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and make it alterable? By turning an eye towards secrecy.
and friends) publicly exposed himself in Vanity Fair as the shadowy source for
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s mythic Washington Post series. We are witnessing a regime-oftruth change. Finally. himself
was finally revealed.
and ultimately neutralize. The Deep Throat event is just a more visible example of a
Cultural Studies Vol. Even those who essentially believed that Felt was DT expressed
some reservations. numerous bloggers and broadcast pundits were skeptical over the
revelation. 1 January 2007.
. This essay explores one such tactic and
commitment. and activist
strategy. 42 ! 58
ISSN 0950-2386 print/ISSN 1466-4348 online – 2007 Taylor & Francis
POPULAR SECRECY AND OCCULTURAL
Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. namely the faith in publicity as a truth-telling strategy to expose.
cultural studies can become a strategic craft that enhances its capacities to remake
its context.uk/journals DOI: 10. including one Nixon researcher who noted the irony that we have a
‘Deep Throat who can’t talk’ (Kincaid 2005. justly. who taught courses at the
University of Illinois in which students researched DT’s identity. activism. what is important about this event is the
fact that the moment of revelation did not end secrecy. But did this obscene revelation
end the enigma? Pundits wrote about their hopes that conspiracy theories would
finally be dispelled.
spectacle.co. Hoff 2005. cf. Mark Felt (via his lawyer. that Watergate template for enigmatic revealers. but feared that this was not to be (Greenberg 2005). Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
Is cultural studies becoming-strategic in accordance with its context? In this era
where traditional conceptual tactics have not provided the desired results. Sandoval 2005. pp. How can cultural studies recognize its own commitment to transparency
and publicity. insofar as it is tied to revealing and concealing. perhaps
we can experiment with new techniques. including William Gaines. public sphere. all
speculation and sleuthing could be put to rest. occult. Former FBI agent W.
Recent events compel us to revise our conceptions of publicity. No. masks
In June 2005.
Regardless of whether Felt is DT. but intensified and
redistributed it. to secrecy and publicity. secrecy. 21.
Deep Throat (DT). strategy. power’s machinations. one of American political history’s grandest mysteries was solved. one that requires us to rethink our own notions and attachments to
51! 62). Polemological analysis is not limited to academic
theory. but first let us contextualize
the argument within the current conjuncture. For instance. In other words. cultural. What does this mean for cultural studies’ own conceptual
strategies? What kind of transformation will cultural studies give itself: which
cherished figures will be discarded and which new tactics adopted? Strategy. a style of warfare that fuses together social. a fog of mourning and depression
settled on many social justice activists and anti-Bush citizens. and deter its own
neutralization? I propose that cultural studies recognize the vital elements of
refusal already in circulation at a practical level. or as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue.
has been constitutive of cultural studies. This
current media environment is rife with public secrecy or what I elsewhere
(2006a) call ‘spectacular secrecy’ (where publicity of the covert is strategic). the
military has accomplished what cultural studies has tried to do for decades:
bring politics to everyday life. especially where cultural studies
is concerned. as the lines of terror/war travel along the most mundane spaces
and practices. As a contextual practice. pp. to borrow the military language. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
tendency that has taken center stage in post-9/11 information warfare.
Cultural studies and the polemological: strategy in neo-new
After the 2 November 2004 US election. counterinsurgency manuals and studies are important
sources for understanding the games of power and resistance.
What are the analytic tools that can assist cultural studies in becomingstrategic? Elsewhere (2006b) I have elaborated how cultural studies can
enhance its capacitation by encouraging more strategic analyses (in the
sense articulated by Giorgio Agamben 20003) and becoming more ‘polemological’ (De Certeau 1984).POPULAR SECRECY
Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. The Revolution in Military Affairs has implemented ‘full
spectrum dominance’. as a number of
. of a ‘full spectrum activism’.
Cultural studies ought to be leading conceptual innovations in the post-9/
11 context. political strategies. with a newfound sense of
least since the recognized importance of Gramsci’s notion of ‘war of position’. This miasma of
defeatism2 transformed into a revived will to resist.
one that would transform the reactive components of cultural studies into a
project that actively creates and strategizes. This would be one
component. Why? Because the War on Terror is defined by its immersion in
that operates directly on ‘biopower’ (2004.
is this revelation-management that I explore here.
