josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

30 Jun '12 11:42:01 AM

OK, Herder, this sentence has eight exclamation points in it. And not all at the end!

30 Jun '12 03:48:57 AM

Herder uses so many exclamation points!

30 Jun '12 01:10:17 AM

The Dude's only form of ID is a value club card from Ralph's. But even it says 'Jeffrey Lebowski' on it.

30 Jun '12 01:08:31 AM

The joke about lacking proper identification is to only have a library card. Only having a gym ID doesn't strike the same note, even if it too lacks a photo. A library card is an emblem for books, words, for just the things not to be trusted by anyone who asks to see your ID. (Only certain books, certain records, count for them.)

Libraries are themselves trusting places.

30 Jun '12 01:04:46 AM

Figures who are moved to ask, or offer, their names in those environs where mutual anonymity prevails: rubes, children.

30 Jun '12 01:03:18 AM

Think how remarkable it is that we can ride the bus, walk down the street, make our own way through a public place, without a tinge of curiosity about what others' names are.

30 Jun '12 01:01:31 AM

The police want to see your identification.

'See', because they have to put a name to a face, so your I.D. has to have a photo on it. Looking at you is not enough, because you can see as much as you want of a person and not know their name, not even know what they're called or what they go by. As a rule they can't take your word for it, can't trust you when you tell them your name (or say that something is your name). For some purposes, they will (provisionally) trust other people who know who you are, or who at least know your name, or have heard that you're called so-and-so, but once things start getting written down, they need to know your name, need to know whose record they are adding to. (You can make it all the way to arrest, to court, to trial, to prison without them knowing your name, I think: they'll just give you a dummy name. But it's not best; they prefer to know who they're doing these things to, up to a point.)

The police will also ask you to identify people. They don't even need you to know their names; they'll just ask if you've seen them before, which one you've seen before, where you saw them. If you haven't just seen them but know them then you're asked how you know them. Around. Just to say hi. From chatting in the hallway. We took the same bus. Worked in the same building. This is about the level at which 'oh, I don't, really' is a counterpart answer. Or 'not much' or 'not really'. Much more affirmative knowledge is claimed when you answer with, say, the name of a relation. 'She's my cousin'. 'Our kids went to school together.' 'I used to be married to him.' It is interesting that a prelude to affirmable relationships can fall on the other side of the line: 'oh, not well—I don't really. We went out for drinks a couple of times.' Or even 'we went out on a couple of dates' (but not as much, 'we dated', even 'briefly') or 'we slept together'.

We opt for place to refer to people we don't know, that is, to people whose names we don't know. We're most concerned about not knowing who someone is when they appear in a place they're not supposed to be ('strangers'). But there are some places where people are familiar to us without our knowing their names. Some such people will easily be able to say of us, 'they don't even see me, it's like I'm not even there'.

We place great importance on knowing what a person's name is, but we can also often be surrounded by people whose names we never know. Are usually surrounded.

29 Jun '12 11:51:53 PM

'Use my name' is a way of conferring some of one's authority on others; lending it to them. ('He lent his name to the effort…'.)

The police, government agents, use false names backed by the government's authority. The government grants them the authority to speak under, to represent themselves by, assumed names, names they take on. But not names that they make up: the government makes the names, writes them down, keeps authoritative records of who is who (and who is not).

In this scheme, the counterparts to the police and agents of the government are criminals, when they use false names without the authority of the state behind them. Their false names are not backed by paper; and characteristically, when they write them, they have committed crimes. Their false names are readily regarded not just as assumed names, but assumed identities. Authorities and con artists (and the more refined sorts of criminals or para-legal operatives whose plans necessitate sustained concealment) fabricate identities. If you are anyone else, and you make an identity for yourself, particularly by giving yourself a name, or giving out your name as other than the one you were given, then you have done something wrong. My sense is that this kind of transgression codes as having stolen something, as if real names, authentic identities, were the possession of everyone else, what it is in only 'everyone's' rightful authority to confer on people.

Reverend Cherrycoke, in Mason & Dixon, on crimes of his youth which led to his exile from Britain:

'"Along with some lesser Counts," the Rev'd is replying, "'twas one of the least tolerable of Offenses in that era, the worst of Dick Turpin seeming but the Carelessness of Youth Beside it,— the Crime they styl'd 'Anonymity.' That is, I left messages posted publicly, but did not sign them. I knew some night-running lads in the district who let me use their Printing-Press,— somehow, what I got into printing up, were Accounts of certain Crimes I had observ'd, committed by the Stronger against the Weaker,— enclosures, evictions, Assize verdicts, Activities of the Military,— giving the Names of as many of the Perpetrators as I was sure of, yet keeping back what I foolishly imagin'd my own, till the Night I was tipp'd and brought in to London, in Chains, and clapp'd in the Tower."'

(His name had never been his own.)

29 Jun '12 11:24:52 PM

Win Everett knows that 'the name Mackey was a pseudonym assigned by the Records Branch. Theodore J. MACKEY'. False names are backed by records, by paper. 'Win had also used a false name through the years, standard practice for officers engaged in covert work.' There is a grammar to investigate: the grammar of 'using a false name'. To start with: two sorts of people who, by contrast, 'use their real name', those who do also have or use false names; and those who do not, but who have authority, power, prestige, renown, reputations, who will also tell and let others to use their names ('they'll give you what you need'). There is a way in which real names can become false under such conditions, when they circulate so widely. 'Mackey's name became enveloped in a certain favorable light, a legendary light, when exile leaders found he had gone ashore with the scouts at Blue Beach.' Falsity is no impediment to a name's acquiring that power, and once it does, it approximates the power with which true names can become charged when their bearers become widely known. (Different ways of becoming widely known relate to different sorts of degrees of weight a name carries: compare celebrities to legends to anyone at the top. Compare to anyone whose power or authority or effectiveness or proficiency is known 'to those who know', to those in the know; to insiders, to fellow experts, to fellow professionals as opposed to amateurs. Compare to the notorious.)

As to Mackey: 'Win didn't know his real name'.