Blesok no. 75, November-December, 2010
On Name and Identity
With the On Name lecture I would like to caution against certain traumatic issues – such as the name, the identity, ideology, gender policies – that Macedonian literature and theory, as well as Macedonian politics are currently facing. These issues are of course also the subject of interest of numerous contemporary humanist disciplines (anthropology, ethics, political theory, theory of literature, deconstruction, speech act theory, feminist theory, etc). Problems regarding identity most often appear in times of crisis: when all existing values and principles are questioned, when the existent patterns of life offer no satisfactory responses to the challenges of time, and there is nothing new to replace the old. It is a state when individuals/societies fall into a vacuum of social norms of a sort, and all this creates greater insecurity and uncertainty. In such a state of restlessness the search for identity is reduced to resolving the relations between the individual and society as a whole. What may seem as a paradox of a sort is the fact that many see the way out of this threatening relationship in neotraditionalism since experience (legend, myth) teaches them that only traditional models of identity may provide security in a moment of crisis. This means that ‘the desire for roots and the ethnification of the world’ in such situations seem like the only possible and reasonable solution.
In this context one might also consider national identification, which grows particularly important in times of major social changes in which a change of the traditional identity model and the need for forming a new one occurs – I believe that after the nineties the Macedonian case is a paradigmatic example – and in such times there are many who see the solution in the return to tradition. In such restless times the ethnic/national identity becomes particularly important since it could offer a stable (natural) and constant core of affiliation.
Contemporary identity theories mainly treat the notions of inconstancy and variability. It is considered that identity is merely a temporary stabilization of meaning. When it is discussed, therefore, one should be aware that it is not possible to talk of a constant identity, but only of its existence, which, for a number of reasons, is subject to various changes and transformations. Identity is a variable category and as such is dependent on political/historical changes since each new life/political context (1) may require a shift to a different – sometimes even a contradictory – identity from the previous one. Hence, identity should be understood as a process; identity is not something given once and for all, it changes through life, develops, enters into relationships with other identities and the interaction with them inevitably induces certain changes in identity. It is for this reason that Charles Taylor could conclude that ‘my own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relation with others’ (1991, 48); and as such represents an agreement between assigned and accepted attributes.
One could say that identity is in fact a linguistic description, a performative construct formed in and through discourse and its meaning changes according to the changes of the categories of place, time, or circumstance. One should keep in mind that the circumstances in which identity is formed are often very different, culturally and historically specific, so that our identities are often formed under the influence of colonialism, racial and sexual suppression, as well as national conflicts – the political occurrences in the 1990s in former Yugoslavia confirm the accuracy of this bitter conclusion in the worst possible way.
Furthermore, not only do the constellations of identity categories constantly change, but also new, completely different identity categories are formed, so it would be proper to observe the subject as an intersection of mutually associated gender, sex, racial, class, religious and other cultural identifications.
From what has been said so far, it turns out that identity is not a fixed object or an individual’s constant essence, but a performative/discursive construct – the same goes for gender, for instance – gender is not a stable category, but a social creation constituted within discourse and language. In my book Identitet, Tekst, Nacija – Interpretacija crnila makedonske povijesti (Identity, Text, Nation – Interpretation of the Darkness of Macedonian History) I elaborate Ruth Wodak’s thesis that in discourse and through it national identities are formed. The author, in fact, researched into the discursive construction of national identity in various social/linguistic and discursive/analytical forms. In her research, she relied on various theoretical concepts – Benedict Anderson’s imagined community, Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus, Michel Foucault’s concept of discourse. She assumes the concept of discourse in the sense of a social activity of creating meanings through language, that is, that discourse shapes the social activities of creating language through language, or rather that discourse shapes social and political practices while being shaped by them; ‘on the one hand, the situational, institutional and social settings shape and affect discourses, and on the other, discourses influence discursive as well as non-discursive social and political processes and actions (2006, 112).
If, however, instability, variability, plasticity fundamentally determine the notion of identity, then it is only logical to wonder whether in all periods of their duration the individual/state could be referred to by the same name. This question opens the relation between name and identity!
