Some thoughts on onomastic fetishism

As you may know if you’ve followed anything about my current project, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! will be presented as a catalogue of Evnine’s (my) Batman memes by an editor who is, as I have started putting it, notionally distinct from the creator of the memes. That is, the editor will write about the artist in the third person, will conjecture about him and his motivations, will draw on evidence to substantiate those conjectures, etc. But I will not conceal the fact that the artist and editor are in fact the same person.

I am now reading Gerard Genette’s book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation and one of the paratexts he discusses is the author’s name. And as it happens, I have wondered for some time how this will work in my book. The full title is A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. I had initially thought that that the ‘authorship’ of the book would take the form “edited by Simon J. Evnine.” But a doubt about this way of proceeding arose from the crassest of material concerns. Would a university administrator see “edited by” and count the book less towards future pay raises than an authored monograph? Should I, to lay claim to my work, follow the title simply with “by Simon J. Evnine”?

Genette distinguishes between mere pseudonymity and the creation, by an author, of a genuine alternative, imaginary author, replete with her own paratextual presence (prefaces, honors, etc), as, for example, is the case with Kierkegaard. In my own case, there is no pseudonymity involved, but something of the same problem of classification arises. Have I, with paratextual repletion, created two personae here, both of whom share my name? Or is there a mere “onymity” (the term Genette coins to refer to the standard case in which an author uses her own name), but with some weird stuff added in which I refer to myself in the third person?

On top of it all, naming itself is one of the themes that will run through the work. Genette writes that “use of a pseudonym unites a taste for masks and mirrors, for indirect exhibitionism, and for controlled histrionics with delight in invention, in borrowing, in verbal transformation, in onomastic fetishism” (52-3). Perhaps the moral to be drawn from my own case is that all of this is true for the use, not just of a pseudonym, but of any name, even one’s own. I am certainly planning for my book to engage in all those things Genette lists.

The personal is philosophical

At my presentation about my book-in-progress (A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!) last week, I used several different introductions (sequentially, not simultaneously!). Here is one of them (note that it may be inconsistent with some of the others):

In 1969, the expression “the personal is political” was coined by feminist thinkers to challenge the idea that there is a disjuncture between the personal and the broader structures of power in which individuals are inscribed. If we interpret “political” broadly, so as to include all forms of public, institutional discourse, a special case of the expression would be “the personal is philosophical.” This special case would cover efforts to overcome the disjuncture between the personal and the conventions and norms of philosophy as a discipline. Those norms enjoin authors to keep their own personalities out of their work, enjoin readers to focus only on the ‘ideas’ in the text, ideas that are supposed to be able to circulate without any vital connection to the lives and circumstances of their authors. This valorization of objectivity and impersonality, with its effacement of the people who produce philosophy and the ways their individuality affects the contents of their philosophy, has left philosophy shriveled and immature, deprived of the nourishing life-blood of the real people who make it. What is desperately needed for the reinvigoration of philosophy is the rude and forceful interpellation of our stunted disciplinary norms by the subject, in all her strange specificity and individuality. Auto-theory is one form this interpellation can take: the calling out of a moribund modality of philosophy by the subject, slowly and seductively revealing his own face. But because each subject is singular, unique, and real, the face of her desire, even as it reveals itself, will always retain an element of inscrutability to the other. “Fetish” is the name we give to what is inexplicable, what is surd, in desire.

My project is a work of auto-theory, conducted under the sign of this image [of Batman slapping Robin] in which the joyful, liberating, fetish-clad warrior, in his idiosyncratic singularity, forces the intrusion of the personal onto the stunted, childish discipline of academic philosophy, trying, with a slap, to bring the blood to its face, trying to rouse it from its valorization, at once perverse and torpid, of the production of philosophy without a visible human face.

I didn’t say “I approved”!

