Saturday, August 27, 2005

Name = self?

A variety of famous authors are auctioning the chance for your name to appear in their respective next book.

Buyer should be aware that CELL is a violent piece of work, which comes complete with zombies set in motion by bad cell phone signals that destroy the human brain. Like cheap whiskey, it’s very nasty and extremely satisfying. Character can be male or female, but a buyer who wants to die must in this case be female. In any case, I’ll require physical description of auction winner, including any nickname (can be made up, I don’t give a rip).
—Stephen King

The money raised will go to the First Amendment Project, which is laudable, but what interests me more is why a person would want their name to appear as a character in the latest novel from Straub, Gaiman, Eggers, King, or Lethem.

It interests me because our conception of ourselves has grabbed my attention ever since I touched on human personality and personal identity as part of uni philosophy. Sure, we are intimately wedded to our names — they signify us all through our lives, but do they really signify our selves? I have been completely enveloped in the story and atmosphere of a few novels, but I have never experienced an extra thrill of excitement or suspense when a character bears my name.

That’s why this auction gets me thinking: do some readers out there imagine themselves moving through the story’s world when they read their name? Are they content to bear the omnipotent writer’s whim? Do they feel indignant when another character disparages ‘their’ character? Is reading really that close to acting?

In sum, I would feel disappointed in the end if I were one of the bidders: I would know that actually it wasn’t me who was in Stephen King’s book, but just a couple of proper nouns. It’s all for a worthwhile cause, but since one of my friends changed his name a couple of years back (first name and surname, from german to english), I just have an increased awareness that words aren’t everything. A saxophone by any other name would sound as sweet...

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