A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!
A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is a new book of which I have just published volume I – an entirely original kind of work that crosses genres, styles, and media. In its finished form, it will include over 100 memes I have made using the image of Batman slapping Robin (originally from a 1960s Batman comic) and two short movies. Volume I includes about 50 of these memes. Each meme is described and commented on in the voice of an ‘editor’ who is, notionally, distinct from the creator of the memes. It thus has the form (and the appearance) of an art exhibition catalogue. Many of the memes are about philosophy (especially metaphysics and the philosophy of language), literature, and psychoanalysis. The commentaries combine discussion of these issues with a variety of forms of self-writing. A Certain Gesture is cerebral, playful, social, and intensely personal. It contains philosophy, including original philosophical research, but also explores new ways of doing and thinking about philosophy.
The History of the Book
Of the roughly 100 memes in the book, the first third or so 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. (If you watch the movie, you definitely need the sound on.)
During the Batman Meme Project I conceived of the idea of bringing the memes together and explaining their more esoteric aspects. At the same time, I would incorporate features of their reception on Facebook. After I finished the Batman Meme Project, however, I continued to produce more such memes (though rarely making them public) and these became parerga to the project, things that orbit around it and destabilize its defining boundaries. (Parergon – pl. parerga: something which is beside or around (para) a work (ergon). The word is used to refer to things like frames of paintings and prefaces of books – in fact if the ergon is a text, a parergon is a paratext.)
The commentaries range widely (so that one will often find oneself surprised at the by-ways into which one has been led) but, among other things, they contain a lot of explicit philosophy. The philosophy includes explanations, written for the interested but non-specialist reader, of various curious and interesting topics in philosophy (e.g. the Liar Paradox, the semantics of generic terms, the traditional theory of the syllogism). But there are also original developments of my own philosophical research.
The memes together with their commentaries 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 developed 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 does 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. This biographical fact is reflected in both the form and content of A Certain Gesture.
The word “parerga” appears in the book’s title and I alluded to it above when I said the memes made after the Batman Meme Project are parerga to it. In fact, parergonality has become a pervasive theme that appears both explicitly but is also grappled with concretely in the form of the book. The relation of the later memes to the earlier ones, of the commentaries to the memes, of the ‘editor’ to the ‘artist,’ of the movies (Evnine’s Batman Memes: The Movie, available above, and Gone!, immediately below – also requires sound) to the written work, the existence of further works imagined within the book: all of these are sites for engagement with the parergonal.
I also have a blog related to the book, The Parergon, where further epitextual and paratextual writings and other memes related to the project will be published periodically. You can go to the page and follow to receive notifications of new writing there.