The Memeing of Life


Funny how a thing, once it's been called to your attention once, can settle in your consciousness, like a cat in the sunlight, stretching, and then you see it everywhere. Doubly funny, perhaps, when that thing is a meme.

Badaude called this to my attention. She wants me to open a book--the nearest book to me, which in my house means that no matter where I am I never have to anything more than stretch my arm out--and count five sentences down. Then write down the next three sentences that appear. Lying in bed on a Saturday afternoon (we're slightly fuzzy-headed and it's overcast outside), I pick up George Steiner’s My Unwritten Books from the chair-that-serves-as-as-a-night-table/book-receptacle and read:

“How does lovemaking in Basque or Russian differ from that in Flemish or Korean? What privileges or inhibitions arise between lovers with different first languages? Is coitus also, perhaps fundamentally, translation?”

In my second year of university I took a course on evolutionary biology and learned that memes are sort of like the cultural conduit for evolution: ideas transmitted, if you will. We read a lot of things by a woman called Susan Blackmore, but I was mostly too tired and student-y to retain any of the information. Then I went to a taping of BBC Radio 4's new show, The Museum of Curiosity. And they started talking about memes. And Susan Blackmore. Go figure (and how perfectly beautifully appropriate). Have a listen to the first show, which aired on Wednesday and is brilliant (I'm biased, as some of you know, since I get to sleep with live with love with one of the researchers but I also genuinely appreciate the endeavor to make people laugh and think at the same time), and you'll hear about memes. I don't pretend to understand them, but I know that somehow, there's something poetic about the way they keep fluttering in and out of my consciousness.

To be fair, I haven't read the George Steiner book yet. I bought it on Thursday on a particularly expensive trip to Blackwell's, where I perused each floor with great attention and had to send my lovely museum researcher a message that simply said: "I think I have a book buying problem." Then I had to cycle back home with very heavy books and a bottle of prosecco in my basket, and it was wonderful. But I'd read a review of it on The Guardian's website and was struck by how sexy the excerpts was: and not just overtly sexy, though as much of the book, or a good part of it, is about Steiner's sexual exploits, they were that. Sexy to someone who loves words, because of the beauty and the eloquence and the way each sentence seemed to fit into the next.

So I haven't yet read it--but I like that in a post about words and ideas, we can discover the suggestion that, perhaps, sometimes it is the physical interaction that translates (and transcends) all else.

(so to whom should I pass this project on to? Cynthia might like it, as an exercise in words and web-bonding; and George, I suspect, would weave something full of wit and wile...)