The Village Green Preservation Society

As I began work on my book A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, I was uncertain whether to write about the memes as their creator or whether to adopt a separate persona for the editorializing, thus fracturing my voice between the memes and commentaries. My decision to write about the memes in the third person came from my gut. Despite occasional moments of frustration, engendered by the difficulty this fracture creates for saying some of the things I want to say, I have more and more felt thankful for that early decision and I have come to be able to endorse it not just with my gut but with some explicit awareness of why it is significant.

One reason it is significant has begun to emerge in my recent thought and writing about the project and was first articulated in this post. (And how appropriate it should have become conscious in the course of a different exercise in splitting, a self-interview!) The book is a protest against the totalization involved in academic work and perhaps the most basic form of totalization, so basic we would never even think to identify it at all as noteworthy most of the time, is the unity of the author’s voice. The form of my book disrupts this unity. There is no single authorial voice but… well, at least two (I won’t give away more now), the voice of the meme-maker and the voice of the editor.

Half an hour or so ago, I was listening to “The Village Green Preservation Society” by The Kinks and it made me realize another aspect of this splitting of my authorial voice. The splitting emphasizes, or accentuates, a tendency I have in general to move so smoothly between speaking in my own voice, and so meaning what I say, to various forms of parody, and so not meaning what I say, that I often cannot myself tell whether and when I am being serious. Even before I adopted a formal device for explicitly splitting my voice in my book, I have always already been splitting it implicitly.

This is why I have loved The Kinks for so long: such fluid movement between seriousness and parody is the usual modus operandi of Ray Davies. In the song in question, the singer does little more than come up with absurd names of groups that the Kinks are – the Village Green Preservation Society, the Office Block Persecution Affinity – and lists things that God should save. But while many of the expressed values are no doubt sincere, several are absurd and some are very unlikely. Who is speaking and what is going on? Do the things that we might suspect are not really valued mean that we should understand the others as parody? I think the answer is that the voice keeps changing and that, often, Ray Davies himself would not know whether he was serious or not.

I have always been intrigued by this feature of Ray Davies’s songs. (I remember I wrote something about them along these lines for a fanzine a school chum of mine produced back in 1976 or so.) It’s hard to know if I have been influenced by Ray Davies on this or whether I have just always liked him because it resonates with me. But listening to the song just now, I felt my book’s affinity with it!

“What if Batman stops slapping Robin?”

As I have explained on previous occasions, my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, is connected in many ways with my own psychoanalysis. While the impetus for the book did not originally come from the analysis, that part of my life very quickly infiltrated the creative work, shaping the book and providing the psychic fuel for work on it. Had the analysis not taken up residence in the book, like a cuckoo’s egg, the book would either have dwindled to nothing or been a much smaller, less ambitious and interesting work. I wrote about some of the connections between the book and the analysis in an unpublished paper, the first part of which became a blog post, and later parts of which have either been incorporated into the book itself or are being written up as a free-standing scholarly paper.

While the link to my analysis has been integral to the development of the book, it has also created a ligature between two parts of my life that leaves the book vulnerable, a hostage to fortune. A couple of weeks ago my analyst asked “what if Batman stops slapping Robin?” In other words, what will happen if I resolve or ameliorate the intrapsychic conflict that animates the book (epitomized for me in its central image) before the book is finished? In fact, I had been asking myself that question, in one form or another, for a while. For example, I have sometimes toyed with the idea of ending the analysis – only to tell myself that I can’t do that before I have finished the book!

But things are already beginning to crumble. I can tell that I feel differently about the image that is at the core of the book. I am no longer drawn to it in the same way. It is no longer a source of libidinal release, as it used to be. I am not so worried by the thought that, if the book is finished and published, I will almost certainly not take the same delight in it as I have hitherto. I have experienced that loss in connection with all my previous books – now either lifeless and indifferent to me or rapidly becoming so. What I am worried about is that I simply will not be able to bring the book to completion if I make more progress on the analysis front!