How will cultural studies respond to this immanentization of war? How
will cultural studies reclaim its own terrain (everyday life). cultural
studies continually restrategizes according to changing conditions.
As classic texts define it. As cultural studies practitioners.
For example. insofar as it is tied to concealing and revealing. Less an exercise in critical analysis
than a conjunctive survey.
Rather than elaborate the theoretical grounds for understanding secrecy as
such. all the
cultural strategies involved in speaking truth to power were not enough. or explore its abstract inextricability from publicity (much better
explored elsewhere). much effort was exerted in the 2004 election year to reveal
the grotesque corruption embodied by the Bush regime.
and alter it? Rather than simply seek exposure as a corrective to power. And this was the case for a very limited objective: an electoral
change in a two-party system. Ultimately. it is the active transformation of conflict-context and a
modification of the agents involved. is cultural studies
becoming-strategic in accordance with its context?
This essay explores one such tactic and commitment. and magazines about Bush regime
abuses: all failed to achieve their objective of removing the corrupt figures
power’s machinations. the expose´ documentaries. this
analysis entails ‘giving to the skilled revelation of skilled concealment a density
and fluidity almost sufficient to dispel the craving for certainty that secrecy
inspires’ (Taussig 2003.
2003). and ultimately neutralize. Armand Mattelart. namely the faith in
publicity as a truth-telling strategy to expose. to secrecy
and publicity. How can
cultural studies recognize its own commitment to transparency and publicity. the
courageous writing in newsletters. What kind of fate awaits broader systemic
In this essay.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. the essay brings together various experiments in secrecy
(as conceptual practice and activist tactics). Recent operations have seen a return of this spectacle but with an
unprecedented visibility of secrecy. one that requires us to rethink our own notions and
attachments to truth. journals. strategy is not simply a reaction to an alreadygiven set of conditions. Secrecy has become integrated into (no
It synthesizes the offerings of secrecy-as-strategy in circulation to understand
the practices (actual and virtual) composing the current context. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
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social theorists (Hardt and Negri. In this era where traditional commitments
and conceptual tactics have not provided the desired results. p. it is crucial to
understand the changing conditions of truth-telling. the essay is committed to a polemological approach.
Spectacular secrecy and pop occulture
The Gulf War of 1991 has often been called a media spectacle (Kellner 1992. 305). I pose the issues of secrecy and publicity as strategic matters. We are witnessing a
regime-of-truth change. Michael Taussig) have
books with ‘Lies’ or ‘Deception’ in the title.
the occulted origins of
‘evidence’. forming a spectacular secrecy.5 Cryptographic writing. according to Shawn James Rosenheim
(1997). Popular culture becomes a venue for the
becoming-public of secrecy. secrecy’s new form is the public secret. hidden in plain sight while interpretable only by a select few (usually. The Da Vinci Code (2003) and
Angels & Demons (2001) especially convey public secrets. Brown’s own
enigmatic public statements about his relationship to secret organizations only
add mystery to these disclosures. inaccessible
detainees. a Freemasonic
principle that involves processing human consciousness via public symbolic
rituals and cryptic dramaturgy. as a popular pursuit.
they were also designed to deceive. but its new catalyst. the
meteoric success of Dan Brown’s books. one based on an image of a box or envelope
with hidden contents. the use of ‘preventive revelations’. public decryption keys). widespread covert tribunals. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
longer expelled from) the spectacle. And lest we think these popular revelations are uniformly embraced by
truth-seekers and cryptologists. His bestsellers all deal with public
secrecy. it should be remembered that these public secret texts
(the ones narrativized within Brown’s books) did not just encode true secrets.
The strategic proliferation of leaks.
This spectacular form generalizes secrecy into public and private domains. and the mysterious appearance and disappearance of government
agencies (such as the Office of Strategic Influence and the Information
Awareness Office4) all point to a public version of secrecy (Bratich 2006a). we need only look to Michael Hoffman’s
making revelation no longer the end to secrecy. out in the open
where it works its charms even more effectively.
