Repellent intimacy

Gerard Genette (yes, I’m still reading Genette’s Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation – it’s endless!) is now discussing the various functions of different kinds of prefaces (all quotations below from pp. 203-5). One function of the most common kind of preface (by the author; published with the text originally) is to explain the unity of the work it stands before. This is especially the case when the work is a collection of some kind. But some authors, he notes, make a point of eschewing the unity of the work and embracing its disunity. Roland Barthes, writing later of his collection Essais critiques, said “I explained in my preface why I didn’t want to give these texts, written at different times, a retrospective unity” but, somewhat contradictorily goes on to say “The unity of this collection can only be a question: What is writing?” As Genette wryly comments: “The retrospective unity that is virtuously shoved out the door sneaks back in through the window in the form of a ‘question’.” (And, talking of Barthes, how brilliantly the lack of punctuation speaks in his title Sade Fourier Loyola, the preface to which “emphasizes indirectly… the incongruous – indeed provocative – appearance of such a grouping.”) More resolutely, Borges, in many of his prefaces, appears to prize diversity over unity: “This book is nothing more than a compilation,” “God grant that the essential monotony of this miscellany… be less evident than the geographical and historical diversity of its themes,” and so on.

I have come to realize that A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is about exactly this – privileging disunity and disorganization over their opposites. The Wunderkammer, again: a curious assortment, a serendipity, a heap. But just how far down can disunity go in the book? Continue reading “Repellent intimacy”

{ !?!? } / { } !?!?

In my previous post, I included an animated gif which used three panels: an initial one which occupies the full space of the image, and two others which appear, one after the other, inside the larger one. (The larger one does undergo some change of its own, too, when the smaller ones are embedded.) The smaller, embedded panels function as ‘footnotes.’ When the second of the two smaller panels is embedded, Batman’s text in the larger panel reads ” { !?!? }**” and his ‘footnoted’ text in the embedded panel reads “** = { } !?!?”.


Continue reading “{ !?!? } / { } !?!?”

…book-ends, or parentheses…

Earlier this summer, I went to meet a distinguished Israeli psychoanalyst, M.. I traveled by train from Herzeliya, where I was staying with my brother, and walked from the station in Tel Aviv to M.’s office, about a mile and a half away. The purpose of my visit was to discuss with M. the possibility of giving a presentation to psychoanalysts in Israel about my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. The book defies easy description; it is a strange, genre-crossing work that mixes graphic art, self-writing, and philosophy (understood in a very broad sense). I was to explain to him what the connections were between my book and psychoanalysis, connections which I was sure existed and about which I was prepared to talk fluently. M. is a little older than me and of course a very experienced psychoanalyst as well as a very knowledgeable philosopher.

Perhaps you can imagine how this felt. I am myself in analysis and I was acutely aware, as I entered M.’s office, that this was a place where psychoanalysis was conducted. The office was small, but there was the iconic couch in it. And two chairs, into one of which M. ushered me, stating (quite unnecessarily, you can be sure!) that this was the ‘patient’s chair.’ I was petitioning this older man for the chance to address a group of analysts. Petitioning this man who was vastly more knowledgeable about one of the subjects I wanted to speak about than I am; this man who was an analyst, in his own office, while I sat in what we had openly acknowledged was the patient’s place, but who even before entering the office was already investing this meeting with a lot of transferential feelings (as if it were a chance to have a friendly chat with my own analyst). If you guess that these were not propitious circumstances for me, you will not be wrong. Continue reading “…book-ends, or parentheses…”


At a recent presentation in London of A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, I structured my remarks entirely around an explication of the work’s difficult title. There, it was a matter of associating each component of the title (including, I hasten to add, its punctuation) with either knowledge an audience would need to understand what the book will be (i.e. what a meme is, what a Batman meme is) or with aspects of the book itself that I wanted to present to the audience. But, now continuing to plough my way through Gerard Genette’s maddening book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (maddening because the topic is so interesting and yet the discussion of it so long and boring), I am inspired to say something about the rhetoric of my title.

Genette notes that it is virtually routine for academic books to have a title that “evokes symbolically or cryptically” (by means, often, of metaphor, metonymy, antiphrasis, etc.) and a subtitle that “gives a more literal indication of the theme.” American publishers, he says, call the main title “catchy” (or even “sexy”!!) but the subtitle “is often a complete cure for love.” Occasionally, however, he notes that the relation between title and sub-title, with regards to their capacities to enflame or douse the reader’s ardor, may be reversed.

Continue reading “Title/subtitle”

A cabinet of curiosities

An aspect of A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! about which I have not said very much at all yet is the influence on it of the idea of the Wunderkammer, the cabinet of curiosities. In the back of my mind is always W. G. Sebald’s melancholy but enchanting book The Rings of Saturn which is like a literary manifestation of the Wunderkammer. Sebald was influenced by Sir Thomas Browne and Browne is, in fact, indirectly referenced in one of my memes. (I was referring to an early 18th century anonymous pamphleteer who was, I later came to learn, himself drawing on Browne.)

Meme referring to anonymous 18th century pamphlet

Continue reading “A cabinet of curiosities”

Batman slapping Robin, live!

I just gave a version of my presentation on A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! at a salon in London. The lack of technology available meant that I could not project images – so I resorted to having some of the memes acted out, by Oliver Black and Jenny Black! As I explain in the video of that small portion of the talk, I attempted to turn that to advantage by choosing memes that lost something important by being enacted.

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!!!!