The analysis is not the only source of energy for the book. Perhaps I need to cultivate the others and let the book gradually evolve more under their aegis. It is already, by design, such a hodge-podge (nor is it being written from beginning to end – though even if it were, the reader will be advised that their progress through the book should depend on chance and whim) that such a reorientation will likely have little discernible effect on its character. But will those other energy sources be enough to see me through the crushingly difficult process of laboring in obscurity on a bizarre work that is, at best, an object of mild but puzzled curiosity to my philosophical colleagues? A work whose prospects for publication are frankly dim? Hitherto, these obstacles were outshone by the exhilaration and certainty that the central image always infused me with, a connection to the project at a deep and libidinal level.

At the other end of the ligature, will I encounter (am I already encountering) an unconscious resistance to progress in the analysis on the basis of my fear? Am I desperately clinging to old, neurotic structures for the sake of my book?

A ligature between separate spheres: a key to injustice (Michael Walzer) – a jury-rigged raft on which to navigate a river – a ball and chain to drag you under.

Excisions: 6 (The girl is mine)

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.

she's-mine

This was originally posted on Facebook on March 15th, 2016. The text is from the song by Michael Jackson (with the participation of Paul McCartney) “The Girl is Mine.” There are, I think, three interesting features of this meme.

First, it superimposes two contexts of conflict each of which can function independently of the other, but which together generate a pattern of  “interference waves” because their conflicts oscillate at different wavelengths. The first, of course, is the conflict in the image, an older man perpetrating physical violence on an adolescent whose guardian he is. The second is the conflict between the two rivals in the song, arguing over whose the doggone girl is. This second conflict itself is played simultaneously in two registers. Explicitly, it is presented as good-natured, friendly rivalry. (The music is cool and laid back; the two sing their rivalry in sweet harmony…) But implicitly, as we all know, such rivalries can be deadly – for both the protagonists and the objects of their possessive love. (This duality, it seems to me, is brilliantly emphasized by the use of the word “doggone,” a humorous and mild euphemism, apt for the friendly rivals, but a barely concealed transformation of the violent and explosive expression “God damn” (or “goddam”).) But neither of these two registers coincides with the conflict in the image. The friendly rivalry of the lovers is less serious than the conflict of the image; the potentially deadly rivalry more serious. There are thus three levels of conflicts reverberating, across two media (the visual and the aural) and the result is a highly-charged meme, bursting with tension. Continue reading “Excisions: 6 (The girl is mine)”

Interview with the author

The Parergon sat down for an in-depth conversation with Simon Evnine, the author of A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! (in progress).

TP: Thanks so much for talking with us about what sounds like a fascinating book. Perhaps we could begin with your telling our readers what the book will be like. It’s rather unusual.

SE: Thanks, yes, it is unusual. It is a kind of post-modern literary work that will have the form of, indeed will be, an art catalogue. The ‘art works’ are over a hundred memes I have made using the image of Batman slapping Robin. I will provide editorial commentary on these memes, written as if I, the editor, were not the same person as the one who made the memes. Within that outer form, the book will mix philosophy, psychoanalysis, and literary criticism with writing about myself.

TP: So, I have to ask, are you a big fan of Batman?

SE: Oddly, I am not particularly a fan of Batman. I never read superhero comics as a kid and although I think I have seen one or two of the many Batman movies that have been made since the 1980s, I couldn’t tell you which ones. The only ‘incarnation’ of Batman that has meant anything at all to me, and that still dominates my imagination with respect to the character, was the TV show from the 1960s with Adam West and Burt Ward.

TP: What do you like about that show?

SE: Well, everyone goes on about its campiness. I don’t know how much that was part of my enjoyment of it as young boy but I certainly think I…

TP: KAPOW!!

SE: Er, yes. Right. All that. I’m pretty sure though that…

TP: THWACK! BOFF!!!

SE: Yes. May I finish?

TP: Sorry.

SE: I think I did respond to its campiness in some way. And I think I was somehow, also, identifying with something in the show, perhaps with the character of Robin (I had three siblings quite a bit older than me) though perhaps also with Batman. I had a Batman mask, cape, and… I don’t know what to call them, but you put them over your forearms. Are those ‘greaves’? I got them as a birthday present.

TP: I see.

SE: If I might add, that show was also the site of early, indeed premature, sexual knowledge. I’m pretty sure that I learned the word “catamite” in connection with it. And my father would call Robin “Batman’s little buggery boy.” I would have been between 6 and 9 years old.

TP: Oh wow! And what about the particular image of Batman slapping Robin that features in your book? Does that have some special meaning for you?

