Today, I was absolutely touched and delighted to discover in my mailbox at school this picture, painted especially for me by the philosopher and artist Irene Olivero. Thanks so much, Irene! I love it!
Today, I was absolutely touched and delighted to discover in my mailbox at school this picture, painted especially for me by the philosopher and artist Irene Olivero. Thanks so much, Irene! I love it!
It will come as no surprise that one of the memes in my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, is titled “The Sound of One Hand Slapping.” (To be precise, it is titled “The Sound of One Hand Slapping (11ignj.jpg),” that last part of the title having a very important function in understanding the meme which I shall not explain here.)
In various presentations I have made about the work, when I have displayed some of the memes, I have supplied them with an accompanying sound effect… the sound of one hand slapping. Here is the effect I have used, taken from an on-line repository of free sound effects:
In my preparations for a presentation I will be making in October, I wanted to draw attention to the pictorial ways the sound of the slap is represented in the image: the zip line of the motion of Batman’s left hand and the radiating lines indicating the impact with Robin’s cheek.
The original sound effect only corresponds to the second of these pictorial elements. I therefore needed something different. But I didn’t want to find an entirely new one since I will also be using it alongside the original and would like them to be obviously related.
Exercising my highly developed sound editing skills, I was able to come up with something I am really pleased with:
That whoosh (I added it on another track); that so-much-chunkier meeting of face and hand (I applied reverberation effects to the original)! Indeed, so pleased am I with it that I have to confess I cannot stop listening to it. It gives me a visceral pleasure that matches the pleasure afforded by the image itself.
In his paper “A Child Is Being Beaten,” Freud describes how the beating fantasies of his patients intermingle both masochistic and sadistic elements and such an intermingling is surely at the root of my pleasure in both the image and sound. The whole scenario represents an intrapsychic arrangement in which one part of myself slaps another part, and each takes pleasure in it for its own reasons. I have talked a little about the role of shame in my book and both the masochistic and sadistic pleasures of the slap are centered around that crushing emotion. The philosopher Krista Thomason writes about the way in which the experience of shame may produce a desire to commit violence on others. But we do well to remember, also, that one of the paradigmatic bodily manifestations of shame is the rush of blood to the face, as if one had been slapped! The sound of one hand slapping is the sound of shame.
About one year ago, I had some contact with an onomast and linguist specializing in Jewish languages. (There are many Jewish languages: Hebrew ancient and modern, Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Italkian, and others.) I wrote about this in several previous posts about the Yiddish meme in my book A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. I have been wanting to write more about that experience for some time but have hesitated owing to ethical concerns that make it difficult, concerns that arise mostly (though not exclusively) from my irascible expert’s having forbidden me from publishing any part of their emails.
Yes, you read that right. This expert ended by invoking the law, asserting their rights over the contents of their emails, and forbidding me from quoting anything from them!
The whole episode was on the way to becoming quite upsetting to me when my partner enabled a Gestalt switch that led me to find it both entertaining and enriching. “This is like something out of The Savage Detectives,” she said, referring to the Roberto Bolaño novel I was reading at the time. And it was! A literary ‘feud’ over esoteric scholarship, one party becoming more and more enraged precisely as the other party tries to assuage them. The affair was both heated and absurd!
Here follows as much of the story as I can bring myself to relate. (And even this makes me uncomfortable – not, I should add, on my own account.) Continue reading “The Savage Detectives and my irascible Yiddish expert”
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 meme appeared only in Evnine’s Batman Memes: The Movie where it can be seen behind the title, as the theme music to the 1960s Batman TV show blares. (Here’s the movie, where you can encounter the meme in its natural habitat. Be sure to have sound on, if you watch.)
There are actually quite a few interesting things to say about the meme. The title of a work is one of its acknowledged parerga (Gérard Genette devotes a chapter to titles in his book Paratexts) so this meme, functioning as a kind of ironic comment on the movie’s title, is a parergon of a parergon of the movie. And the movie is part of the parerga of the Batman Meme Project. No other meme approaches this degree of controlled distance from the first-order memes of my book.
The visual style of the meme is a deliberate throwback to the earliest memes of the Batman Meme Project and, hence, to the vast majority of Batman memes. Impact font, black outlines to the letters, font shadow, and all caps are the signature marks of the Batman slapping Robin meme (as of many others, too). Only the orange coloring is non-standard. I’m not sure why I chose that, but I think it works well here.
The meme’s language clearly picks up on the speech patterns of the 60s TV show, a fact that works in synergy with the use of the music from that show to accompany it. Significantly, it is the only meme considered for inclusion in the book in which Robin’s catchphrase “Holy [ ],” one of the most recognizable features of the 60s TV show, occurs. Batman’s response, with its somewhat pompous use of “fear,” is also distinctive. Finally, it is surely a feature of the TV show that the characters use each other’s names (“Batman” and “Robin” as well as “Bruce” and “Dick”) far more than is typical in conversation between friends. Here, both parties use the other’s name.
In all of these respects, the meme should be compared with the meme that appears, analogously, behind the title of my second Batman meme movie, Gone!:
This was, naturally, done in deliberate imitation of “Holy Memes, Batman.” Here, the use of “mimesis,” to imply (incorrectly, as it happens) that the second movie is just an imitation of the first, also allows the use of a word etymologically related to “meme.” (Unlike “Holy Memes, Batman,” “Holy Mimesis, Batman” was never destined for inclusion in the book, and hence it does not count as an excised meme and will not show up for its own entry in this on-going series. Very likely, this is the only acknowledgement this meme will ever receive.)
Once again, I have succeeded in making myself regret the excision of this meme from the book. I’m especially sorry not to have any left that use the “Holy [ ]” form. (It crops up, significantly, in the commentary on another meme.) The parergon of a parergon of a parergon thing is also kind of metal.
