This morning I was taking a walk with the baby when I saw a house with a small front patio, and on it was a round rot-iron table with two rot-iron chairs.
And I knew I wasn’t looking at a table and chairs.
I was looking at a meme, in the Richard Dawkins sense of the word, “an element of a culture passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.”
Consciously or not, the people who live in that house with the table and chairs replicated an image they’ve seen before, an image that perhaps came to them as they looked at that empty spot. The odds are good that they will rarely, if ever, sit on those wobbly chairs.
But everybody wants chairs and a table on their front porch!
Everyone wants to be able to sit outside and have an iced-tea and watch the sunset.
Yes, but the impulse to put chairs in front of a house is not the meme itself, and is in fact a logical thing one would want to do, sit out on the porch.
But wouldn’t one want to sit on COMFORTABLE chairs?
Does anybody ever think, I would love to sit on hard iron!
This is a meme:
Obviously, all of us to some extent are meme-machines.
A toddler follows you around the house and repeats what you say, those things that are easy and fun to say, like Mama, Dada, kitty, even without knowing what they truly mean. Some words are easier to replicate than others, and as much as I hate to admit it, that’s why my daughter said dada, before she said mama.
One of the challenges of the poet is to know the difference between an image, a rhythm, the dreamworld, maybe a sound in the distance that finds its way into their work and the cultural memes that keep pounding on the door to be let in.
I don’t think that you can avoid memes, they will be there, and you will practice some level memetics.
But as a writer, you can deepen a meme. Subvert it. Use it to arrive at beauty or truth.