In this lecture too, On Name and Identity, I shall explore the relation between name and identity, in the sense that through the act of naming a linguistic proceeding is expressed that provides personal, cultural, gender, national and other identities. The very act of naming includes the relation between the one who names/the nominator and the one who is named/ the nominee, but also conveys a relation to kinship, culture and history so that every act of naming involves an ethical/political relation as well (2). One might also say that the act creating the subject is not birth, but naming. And since the act of naming is founded in a particular context and a particular time, it may materialize somewhat differently too!
The subject of identity instigates a debate every time someone asks themselves ‘Who am I?’ or when the question is presented to someone else. And if the question is asked by somebody else, the most common answer would be the giving of one’s name. We should in fact wonder if this mode of presenting oneself or simply calling out one’s name could provide the right answer to the question. I find that this way of presenting ourselves is not an adequate response to the question! Actually, to give someone a name ‘shows that place in language, in grammar, we assign to the word’ (Ludwing Wittgenstein), that is, we have consigned a place from which a person (or a state) is to answer in the future (3). Even though through the act of naming a linguistic engagement is expressed that provides cultural, gender, political and other identities, it is merely a beginning in the process of creating identity. After the naming is completed, the act of calling becomes important, that is, the way the name is used. That is why the use of the name places its carrier in a particular relation to the person who uses it. Naming could be part of the process of accepting an individual/group into a cultural, religious or another community, or represent part of the process of exclusion/elimination from said community. The name could therefore present a considerable burden to its carrier.
And this particular dimension of the name is successfully treated in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Not only that, but the play most vividly reflects the current political and other traumas of Macedonia today, faced before a real possibility: if it wants to take active and equal part in global politics, it is to assume another name and call itself differently rather than Macedonia!
Paradoxically placed in an identity without a name (from a position of the Other), Macedonians are doomed to quite a painful (collective and individual) situation of (international) invisibility and a frozen and delayed identity vegetation in perpetual crisis. This situation has produced a vulnerable (and not an unstable or ‘weak’ in a post-structuralist sense) Macedonian Subject.
(Kolozova, 2003: 303)
With this harsh comparison we wished to demonstrate how the use of a certain name also must generate certain social/political involvement that has to have an ethical dimension as well.
I hereby present the initial premise of my lecture: the loss of one’s name equals the loss of life (4)! I believe, in fact, that discarding one’s name is not possible in one’s lifetime. A name always represents someone’s – his or her – essence and is inseparable from their being as such. The creature (Romeo, Macedonia) lives in their name since names cannot be destroyed – the name does not lose its meaning after the object has been destroyed (Wittgenstein). Thus, in order to be able to describe a destructible (mortal, temporary) subject, names should be indestructible (immortal, timeless). Hence the name is independent from the existence of its object. ‘Something red can be destroyed, but red cannot be destroyed, and that is why the meaning of the word 'red' is independent of the existence of a red thing’ (Aphorism 57). Separating the name from its carrier and continuing life beyond one’s name is still possible, but it requires radical separation from all historical, familial and causal relationships stacked in the name, renouncing a series of identity categories (nation, sex, profession) and assuming others or new ones. Assuming a new identity is an alternative to death: if I am no longer Romeo, I must be someone else! Or, using the example with the name of Macedonia, it would imply substituting the name of the country with another. When Juliet is asking Romeo to be as a rose, she wishes to separate him from his name in the sense of all familial and causal relationships echoing from it. She wants him to change his name (‘O! be some other name’), which, according to Derrida, might mean two things: (a) assume another proper name, or (b) assume another sort of name that is not human, a name of an object, of something specific, an abstract noun: Romeo finally changes his name into an abstract noun – the noun love – and with this double aporia of his own name he loses everything: his name, his love and his life! In other words, in the play he does not manage to realize himself as an individual(ity), that is, his identity cannot be considered as a civic/democratic type of identity (5).
