The book is finally here!

Hi everyone. My book, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, is finally finished and published! It is available from Amazon here.

It would be really wonderful if you would think about reviewing it on Amazon itself, on Goodreads (if you’re there), or in any other fora where it might be appropriate. As a self-published work, it will need all the help it can get!

If you are unable to get hold of it or cannot afford it or just don’t feel like paying for it, get in touch with me and I will be happy to send you a free PDF of it.

Thank you for your support through this journey. I will continue to blog here about its reception and any other thoughts or ideas I have about it.

It’s so hard, Batman!

Lately, several people have indicated to me that they would like to read my forthcoming book, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, but they are worried it will be too difficult to understand. With its publication imminent, it feels like a good time to address this concern. Some theorists have held that literary works are really about how to read them. Since much of my book is about difficulties in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding, it may have some help give with how to approach it.

This meme, which will be the subject of a long commentary in volume I, is about free association in psychoanalysis. One way to read the book is to think of it as an extended exercise in free association on the part of its author. How does, or should, an analyst listen to a patient’s free association? Freud recommended an evenly-suspended attention. More radically, Bion suggested the analyst should be present “without memory or desire.” These descriptions suggest a lightness and immediacy in relation to the text, not getting snagged on things one doesn’t understand, letting go of preconceptions about what our response ought to be. The reader just needs to open herself to the text as it reaches her. More recent trends in psychoanalytic listening emphasize the role of the analyst’s own fantasies in response to the patient’s words. In this vein, my book can be approached as a stimulus to the reader’s own associations, the reader and the text creating a unique, third thing between them.

Another meme, sadly not included in volume I, alludes to the words of the seventeenth-century polymath Sir Thomas Browne. Browne’s sensibility is captured by the image of the cabinet of curiosities and this, in turn, suggests a different way of accessing the book. The reader may simply stroll through the collection of weird exhibits, passing quickly by those that do not hold her interest but lingering over those that do. Not every commentary will catch everyone’s interest. None may be universally interesting. But I hope, and believe, that in the eccentric collection of so many oddities that is my book, everyone will be able to find something or some things to interest her.

A final way of approaching the book is suggested by this meme, which will be in volume I and the commentary on which will explicitly touch on these issues. “Listen to my words!” Trust the author to take care of you and follow along with him, in a relaxed frame of mind, just taking the text at face value. As I explained in another post, I have been frequently praised for my clarity of expression. Where topics are potentially hard to grasp, I have done my best to make them clear. Although I will certainly fail in this at times, don’t let anxiety get in your way and you may find things easier to understand than you were worried they would be.

So, there are three different ways of reading the book. Of course, they can be picked up and discarded at will for different parts of the book. You don’t get to choose just once. But above everything, have fun with it! That’s what it’s there for!

Kierkegaard meets Calvino meets auto-theory

It looks as if I am going to be publishing the first volume  of A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! myself. I hope that it will be available within two or three months via Amazon. It has taken me six years to get this far and I don’t want to have to wait another six years to finish the work before any of it is made public.

My current plan is to publish it in three versions: a hardback  with better paper; a paperback with regular paper; and a Kindle ebook. I will also make available a PDF version free to download from my website though, naturally, I prefer people to buy it. (Not for the profit, of which I will make a token amount, but for the book sales.)

Publishing the book myself, I expect my main challenge to be getting it seen, read, and taken up in the discourses of philosophy and the other humanities on which it touches. To that end, I have asked several widely-respected individuals to provide blurbs for it. The first one, by Professor Susanna Siegel (Harvard) is in and I am happy to say it is positive!

Just as a newspaper holds its form constant while it varies the news content, the author of A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! finds a way to use a single meme in which Batman slaps Robin as a structure for conveying a sequence of reflections. Sometimes alternately, and other times all at once, these reflections are philosophical and picaresque, sarcastic and explanatory,  literary and analytical, visual and discursive, musical and rabbinical, fragmentary and unified, continuous and interrupted. Kierkegaard meets Calvino meets auto-theory. The collision sweeps up some analytic philosophers, an avuncular joke-teller, and other characters who come and go. The pictures provide a rhythm, the captions start a melody, and the commentary improvises with chords, riffs, and surprises.