SE: The slap. The slap is about shame. Robin’s shame for whatever he’s being slapped for, his shame for being the victim of the slap, Batman’s shame for his capacity for violence towards one he loves. The slap brings the blood to your cheek; it makes you blush – the visible mark of shame. A lot of the book is about shame.

TP: Shame over?

SE:  You’ll have to read the book to find out. Seriously, though, I can’t really say over what. It’s an emotion that dominates my life. I could take a stab at some of the reasons… but really….

TP: In that image, what, reduced to their simplest reciprocal form, are Robin’s thoughts about Batman’s thoughts about Robin and about Batman’s thoughts about Robin’s thoughts about Batman?

SE: Well, he thinks that he thinks that he is a child whereas he knows that he knows that he knows that he is not.

TP: What is the thesis of the book? It’s a philosophy book, I think I’ve heard you say. And philosophy books are books written in defense of a thesis.

SE: Ah! Good question. Several times I have talked about the book and explained how it will be about many different things, connected in various different ways, only to have someone, in the question period, ask me “yes, but what is it saying? What is its thesis?” Let me state here explicitly, it has no thesis. Many things are said in the book, but the book as a whole says nothing. I think, though I’m no expert, that the Deleuzian concept of the rhizome may apply to it. The metaphors I myself use to think about it are free association (as in psychoanalysis) and the Wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities. It goes from one topic to another, it meanders, it gathers together and juxtaposes things that are initially unrelated but, hopefully, undergo an increase in meaning by their situation. Both of these…

TP: Your book has… oh excuse me. Please go on.

SE: Thanks. I was going to say that both these concepts, free association and the Wunderkammer, will be explicitly discussed in the course of the book. In a sense, the commentaries on the memes will be about explaining the nature of the book itself, or helping the reader to read it.

TP: Oh, that’s interesting. I was going to ask you something about the word “parerga” in your title but I’d like to follow up what you just said. That idea of the book explaining itself. Could you say more? Also, you said above that the book is about shame, that it’s about explaining its own nature, that it’s a philosophy book, that it will be about yourself, that it will be about psychoanalysis and literary criticism. It’s very confusing. Just what is your book about?

SE: That’s really just a variant of the “what is its thesis?” question, no? It’s about all these things. It is a statement against totalization, in favor of the fragmentary, the incomplete, the dilettantish, all those things that are supposed to be suppressed by the totalization that dominates the academic work and the academic career. The totalization of the thesis, the research project, the AOS… My own philosophical career has been such a statement, too, in that I have moved around between many subjects. I have written several one-off papers on topics that I never return to. As a philosopher, I am not easy to categorize and it is only fitting that I should produce a book that is similarly hard to categorize. I could add one more “about” – the book is about my career and situation within the philosophy profession! No truer, but no less true, than all the other abouts you confronted me with. And don’t think we have completed that list!

TP: OK. Now let me ask you about “parerga.” The word appears in the title of your book. Perhaps you could remind our readers of what it means since it is an uncommon word.

SE: Sure. It comes from the Greek words “para” and “ergon” and it is used to describe things that are next to, or supplementary to, a work (usually a work of art). (“Paratext” would describe the special case where the ergon in question is a text.) So the frame of a painting, the title or the preface of a literary work, etc.

TP: And what associations do you have to the word “parerga”?

SE: Well, I first encountered it, as many people do, in the title of Schopenhauer’s book Parerga and Paralipomena. I don’t know much about Schopenhauer (though I will be discussing one of his parerga or paralipomena in my book), but the little I do know comes through lectures about him that I attended in London in the 1980s, when I was just starting out in philosophy. The lectures were given by Brian O’Shaughnessy. Brian was my very first teacher of philosophy and a wonderful and idiosyncratic man. There was a mystique about him and the first lectures in any lecture series he gave would be packed. But one thing he was not was a good lecturer and by half-way through the series only a few die-hards would still be attending. I was one of those die-hards in that Schopenhauer class. Brian was married to Edna O’Shaughnessy, a very important psychoanalyst in the Kleinian tradition. A lot of Kleinian analysis just sounds really crazy. Many years ago I read some of Klein’s Narrative of a Child Analysis. You just wonder what world you’ve stepped into! The splittings, the projections and introjections, a confusing world in which what is inside and what is outside is unstable and ever-changing, the ego being formed (ergon) through these vicissitudes while awash in paranoia over the projected, but now consuming, para-ego (parergon) that…

TP: I’m sorry to cut you off, but we have to stop. It’s been a great pleasure talking with you.

