Friday, October 31, 2008

A stretch of river LIV: "I am a"

I know I said yesterday that I'd be away from here, but while Scruffy and I walked about this early morning in a light fog and I reflected on that misty, hazy thing called Identity and thinking about Leopold Bloom in Ulysses who could not supply even a single word to complete the phrase you see in this post's title, I decided that I could not rest without expressing my deep envy of Rashid Khalidi and the fame/notoriety (you may choose) he has gained during the week.

Oh, to have a name that reveals to all one's essence, one's beliefs and prejudices and convictions without those people's feeling compelled to ask that person to confirm or deny! Does that not simplify matters for him now, as both a professional (no more vitae to submit!) and a human being? Oh, to have a signifier so firmly linked to the signified that is my person that I, like Khalidi appears to be, could also be a walking, living, breathing refutation of that silly Saussurean notion that that signifier/signified relation is arbitrary!

I am serious about this.

It's for that reason, as well as the fact that the Democratic Party's nominee for President has now made it safe for people with funny-sounding names to run for political office, that I feel compelled, in anticipation of my possible future run for an elected position, to begin explaining to my potential future electorate just who I am. Yes, "begin": for what person's life is ever completely written before his/her death? (Except for Khalidi, of course, that lucky guy!) As you'll see, it's a good thing I'm getting a head start on things.

Everything that follows is true (in the Wikipedian, somewhere-someone-has-said-it sense of "true"), and that is to my distinct disadvantage--hence the above-mentioned envy.

To begin: I have a Norwegian last name, but ethnically I am mostly German. But that's the easy part . . . ::cue ominous docudrama-style cellos:: . . . or appears to be, as you'll see. I have no conscious memory of being anything other than a Lutheran; yet my birth was first recorded in a Baptist church registry (it precedes by two days the date the facts of my birth were submitted by my parents to the State of Texas . . . and, you know, both those documents say I was born on April 25, 1962 in Austin, Texas, but who really knows? After all, the birth certificate that I have--state seal and everything--was issued to me in . . . 1981). Yet . . . the family story is . . .

. . . that the pastor of the church was initially resistant to enter my name in the registry because my first and middle name had, to his mind, an unfortunate denominational association. Mom told me once that before he entered my name he actually suggested some other middle names for me that she said were "awful." But, she stuck to her guns: after all, I had gone unnamed for a couple of days (she and Daddy had a girl's name all picked out but hadn't yet settled on a boy's name, and my arrival caught them flat-footed--I proved to be chromosomally uncooperative).

Well, thanks, Mom. You've made a mess of my religious affiliation for me and my future political biography: Who is this guy really? Is he liturgically-oriented? High church? Or does he latently prefer his pastors in a coat and tie rather than albs and stoles? Immersion or sprinkling? And wait till the Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod folks find out he's ELCA: they'll have a field day with that Communion-every-Sunday and full communion with the Episcopalians and UCC stuff.

And the name bit: Norwegian surname but mostly German ethnically?? Yup: My ancestors came to Texas from Norway in the 1840s; they had sons; about the only other Lutheran women to marry in Austin were Germans; and they (on what became my side of the family) kept producing sons, who found German girls to marry, who gave birth to more sons . . . you detect a pattern by now, I suspect. It's a mixed blessing that I've broken that pattern, having fathered two girls . . . with French first names.

(Hmm, my future opponents' robo-call scriptwriters muse: Norwegian surname . . . a bit of Quisling in him, perhaps, or is there some pagan (!) Viking yet lurking in him like some vicious mole of nature? Ethnic German . . . bet he loves Wagner. Heh, heh. So, he'd either sell his own people out or run roughshod over the mongrel races of the world. And the Lutherans didn't exactly cover themselves in glory when the Nazis came to power, Bonhoeffer notwithstanding . . . and that Luther guy was an anti-Semite, too, wasn't he? He's a walking, talking La Brea Tar Pit of ensnaring contradictions and nasty associations. Too bad that kids are off limits--otherwise, we'd have a field day with the fact that this guy gave them French names, of all things.)

Depending on one's viewpoint, my political future is looking either ever more hopeful or ever more audacious.

Well. That pretty much covers the circumstances of the hazy record of my birth, my ethnicity, and my religion(s). Never mind what I've said to people, what I've written, here and elsewhere (which, come to think of it, might provide still further complications, what with my academic interests in narratives of interracial relationships). I think I've amply demonstrated, by implication, why I so envy Khalidi. One look at my name, and immediately the questions arise. One look at his name, though, and many, many, many people, without knowing anything else about him, know everything they want to about him.


Camille said...

Now that you have shared your *true nature* with us, I can now pigeonhole you correctly! Thank you, thank you, thank you. (wink wink)

R. Sherman said...

If nothing else, "Happy Reformation Day," my friend. I picture you on the banks of the Arkansas saying, "Here I stand. May God help me. Amen."

Cheers from an Alsatian, Scots-Irish, English, Regular Irish, Baptist Reader, who sends is kids to Lutheran Schools*.

*(Missouri Synod, of course. The senior pastor at the kids' school's church is from the Hill Country, Fredericksburg, I think. A&M grad. You wouldn't like him.

We've also got a seminarian, darned fine preacher BTW, named "Garcia" from down there, too. We don't cotton to you ELCA types.)


Doc said...

Easily the bitingly funniest thing I've read of late.

Well done.