Knitting and the Meme

My interview about Prehension was broadcast yesterday from Michigan on NPR’s To the Best of Our Knowledge. My section of the hourlong show (called “Handwork”) was preceded by a section on the therapeutic value of knitting and followed by discussions of the delights of drawing and the manual typewriter. This was all good manual propaganda–spreading the hand meme to the culture at large. Today my essay “Memes, Dreams and Themes” ran in the NY Times as one of those Philosopher’s Stone columns. Oh, the comments! No comment. The hand is certainly a theme of Prehension but it needs to become a meme: it needs a jingle or catchphrase. Any ideas? I like the phrase “Grand Order of Gripparians” but it’s not too snappy is it. How about “handlib” or “handlove” or “handiology”?


9 responses to “Knitting and the Meme”

  1. What we really need is a catchy pop song about the hand.

  2. Ken says:

    Congrats, Colin. Yet another original and insightful article. The memes parts (and their differences from themes) connect well with your book Mindfucking.

    (I will gird my loins before wading into the comments…)

    The latter half of your article raises an interesting epistemological question: can we distinguish between memes and themes at the time or only in retrospect? I have in mind political propaganda. Are Trump’s recent statements about Muslims (and earlier statements about Mexicans) memes or (toxic) themes? If memes, would this conclusion change if – *completely hypothetically* – the FBI produced incontrovertible evidence that 90% of American Muslims had joined ISIS? Would we be wrong to have earlier concluded that it was a meme? Or can a meme suddenly turn into a theme when sufficient evidence is provided for it?

    On a lighter note, I assume you’ve seen the Seinfeld episode where George “has hand” and then loses it, but just in case you haven’t, here are the highlights:

    • You are quite right about the connection to MF: memes are devices of MF. The question of how to distinguish from the inside memes and themes is indeed difficult: memes may appear as theme-like. Also, you are right to distinguish memes from toxic or defective themes. Themes and memes can be mixed up in subtle ways, though the abstract distinction is clear enough.

      I must have seen that episode of Seinfeld but don’t recall it now–maybe the clips will bring it back to me.

  3. Rick Padua says:

    I’m wondering about tropes like the opening bars of Thus Spake Zarathustra and “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana which seem like themes (Strauss and Orff were serious composers) which have been so abused they’ve degenerated into memes …

    • Maybe it’s a bit like “paradigm shift”: an OK idea that has been vulgarized into a meme with overuse and lazy application.

      What about “cognitive closure” and “mysterianism”? The former was intended as a theme but the latter took off like a meme. For PR purposes themes need corresponding memes. How much of the influence of the theory of relativity depends on the meme-like label?

      • Rick Padua says:

        Re: Relativity one suspects not too much influence in practical terms. “The Theory of Relativity” as a meme likely expresses itself as fleeting internal images of a jovial Einstein puffing a pipe with his hair all haywire, not as thoughts of inertial time frames or the equivalence of gravitation and inertia.

        That’s an interesting application of “paradigm shift” by the way. A degenerated meme isn’t being fairly suddenly supplanted; it’s being progressively bastardized. Are you sure you’re not thinking of a mental equivalent of “genetic drift”?

        • Rick Padua says:

          S/B “degenerated theme” more accurately.

        • Rick Padua says:

          Ah! Of course you offered “paradigm shift” as an example. Sorry. I missed that point partly because I never thought of “paradigm shift” as widely circulated enough to qualify as a meme, whereas the Strauss and Orff melodies appear in mass market films and on TV commercials.

          Which raises an issue. Often these tics appear to be culturally stratified or horizontally contained. Not all people respond to all tropes. Should that consideration constrain how they’re labeled?

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