It is clear that in Shakespeare’s play Romeo begins to hate his name at the moment Juliet – in the case with Macedonia the role of Juliet is assumed by the international community and Greece – asks him to. Renouncing one’s own name, therefore, could only be wished through the call of the other, in the name of another; and if one applies this to the Macedonian case now, one would see that the play of the star-crossed lovers may not be as naïve as it seems. That is why any ironization of this naïve narrative in the context of a postmodernist paradigm would be extremely improper. The story of the star-crossed lovers is far more topical than the story of the miserable and indecisive Danish prince since it opens up a number of questions: if all names survive the death of their carriers, if memory could be destroyed, and the name erased or burned to illegibility (6) since ‘[h]e cannot want to do so of his own accord, even though this emancipation is nevertheless being presented to him as the chance of at last being himself, beyond the name - the chance of at last living, for he carries the name as his death’ (Derrida, 1992: 430). Katerina Kolozova is quite right to see in the forceful name-giving:
[T]he ultimate violence on the Subject through a fatal frustration of desire. It is achieved by negation, by completely eliminating its (‘Desired’) Subject. In all three cases (‘Macedonia’, ‘the Balkans’, ‘Southeast Europe’ – author’s note), the Subject (carrier) of this negation is a European Subject as a global and globalizing Subject. A simple geometric figure built of vectors of power in force in both cases (the case of Macedonia and the case of the Balkans/Southeast Europe) maintains a colonial submission/creation of the Balkans and the Macedonian Subject. These processes play out with the postcolonial world in the background, leaving an impression of striving to overpower and abandon the colonial subjectivity/subjectivization and that, quite paradoxically, through the process of globalization (ibid.)
Interpreting the play Romeo and Juliet, Jacques Derrida suggests the role of the name without a referent, that is, its survival after the death of its carrier, but, unlike his own theses on contingency and temporary stabilization of meaning, Derrida underscores the name as the essence of the individual being, inseparable from its carrier, and only casually points to the possibility of separating the subject from the name of an identity. One might, in fact, say that neither Juliet nor Romeo are certain as to where they belong, that is, that their tragedy results from a search for identity. Actually, it is quite obvious that both of them never succeed in positioning themselves among the various styles and models of behaviour. In that sense, those claiming that identity is a label signifying an escape from uncertainty are right. The identity crisis is, after all, mostly connected to an uncertainty causing confusion and anxiety. Even though it is most often associated with the dysfunctionality of social institutions in general, the identity crisis is even more deeply rooted in the upheavals within the culture itself, which results in changes of the paradigms and the models of social communication and social behaviour. Wendell Bell in his texts relates the crisis of values (and the creation of anomias) with the rapid changes of the models in culture, accompanied by the much more important phenomenon of disintegration factors. I find that one could openly apply Theodore Roszak’s conclusion about the dramatic changes in contemporary civilization, which he describes as a time ‘when the very private experience of having a personal destiny to fulfill has become a subversive political force of major proportions' on the time in Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet.
The act of naming, therefore, contains the relationship between whoever gives the name and whoever answers to it, but also involves the relations to kinship, culture and history, which in a way permeate that name. Thus it is once again confirmed that in every act of naming there is an ethical aspect, so that it becomes perfectly clear that the name – that is, the fight for the name, as is the case of Macedonia – results in social involvement and ethical obligations as well. It is perfectly clear that any change of the name is always part of a certain political action! But these actions are most often constructs of the view of the Other, its projection of how something is supposed to look or be called. Hence, in every act of naming the act of violence becomes immanent!
Questions such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘Who are we?’ or ‘Who is the other?’ are often asked. One should not see anything unusual in them since the notion of identity is a fundamental feature of human existence. The question of ‘Who am I?’ inevitably provokes the answer to another question: ‘Where do I belong?’ Man is not alone in the universe, neither is the individual in the group, nor the society (however it may be) exists for itself alone. In everyday live we disrupt these continuums of a particular we – my family, my class, my community. But, one should note that the individual defines this I in different ways, considering the affiliation to a certain ethnic or civic nation. In the former case, the ethnic affiliation is considered fundamental for the self-determination of identity – according to Herder’s formula – so the individual primarily experiences this self-identification as an ethnic identification – assuming some of the attributes belonging to the nation (such as diligence, or honesty), that is, of its national character that is drawing them into its personal structure – and secondary, as a collective identity, when the issues are viewed above all through the category of affiliation, but also though constituting an idea of the concept us as an expression of a particular (ethnic) community. Thereby a firm bond is established between the notions of I and we in a specific, ethnic context. But the relation between I and we might also be constituted through homogenizing the concept of our and excluding the notion of otherness. In this case I becomes subordinate to we, to an ethnic group in which national authority assumes the role of a primary super-ego.
