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Cultural Studies
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POPULAR SECRECY AND
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Jack Bratich
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Cultural Studies, 21:1, 42-58
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including one Nixon researcher who noted the irony that we have a ‘Deep Throat who can’t talk’ (Kincaid 2005. secrecy. Hoff 2005. perhaps we can experiment with new techniques. 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.Jack Bratich POPULAR SECRECY AND OCCULTURAL Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. cf. No. Keywords secrecy.uk/journals DOI: 10. one of American political history’s grandest mysteries was solved. The Deep Throat event is just a more visible example of a Cultural Studies Vol. masks In June 2005. one that requires us to rethink our own notions and attachments to truth. Finally. what is important about this event is the fact that the moment of revelation did not end secrecy. This essay explores one such tactic and commitment. Indeed. Mark Felt (via his lawyer. himself was finally revealed. to secrecy and publicity. occult. numerous bloggers and broadcast pundits were skeptical over the revelation. and make it alterable? By turning an eye towards secrecy. including William Gaines. all speculation and sleuthing could be put to rest. but feared that this was not to be (Greenberg 2005). family. spectacle. How can cultural studies recognize its own commitment to transparency and publicity. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 STUDIES1 Is cultural studies becoming-strategic in accordance with its context? In this era where traditional conceptual tactics have not provided the desired results. Former FBI agent W.1080/09502380601046956 . 21. Recent events compel us to revise our conceptions of publicity. strategy. Sandoval 2005. insofar as it is tied to revealing and concealing. But did this obscene revelation end the enigma? Pundits wrote about their hopes that conspiracy theories would finally be dispelled.co. who taught courses at the University of Illinois in which students researched DT’s identity. cultural studies can become a strategic craft that enhances its capacities to remake its context. but intensified and redistributed it. Regardless of whether Felt is DT. activism. namely the faith in publicity as a truth-telling strategy to expose. public sphere.tandf. and ultimately neutralize. pp. justly. Deep Throat (DT). power’s machinations. 1 January 2007. Waas 2005). 42 ! 58 ISSN 0950-2386 print/ISSN 1466-4348 online – 2007 Taylor & Francis http://www. and activist strategy. that Watergate template for enigmatic revealers. Even those who essentially believed that Felt was DT expressed some reservations.

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. as a number of 43 . one that would transform the reactive components of cultural studies into a project that actively creates and strategizes. Cultural studies ought to be leading conceptual innovations in the post-9/ 11 context. This would be one component. as the lines of terror/war travel along the most mundane spaces and practices. Cultural studies and the polemological: strategy in neo-new times After the 2 November 2004 US election. How will cultural studies respond to this immanentization of war? How will cultural studies reclaim its own terrain (everyday life). Polemological analysis is not limited to academic theory. and deter its own neutralization? I propose that cultural studies recognize the vital elements of refusal already in circulation at a practical level. with a newfound sense of experimentation. This current media environment is rife with public secrecy or what I elsewhere (2006a) call ‘spectacular secrecy’ (where publicity of the covert is strategic). a style of warfare that fuses together social. a fog of mourning and depression settled on many social justice activists and anti-Bush citizens. at least since the recognized importance of Gramsci’s notion of ‘war of position’. or as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue. This miasma of defeatism2 transformed into a revived will to resist. It is this revelation-management that I explore here. counterinsurgency manuals and studies are important sources for understanding the games of power and resistance. political strategies. has been constitutive of cultural studies. 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). that operates directly on ‘biopower’ (2004. cultural studies continually restrategizes according to changing conditions. but first let us contextualize the argument within the current conjuncture. Why? Because the War on Terror is defined by its immersion in everyday life. For instance. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 tendency that has taken center stage in post-9/11 information warfare. the military has accomplished what cultural studies has tried to do for decades: bring politics to everyday life. pp. to borrow the military language. of a ‘full spectrum activism’. 51! 62).POPULAR SECRECY Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. especially where cultural studies is concerned. The Revolution in Military Affairs has implemented ‘full spectrum dominance’. As a contextual practice. cultural. ideological. In other words.

the essay brings together various experiments in secrecy (as conceptual practice and activist tactics). 305). is cultural studies becoming-strategic in accordance with its context? This essay explores one such tactic and commitment. the essay is committed to a polemological approach. 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. As cultural studies practitioners. I pose the issues of secrecy and publicity as strategic matters. How can cultural studies recognize its own commitment to transparency and publicity. Rather than elaborate the theoretical grounds for understanding secrecy as such. As classic texts define it. power’s machinations.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. and alter it? Rather than simply seek exposure as a corrective to power. all the cultural strategies involved in speaking truth to power were not enough. The books with ‘Lies’ or ‘Deception’ in the title. namely the faith in publicity as a truth-telling strategy to expose. It synthesizes the offerings of secrecy-as-strategy in circulation to understand the practices (actual and virtual) composing the current context. Spectacular secrecy and pop occulture The Gulf War of 1991 has often been called a media spectacle (Kellner 1992. And this was the case for a very limited objective: an electoral change in a two-party system. Armand Mattelart. and magazines about Bush regime abuses: all failed to achieve their objective of removing the corrupt figures from office. journals. strategy is not simply a reaction to an alreadygiven set of conditions. Secrecy has become integrated into (no . the expose´ documentaries. We are witnessing a regime-of-truth change. Ultimately. or explore its abstract inextricability from publicity (much better explored elsewhere). it is the active transformation of conflict-context and a modification of the agents involved. and ultimately neutralize. one that requires us to rethink our own notions and attachments to truth. In this era where traditional commitments and conceptual tactics have not provided the desired results. What kind of fate awaits broader systemic changes? In this essay. p. the courageous writing in newsletters. For example. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 44 C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S social theorists (Hardt and Negri. Recent operations have seen a return of this spectacle but with an unprecedented visibility of secrecy. Less an exercise in critical analysis than a conjunctive survey. 2003). much effort was exerted in the 2004 election year to reveal the grotesque corruption embodied by the Bush regime. it is crucial to understand the changing conditions of truth-telling. to secrecy and publicity. insofar as it is tied to concealing and revealing. Michael Taussig) have argued.

