Saturday, July 23, 2011

What’s in a Name?

by John, posted by Tracy

In the net world, one’s name is an empty signifier. I share my name with public figures who are butchers, composers, computing experts, swimmers, hurlers, you name it. It’s an uncommon name in Australia, but a common name in Ireland. We don’t own our names, and a name is only useful in what it represents. That’s fine, though it is always distressing when one’s politics are confused with the politics of another who is signified by the same name, because of a reader associating a statement made by another with ‘you’, because they have assumed... I guess that other John Kinsellas might not like the thought of their name being associated with my politics. I don’t want their words in my mouth, so to speak, and I imagine it would be the case in reverse. But maybe that’s just another victory for the cause of western subjectivity!

So when you hear or read a piece of, say, race hatred or cultural bigotry, and it has ‘your’ name attached to it, it is particularly hard to bear. In the mass of trackable ephemera that constitutes the net, it dilutes ultimately into a meaninglessness that can suddenly be activated as a ‘truth’. Horrific events inevitably evoke insensitive and brutal responses. The uncited reference, or the reference that creates its own citation: it was said, it is findable through a search, therefore is its own truth.

For my namesake out there who is looking to blame the Islamic world for all violence and hatred, I suggest he takes a look at his own motivations in posting such rubbish. The Grand Defence of Western values, and the fear of the ‘other’, are sadly alive and well. I am appalled to see ‘my name’ attached to a right-wing race-hate rant in the context of an horrific event (whose perpetrator, ironically in this regard, looks likely to be a Christian fundamentalist... but hate knows no boundaries, and the identification of the perpetrator’s belief-system/creed is not a marker of the nature of his hate).

I guess, heritage-wise, he and I connect somewhere way back. But I believe individual choices can be made regardless of genetics, cultural heritage or social context.

I have heard of people trying to take legal action to prevent another of the same name (that is, from birth) using it in public debates where they are well-known and it might rightly be assumed that they themselves are the source of certain comments, even if the comments seem out of character. A ’defence’ of who they are, how they perceive their public quiddity? Often, a middle initial or some other marker is introduced to differentiate. Appeasement?

And so many writers work under assumed names, even while writing under their birth name as well.

So, what’s in a name? Very little. But all the same, in those liminal and threshold spaces where the name floats like a buoy in the swill of comments that tail newspaper articles, I want to say clearly that I in no way blame Muslims for the ills of the world, that I am in no way anti-Muslim, that I celebrate cultural diversity, and fully accept that one’s own cultural backyard has as many issues and complexities as anyone else’s. I shouldn’t even feel the need to make these points when my life work has so clearly been dedicated to resisting bigotry in all its forms. But someone out there who has the ‘same’ name does have these abhorrent values/views, and thus I feel the need to claim my identity ‘back’ in the light of this.

So maybe I am defending the right to difference of opinion among all John Kinsellas, whether we can separate them off and identify the component parts or not!

John Kinsella, poet of the Western Australian wheatbelt, anarchist, vegan and pacifist. He refuses to use his middle initial as differentiator.

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