original English. (And I have nowhere made public the English original, so this is the only way to access it.) If you do read it, let me say that the footnotes, especially to the letter quoted at the end, are vitally important. *Le note a piè di pagina sono importanti!*

anechoic


Robin: Questo rumore non lo posso sopportare. Se solo avessimo una camera anecoica, con sei pareti…

Batman: Cretino! Il suono del sangue nelle vene e il fruscio del sistema nervoso in funzione sarebbero assordanti.


Le parole usate nel meme sono una chiara allusione a una storia raccontata varie volte dal compositore John Cage riguardo una sua visita della camera anecoica di Harvard. La morale della storia per Cage sembra essere che dove c’è vita c’è musica (“sino alla fine dei miei giorni ci saranno suoni”) —  un pensiero che per Cage è motivo di gioia. Sembra che l’artista fosse affascinato da questa storia o dall’idea della camera anecoica, forse addirittura ossessionato, ma che le conclusioni che ne trabbe siano il contrario delle conclusioni di Cage. Quando era giovane l’artista scrisse un “libro” che chiamò L’incoerenza dell’incoerenza (il titolo ispirato da un’opera del filosofo islamico Averroè). Questo scritto, composto dall’artista quasi ragazzo, è un miscuglio strano. Per il momento mi limito a dire che il libro contiene un passaggio in cui l’artista ci dà la sua prospettiva dell’aneddoto di Cage:

“L’oscurità c’era, ma il silenzio no.”[1] Questa sembra una descrizione accurata dello stare in una camera aneoica con le luci spente.

“In certe circonstanze tecniche potrebbe essere auspicabile ottenere una situazione la più silenziosa possibile, ossia quell’ambiente chiamato camera anecoica, sei pareti di materiale insonorizzante allestito in modo da ottenere una camera priva di eco. Parecchi anni fa a Harvard sono stato in uno spazio del genere e ho sentito due suoni, uno acuto e uno grave, e quando li ho descritti al tecnico incaricato questi mi ha spiegato che quello acuto era il mio sistema nervoso in funzione, quello grave era la circolazione del sangue. Sino alla fine dei miei giorni ci saranno suoni.”[2]

Lettore, pensa al significato di tutto ciò. Un giorno, anche qui in città, prova ad ascolatre i suoni che ti circondano. La musica ad alto volume, il fragore del traffico, le urla della gente. Che frastuono! Che inferno! Ecco, scappa in campagna. Godi il frullio degli uccellini e il gorgoglio di un ruscello (lasciamo stare le zampogne e gli accenti volgari). Godili. Lasciali risuonare dentro una volta, due volte e poi ancora e ancora e nuovamante finché non diventano un clamore insopportabile, finché i grilli non ti chiassano nelle orecchie durante la notte e il gufo ti urla di morte.

Poi vattene dal tuo paese e dalla tua terra; alzati e vai.[3] Va’ nelle terre desolate o negli scabri deserti dove non ci sono ne’ bestie ne’ insetti. Ah, infinita solitudine: stiamocene insieme io e te in solenne silenzio. Ma, aspetta, cos’è? Cos’è che sto sentendo? Viene da là. No, adesso è qui. È lì, è là, è lì. È dappertutto. “Si, dappertutto,” grida il vento con vuota derisione: “fintantoché il pianetta girerà intorno al sole ci saranno sempre bolle di aria calda e di aria fredda. E l’aria calda rimpiazzerà sempre l’aria fredda ed io, sì, io, il vento, soffierò per sempre. E per me soffiare è urlare. D’ora in poi, per voi che avete visto i luoghi spogli della terra, ogni mio sibilo, anche se nessun altro lo sentirà, sarà come le trombe di mille elefanti, e quando alzerò il tono vi coprirete le orecchie e vi acquatterete nel terrore d’essere soprafatti.”

Via, via da qui, andiamocene! Ma dove andare? Dov’è che il vento non mi troverà? Dovrei fuggire dall’umanità dove c’è il vento, o dal vento dove c’è l’umanità? Ma un attimo! L’ingenuità umana non mi ha già fornito qualcosa con cui possa evitare sia l’uomo che il vento? Non c’è forse la camera anecoica, non ci sono le sue sei pareti di materiale unico, una stanza che più silenziosa la tecnologia non ne puo creare? La voce dell’Essere scoppia in risatte implacabili: “O uomo, porta le tue ossa mortali in una camera anecoica e sentivi il suono del sangue che circola, e sentivi il suono del sistema nervoso in funzione.”[4]

Questo scritto è strano e piuttosto convoluto (nel penultimo paragrafo c’è anche un cambiamento stridente dalla seconda alla prima persona), ma illustra con gran forza la lotta costante, quasi esistenziale, dell’artista contro il rumore.