These ancient public secrets are only a first-order revelation: their
exposure through Brown’s novels constitutes a second order. scientific trickery. museum displays. He argues that popular and commercial unmaskings are a
pernicious element of ‘Making Manifest All that is Hidden’. Take. Occult historians like Manly P. where exposure destroys the secret by making manifest its
obscured being. While the
current regime has been correctly identified as being ‘obsessed’ with secrecy
(excessive document classification. can
be traced at least to Edgar Allen Poe.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. as cryptic messages
and ancient codes are inscribed on buildings. With this image.
At the same time. the logical response is to call for
‘openness’. These secret traditions are preserved by being out in the
open. astronomical maps.
(2003) and Eliphas Levi (2000) argue that occult communication is essentially
members of a secret society). maps. rampant invoking of state secrets privilege) these descriptions rely
on a traditional notion of secrecy. and
canonical paintings. urban design. for instance. the announced use of covert and
special ops. in many guises (architecture.
Spectacular secrecy is not just a propaganda effort of the current
administration ! it permeates popular culture. But with spectacular secrecy the image of a box or envelope is
too narrow. Rather.
disinformation has been endemic to
public secrecy. Alongside the messages for
the initiated are decoys and red herrings for investigators and general
audiences. and disclosure as its
. of elitist exclusivity. The delicate art of popularizing secrecy often involves
publication of devices to deter the unworthy. but a revelation which does justice to it’
(Benjamin 1977. This version of publicity entails the following
values: a faith in exposure. that this conception has political value.
Jodi Dean. in Publicity’s Secret (2002). the typical assumption is that secrecy is a tool for power. Dean’s
contribution to the study of secrecy is the following: she recognizes the
problem with anti-secrecy and with equating democracy with the public. 31. while publicity is agreement and
consensus. A number of theoretical
tools are available in this ‘just revelation’ project. She
does justice to the secret by firmly establishing it as publicity’s internal limit
and convincingly argues that there can be no public without a disavowed
secrecy. is there a secret that is not
publicity’s secret? Can we only think of secrecy’s activities within the
determination made by publicity? Is there a different route.
Secrecy is illegitimate and nonconsensual. The phrase ‘secrecy is everywhere’6 best captures this
dynamic. Disclosure might be part of secrecy’s game. and I agree.
not an end to it. contextualizes the issue of secrecy
within modernity and US political history. that is publicity’s secret.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. It is
and a desire for revelatory truth at the heart of the ideal of public reason. and as political question of
democracy? How do we theorize secrecy when theory is etymologically tied to
What happens when secrecy becomes visible: as spectacular media event. 2). privileging the visible and observable? We can take our cue from
Walter Benjamin. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
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cryptographic. and kept by elites or the State as a means of maintaining
hierarchical exclusions. but preserve and extend it. From its traditional roots. for instance. p. Within public occulture. and it is worth briefly
summarizing them here. quoted in Taussig 2002. p.
I want to add to this discussion by asking. In multiple senses. But this notion of a cryptocracy depends on
assuming publicity’s secrecy: the form of an envelope/box. a rational subject endowed with the right-to-know. and say analysis means telling a ‘truth that is not a matter of
exposure which destroys the secret. She argues that democracy is
typically equated with publicity and with the elimination of secrecy (as a
domain of self-serving corruption. revelations do not eliminate the
secret. in the
service of domination. secrecy is a sign of
pernicious hidden agendas. a becomingpopular of secrecy that is not a public execution? In political activism. From the CIA to the KKK. in redressing the concentration of state secrets. of special interest
power that blocks consensus). as popular cultural phenomenon.
as activist tactic. then.
Debord’s point is that our obsession with secrecy as a
box to be opened is itself part of the spectacle. namely the
belief that the publicity of secrets is inherently a progressive force. like
Deep Throat). then. both secret influence (the way secret societies affect
social changes) and the propagation of the secret (its spread and leakage. Making this argument entails a shift in focus. Debord compels us to
think secrecy outside of its commonsensical status as opposite of a public. How can we make the covert productive? What can be learned from
the secret. a distraction from the myriad
ways generalized secrecy permeates the political body.
unsettling a fundamental assumption among oppositional forces. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
opposite and vanquisher. in other words part of secrecy is secretion’
(2003. never given the powers
of negation. 273): the ‘success of such
ritual is not in concealing but in revealing trickery’ (2003. but the
‘skilled revelation of skilled concealment’ (2003. or
secretion). like from the perspective of secrecy itself?