Gaining visibility, however, is not the only challenge the book faces in being taken up. The very idea of “being taken up” is problematic. I very much think of the book as a work of philosophy (though not exclusively such by any means) but it ‘performs’ (or perhaps ’embodies’) its philosophy in very novel ways. (Indeed, love the book or hate it, I believe it deserves some consideration merely for its exploration of how far one can mutate the forms of philosophy before one ceases to do philosophy at all.) But how might it be taken up? Would I be invited to give talks about it? I have given a few such talks and every time, I am baffled about what to say. I have found some expedients which I am pleased with but I wonder if they please anyone else – especially philosophers. And what would a philosophical review of the book be like? Would it get into the weeds with the account of my own hylomorphic metaphysics that surfaces in one of the commentaries? Fair enough, but that hardly responds to the book.  It would be a bit like critiquing a work from Robert Morrris’s Blind Time Drawings Series IV through a discussion of the Donald Davidson text quoted in it, without so much as acknowledging that the text was delivered inside a drawing!

Robert-Morris

As I write this, I am finding the analogy with the Robert Morris drawings illuminating. I thought to look for interdisciplinary journals that might be interested in reviewing my book, but the issue, I am coming to see (in real time!) is not interdisciplinarity. It has more to do with something like quotation. Morris is not engaged in an interdisciplinary art and philosophy project but something quite different. What happens to things when they are subsumed (for example by quotation) by other things? Perhaps Hegel will have the answer.

And indeed, in volume II will appear a meme the commentary to which will be the perfect place to try and unravel this. (The text is a quotation form the novel Sophie’s World.)

sophie's-world

Transmedial autotheory: Batman Talmud

I am delighted to share with you my further foray into the art world. ASAP/Journal (ASAP is the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present) has just published a special issue on autotheory (edited by Lauren Fournier and Alex Brostoff). To coincide with the issue, ASAP/J, the on-line open access platform of the  journal, is hosting an exhibition on Transmedial Autotheories.

One of the commentaries from my in-process book A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is included. Here is the commentary but if you go see it on the ASAP/J webpage, you can zoom in and actually read what is written!

Image, writing and speech – in Italian

I’m excited to share with you an edited version of a talk I gave in Genoa a couple of years ago, now in virtual printed form. The piece is about one of the themes that runs through my book-in-progress A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! – the relations between speech represented in writing that appears as part of an image. Many of the memes exploit the possibilities raised by these interrelations.

The sound of your blood: The Batman Meme Project hits the international art world

Thanks to Caterina Gualco, owner of the contemporary art gallery UniMediaModern in Genoa, Italy, the Batman Meme Project has now hit the international art world. Caterina invited me to submit something to an exhibition she is mounting called 20×20 eventi 2020 (pronounced in Italian “venti per venti eventi venti venti”). It  is a ‘magic box’ containing many different art works, all 20x20cm. After the exhibition of the box’s contents, the whole will end up in the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Villa Croce, Genoa’s contemporary art museum.

20x20-Eventi-2020

My piece is in the fifth column from the right, second row down. Here it is by itself:

 

Robin: I can’t stand this noise. If only we had an anechoic chamber, its six walls…
Batman: Fool! You’d be deafened by the sound of your blood in circulation and your nervous system in operation.

In honor of the momentous event of my being displayed in an art gallery, I am here publishing the full text of my commentary on the meme from my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!.

M.42 The Sound of Your Blood…


M.42 The Sound of Your Blood… Composed: March 13th. Posted: March 17th. Orientation: Reverse. Font: Comic Sans. TB1: “I can’t stand this noise. If only we had an anechoic chamber, its six walls…”, white. TB2: “Fool! You’d be deafened by the sound of your blood in circulation and your nervous system in operation.”, white.


When the meme was posted on Facebook, on March 17th, a friend of the artist, Edmund Fawcett, commented:

In the prehistoric late 1950s, MoMa in NYC had for a time an anechoic chamber in the garden. I visited as a kid. Batman’s right or half-right. I recall hearing the sound of blood circulating. The leaflet said I’d also hear the electrics in the brain. I tried hard to hear them but didn’t. Maybe thoughts about thoughts were inaudible?

