Each one of us has a name…

Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky was a poet. Born in Russia in 1914 she immigrated to mandate Palestine at the age of 12. The daughter and granddaughter of famous Hassidic Rabbis (a mystical form of ultra-orthodox Judaism) she lived a life of ultra-Orthodox life, yet her poetry means she rose to prominence beyond what many/any would expect a woman from a closed religious community to be able to.

I want to talk about one of her poems in particular. Entitled לכל איש יש שם (Everyone has a name) it is one of those poems that has stuck with me since childhood:

Everyone has a name
given to him by God
and given to him by his parents.

Everyone has a name
given to him by his stature
and the way he smiles
and given to him by his clothing.

Everyone has a name
given to him by the mountains
and given to him by the walls.

Everyone has a name
given to him by the stars
and given to him by his neighbours.

Everyone has a name
given to him by his sins
and given to him by his longing.

Everyone has a name
given to him by his enemies
and given to him by his love.

Everyone has a name
given to him by his holidays
and given to him by his work.

Everyone has a name
given to him by the seasons
and given to him by his blindness.

Everyone has a name
given to him by the sea and
given to him by his death.

Zelda’s words touch at the heart of the issues of identity and circumstance I’ve been exploring. Each of us has names afforded to us by our actions, contexts, conversations, roles and relationships. Those names may well differ from place to place, but in their entirety they make up our selves.

Reflecting on the nature of identity that I’ve explored to date I notice how the discourse around identity as performance doesn’t really talk about how the ‘audience’ receives or understands that identity. The assumption is that which is produced by the ‘performer’ is that which is experienced by the other and my sense is that this misses something. Zelda’s poem observes that the identities we hold aren’t just given to us by the way we construct ourselves in particular situations, but the way that others experience us and our actions.

———————–

On a totally unrelated side note, this is what the end of my evening sounded like:

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s