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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"The 'I' is the First Lie"

That's what a professor I taught for a couple of years ago said in lecture to help clear up a misunderstanding between himself (who thought your average freshman would be all about reading Fanon and Lacan) and the students (who thought the average professor would understand that, in a 20c Literature course, they would be reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald). As you can imagine, the idea that "The 'I' is the first lie" did little to clarify the situation. It was, to say the least, a challenging TAship.

I mention this because both my friend Palish (see sidebar) and Feministe (see internet, or post from two days ago) are talking about names today. Palish and I share the problem--she actually helped me identify the problem--of discovering that the names you love, that reflect your intimate taste and affections, seem shockingly to be...the same for everyone. This is the problem of realizing that, as she says, "you are your demographic" and all your attempts at freethought are just a little illusion to make you feel better while the marketers line up to sell you mass-produced name plates saying "Isabella" for you to hang above your baby's crib. Or whatever.

Which would sort of back up the idea that your "I" is a lie--that it's not discrete and separate from your collective media consciousness. Which would, I guess, also go along with what Feministe says about how she has a hard time getting worked up about changing your name or not when you get married, because it just seems sort of irrelevant these days.

I commented on her post about why not changing my name was important to me as a small political gesture--so you can go read that if you want to.

But I also was thinking about this. When I was 23, my boyfriend at the time had an asthma attack that led to total respiratory failure. He was on life support for a few days, and then when they took him off the respirator he slipped into a "light coma," which basically means that he was Fucked Up. His eyes were open, and he was thrashing around crazily (my mom said it was like he was trying to ride a bike while laying in his hospital bed), but he was in no way at all mentally present. Just a blank, terrified stare for days. (Christmas Day, actually, just to give you the full dramatic effect of the story).

He got better. But one thing that was very surprising to me, then and in retrospect, was that even in the worst of his "coma" he would always respond, even if just briefly, to his name. He was the biggest anti-humanist in the world, and he definitely thought the I was a lie--but if you called to him, even in his coma, he came.

And that convinced me that names matter--they're not connected to a "real" you, but then maybe there is no "real" you that could, for instance, make truly personal aesthetic decisions about things like names. Names aren't separate from socialization--but then, neither are we.

Which makes the aesthetic and political choices we make around names a useful way to figure and recognize ourselves--not as a "lie" but as a part of a much larger social fabric.


  • mama-
    Leave it to you to be intellectual where I am only cranky. sigh.


    By Blogger w, at 5:36 PM  

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