The language used in the meme clearly echoes a story the composer John Cage told in a number of places of a visit he made to an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. For Cage, the moral of the story seems to have been that where there is life, there is music (“until I die there will be sounds”) – something he took to be a joyous state of affairs. The artist, apparently, was fascinated, perhaps even obsessed, by this story, or by the thought of an anechoic chamber, but seems to have made of the whole thing just about the opposite of what Cage took it to mean. As a young man, he wrote what he called a ‘book,’ entitled The Incoherence of the Incoherence (after the work by the Islamic philosopher Averroës). This piece of near-juvenilia is a strange jumble and we shall defer until the commentary on M.96 (“The Origins of Neo-Platonist Metaphysics”) a closer look at it. But the book contains a passage we will quote here in which the artist gives us his own perspective on Cage’s anecdote:

‘Darkness there was, but no silence.’[1] Such might be an apt description of being in an anechoic chamber with the lights off.

“For certain engineering purposes, it is desirable to have as silent a situation as possible. Such a room is called an anechoic chamber, its six walls made of special material, a room without echoes. I entered one    at Harvard University  several years ago and  heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he  informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, and the low one my blood in circulation. Until I die there will be sounds.”[2]

Think what this means. One day, here in the city, listen to the noises around you.      Music blares, the traffic roars, people shout. What     a din! What a hubbub! In order to escape this inconvenience, remove yourself to the countryside. Enjoy the bird song and the murmuring of the brook (never mind the hurdy-gurdy and the loutish accents). Enjoy them. Sing them to yourself, once, twice, then again, and again and on and on until they grow into a clamorous uproar, until the cricket booms in your ear at night and the whippoorwill screams to you of death.

Then take up thy substance and get thee hence; take thyself and go.[3] Go to the wastelands or the deserts where not even the beasts and insects live. Ah desolate solitude. Let us live together in silent ceremony. But what is this? Can it be that I hear something? Yes, it is coming from over there. No, now it’s here. And there, and there, and there. It’s everywhere. “Yes, everywhere,” howls the wind, in hollow mockery. “As long as this planet moves about the sun there will always be alternate patches of hot and cold air. And the hot air will always displace the cold air and I, yes I, the wind will live forever. And for me, living is screaming. From now on, for you who have seen the barren places of the earth, will my slightest stirring, unheeded by all else, be as the trumpeting of a thousand elephants and when I raise my voice you shall stop your ears and cower, lest you are overcome.”

Fly, fly from here quickly! But where can I go? Where shall the wind not find me? Shall I take refuge from mankind with the wind, or from the wind with mankind? But wait! Has not the ingenuity of man provided me with that with which I can avoid both man and the wind? Is there not the anechoic chamber, its six walls made of special material, a room as silent as technologically possible? But imperiously, the voice of Being laughs: “Get thee to an anechoic chamber, and hear there thy nervous system in operation and hear there thy blood in circulation.”[4]

The piece is strange and somewhat overwrought (and involves a jarring switch from second to first person in the course of the penultimate paragraph) but it strikingly illustrates the artist’s constant, almost existential, struggle against noise, something that also makes itself felt in M.71 (“Shhhh”).

There is more to the story of the artist’s interest in the anechoic chamber and John Cage. We are in possession of a letter he wrote, almost certainly at the end of May or in early June, 1982. Here is the relevant part:

