Names are one of the most important objects in the world, no matter the language or association, a name has behind it a massive structural meaning. A name is a signifier, a symbol for all of it’s physical and metaphysical properties, yet how we associate a name and it’s properties is important. In any ideology, names have an extraordinary function, what could in empirical, factual reality be infinitely nuanced, can be through Ideological Anamorphosis reduced to a set of qualities that reproduce themselves through the distorted lens of ideological influence. In essence, once you view the world through the perspective of an Ideology, be it religious, consumeristic or fundamentalist in any way, names and their meanings begin to change dramatically from what their actual reality suggests they are.
Ideological Anamorphosis is the linguistic, psychological process of this very blurring of meaning and is rather abstract. My understanding of it is limited to a couple of sources, but this relies primarily on the contributions by Lacan, via Slavoj Žižek’s book “The Sublime Object of Ideology” (1989)
Firstly some terms will need to be cleared up to understand the space within which this phenomenon occurs, Language and Psychoanalysis.
Firstly, “language [is] a social network in which meaning exists in so far as it is intersubjectively recognised” (p.102). What we need to understand from this is that names only bear meaning in so far as other people share the opinion that a name is associated with specific properties. Understanding this can become more difficult as names begin to represent more abstract things, for example, a chair is an object which exists in a way most people agree upon, it has a top which is supported by legs and can be used to sit on. As names begin to represent more complicated things, such as ‘money,’ or ‘art,’ their names start to represent several different meanings depending on how people perceive them.
Secondly, Lacan’s teaching of Psychoanalysis uses a concept known as ‘The Symbolic Order’ which very closely ties with the last point, it represents the structures that hide behind language and objects that provide context. A very simple example could be speed signs: though they look abstract, just a number contained within a red circle, they carry symbolic meaning, authoritative power and represent how drivers on the road co-operate with the law to ensure the safety of others. This concept can become very abstract when words like ‘others’ are used that refer to a mysterious, larger unknown, think of the title of the 2001 horror film starring Nicole Kidman: ‘the Others’, you very clearly begin to understand the vast unknowable nature of the structure that lies behind the word ‘others’.
Firstly to know how names fit within the symbolic order, or how they are assigned with symbolic meaning in the first place we need to understand their historical context, how it started, the moment when something in history was invented, this is when an object is given its name. Let’s use the object of Shakespeare as an example, there are a number of shocking theories that William Shakespeare was an alias for other writers, that he stole plays from other writers, or that he was a fake person whose name a particular group of writers used to publish their collective works. Nonetheless, we as a collective society understand the name William Shakespeare to be representative of a single man of genius. The reason behind this is that linguistics recognises a phenomenon known as the ‘primal baptism’ of a name, the moment when the name is associated with a specific structural due to popular approval. Imagine that is has been the case that the empirical truth behind Shakespeare disconfirms the existence of the single man known as Shakespeare and that it was actually an alias for another writer, the name ‘Shakespeare’ would not immediately reflect this factual reality, to the majority it would refer to the myth of Shakespeare, the single man of genius. What Plato wrote of ‘essences’ we can see in our theoretical reality, are not inherent, predetermined facts, rather they are dynamic, contingent products of linguistic evolution. In psychoanalytic terms, this essence, the structural underpinnings of a name is called the “rigid designator.”
Subjects, which are people perceiving the world through their ideological lenses, often have their perception of what additional qualities a name can be imbued with. For example, a designer may see a chair as an artwork, on top of being a legged instrument designed to be sat upon, and so perceive chairs as being more valuable when having a richer set of qualities than other chairs. The same could be said about other commodities, for example, Žižek’s example of Coke (p.106) describes a perceived value known as ‘Surplus – X,’ it is an added value that exists beyond factual reality within the mind of the subject perceiving the object. Coke’s history of marketing and it’s success in the market as an iconic beverage imbue it with a kind of greater value than it empirically possesses. As Žižek states: “What is Coke? It is already given in the advertisements: it is the impersonal ‘it’ (‘Coke, this is it!) – ‘the real thing,’ the unattainable X, the object-cause of desire”. Our desires imbue Coke with extra metaphysical value, because as a consumer, we perceive Coke through the ideological lens of consumerism, in which Coke holds a special place as one of the most revered and commonplace commodities in the world.
Consider this exchange:
Q. “Why is a chair a legged object which is designed to be sat upon?”
“Because it is a chair.”
This exchange is nonsensical, and its logic is cyclical and redundant. However for objects that possess this Surplus – X the logic is justified. The example provided by Žižek regards anti-Semitism, using the Jew as the object-cause of desire. However, I will present to you a more contemporary example of Anti-Islamic resentment.
When an anti-Islamist asks the question “why do Muslims treat women so badly, think that they are above others, want to corrupt our systems of living, etc.?” their answer can be “Because they are Muslim.” Which seems entirely irrational, but within their ideological perspective, which they are constantly interacting with, they have reached what is known as ‘the quilting point’ or in original French Lacanian jargon: the Point de Capiton. This is the point where the subject perceives the object-cause of desire through the lense of Ideology in such a way that it’s surplus – X enables it to reproduce itself, rather than become nonsensical and cyclical. In our example, it is the point where the Anti-Islamist perceives the Muslim as being representative of all of these negative qualities because the Muslim is part of the Islamic community and represents the Islamic faith, which in the mind of the Anti-Islamist is what makes a Muslim represent all of these negative qualities.
All of these factors combine to create an ideological “error of perspective” (p.110) which is known as ‘Ideological Anamorphism’, where Languages structures and meanings are warped by the Ideologica
l error of perspective, where ‘primal baptisms’ can occur, moulding our understanding of language due to the dominant ideas of the time. The Quilting point allows this error to exist, as we perceive in an object, a greater value or meaning than it has grounded in factual reality, this perception of value – X allows ideological ideas to reproduce themselves. Whether it is our understanding of commodities and products we buy (the Versace that Kanye almost religiously espouses the benefits of is nothing more than fabric sown together), or the money we spend (my gold dollar coin here is worth 70 cents in the U.S., its physical worth is near nothing, it’s ideological value is what counts), and how we earn it (working that 10 hour shift is actually just selling 10 hours of your life to someone for a premium). Understanding this phenomenon helps us understand the minds of racists, sexists and so on, allowing us to try to figure out how to disrupt this quilting point, to stop this ideological reproduction.