As publicity’s other. (2) as an action. 297). For
example. 272). an anthropologist. but we also need to find analytic tools that can move
secrecy beyond publicity’s shadow. we can
pursue secrecy as a strategy. The political public secret orbits around revelation-management. especially in
exposing the very techniques of concealment.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. (3) as the secret perception of the secret (shadowy revealers. p. p. secrecy is always in negation.
p. examines shamanistic trickery and magickal
rites but not as a way of describing exotic Others. not just about it? Dean’s deconstructive work on the limits of
publicity is a good start. What if we began to think of cryptocracy in other
ways. Michael Taussig elaborates their second point: ‘To the extent
that the secret can be and is revealed. publicity may no longer be an effective political force
. cryptic book Comments on the Society of the
Spectacle (1998) (originally titled Treatise on Secrets. Magick is
Rather than surrender to a totalitarian state of secrecy. p.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) break secrecy down into three
components: (1) as the contents in a box or envelope (the common sense of
Guy Debord in his short. The techniques of deception
in his analysis have wider application: the public secret is ‘a species of
knowledge no less political than it is mysterious. In the US
Taussig. but in ways that only enhance those mechanisms.
absorbing critique at the moment of publicity. I would like to suggest that revelation is
precisely what the secret intends. It is
not skilled concealment that characterizes the power of secrecy. Now we can view the secret not from the perspective of its
destruction (within revelation) but as a positivity with its own history and
effects. preventive revelations appropriate the power of the challenge. if not mystical’ (2003. The fact and mechanisms of
secrecy are exposed. and not to be confused with
the original Society of the Spectacle ) introduces the concept of
‘generalized secrecy’. not despite its exposure but on account of it. 306).
Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S
against a cryptocracy. at best. or a popular secrecy? Secrecy. anonymity. Publicity has been allowed to transcend its own
historical conditions (including its Enlightenment origins within secret
societies). Borrowing the
idea from William Burroughs. a minor
secrecy. Hakim Bey
(1985) argued that the Left needs insurgent secret societies. which
became sites of refuge and knowledge-preservation during the plague. the will to disappearance is a logical radical option. and imperceptibility are increasingly demonized if not criminalized?
More recently. Why surrender the capacity to produce these to the State/private
sector networks of control?
In an age where secrecy is virtually everywhere as a strategy of
domination.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. can we begin to experiment with an insurgent secrecy. Secrecy may at least be afforded a
similar generosity. in other words. Rather. placing it in a lineage of nihilistic forces. The potential to
make these new arrangements belongs to the creative meaning-making powers
of the many. How do we address these untimely meditations
in a homeland security context. has been associated with
circumstantial necessity. an active secrecy. These are techno-anarchists who put
their faith in cryptography as a political tool. Bey cites the historical role of monasteries. in fact this detachment is the very condition of possibility for
public sphere theory (see Dean 2002). and
argues that we may be facing a political plague of sorts today. insurgents need to use both visibility and
disappearance tactically. Most famously enshrined in
Timothy May’s ‘Crypto Anarchist Manifesto’ (2001). Bey suggested they be modeled after the
Chinese Tong: mutual aid societies that kept their work hidden as a key to
preservation. this type of activism
. where secrecy. Bey’s calls were
written over twenty years ago.
depending on historical circumstances. The oppositional political imaginary up until now has
focused on reactive secrecy. Why not
accord it some affirmative powers? Popular or minor secrecy would be
immersed in what Negri (1999) calls ‘constituent power’. the capacities and
wills to create new worlds. crypto-anarchists have turned the tables on a technoculture
that seeks to render society fully visible. When dissent primarily operates by seeking to expose
the State’s secrets. So
what better way to explore active secrecy than by tracing a line through secret
In an influential little book called Temporary Autonomous Zone. Rather than the full-frontal visible
attack that reveals a martyr-wish. For Bey. Secrecy as a
strategy is already the subject of experimentation in the activist milieu. it may be playing into a larger logic of concealment and
revelation that is ultimately disempowering. we can explore the
generation of secrets and their exposure as a political force.