SE: Thank you! I’ve enjoyed it.

TP: Our readers can get an idea of what the book is like from an excerpt posted here, the commentary on this meme.

irksome2

 

 

M.77 “find this out; but”

I am publishing here a further excerpt from my book-in-progress A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. The commentary to the meme discusses titles of art works, classical editorial practices, and Aristotelian virtue ethics.

M.77 find this out; but

irksome2


M.77 find this out; but Composed: April 20th. Orientation: Reverse. Font: Comic Sans. TB1: “Three minutes’ thought would suffice to…”, black. TB2: “Thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time!!!”, black.


This meme uses a well-known quotation from the poet and classicist A.E. Housman: “Three minutes’ thought would suffice to find this out; but thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time” (Housman 1905, xi).  … [A]lthough Batman is clearly interrupting Robin, he is not hijacking the conversation to reframe Robin’s sentiment. Rather, the rhetorical effect of the entire original quotation is preserved intact.

What is not preserved intact, however, is the text of the original quotation. The artist has extracted part of the original from Batman’s and Robin’s encounter. Even with this text missing, their dialogue is entirely comprehensible but in fact, the extracted text is not entirely absent and shows up as (or in?) the meme’s title. The context from which it has been removed, in the meantime, has been slightly altered. Robin’s part of the original has had three dots added at its end. Nor, surely, are these the three dots of ellipsis, signaling that some text has gone missing. Their function is to indicate, rather, that Robin’s speech is interrupted. (This function they discharge largely by graphic means. They are like perforations along which the text is torn in two.) Batman’s segment of the original has its first letter capitalized. (It also has three exclamation marks not in Housman but that is not relevant to the title-text’s immediate surroundings.) Thus, having been extracted, the title-text can fit back properly into its original context at neither end. It is like a jigsaw piece the tabs and blanks of the neighboring pieces of which have been damaged. It has, to all intents and purposes, become an orphan, ripped from a home it can no longer return to.[1]

Turning to the content of Housman’s sentence, let us ask the obvious question: what is it, exactly, that three minutes’ thought would find out were thought not so irksome and three minutes not such a long time? The text is from the preface to his edition of the satires of Juvenal. Housman is discussing the principles of textual criticism and taking to task many of his contemporaries and predecessors. One fault many of these are alleged to have is a mechanical reliance on rules in editing. The 18th century, he says, had as its rule to go with the reading (if there is one) found in a simple majority of manuscripts. The rule of the second half of the 19th century, by contrast, is always to go with the reading of the best manuscript unless what it has is utterly impossible (by which he seems to mean principally ungrammatical or unmetrical). (He describes this as the “fashion of leaning on one manuscript like Hope on her anchor and trusting to heaven that no harm will come of it” (v).) This rule might find expression in an editor’s preface in such words as “I have made it my rule to follow a wherever possible, and only where its readings are patently erroneous have I had recourse to b or c or d” (xi) (though Housman writes acerbically that no eminent scholar would state the rule thus baldly, only his “unreflecting imitators”). Housman then poses a dilemma. Either b, c, and d are derived from a, in which case they should never be preferred to it, or they do not, in which case the rule assumes what is clearly false, that all errors in a will be “impossible readings.” It is this dilemma which three minutes’ thought would find out. Instead of the mechanical application of rules, Housman thinks critics should exercise their faculty of discernment and judgment. Each textual uncertainty will be attended by any number of circumstances a critic may take into account. One cannot detect errors only on the grounds of impossibility but must pay attention, above all, to the sense of what is expressed. A manuscript reading may be judged in error because it describes something implausible or inconsistent with other parts of the text too. (Which is not to say, of course, that these should be turned into new rules and an author never allowed, on principle, to be implausible or inconsistent.) Continue reading “M.77 “find this out; but””

Excisions: 5 (Happiness)

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.

happiness2

Look, I apologize in advance. OK? I mean, what else can I do? I’ve been writing this series of blog posts on memes I decided to cut out of the book, trying (perversely) to make a case for their inclusion. I’ve done four so far and I think I’ve been pretty successful at finding something of interest to say about them, some way in which they could have contributed to the book had they stayed in after all. And then I get to this clunker! I just can’t even! It’s awful and there is nothing to do with it here, nothing to be made of it. And as a result, I’ve ground to a halt on the whole Excisions series. Coz I can’t just skip it. I have to have a shot with all of them, in the proper order.