You’ll never guess what happened. It was brill-to-the-max ciudad.[5] I went with Miranda to some of the 70th birthday bash for John Cage at the Almeida.[6] Between two of the events we went to the caff across the road for a cup of tea. We sat down at a large table and then noticed that right next to us, was Cage himself, being interviewed by a couple of wankers.[7] As you know, I’m obsessed by the story he keeps telling about that time he was in an anechoic chamber. So I asked him if he’d been in one in London. He said he’d been photographed in one but it wasn’t operational! What a pity. If only it was working I could go myself. Then we got talking about philosophy. He was absolutely sold on Norman Malcolm’s memoir of Witters.[8],[9] Only he pronounced it as “meeeeemoir,” the first vowel long, in both the phonetic and temporal sense. It sounded so strange. Then, cos me and Miranda are trying to eat a macrobiotic diet, and he wants to write a macrobiotic cookbook(!), he gave us this recipe.[10] (I quote, almost verbatim.) “Take a carrot, a turnip, and a parsnip. Put them in the oven and roast them. It’s delicious.” Ha ha ha. We tried it and do you want to know what it was like? A carrot, a turnip, and a parsnip that had been roasted. Not too thrilling. I hope his cookbook has some recipes in it that are more exciting and tastier than that![11] Anyway, he was really nice and it was so amazing to chat with him. I feel like a scrofulous peasant that’s been touched by royalty! It’ll be a story to put in a meeeeemoir of my own.[12]

[1] [Editor’s note:] This quotes the beginning of the artist’s ‘book.’

[2] [Editor’s note:] Cage (1961, 8). The passage continues: “And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.”

[3] [Editor’s note:] Possibly a reference to Genesis 12,1.

[4] [Editor’s note:] Cage (1961, 51).

[5] [Editor’s note:] Brilliant to the max city. On the model of “weird city,” a construction the artist learned from the American conductor John Morris Russell when they were students together at Kings College London some time between 1978 and 1981.

[6] [Editor’s note:] “Cage at 70,” the opening event of the Almeida Festival of 1982, was a series of performances at St James’ Church, London N7 (not at the Almeida Theatre itself, as Evnine suggests in his letter) from Friday May 28th to Sunday May 30th.

[7] [Editor’s note:] A strangely (or perhaps not) uncharitable reaction to two perfectly innocent people who, no doubt, had banked on this time with Cage and felt it was the artist and his companion who were the ‘wankers.’

[8] [Editor’s note:] Norman Malcolm’s Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. For the style of abbreviation manifested in “Witters,” see the commentary on “Distinguo.” The philosopher Grice recalls J.L. Austin’s having said “Some like Witters… but Moore is my man” (Grice 1991, 381). Given that Grice’s book was not published until 1991, the artist’s use of this slang is almost certainly coincidental.

[9] [Editor’s note:] Cage’s enthusiasm for this work around that time is borne out by a passage from a letter he wrote to Ornella Volta, the author of two works on Satie, on May 25th 1983, a year after the conversation reported here: “I have finished reading your book (in French; no English has arrived); I love it. I can say that for few others. Like yours they are profoundly touching: Norman Malcolm’s Memoir of Ludwig Wittgenstein [sic] and Templier’s Erik Satie (not in the English translation, which I find impossible to read). This making reading matter touching must be what death does to biography” (Cage 2016, 529).

[10] [Editor’s note:] Again from a letter not long after the reported conversation (Feb 28th, 1983, to Lindsey Maxwell) : “Through John [Lennon] and Yoko [Ono] I changed my diet and that of Merce Cunningham to the macrobiotic diet” (Cage 2016, 528). This makes the artist a kind of culinary grandchild to John and Yoko.

[11] [Editor’s note:] Cage says this, of his projected cookbook: “instead of just being about cooking, it will be about everything that interests me. But I will arrange the use of chance operations so that cooking comes up more than anything else” (Montague 1985, 206). (How can one do anything other than love that second sentence.) The book was never written but on the website of the John Cage Trust there is a page with Cage’s notes on macrobiotic cooking and a selection of recipes. Amazingly, one can find on the page, under the heading “Root Vegetables,” the following: “Carrots, Turnips, Jerusalem Artichokes, etc. Place in a Rohmertopf (clay baking dish) in a hot oven for an hour or more with a little, very little, sesame oil. They may be covered with leeks and topped with a mixture such as one of those suggested for roast chicken” (http://johncage.org/blog/cagerecipes.html, quoted here with the permission of the John Cage Trust).  It is possible that Cage did not recommend to Evnine the use of sesame oil, or that he did, but that the artist ignored the advice.

[12] [Editor’s note:] Though the present work is hardly a memoir of Evnine, it is, perhaps, a meme-oir, as Cage would have called it, so the artist’s prediction is, literally in a manner of speaking, here being fulfilled.