Their practice is based on an atypical interpretation of the First
Amendment. It entails a negation of rootedness in identity in favor of a more relational
network: merge as a collective. The mask came to
function as a dominant representation ! of something to hide. but in fact you have turned the ‘‘everyone’’ into a
becoming. and thus as a tactic of
disappearance not identity. blend in to surroundings
(1987. their use of technology
creates strategic potential for secrecy under surveillance state operations. While the cryptoanarchists
tend towards the libertarian and technophilic stream. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
consists of constructing codes and ciphers to shroud messages in secrecy. it misses secrecy as form. 127). of violence.
The mask and the black bloc
Perhaps the most recent public ‘face’ of secrecy in US activism is the black
becoming-imperceptible is primarily a relation with others (1987. but this time as occulted. The mask de-individualizes actors and
. ‘there are no longer secrets. use camouflage. For Deleuze.8 At
the very least. as
secretion. cryptoanarchism finds in technological developments not the
instruments of domination through surveillance and data mining. and can thus ensure un-monitorable
81). black bloc became the media
face of anarchism. the media spectacle cannot fix
the meaning of the mask. In tandem with the balaclava icon of Zapatismo. While the news media tries to fill in the abyss with
content and give the mask an interiority.
We can return to Deleuze and Guattari here to elaborate. Becoming-secret is akin to what Deleuze and Guattari call
becoming-imperceptible. Benefits for
participants include evasion of surveillance.
Imperceptibility provides a counter to a politics based on identity and
representability. Not simply reducible to being invisible or disappearing. mutual assistance and a general
sense of solidarity through anonymity. You have
become like everyone. but toolsbecoming-weapons against that scopic regime. p. it is a form of
Programs such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) create untraceable interactions
(communication. like its 1960s ancestors. black bloc masking
imaged the burgeoning networks of global justice activism.
Becoming-imperceptible helps explain the black bloc tactic. if not the whole counterglobalization movement (Albertani
2002). During the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Secrecy is not
primarily defined by its interior ! it seeks its outside. financial transactions).
but the right to speak in a language that is occulted. clandestine’ (1977. New activism. free speech is not the right to be heard. 277! 79). p. pp. appeared on the nightly
news. And try as it might.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. You have become imperceptible. of
cowardice. For cryptoanarchists. as action.
one which ‘wants to take possession of
belonging itself’. 16Beaver. The Zapatistas’
trademark balaclava is a powerful signifier that allows anyone to becomeimperceptible collectively.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries.
What would a different politics of masking look like? Becomingimperceptible constitutes what Giorgio Agamben calls the ‘whatever singularity’: a community without identity. performing as part of ‘Indigenous Immigrants’. black bloc can be traced back at least to the Autonomen in
early 1980s Germany. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
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Author in mediated mirror mask. I highlight black bloc not to debate the merits
of the tactic. Continental Drift Seminar. the collective mask is nothing
new. a workshop
from Pdero Lasch’s Naturalizations Series (2002 ! present). This mask operates as a global image that anchors
their performative statement. p. More recently. but to acknowledge that it is the most visible example of secret
activism. The experience of
having people you don’t know at your back is often cited by black blocers as a
powerful moment of solidarity.
As a tactic or ‘gesture’ (Agamben 2000). 89). NY.
produces an immediate collectivity without personality.
November 2006. where squatters took to masking themselves as a way of
preventing identification by the police (Katsiaficis 1997). This ‘whatever subject’ is a type of belonging whose lack of
specificity opens up potentials not seduced by the security of faces behind the
mask. as a
direct action tactic. which ‘declines any identity and conditions of belonging’
(2000. Anonymity during public action goes back centuries. now you are one of us’
. ‘You are no longer you.
‘the threat the state is not
willing to come to terms with is precisely the fact that the unrepresentable
should exist and form a community without either presuppositions or
conditions of belonging’ (2000. obviously
resulted in widespread atrocities. 239). this public secrecy infuses modern societies. As Agamben argues. p.
The state and its masks
Much like the infinite secretion of anonymity spurred on by black bloc.