So, this is just an obstacle. I have to get round it, or over it, or through it. If the meme had stayed in the book, what could I have possibly written about it?

Well, there’s the obvious hatefulness of the whole “happiness is a choice” shtick. No! Happiness is not a choice! The concept of choice is used as a shtick to beat people over the head with. How Robin deserves that slap! Who could even? Not Batman.

And the other reason for the meme, that up-to-the-minute (as it was already probably not, even three years ago) expression “I can’t even!” It’s fine, but a distraction from the tone and the milieu of the Batman Meme Project. How did I even?


Well, that sucked!

The “anonymity of a murmur” and the so-called Intentional Fallacy

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.”

text_subtext1
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”

Shmidentity politics

What kind of relation is like identity but holds between a thing and itself (rather than between necessarily co-referring names, for example) by stipulation? Why, shmidentity, of course! The term “shmidentity” (actually “schmidentity,” but see infra on the spelling) was introduced by Saul Kripke in Naming and Necessity and, following his example, the “sh-“ or “shm-“ prefix is now often used in philosophy for properties or relations that resemble other properties or relations but have some feature that may be controversial in the case of the prototypes built in by stipulation.

No-commentary-on-a-fool

The linguist David L. Gold, in a paper in the Jewish Language Review (volume 3, 1983) entitled “A Story about Pocahontas, Geronimo, and Sitting Bull in Yiddish,” refers to the fact that languages in decline (such as Yiddish) often become “ludic languages, that is, languages used largely for jocular purposes, often only for low comedy and vulgar humor” (113). Having made this claim he cites, without quoting, a responsum by him to a reader’s query in an earlier issue of the journal which I here excerpt:

Since Yiddish word-initial /š/ + consonant sounds “funny” to a sizable number of English ears, any Yiddish word containing it is automatically recategorized [as humorous] when entering English (e.g. shmir). Perhaps the fact that initial /šm/ is a pejorizer in Yiddish and EAE [Eastern Ashkenazic English]… has contributed to this feeling among English-speakers. (Volume 2, 1982, 302)

The use of the term “shmidentity,” therefore (and similar neologisms in the philosophy literature) is culturally insensitive, appealing to the ‘funny’-sounding phonemes of a language that translated Freud, Einstein, Shakespeare, and Emily Dickinson, among countless others, for a quick laugh now that that language has fallen on hard times and is forced to wear the fool’s motley. I recommend this usage be avoided in philosophy henceforth.

As for the spelling, “schmidentity” (the form used by Kripke himself) reflects the efforts of those who have sought to cast Yiddish as low German and transcribe it into Latin characters on the model of German spelling. It is, therefore, another blow to the dignity of Yiddish. Standard Yiddish Orthography romanizes /š/ as “sh.” If one must, therefore, continue to use this offensive neologism, I recommend that at least the spelling “shmidentity” be given.


This was to have been a footnote to a footnote to a footnote in my in-progress book. If anyone is interested, here is the tree of footnotes. This note on “shmidentity” [3] would have been a footnote to [2] a discussion of the title of Gold’s paper “A Story about Pocahontas, Geronimo, and Sitting Bull in Yiddish” and the question of whether the story, given in his paper, could really be said to be ‘about’ those figures. (I draw on Robin Jeshion’s views about the link between proper names and de re thought and talk and, obviously, on Kripke’s views about historical chains and reference.) This itself is a footnote to [1] a discussion of whether my Yiddish Batman meme commits the same kind of assault on the dignity of Yiddish that I here lay at the feet of “shmidentity.” (See this earlier post and the links to yet earlier posts it contains.) This, in turn, is a footnote to [0] the main text which is the commentary on my Yiddish Batman meme.

Excisions: 4 (Aye)

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.

Aye

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”:

boat

“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)”