Yesterday was the first day I wore my rather embarrassing new running shoes. Publically embarrassing because I wore these Nike Air Pegasus to run errands rather than do my usual 7 miles, making me the kind of slovenly hausfrau that I usually get snotty with. But more secretly embarrassing: if you got up close to my feet, you’d have seen that the shoes’ bright red soft foam-fleshed tongues were monogrammed. As Courtney Love once said about herself, I say: “I’m not very good at asserting myself.” I custom-ordered these personalized runners from nike.com (shipped directly from the manufacturer in China!) despite the fact that I was the kind of kid who hated putting my name in anything. When we were forced to permanent-marker names onto gym tee-shirts or have mothers sew our names onto art smocks, it felt like defiling the purity of the object with the mere awkwardness of my identity: I hated asserting myself, my name, so tangibly. Even as a kindergartner, I was a Virgo. So it was the remnant of that feeling that came out yesterday when I was walking around with shoes that said, when I put my feet together: “JOONY SCHECTER.”
But in having this particular monogrammed thing, I wanted to create a different experience of a monogram. I felt like there had to be something between the polymorphous commercialism of the logo-monogram and the WASP-fascist possessiveness of the initials-monogram. In both of these traditions, the monogram functions as an aggressive assertion of the sureness of self. Corporate monogramming congeals the capitalist value of a company into one aesthetically attractive distillation of its name. The compacting of the company into cute little letters you can hold in your hand allows the consumer to transfer the company’s power upon the body through a public display of the wearer’s high credit line. (Even if it’s just posing: like my very FAKE Louis Vuitton Murakami)
After the advent of corporate monogramming, monogramming cannot simply be a practical way to never lose your bags. When you get your initials embroidered on to your possessions, you are saying that your name is as important as a corporate logo, and deserves to be branded on this poor helpless brainless shoe/ bag/ sweater/ handkerchief. You are asserting your ego to the world by displaying your power over the object. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, this idea is pushed to its limits, egotism morphing into terrorism: the monogrammed belongings of a beautiful and headstrong dead first wife are quite literally “possessed,” afflicting, even without its owner, psychological violence upon the meek and insecure second wife.
But what I like about Rebecca (not just the film, but the fictional character as well as the negligee case) is that here, the object seems to have liberated itself from enslavement to human and ironically, exacts revenge through collaboration. The objects monogrammed with Rebecca’s “R” are in a kind of ontological limbo. Even though their owner is no longer existing, the things bearing her monogram carry on as if she were still alive. They do what we imagine Rebecca would have done to the nameless second wife were she still alive. The monogrammed objects themselves constitute the feminine body of Rebecca. In the film, we never see Rebecca, but everyone in the film talks endlessly about her. So in fact, she is a text, a kind of living monogram. Or more accurately, it is the monogram that actually gives her flesh as a text.
This is the kind of monogramming that I’d want, but is there a way to merge flesh and thread through words without having to be dead? Is there space in the world of monogramming to have something that allows you to navigate between the free-for-all (who can afford it) legibility of the logo (self as object/ text to be possessed) and the taunting opacity of the personal initials (self as self-possessed body)? Something that allows you to be read as if your limbs and scent were printed words, and yet not compromise the fact that the sheets upon which the words are printed are in fact flesh, and inexpendably flesh: to have those words make sense as text, you need my body. This desire is part of a bigger desire to reassert that which is obvious, but is often taken for granted: the mind is an organ, a part of the fleshly body, just as the fleshly body is an alphabet waiting patiently for syntax and orthography.
Perhaps what was really embarrassing about wearing my monogrammed shoes was that I was kind of OK with it: that I in fact didn’t feel the full-on Virgoan embarrassment I should have felt. These shoes are the first things I’ve ever had monogrammed, and they are not monogrammed in the purest sense of the practice since “JOONY SCHECTER” is neither my initials nor my real/ official name. Does it count as a monogram if the name you’ve put in thread is actually a fiction? What if your things were monogrammed to assert not your ego but your alter ego?
Here’s another way to think about this business of fictional monogramming: Lindsay Lohan on the cover of Spanish Vogue, wearing a Dolce & Gabbana dress silkscreened with the image of Marilyn Monroe.
“Marilyn Monroe” is neither brand nor name in the traditional sense. It is the name of a human, but being the name of a famous human, is immediately recognizable and open to commercialization. Wearing “Marilyn Monroe” on her skirt, Lohan is asserting an aspect of herself that identifies with Marilyn (last year, Lohan posed nude for photographer Bert Stern to recreate Stern’s infamous “last sitting” with Marilyn): young white woman setting herself in aggressive ambivalence against a celebrity industry which simultaneously creates and destroys her. Thus, the monogram on the textile is “MM” but it telegraphs “LL.” Lohan expands upon and expresses her own feminine identity through the fictionality of her wearing “MM.” When her hair and make-up replicates MM and she is wearing a dress with the face of MM, Lohan is fleshing out the fictionality of her monogramming as “LL” through textual redundancy which becomes a decadent, heady textual overload. And in the paparazzi candids of the shoot, LL looks so happy:
I think I was trying to do the same thing yesterday, to feel similarly happy. I composed my outfit from the feet up: “JOONY SCHECTER” demanded fictional monogramming all over. So with the shoes I wore a vintage Hole concert t-shirt with the big pink “Hole” logo on the front:
A word shaped to invoke the band’s self-defining aggro-femme album Live Through This, but in the same vein, quite simply an aggressive self-declaration as feminine space of void. Which was then piled on top of a pair of A.P.C. “Supreme” jeans that have the words “Fuck ‘em!” stitched on the edge of the right back pocket:
Words of post-punky nihilism, monogrammed too close to the seam that covers over that alternate soft-cheeked fuckhole. Taken all together, the words on my clothes were redundant in a way that provides volume and dimensionality: monogrammed in stereo. The song: JOONY SCHECTER’S FLESH IS MADE OF TEXTS OF AGGRO-ODD FEMININITY. And I just remembered: the only thing in which I like writing my name is the first leaf of a book I just finished reading. This is not so much an act of declaring possession as it is a lick or a kiss for a loved one. And I’ve always wanted to grow up to be a book.