(1) Primarily interesting here is Staten’s reading of Philosophical Investigation! This author has, in fact, read them as a deconstruction of the traditional view of the sign, referring also to the naming process, the relation between the name and the named as a ‘strange connection between a word and an object’. In his further interpretation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, as well as Derrida’s, Staten concludes that the word is a transitive, temporary essence. Each new context inherently carries its own aspect of meaning, which becomes unpredictable until its activation in a future context.
In contemporary theoretical studies the boundaries of identity are often defined by using concepts or systems of rules, and according to Wittgenstein, rules are nothing but ‘standards of comparison’. Both standards and boundaries could be defined, but neither rules nor boundaries have to be defined. As per Henry Staten:
Because any social practice is carried on by different persons who will vary from each other in their sense of how to apply any given rule, any form of life is always transacted by diverging lines of possible practice: a form is a transitive essence always in process of essential variation from itself. On this view a form of life has no self-identical and unitary form, nor does a rule, nor do we (1984, 134).
The question that results from the above formulation would be: how to understand the others, how to live with the Others in such circumstances? The theoreticians of radical democracy, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, ask a similar question when on the basis of Wittgenstein’s and Derrida’s hypotheses - which, in turn, concern the problem of responsibility of political action – they attempt to establish a new concept of thought on democracy that is essentially different than the rationalist, and the shift is seen in the fact that, apart from advocating equality, radicals also advocate the existence of difference. Thus radicals promote the postmodernist approach to identity with the stress on the dilemma itself of choosing identity, that is, a generalized affirmation of pluralism and heterogeneity, of the politics of differences, which, in turn, represents a blow to dogmatic universalism. And it is in such an ambiance that the civic (cultural/political) identity is seen as a community that is not based on the myth of a common origin of blood and soil, but is historically formed though the state and the culture as a symbolic universe offering individuals general guidelines of orientation in a given political community. In such conditions the individuals are not blood-related to their community, but are part of it since they live and act in it, as citizens who have acquired citizenship to that political community and thus acquired a civic status. This does not require a homogenization in ethnic terms since in a nationality there is no complete identification between I and we, and individuals may at the same time belong to their ethnic groups and the more broadly seen (civic) nation, leaving room for building other kinds of collective identity as well. Since a national we does not involve reduction of the ethnic/national identity – as one of the features of a cultural/political community – national identification is not exclusive, in the sense of inclusion/exclusion, and does not generate ethnic/national antagonisms.
(2) In this lecture I have not separately elaborated the problem of the political/ethical responsibility of naming, so I failed to answer several important questions:
а) Does the constitution of the subject precede naming or does naming additionally create what it refers to as a final act, that is, is the nameless subject in fact a subject?
b) Which is the social role of a nickname or a pseudonym?
c) Could the accent of a name lead to a change of its meaning?
d) Does the name die with its carrier?
e) What is the relation between one’s proper name and the national identity?
f) How does the name create social engagement and ethical responsibility?
(3) In the book Identitet, Tekst, Nacija – Interpretacija crnila makedonske povijesti (Zagreb, 2009) I have demonstrated how the Others/Bulgarians/Serbs/Greeks have always wanted to colonize/occupy the place from which Macedonians have answered throughout history. I would say that the history of the Macedonian nation is nothing but a struggle to defend that place of answering; that is, it is a place that mostly and primarily belongs to Macedonians! They, in fact, realize that whoever manages to colonize this holy place, excludes, forever, all other potential answerers: the right to answer is resolved with the act of naming itself! And it is here, in my opinion, that one should find the native soil of any, even Macedonian, nationalism, which is nothing else but that sort of political sentiment:
[S]eeking to establish self-determined nation-states as social mobilizations in order to realize or defend nations, and as passionate loyalty and devotion to one’s nation, as n identity granting cultural community, may have been the most important determinant of social and political life in recent history (Langman, 2006: 66).
