Nameless intimacy and the named stranger

While the nameless beloved in songs such as Alan Jackson’s ‘I Don’t Even Know Your Name‘ may have comedic value, and even a swiping pass at truth, in their ability to make social commentary on the tendency of some to ‘fall in love’ with those they see in dive bars, Denny’s, or the drive through, the proposition of sexual one-offs with the nameless stranger seem to challenge the American predisposition for exchanging names to something of a dialectical face-off.

For those not following your local pop station, let me give you a couple examples of the songs I speak of:

In Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl (and I liked it)“, the young woman confesses:

No, I don’t even know your name
It doesn’t matter,
You’re my experimental game
Just human nature,

She later goes on to say that it “Don’t mean I’m in love tonight”, and also hopes her “boyfriend don’t mind it”.

In Baby Boy’s “Ya No Llores (Let Me Love You)” he argues — most eloquently, to be sure:

The way you want it,
I got it, come and get
Get it started dami mami
I want more!

Amor I want to be into
Let me love you

Girl I don’t need to
Know your name
We just need to feel
the same

And, indeed, he seems quite convinced by this line, and there is some implications pointing that the line works on his intended ‘Girl’.
In both of these two songs is the explicit reference to sexual interaction between two parties whose names remain entirely absent from the market place of interaction. What might easily (and I think properly) be considered the most intimate interaction between two parties on the physical plane is being experienced without one’s name–sans identity.

Juxtapose this with the standard scene in your corner coffee shop: customers hand over their name to the baristers without the slightest hesitation; persons who have no interaction beyond the two minutes they see each other during their morning commute know each others’ names, and often only that.

In the first case, actual, intimate interaction takes place without the identities of the participating parties. In the second, the only thing that is being exchanged is the markers of identity, without any actual intimacy of persons.

The first seems to be problematic as it demonstrates a perceived disconnect between the identity and its physic, the second because it likewise demonstrates a perceived disconnect between the identity and its sign.


~ by jeorgesmith on 20 August 2008.

4 Responses to “Nameless intimacy and the named stranger”

  1. I’ve thought about this some with my one namedness at work. The other day an email went out to the entire org and there were four names signed at the bottom, mine included. Every other name had a last name, I didn’t. It is very strange to have this “floating” one namedness, but sometimes it is VERY good.

  2. Mmm, certainly. I think that it might be useful to point out that in my coffee shop examples I am not proposing any move toward more ‘actual’ interaction of persons, but rather — if I were to argue for any change (which in my views as an Anthropologist is a strange and dangerous, though inevitable, side effect) — would argue for the exclusion of names being used at all. An amicable stranger in the coffee shop seems more authentic to the personality of the interaction than the named stranger. I’m a huge fan of anonymity and pseudonymity.

  3. jeorge! It never dawned on me that you liked anonymity and pseudonymity! To me you were always known, even if you had many “nicknames”. But I understand your point, and even agree. I dislike very much having to wear an ID badge that gives my first name as well as my last. It only gives my charges ammunition for disrespect, and so I don’t wear my badge, even tho’ it’s “required” policy.

  4. I work in the basement administrative offices of the bookstore, so most customers never see me and have no idea who I am.

    But because I send out 30 to 60 purchase orders a week publisher reps who have never seen me feel they know me quite well. We’re all on first-name basis though we’ve never met.

    In June, the bookstore’s general manager Scott, and the inventory manager Tom (my direct supervisor) attended the big Christian booksellers’ conference in Florida. Tom would walk up to reps and introduce himself and the reps would turn to Scott and say, “Oh, you must be Matthew!”

    Scott would say, “No, I’m actually Scott, the general manag…”

    But by then the reps had already lost interest and were back to, “So Tom, tell me…”

    So I could hang out in my own storefront and be mistaken for a customer, but people I’ve never met loved me and missed me when I didn’t make the big industry event.

    What do you call that?

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