Here is an excerpt from my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. I’ve been posting here a lot about loss recently and this meme is a manifestation of that sentiment inside the book. I am really moved by what I did in this meme. (Is it perverse to be moved by one’s own creation?)
M.101 [Even You?]
M.101 [Even You?] Composed: June 11th, 2017. Posted: June 11th, 2017. Orientation: Reverse. Font: Arial. TB1: “Batman, will even you die some day?”, black. TB2: “Only when I’m very old, Robin. And you’ll be all grown up by then!!”, black.
Adam West, who portrayed Batman in the 1960s TV series, died on June 9th, 2017, two days before this meme was composed and posted on Facebook. There can be no doubt that it was intended as a tribute to him. The meme has great pathos, owing, I think, to the discrepancy between Robin’s age and the much younger manner in which he expresses himself. (In this incongruity, it resembles M.25 (“Mr. Peabody”).) Robin sounds like a child of six or seven, beginning to confront the reality and the universality of death. Batman plays the role of the loving parent, attempting, but inevitably failing, to make this unacceptable fact acceptable. The slap, so at odds with the love and care Batman exhibits towards Robin in his words, actualizes the way in which no amount of tenderness can mitigate the slap in the face that is death, and loss in general. (See also M.21.)
In a philosophy paper I am presently working on, I lean heavily on the term “adventitious.” I say that the changes an ordinary artifact undergoes over time with respect to its parts are adventitious to it (and hence that a theory of such artifacts that ‘builds in’ these changes to an object’s identity is mistaken). I liked the term “adventitious” here but thought, mistakenly, that I was using it merely as a stylistic variant of “contingent.” I now think, in fact, that it gets at something deeper, or at least other, than contingency (though you’ll have to consult the paper, when it’s ready, to get a sense of what I’m gesturing at).
A few days ago I posted here about how I was re-thinking which memes would be included in my book A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. The book, you could say, was undergoing an adventitious change in its parts. But I am made anxious by these changes. Not because I fear for the identity of the book. It is, in my mind, the very same book, only now with (slightly) different parts. I fear, rather, a different kind of loss.
How have I made the decisions about which memes to retain and which to remove? There are two ways a meme can keep its place. It must either be of sufficiently high quality itself or it must provide me with an occasion for some interesting commentary. While I feel fairly confident in my judgments of quality (only once or twice have I dithered over some meme, wondering if it is good enough for inclusion), I cannot tell, in advance of trying to write the commentary on it, whether a meme will occasion interesting commentary. And that is not an adventitious fact about the work. It is deeply central to what I am doing that I should be open to the adventitious in writing the commentaries. That is the process that underlies the work’s resemblance to the Wunderkammer, the Cabinet of Curiosities.
For example, take the commentary on the Yiddish meme which I have recently posted about three times. It is true that I did have some ideas of what I wanted to write about prior to starting on the commentary (some of which persisted into the final version and some of which did not), but it wasn’t until I wrote about a friend’s remark that the Romanization of the Yiddish gave the meme a “Lithuanian slant” that I took off in the direction of Lita (Jewish Lithuania), the Vilna Gaon, and my own Litvak ancestors. I ended up, quite spontaneously, composing a bibliography of these ancestors’ rabbinic works.
Continue reading “The adventitious”