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More On Self-Naming - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
More On Self-Naming
My entry the other day in which I wondered aloud why I resist calling myself a "feminist" has provoked unusually rich responses from both my LJ friends and other readers. I'm still struggling with the question, but feel like the path of my inquiry is more brightly lit than it was before. So let me extend a hearty thanks to everyone who corresponded with me.

One of the things that came up in a conversation with a non-LJer this morning is that I often exhibit discomfort where self-naming is concerned. As I wrote in a reply to one of the comments on that previous entry, I still want to write "Instructor Charlie Bertsch" on my course syllabi, because the distinction between those who are only allowed to call themselves "instructors" and those who have a more impressive title bothers me. There are lots of examples I can quickly call to mind of situations where I went out of my way to resist a name that it would have made outward sense for me to accept.

At the same time, though, I want to make it clear that my resistance is not merely the product of a diffuse anxiety surrounding all forms of self-naming. There are names I've willingly embraced, whether for personal or political reasons. Here are a few I came up with earlier this morning: dad, Pennsylvanian, leftist, basketball fan, white male, American, partner, Protestant, "I", teacher, Bertsch, asshole, blogger, Cal Bear and Berkeley graduate, writer, Democrat, music-lover, German, and intellectual.

While I was compiling that list, however, I couldn't help but think of things I try hard not to call myself: Californian, progressive, lover, punk, theorist, man, Christian, football fan, liberal, dick, professor, husband and, as previously noted, feminist. While clearly not symmetrical, the lists are closely related. I'm not sure what their content connotes, but it's certainly interesting.

It's also worthwhile to scrutinize individual items on the two lists. I have no trouble asserting that I'm a Protestant, even though my belief in deity has diminished with each passing year. I almost never refer to myself as a "husband." I will call Kim my "wife," when I think the situation dictates, but hate the way the word sounds coming out of my mouth. I liked "girlfriend" just as little. But "partner" works fine.

As my partner knows, I have a strong aversion to certain words that pass between us and an equally strong affection for others. Nouns matter to me a great deal. Self-naming, though, ups the ante even higher. I spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on what I would rather not claim to be. I wonder whether this is merely the product of personal experience or rather a generational phenomenon.

In closing, I think this would be a great meme for other folks to pick up. We could learn a lot from the inclusions and exclusions that each of us practices in the course of self-naming.

Mode: endless, nameless
Muse: Don't Push It, Don't Force It - Leon Haywood - Freaky Man

13 comments or Leave a comment
From: jodi3425 Date: March 2nd, 2005 08:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)


Charlie, your post reminded me of something from Butler on self-naming that either begins with or includes a line about coming to Yale to give a talk under the name/label lesbian and what does it mean to speak under a name given to you even when it is a name you may give yourself in other contexts. I found myself oddly stressed by the post, and the listing, like addressing this was/is somehow too intense. In a similar way, I have a terrible time and generally resist giving myself a 'handle' or 'alias' or username or wearing a costume to a costume party: in both cases what is chosen reveals more than what is given or accidental. So, I'm ok with names that are given to me but not with ones that seem to be chosen (for example, couldn't deal with wife at all and of course not with the names of those I was married to; and, happy with political theorist insofar as this was conferred by the Symbolic Order of the University, but have a harder time with other academic names--say, feminist theorist or cybercultural theorists--because they, again, are too chosen).
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 08:26 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: self-naming

If it's the Butler piece I think you mean, it's one that has been foundational -- ironic, that, anti-foundationalism as a foundation! -- for my intellectual development. I read it early in grad school, when I was trying to figure out where I stood on identity politics or even whether it made sense for me to have such a stand.

I'm intrigued by the idea that my post was perceived as, "somehow too intense." Do you mean because I hailed readers with the idea of starting a meme? Or was it the fact that I appeared to be confessing more than you felt comfortable with as a reader? Like most things I say and write, the entry was simultaneously sincere -- at the level of argument -- and ironic -- at the level of the detail supporting that argument. I mean, I recognize that there's humor in saying I will call myself a Protestant but not a Christian.

Still, as you know, I'm working hard to figure out how and why personal blogging generates responses whose intensity does not, at least on the surface, seem commensurate with the entries that provoke them. The idea of giving oneself away is one that I want to explore a lot more fully. Intensely, even.
From: jodi3425 Date: March 2nd, 2005 09:05 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: self-naming

I just received it too intensely (the question highlighted a crack in the Symbolic where the Real, momentarily, appeared). The post didn't seem overly revealing in any icky way. And, with the direct hail, I'm not sure. My limited experience is that direct hails are sometimes odd in generating less of a response than do remarks or comments with no requests or instructions attached. But, I don't think that was it--I think it just a matter of reception. It will be interesting to see how others respond.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 09:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: self-naming

That's good. I know there's a fine line between using the confessional mode to strengthen one's arguments and confessing so much that one is "overly revealing in an icky way," but do my best not to cross it too frequently. Sometimes it's hard to see where you're stepping, though.

