On Name and Identity

/, Essays, Blesok no. 75/On Name and Identity

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!

AuthorZlatko Kramarić
2018-08-21T17:22:52+00:00 December 21st, 2010|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 75|0 Comments