Taussig isolates a fascinating component of masking. The State abhors masks that are
not its own. Masks are signs and practices to be struggled over. where these revelationrituals are performed as a matter of public policy and media spectacle. the artist collective Guerilla Girls
donned ape masks to de-individualize authorship. namely the practice of
nahual (2002. including Chiapas. we can
unmoor it. not just left to the
State and its surrogates. 238! 46). While we might accept these practices as part of ‘primitive
societies’. New York City police invoked a little-known state law dating back to
1900 that banned more than three masks at protests (from the days when
tenant farmer uprisings against landlords employed tactical masking). and not
just when its riot police wear armored disguises (Taussig 2002. pp. It
wishes to make itself imperceptible while eliminating other instances of
becoming-imperceptible. But instead of disempowering him.9
But just as the State wishes to keep all the masks and to unmask others. The mask donned as nahual is often one
of an animal. They also worked
in direct response to the individualized mask of the superhero (whose selfinvolved brooding and existential crises are enhanced with the disguise). the
Zapatista balaclava is intolerable to the State. So while we cannot simply affirm masking. A decade or so ago. He analyzes how the Mexican government ‘unmasked Marcos’ (the
Zapatista subcomandante) at a news conference by revealing a photo of his
‘true face’ (2002. 239! 42). but the
Taussig alerts us to the mystery-making impact of any exposure done by the
State. 89). Originating from the Nahuatl language indigenous
to many parts of Latin America.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries.
Not all collective masks or popular secrecies are to be valorized. pp. reappropriating it strategically as a type of minor secrecy. emphasizing instead the
collaborative and anonymous production of textual meaning. this public
act proliferated a magical force (in the subsequent re-maskings performed by
the Zapatistas). During the World Economic Forum
demonstrations in 2002 and again at the Republican National Convention in
Anonymity and secrecy in themselves have no necessary political allegiances or
effects. signifying not simply the negation of one’s identity. nahual refers to both
disguise and co-essence (or familiar). as well as secret organizational form. The Ku
Klux Klan’s hoods and robes. This is precisely the point. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
(see EZLN 1998). The Zapatistas remind us that the State is always masked. p.
. which as detailed above is
already part of collective experiments. The State. It has a positivity of its own. Perhaps today. p.
In a surveillance/control society. desires ‘to control transformation . it is not that publicity is
necessarily ‘bad’. and reappropriating secrecy are
affirmative gestures of disappearance. it seeks to appropriate
becoming as such. a clandestine action group or affinity web operates in a
self-valorizing manner ! beyond naming. existence
comes with the exodus from this spectacle. neither as publicity’s negation nor as
spectacular domination. it is ‘dangerous’ (1997.
Why is this important? Because.
At minimum secrecy tells us that we do not always need to seek visibility
and recognition to legitimize our politics. Beyond
the defensive tactic. but maybe not now or here. The coming
politics of secrecy might involve a confrontation that is not face-to-face. Why
bother to ‘face’ a power that has operated through. 132). and the State’s ability to see. ‘the New Left never really believed in its own existence till it
saw itself on the Evening News’ (1985). where communicating and becomingperceptible are quickly turning into internalized commands. To
reappropriate this becoming through the preservation and proliferation of
masking is indispensable for the current conjuncture. At least there is less need for
recognition. as Taussig argues. not simply utopic withdrawals.11
Secrecy does not belong to the State. in seeking to monopolize the power of
masking. the State attempts to
appropriate nahual for itself.
and exposure have their usefulness.
simulation and spectacle? It would only provide the same spectacle with a
new object of representation and an easy target of inveigling. 248). . Deleuze and Guattari also link becomingimperceptible to becoming-animal). like everything. becoming-imperceptible. As the
State appropriates secrecy. To paraphrase Michel Foucault.
As Bey puts it. for a conferral of identity by the State and its vision. p. and appropriate becomings’
(2002. This active secrecy is a ‘preventive
resistance’ that prompts our concluding question.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. but
The nahual fuses the power of secrecy with the power of transformation. of
becoming-animal (interestingly. . Publicity is not necessarily the
. gazing. masking. and unmasking. what does popular secrecy give
. Identity. perceptibility. Becoming itself is becoming the property of the State. p. to give it proper identities and interiorities. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
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transformation into another being. Masking is an act of shape-shifting.
Our task is to map those hazards and possibilities. but. and partially become. 256).
the right to resistance (cf.
1995b). safeguarding future forms of life on a
line of flight. This imperceptible collectivity is intolerable
to the State. 175.
Secrecy as strategy is not simply a provisional instrument for attaining
goals ! it offers a rethinking of secrecy for any future social arrangements. like Bey’s will to disappearance. affirming the powers of secrecy is a defensive argument. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
. secrecy has long been
recognized for its value to dissidents.