Whenever I have to describe my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, I find myself at a loss. I literally do not know what kind of a work it is. This is one of the things that makes work on it so exciting. But there are contexts – such as approaching a publisher – where I cannot simply enjoy my own flailing around and have to try to epitomize the book. Here is something I have written for just such a purpose:
My book defies easy categorization or description. Its outer form is that of an art catalogue in which an editor presents a body of art works and provides commentaries on their formal and material features. The art works being catalogued are over 100 memes, made by me, that use the image of Batman slapping Robin.
Though no secret is made of the fact that the artist of the memes and the editor of the catalogue are one and the same, as editor I write as if the artist were another person, imposing limits on myself about what I can ‘know’ of him and his intentions.
The commentaries, which make up the bulk of the book, vary in form, length, and style. They deal with issues in philosophy, both in a narrow sense (meaning, naming, the relations between spoken and written language, ontology, paradoxes, etc., couched in the idiom of contemporary analytic philosophy) and in a much broader sense, taking in literary interpretation, theology, Judaism, and, above all, psychoanalysis. Thus, at the next level in, the work’s form is that of a series of complexly interlocking essays and reflections, played out through the memes themselves and the commentaries on them, about broadly philosophical themes.
The description above notwithstanding, it is hard to say, more precisely, what the book is about. The main reason for this is that the book is, by design, a statement against the totalization that is characteristic of contemporary academic writing. Such writing is supposed to have a single identifiable subject matter, a thesis, and an organization around that thesis that leaves every part accounted for. My work deliberately defies these norms. Epitomizing my career-wide pattern of wide and unusual interests leading to publications in substantially different areas, this book is marked by an eclecticism that is theorized, in the book itself, under the headings of the cabinet of curiosities and free association (both of which are explicitly discussed). In this respect, the work is, in spirit and form, both pre- and post-modern.
The image of the memes is central to the book. It is a depiction of an act of violence by an older man directed at an adolescent. Before the idea of the book was born, I had made, and posted on Facebook, a number of memes using this image. The book began to take shape as I explored in my own psychoanalytic treatment why I was so attracted to the image. It thus came to serve as a focal point for many personal issues in my life. Some of these issues are confronted in the book, making the form of the book, at its innermost core, that of a piece of self-writing, of auto-theory, in which the personal and the philosophical are inextricably entangled.
So, auto-theory, in the form of philosophy, in the form of an art catalogue.
The tension between the actualities of my book and the norms of contemporary academic writing is encapsulated in the key notion of the parergon. A parergon (or paratext, when the ergon, or work, is a text) is both part of and outside its associated work. It mediates the work’s place in the world at large and defines its unity. The parergon functions at several levels throughout my book. In the title, there is a distinction between the Batman Meme Project (the first 40 or so of the memes, which were posted on Facebook between January and March 2016) and the memes created after the declared completion of the Batman Meme Project. The text in the book is also a parergon to the memes themselves, an editorial frame around them. And this is associated with the crucial split in the work’s voice between the ‘silent’ artist of the memes, the nominal focus of attention, and the parergonal editor whose official role of commentator is belied by his identity with the artist. Finally, the work of the book is itself continued in further writing around it, now published on my blog, The Parergon. In all these cases, the parerga function to put in question just what the work itself is, what is part of it and what incidental to it. Lacking clear boundaries, lacking an identifiable genre, lacking a single voice in which it is spoken, the work is barely a work. There is, instead, a field of activity, a rhizome, to use Deleuze’s and Guattari’s term.
A Certain Gesture is cerebral, playful, social, and intensely personal. Parts of it are academic philosophy (though written with the non-specialist reader in mind); parts are funny or absurd; parts are intimate and personal; and parts are about wondrous things of general interest. Many parts are all of these things.
As it stands, the manuscript of my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, bears three epigraphs. Those three are very dear to me and the fact that there are exactly three of them is important in the book. So I’m not inclined to monkey about with them.
Notwithstanding, I am repeatedly coming across other passages that would make fantastic epigraphs or that somehow encapsulate something vital about my project. Hence, I am currently considering adding to the front-matter of the book a substantial number of these passages, making up their own section. (Fittingly for a book that is so much about the parergon, I see an interesting copyright issue on the horizon if I do pursue this idea. Quotations in the body of a text generally do not require copyright permission but the same quotations, if used as epigraphs, do. On which side of this divide will my Moby-Dick-like collection of quotes about slaps fall, placed, as it will be, between the epigraphs proper and the main text?)
Here is one marvelous passage which so accurately seems to capture how I have used the image of Batman slapping Robin that I gasped when I first read it. I will certainly include it in the envisaged section, if I do decide to go with that. The passage is from David Grossman’s bravura novel A Horse Walked Into a Bar and it concerns a stand-up comic who is failing to get a laugh from his audience:
Now he screams: “No? Not at all? No, no, no?” He slaps his face, ribs, stomach. The spectacle looks like a fight between at least two men. Within the whirlwind of limbs and expressions I recognize the countenance that has passed over his face more than once this evening: he is uniting with his abuser. Beating himself with another man’s hands.
Perhaps this theme is most clearly sounded in my book in the commentary I have provided to a meme in which Robin says only “I am being slapped by Batman” and Batman replies “I am slapping Robin.” The commentary itself is in the form of another meme, in the genre Increasingly Verbose. In this kind of meme a pair of image and text is iterated several times, the image becoming more abstract and the text becoming increasingly verbose with each iteration. Here it is, made public for the first time.
In the book, there will be one meme with childish colored scribbling, but at the time I made it, I also made a few more. These won’t be included in the book largely because their text is silly – I was really just experimenting and not trying to produce anything funny. But I like the look of them so I thought I would post them here:
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.
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!
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.