But all these activities are doomed to fail if we do not manage to evidence the name in the community itself. We must also be aware that the times of nationalism have not passed and that we are just now entering the stage of neonationalism (Liah Greenfield) since, not only is nationalism omnipresent, but nation as a global phenomenon penetrates all spheres of human activity and provides generally accepted joints of establishing mutual relationships.
(4) In Romeo and Juliet love blossoms despite their names; they die because of their names, but through their names they also survive. What separates them in their love are their families – or, in our case, the countries – that are opposed to the names. That is why their names separate them, they would like to emancipate themselves from their names:
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father, and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Then comes her crucial argumentation:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou are thyself, though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man.?! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Perhaps in Juliet’s projection the name Romeo really is not part of her beloved’s identity; it is merely an obstacle since any substitution/empty name could satisfy her desires for it would be mature to grant the beloved a new identity, which would be no burden for the future of their relationship; but in the case of Macedoania, even the greatest efforts do not offer this surrogate/empty name that could beget such an identity as not to irritate the Others/neighbours.
(5) Gesine Schwan defines the civic/democratic political identity as a complex of civic ethos with particular psychological dispositions and identification of citizens with a fundamental normative consensus. Romeo is not a citizen since he is not at all free in his actions. It is interesting to nota that Juliet is much freer in her actions that he is; her individuality is considerably more expressed and we recognize in her a strong will to be autonomous, to obtain the right to make crucial decisions. All these elements are the necessary prerequisites for creating a sense of freedom, of personal dignity and the right to self-determination.
(6) After their burning, ashes remain, and ashes, according to Jacques Derrida’s philosophy, is complete un-remembering, destruction of memory itself; but there is something left in the ashes – even though illegible – the name of the person who perished in the fire. Any systematic erasure of the name leads to the destruction of the archive, which is nothing but an organized memory of the name (Yad Vashem, for instance).
The play Romeo and Juliet suggests that the loss of one’s name equals loss of life. If by some coincidence we renounce our name, then we cannot annihilate anything but ourselves. And in this context one should be more understanding of cases when the nation becomes a traumatic object, which does not merely organize enjoyment of the national community in (and enjoyment after) it, but also represents a fear of potential danger for the nation on the part of others. I am therefore not prone to apply the same criteria on the changes of Balkans into Southeast Europe, or on the potential change of the name Macedonia into X, since no reliance on Foucault’s theoretical tradition or on Judith Butler’s concept of performativity, as Kolozova does, cannot convince me that the change of the name of Balkans into Southeast Europe, as part of a large geopolitical project – (re)construction of a new geopolitical and cultural identity – could be compared to the violence resulting from the demand that a country renounces its name, tradition or identity. And if in the change of the name/(re)construction of the identity Balkan into Southeast Europe one may see the reflection of a quite concrete, material or real phenomenon, in the case of Macedonia that simply does not hold water. In the latter case it really is a matter of ‘just a name’ EXISTING together with its historical baggage! We must therefore not allow certain realities to disappear with the disappearance of a dying name.
Derrida, J (1992), Acts of Literature, New York./ London.
Kolozova, K (2003), ‘Identitet (jedinstva) u izgradnji: O smrti “Balkana” i rođenju „Jugoistočne Europe“’, in Dušan I, Bjelić&Obrad Savić, ed. Balkan kao metafora, Između globalizacije i fragmentacije, Beogradski krug: Beograd. pp. 295-307.
Langman, L (2006), ‘The Social Psychology of Nationalism: To Die for Sake of Strangers’, in Gerard Delanty, Krishan Kumar, ed. The Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism, London/ Thousand Oaks/ New Delhy, pp. 66-83.
Staten, H (1984), Wittgenstein and Derrida, Lincoln: London.
Taylor, Ch (1991), The Malaise of Modernity, Anasi: Toronto.
Wittgenstein, L 1998), Filozofska istraživanja, Zagreb.
Wodak, R. (2006), ‘Discourse-analytic and Socio-linguistic Approaches to Study of Natiob(alism)’, in Gerard Delanty, Krishan Kumar, ed. The Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism, London/ Thousand Oaks/ New Delhy, pp. 104-117.
(The lecture was delivered on 26th May 2009 at the Blaže Koneski Faculty of Philology in Skopje)
Translated by Kalina Janeva