Currently. but is
used by activist groups for their own survival.
. this tactic would
parallel the public’s ‘right to know’ with a ‘right to be unknown’. One need only think here of how ‘security culture’ is a term
not reserved for Homeland Security immersion into everyday life. It is a reawakening of
ancestral customs whose trajectories in ‘secret corners and cracks’ (Wilson
suggests we create ‘vacuoles of noncommunication’ (1995a. juridical form.
This public affirmation could take a liberal. Secrecy becomes a circuitbreaker. It has
historically been a necessary component of dissident culture. We can thus tie this active secrecy
to the customary jus resistentiae. Military strategic
analyses even acknowledge this. A right to
secrecy would change the tenor of freedom from privacy’s passive. Becoming-imperceptible creates the
‘whatever singularity’: a community without identity. Secrecy here.
We can articulate the current resurgence of the mask and secrecy as a
revival of popular traces relegated to the interstices of society: the custom of
secrecy. then. not just concentrated in the hands and boxes of the privileged. clandestinity is mutual-aid. a
tactic that promotes collectivity. 76) can now form a confluence.
As the black bloc and Zapatistas demonstrate. nor a valorization of coping strategies. From guerrilla manuals to Edward Luttwak’s
(1987) highly influential counterinsurgency work. Any collective future will need to acknowledge secrecy’s
lineage so as not to lapse into the domination of pure visibility. in the service of an exodus. This right
would be counterposed to the right to privacy. for a public affirmation of secrecy: a demand for its extension
to all sectors. It is the task of what Michel De
. A public affirmation of secrecy is not a
A need. entwined as the latter is with
the western subject of self-possessed individuality and interiority.12 The importance of secrecy as a
defensive stand is noted even within political theory indebted to publicity
and the public sphere (Squires 2002). p. p.
42! 3). the right of resistance. namely in a call for
the right to secrecy.
As Jacques Derrida argues in A Taste for the Secret (2001) society that does
not respect secrecy is a totalitarian society (as the drive to illuminate all
social spaces renders those spaces vulnerable to the harshest forms of
ocular control). pp. means inserting
imperceptibility into circuits of control. which would like to appropriate becoming for itself. Similar to the cryptoanarchist claim. Virno 2004.POPULAR SECRECY
Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries.
individualized zone to an interactive exteriority of relations. which wants to take
possession of belonging itself.
even illness. cultural studies can become a
strategic craft that enhances its capacities to remake its context. including ‘that most elusive trick of all. These are experimental times. figures. one whose potentials
we are just beginning to glimpse. . J. Taussig writes. p. but to lay foundations for something along the
lines of that gay science Nietzsche proposed as its critical. for an analysis of this movement from an autonomist perspective see
my 2005. 2005b. Wilson
2005. (2006b). Rather than counter secrecy with revelatory
to the use of tricks to out-trick other tricks . justly.
This attentiveness to tricks. let us perform a just revelation. that we have to
associate with the will to knowledge’ (2003. the ‘very idea of a secret behind a fac¸ade is not just plain silly
but sign of another sort of philosophic despair.
and while the State is a dominant experimenter. one that is worthy of the secret. not to further the
mystifying effects of unmasking that the Enlightenment. We need to pay
attention. 306). 304).
Previously taboo topics like secession were regularly discussed both
humorously and as serious options (Flores-Williams 2005a.
Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries.
(2003. and maneuvers is polemological and
entails a commitment to secrecy as strategy. p. For
Michael Taussig. p. . it cannot monopolize strategy. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
Coda: occultural studies as gay science
Secrecy is thus not an absence.)
project seems to assume.
By turning an eye towards secrecy.
As the White House Cabinet was going through a shake-up so activists
rethought previous tactics and sought out new techniques of resistance. 295)
What would it mean for cultural studies to take up this gay science as a
strategy? It would mean developing our political and cultural ‘tricks of the
trade’. but an occulted presence.
Portions of this essay have been published in Bratich.54
C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S
Certeau (1986) calls ‘heterological’ projects to articulate these ‘scattered
practices’ of becoming imperceptible. yet most necessary for that ceaseless surfacing of appearances
we defer to as truth’ (2003. a fraud. the magic of mimesis ! at
heart. It can also
be read as a part 2 to my recent article in this journal (Bratich 2006a). masquerading
p. From Hell. from the secret agent (SpyGame. And in this visible face is
one of the most well-known occult symbols around (the Freemasonic. with the phrase ‘scientia est potentia’ (knowledge is
power) So here we have the public face of the will-to-publicize.