I am easing gently into presenting A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! (and the ideas around it) in live academic contexts. A few weeks ago, in a session on memes as literature, I spoke for a few minutes about it in my undergraduate Philosophy of Literature class. Yesterday, as I said on this page just before the event, I presented it in a more deliberate way, with a 20 minute or so presentation, to visiting prospective graduate students in my department. I was happy with my performance and I think the response was mostly positive.

A number of my colleagues were there too! This was particularly significant to me since so much of both the form and the content of the project (as I hinted at in my presentation) is driven by my own feelings about my place in the profession. Some of my colleagues were very enthusiastic; some looked disapproving; one of them said later that it was very interesting and when I said “I’m glad you approved,” sharply replied “I didn’t say I approved!”


Skin in the game

Following up on my previous post about cumulative songs and naming… A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is a work of auto-theory. To see how the pros do auto-theory, I recently read Maggie Nelson’s fantastic book The Argonauts. She speaks very frankly about many things in it (including sex) and I sort of realized that to make my book credible as a work of auto-theory, I was going to have to put some “skin in the game” and be prepared to write about embarrassing personal things.

That is why I decided to reveal the multitude of pet names I gave a previous cat of mine, Celestino.

But seriously, I had not fully anticipated, when I began this project, how much I would have to confront issues of self-revelation. And, since the form of the book is commentary on the memes by a notionally distinct editor, how self-revelation will work when it is presented through that indirection.

And then, this morning, I saw a post by Skye Cleary in which she refers to a film about Derrida in which he complains that philosophers don’t write about their sex lives! I imagined how that would go, in an article in Mind or Synthese:

“x is an ORGASM[subscript: philosopher’s name] if and only if a)…. b)… c)…. This definition is both too broad and too narrow. Regarding b), I have often found myself…. The problem with c) is that it would make it impossible, by definition, for anyone other than me to experience an ORGASM[subscript: philosopher’s name]. But while I think that it is metaphysically impossible for that to happen, it is not conceptually impossible. We might therefore weaken c) to c’)… ”

Rest assured: whatever happens in A Certain Gesture, it will not look like that!!!!

Single Tagging

As part of the commentary on one of my Batman memes, I plan to divulge the words of a song I have composed. It is one of those cumulative songs which gets longer and longer by the addition of a new element each time through – a musical version of “I packed in my grandmother’s trunk…”, and the elongation is effected through the introduction, one at a time, of the many existing names I gave a cat I used to have as a pet.

Now, today in class, I was teaching Robin Jeshion’s paper “Acquaintanceless De Re Belief” and she there suggests that naming in general is governed by (though not as a strict condition) a principle of Single Tagging – roughly “Don’t give a name to something that already has one.” I questioned this principle in class in the light of my practice (almost a compulsion – there is definitely something non-voluntary about it) of giving many names to my pets. And one of the students was like “Me too!!!!!!”

So, I have two questions: Is this a recognized thing, this quasi-compulsion to give multiple names to pets? And do people find Single Tagging plausible?


One year since the movie

Today is the one-year anniversary of the finale of the Batman Meme Project, which came to a close with the posting of the film Evnine’s Batman Memes: The Movie.

As it happened, on that very day, I made the first post-project meme. Roughly 65 of these post-project memes, most of which have not been publicly seen, will be included in my book .

In honor of the anniversary, I here publish that first post-project meme. I’m very pleased with it! It is the only meme of mine in which there is, not only a third text bubble, but a third speaker, in addition to Batman and Robin.


My new book

A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is a new book I am working on – an entirely original kind of work that crosses genres, styles, and media. It will include about 120 memes based on the image of Batman slapping Robin (originally from a 1960s Batman comic). Each meme will be described and commented upon by an ‘editor’ who is, notionally, distinct from the creator of the memes. Many, though not all, of the memes deploy themes that have occupied my interest in philosophy, understood broadly: interpretation (literary and religious), language in general and naming in particular, metaphysics, and psychoanalysis.