I agree completely about the inefficacy of direct hails, BTW. But I thought it was worth a shot. Playful responses to the meme idea would be fine with me.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: March 2nd, 2005 08:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Intense indeed. We're venturing into some thickly wooded forest, now. It can be pretty difficult, at times, to gain access to the levels of our brain that determine gut-reactions to certain labels, ideas -- hell, even our favorite colors.

I have always been open and honest concerning my past experimentation with psychedelics and dissociatives as a means to this end. When people ask me what I could have possibly learned from them, I always tell them: "only the things a part of me already knew." Was it Lilly who coined the term "metaprogramming?" It scarcely matters. By the end of his life the man believed he was talking to dolphins. 'Drugged out hippy' is definitely a label I strive to avoid.

But I've always considered the asking of questions such as these to be vital to self-discovery. It is indeed a quality meme. For my own part, the only label I can think of with any significance that I have truly embraced is that of 'agnostic.' I find myself permanently perched upon the fence. Unless a label is sufficiently vague, I will always be qualifying it with this or that. Charlie, even though my thinking is in tune with many feminist ideals, I, too, am hesitant to toss the label around lightly.

It is interesting that you include yourself as basketball fan, but exclude yourself as a football fan. It reminds me of an interview with Naomi Klein I read recently at alternet, which may also shed some light on this discussion. Here is an excerpt:

Lakshmi Chaudhry: What is your take on why the Democrats lost in 2004?

Naomi Klein: The Democrats didn't fully understand that the success of Karl Rove's party is really a success in branding. Identity branding is something that the corporate world has understood for some time now. They're not selling a product; they're selling a desired identity, an aspirational identity of the people who consume their product. Nike understands that, Apple understands that, and so do all the successful brands. Karl Rove understands that too.

So what the Republican Party has done is that it has co-branded with other powerful brands — like country music, and NASCAR, and church going, and this larger proud-to-be-a-redneck identity. Policy is pretty low on the agenda, in terms of why people identify as Republicans. They identify with these packets of attributes.

the full article: http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/21099/

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 2nd, 2005 09:14 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's a nice quote from Naomi Klein. Thanks for the link. It seems worthwhile to think about self-naming as a kind of violence, whether directed inward, outward, or both. How we "brand" ourselves is key.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: March 2nd, 2005 09:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think that is an excellent way of framing it.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 3rd, 2005 04:41 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
BTW, I finally got the Broken Social Scene record, after letting your advice percolate for ages. It's perfect for me! Thanks so much for the strong tip.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: March 3rd, 2005 07:20 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Have you heard of The Shins before? I have one of their records, "oh, inverted world," and think its pretty solid. It isn't something I'm blown away by (I don't think anything 'new' has quite blown me away since 1998's Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea) but it definitely has its moments and there is one song in particular, "New Slang" that I am in love with. It's a perfect song. Someone told me it was on the Garden State soundtrack (a movie I haven't seen, surprisingly) -- so maybe you've heard it even if you're not familiar with the band.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: March 2nd, 2005 09:42 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I guess throwing a monkey wrench into the discussion is my having walked in a courtroom in San Franciso requesting a change of name. Reason(s): primarily because the family name my father uses was handed down to him/us by a former owner of slaves. I do regret to some extent, removing my first and middle names as they were both of my grandfather's. My family uses both pre- and post- name changed names. However, that's a bit different than other types of identifications we discussed.

In teaching, the only identity I request my students to make is not call me, or other studio art professors, doctors as our terminal degree is a master's not a doctorate.

Now, you do have me thinking about making a list of self-identifications that I like and don't like to use for myself.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 3rd, 2005 04:40 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's totally the right kind of wrenc to throw in the works, though. The heritage of name plays such a big part in determining how we feel about them.
From: catfishvegas Date: March 3rd, 2005 04:17 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Seems as though you lean more toward the general. I can dig that - it leaves the whole concept of identity wide open and doesn't let others read into things nearly as much.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 3rd, 2005 04:38 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks. That's a generous and helpful way of putting it.

Do you know anything about that Arizona Daily Star"local blog" thing?
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