A Certain Gesture: Evnine's Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!

[There is now a blog where I post epitextual writings related to this book along with photos, news of progress, and so on. You can sign up there to be notified when I post.]

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) and two movies (Evnine's Batman Memes: The Movie and Gone!) that use these memes. Each meme (and both movies) will be described and commented upon by an 'editor' who is, notionally, distinct from the creator of the memes. (See below for links to some examples of the commentaries.) 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.


A Certain Gesture will work on four levels:


As a Record of a Social Media Art Project

Of the roughly 120 memes in A Certain Gesture, the first 55 were posted on Facebook between January and March, 2016. I came to conceptualize these posted memes as a social media art project, The Batman Meme Project, and I announced its completion with a short movie (Evnine's Batman Memes: The Movie) that gave a 'retrospective' of many of the posted memes and introduced the last three of the original 55. (If you watch the movie, you definitely need the sound on.) A Certain Gesture will have the form of an exhibition catalogue to function, partly, as a record of that event. The commentaries on the memes will include discussion of material aspects of the memes (increasing mastery of the medium, development of new techniques, etc.), just as a catalogue of paintings might. And because Facebook is an interactive environment, discussion of the original 55 memes will also include frequent reference to contributions from people who participated in the event by commenting on them as they were posted. [Return to list.]



As a Work of Philosophy

The commentaries will range widely (so that one will often find oneself surprised at the by-ways into which one has been led) but they will contain a lot of explicit philosophy. A Certain Gesture will thus be, in some sense, a work of philosophy. The philosophy will include explanations, written for the interested but non-specialist reader, of various curious and interesting topics in philosophy (e.g. the Liar Paradox, Tarski’s theory of truth, the semantics of generic terms, David Lewis’s modal realism, the traditional theory of the syllogism) and so in this respect the book will partly function as an entrée into philosophy for the general reader. But the philosophy will also include original developments in my own philosophical research. Hence the work may be of interest to professional philosophers. [Return to list.]

As Auto-Theory

The memes together with their commentaries and the introductory material draw on my own life and experiences. Owing to the polyphonic and intertextual nature of the commentaries, these biographical themes become intricately bound up with the philosophical parts in a way that is sometimes described as auto-theory. This technique was pioneered in feminist thought and has flourished in the context of other investigations of identity, but it is not something that has found much scope in contemporary analytic philosophy, as I hope it will here.

Three personal themes in particular have great prominence throughout the work. One is the experience of being in psychoanalysis. A second is my identity as a Jew and how my up-bringing in this respect has fostered a pervasive sense of exile. The third (related to the second) is the way I have navigated through the profession of philosophy. It is not unusual for philosophers today to work for long stretches of their careers in one specific area, often on one theme. This has not been my style. As my CV shows, I prefer to write on a wide variety of topics. This biographical fact is reflected in both the form and content of A Certain Gesture. [Return to list.]

As Philosophy Performing Itself

The whole work, memes and texts together, will ‘perform’ or ‘enact’ philosophy in a variety of ways. Since this is the most unusual aspect of the work, I will give two examples in some detail.

One theme that will be discussed explicitly, since it is raised in some of the memes, is parergonality: the issue of the boundaries of works and their relations to what surrounds them. (Common varieties of parerga written about by critics include frames of paintings, prefatory material in books, and so on.) But A Certain Gesture itself, as its subtitle indicates, does not just discuss these issues, it grapples with them concretely in its form. The Batman Meme Project is the kernel of the work; but its parerga include approximately another 65 memes and a second movie (Gone! - sound also essential). But what about A Certain Gesture itself? Is the book part of the project that is its subject matter and if so, how does that create difficulties for its completion or open up new possibilities that could not be otherwise approached? And the ‘author’ of the memes is, notionally, distinct from the ‘author’ of A Certain Gesture. So problems with parergonality inevitably spill over into questions of authorship and voice. Some things need to be said by the creator of the memes, some by the editor, and some by the person who is both and has orchestrated the whole project. But how and where can these things be said while trying to maintain a consistency of voice?

I have also created a Facebook page where further 'epitextual' writings and memes related to the project will be published periodically, along with news and updates of how things are progressing. You can go to the page and "like" it to receive notifications of new writing there.



A second example of ways in which the work performs philosophy is this. There will be explicit discussion of free association in psychoanalysis (my interest in which goes back to one of my very first publications, on Freud). In free association, one attempts to throw off one way in which sequentially-expressed ideas are connected in the hope of letting other kinds of connections emerge into the light of day. This notion of presenting ideas without connections (possibly, though not necessarily, with the hope that hidden connections will become visible this way) has animated others besides psychoanalysts. (The historian Robert Brentano, for example, has expressed this as an ideal for historical work.) In addition to explicit discussion of this issue, the work as a whole will embody many different ways of juxtaposing apparently unrelated ideas. Some commentaries will yoke together quite different topics in relation to a single meme; some will be related only obliquely to the memes they are commentaries on; and so on. Thus, the work as a whole is an experiment in connection, lack of connection, and connection through lack of connection. It is, in a sense (and as paradoxical as this sounds) a work of carefully controlled free association. [Return to list.]



[Click on each of these images to see samples of the commentaries - with more legible versions of the memes. Here's a ride back up if you came here from the link above.]


A Certain Gesture will be cerebral, playful, social, and intensely personal. It will contain philosophy, including original philosophical research, but also explore new ways of doing and thinking about philosophy.