Rosicrucian Eye-in-the-Pyramid). one could note how
early film was attributed with the power to break open a hidden world of the
mundane (as in Benjamin’s ‘Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
We can cite here the TV shows dealing with occult or supernatural themes
(Charmed. Perhaps what we are witnessing is how the link
between secrecy and technology is moving from the shadows to becoming
public (such as the popular fascination with codebreaking). The logo ‘disappeared’ from the office’s website. 24. and
with secret services (Alias. The Skulls. 1968). civilian and military think-tanks and citizen
snoops). The Agency). In addition. Singh 1999). In addition. and the agency
shortly followed suit. Perhaps it was conjured away. the face of
desire for total openness and absolute observability.
This repressive law was later challenged but not overturned in court. Mr. Smith) to the secret society (The
Order. and that it
would continue its operations under different departments. Popular secrecy was even
embedded in the reality TV/game doc format (the first challenges of Amazing
Race: Family Edition and the series Treasure Hunters).
This seemingly new problematization of secrecy and technology is bound up
with the history of cryptography. as Giorgio Agamben defines Guy Debord’s work.
Perhaps the most blatant example of the secret becoming visible as strategy
is the short career of the Information Awareness Office logo (DARPA. goal of Total Information Awareness through
integration of technologies. Davis 1998. Also.
headed by Poindexter.
This enigmatic phrase.
involves positioning one’s view precisely in another actor’s view (2000. public
relations’ value of ‘getting ahead of the story’ is an example. National Treasure). once
again demonstrating that reactionary forces (with their cellular operational
. whose link between revealing and
concealing is embedded in a variety of codes and technologies (see Butler &
Keeney 2001. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012
Strategic criticism. Teen Witch Mad Mad House). 74) (much like the perspectives taken by counterinsurgents when they
study and mimic guerrilla and network-centric warfare).POPULAR SECRECY
Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. Angel. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Regardless of the significance one wants to
attach to it.
We are reminded here of Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement of the Office of
Strategic Influence’s appearance and subsequent quick withdrawal: months
later Rumsfeld revealed that its disappearance was in name only. was the title of a Spring
2004 special issue of the Massachusetts School of Law Journal. perhaps it still haunts
other departments. a number of films
have taken secrecy as their subject matter. The logo was comprised of an eye-in-the-pyramid shining a diffuse
spotlight on the globe. And Mrs. it is an occult symbol for those who practice this form of
symbology. XXX. It is
important to note that this legal action was carried out by the Klan. itself seemingly everywhere.
At stake here for strategists is the element of surprise. vol. (2000) Means without End. Minneapolis. namely because the
tactic is vulnerable to infiltration and provocation. The lead character wears a Guy Fawkes mask. New York. Osborne.
Cultural Studies. and
revolutionaries become secret agents’ (1998 p. As Luttwak.
Agamben. black bloc has actually given more visibility to the
issue of provocateurs in the activist community And let us not forget that the
secret services have infiltrated plenty of non-anonymous groups and actions. 4! 5. H. 11). W. ed. (2005) ‘Swarmcession!’.
Bratich. The Novel Intelligence Project provides one
example. and insurgent manuals like Invisible
Resistance to Tyranny. as instrument for a strategy of tension). Eliminating surprise seems to be the new grand goal of
State/counterinsurgency force. From ‘who is
behind the mask’ to ‘who is behind the masking’. in
Illuminations.. is precisely geared towards predicting and controlling surprise. 4. 20. The NIP. University
of Minnesota Press. Autonomedia.
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into a spectacular epic. This flaw is certainly
there: enough is known about the events in Genoa 2001 to claim
authoritatively that the State infiltration of black bloc was deliberate and
London. (2002) ‘Paint It Black. Tute Bianche and Zapatistas in
the Anti-globalization Movement’.
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The black bloc has brought to light Debord’s assessment that in a society of
the spectacle and secrecy.
Bey. (1985) T. New Left Books. Lumpen. leaderless resistance strategies. whose
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