Ma la storia dell’artista e del suo interesse in John Cage e nella camera anecoica non si ferma qui. Siamo in possesso di una lettera scritta da lui alla fine di maggio o all’inizio di giugno 1982. Qui è la parte che ci riguarda:

Mi è successa una cosa incredibile, strafighissima! Sono andato con Miranda ad alcuni degli eventi organizzati per il settantesimo di John Cage all’Almeida.[5] Nel intervallo tra due eventi siamo andati al bar di fronte per un tè. Ci siamo seduti a un tavolo grande e dopo un po’ abbiamo notato che proprio vicino a noi c’era Cage con due pirla che lo intervistavano.[6] Come sai, sono ossessionato dalla storia che Cage continua a raccontare di quando è andato nella camera anecoica. Così gli ho chiesto se era andato a quella di Londra. Mi ha detto che c’era stato fotografato ma che non era in operazione! Che peccato. Se funzionasse, c’andrei volontieri anch’io. Ci siamo messi a parlare di filosofia. Era assurdamente inamorato del memoir di Norman Malcolm su Witters.[7],[8] Solo che invece di pronunciare “memoir” alla francese, lo pronunciava “Miiimoir”, allungando la seconda lettera sia foneticamente che temporalmente. Era cosi strano. Poi, dato che Miranda e io stiamo cercando di mangiare macrobiotico e lui vuole scrivere un ricettario macrobiotico(!) ci ha dato questa ricetta[9] (la ricordo praticamente parola per parola): “Prendete una carota, una rapa, e una pastinaca. Mettetele nel forno e arrostitele. Saranno deliziose.” Ahahahah. Abbiamo provato a farla e vuoi sapere il risultato? Una carota, una rapa, e una pastinaca arrostite in forno. Niente di più, niente di meno. Spero che il suo ricettario abbia ricette più interessanti e più buone di questa.[10] Comunque era veramente simpatico ed è stato incredibile parlargli così. Mi sento come un servo della gleba scrofuloso che è stato guarito dal tocco di un re! Sarà una storia da mettere nella mia miiimoir.[11]

 

[1] [N.d.C] Questa citazione è l’inizio del “libro” dell’artista.

[2] [N.d.C] Cage, Silenzio, 2019, 41. Il passaggio continua così: “… e seguiteranno anche dopo la morte. Non c’è nulla da temere riguardo il futuro della musica.”

[3] [N.d.C] Possibilmente un riferimento a Genesi 12,1.

[4] [N.d.C] Cage, Silence, 1961, 51.

[5] [N.d.C.] “Cage a settanta” fu l’evento d’apertura dell’Almeida Festival del 1982. Consisté in una serie di concerti nella chiesa di Saint James a Londra da venerdì 28 a sabato 30 maggio (nella sua lettera Evnine dice che i concerti ebbero luogo al teatro Almeida, ma questo è incorretto).

[6] [N.d.C.] Questa reazione da parte di Evnine è, stranamente (o forse no), poco caritatevole verso due persone perfettamente innocenti che avevano senza dubbio contato di parlare con Cage e pensarono che fossero l’artista e la sua compagna ad essere “pirla”.

[7] [N.d.C.] Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. Per lo stile di abbreviazione dimostrato da “Witters,” vedi il commentario su il meme Distinguo. Il filosofo Paul Grice racconta che J. L. Austin disse “A qualcuno piace Witters… ma io sono con Moore.” Dato che il libro di Grice fu pubblicato solo nel 1991 l’utilizzazione di questo termine colloquiale da parte dell’artista è quasi certamente una coincidenza.

[8] [N.d.C.] L’entusiasmo di Cage a quel tempo per quest’opera è comprovato da un passaggio da lui scritto a Ornella Volta, l’autrice di due opere su Satie, un anno dopo la conversazione qui riportata. “Ho finito di leggere il tuo libro (in francese; l’inglese non è arrivato); lo amo, ed è una cosa che posso dire di pochi altri libri. Questi, come il tuo, sono profondamente commoventi: il Memoir di Ludwig Wittgenstein di Normal Malcolm ed Erik Satie di Templier (non nella traduzione inglese, che trovo impossibile da leggere). Rendere materiale scritto commovente dev’essere ciò che la morte fa alla biografia.”

[9] [N.d.C.] Da un’altra lettera scritta non molto dopo la conversazione riportata: “Grazie a John e Yoko ho cambiato sia la mia dieta che quella di Merce Cunningham e abbiamo adottato una dieta macrobiotica.” Questo rende l’artista una specie di nipotino culinario di John e Yoko.

[10] [N.d.C.] Del suo futuro ricettario, Cage disse: “Invece di riguardare solo la cucina, sarà di tutto ciò che mi interessa. Però modificherò l’uso di processi aleatorici in modo che la cucina venga fuori più del resto.” (Come è possibile non amare questa seconda frase?) Il libro non fu mai scritto ma sul sito del John Cage Trust c’è una pagina con annotazioni di Cage sulla cucina macrobiotica, con alcune ricette. È sbalorditivo che in questa pagina, sotto il titolo Tuberi, ci sia il seguente: “Carote, rape, topinambur, ecc. Mettetele nel piatto di terracotta da forno e poi in forno caldo per un’ora o più con un po’, molto poco, di olio di sesamo. I tuberi possono essere coperti con porri e una mistura come quella suggerita per il pollo arrostito.” È possibile che Cage non abbia raccomandato ad Evnine l’uso del olio di sesamo; e anche possibile che gliel’abbia raccomandato, ma che l’artista abbia ignorato la raccomandazione.

[11] [N.d.C.] Malgrado il fatto che questo volume non sia esattamente un memoir di Evnine, è possibile che sia una “meme-oir,” pronunciata proprio come l’aveva pronunciata Cage. La profezia dell’artista, dunque, letteralmente per modo di dire, si è realizzata.