a Freemasonic principle that involves processing human consciousness via public symbolic rituals and cryptic dramaturgy. can be traced at least to Edgar Allen Poe. And lest we think these popular revelations are uniformly embraced by truth-seekers and cryptologists. These secret traditions are preserved by being out in the open. as cryptic messages and ancient codes are inscribed on buildings. out in the open where it works its charms even more effectively. maps. astronomical maps. for instance. they were also designed to deceive. the use of ‘preventive revelations’. secrecy’s new form is the public secret. hidden in plain sight while interpretable only by a select few (usually. Spectacular secrecy is not just a propaganda effort of the current administration ! it permeates popular culture. 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). the occulted origins of ‘evidence’. paintings. But with spectacular secrecy the image of a box or envelope is too narrow. The Da Vinci Code (2003) and Angels & Demons (2001) especially convey public secrets. Rather. Hall (2003) and Eliphas Levi (2000) argue that occult communication is essentially 45 . With this image. where exposure destroys the secret by making manifest its obscured being. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 POPULAR SECRECY longer expelled from) the spectacle.5 Cryptographic writing. as a popular pursuit. we need only look to Michael Hoffman’s (1995) work. one based on an image of a box or envelope with hidden contents. rampant invoking of state secrets privilege) these descriptions rely on a traditional notion of secrecy. Popular culture becomes a venue for the becoming-public of secrecy. and canonical paintings. At the same time. Take. it should be remembered that these public secret texts (the ones narrativized within Brown’s books) did not just encode true secrets. He argues that popular and commercial unmaskings are a pernicious element of ‘Making Manifest All that is Hidden’. Occult historians like Manly P. but its new catalyst. in many guises (architecture. forming a spectacular secrecy. widespread covert tribunals. the announced use of covert and special ops. The strategic proliferation of leaks. While the current regime has been correctly identified as being ‘obsessed’ with secrecy (excessive document classification.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. public decryption keys). scientific trickery. This spectacular form generalizes secrecy into public and private domains. members of a secret society). urban design. Brown’s own enigmatic public statements about his relationship to secret organizations only add mystery to these disclosures. making revelation no longer the end to secrecy. the meteoric success of Dan Brown’s books. museum displays. His bestsellers all deal with public secrecy. according to Shawn James Rosenheim (1997). These ancient public secrets are only a first-order revelation: their exposure through Brown’s novels constitutes a second order. the logical response is to call for ‘openness’. inaccessible detainees.

revelations do not eliminate the secret. This version of publicity entails the following values: a faith in exposure. and say analysis means telling a ‘truth that is not a matter of exposure which destroys the secret. as popular cultural phenomenon. of elitist exclusivity. that is publicity’s secret. a becomingpopular of secrecy that is not a public execution? In political activism. 31. From the CIA to the KKK. p.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. the typical assumption is that secrecy is a tool for power. Dean argues. and as political question of democracy? How do we theorize secrecy when theory is etymologically tied to looking. But this notion of a cryptocracy depends on assuming publicity’s secrecy: the form of an envelope/box. I want to add to this discussion by asking. secrecy is a sign of pernicious hidden agendas. and kept by elites or the State as a means of maintaining hierarchical exclusions. She argues that democracy is typically equated with publicity and with the elimination of secrecy (as a domain of self-serving corruption. Disclosure might be part of secrecy’s game. in redressing the concentration of state secrets. Jodi Dean. privileging the visible and observable? We can take our cue from Walter Benjamin. but a revelation which does justice to it’ (Benjamin 1977. Alongside the messages for the initiated are decoys and red herrings for investigators and general audiences. p. that this conception has political value. for instance. From its traditional roots. It is crucial. 2). for instance. and it is worth briefly summarizing them here. in the service of domination. then. and disclosure as its . but preserve and extend it. while publicity is agreement and consensus. of special interest power that blocks consensus). and a desire for revelatory truth at the heart of the ideal of public reason. 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. A number of theoretical tools are available in this ‘just revelation’ project. Secrecy is illegitimate and nonconsensual. quoted in Taussig 2002. contextualizes the issue of secrecy within modernity and US political history. In multiple senses. 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. disinformation has been endemic to public secrecy. The phrase ‘secrecy is everywhere’6 best captures this dynamic. What happens when secrecy becomes visible: as spectacular media event. as activist tactic. a rational subject endowed with the right-to-know. 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. in Publicity’s Secret (2002). not an end to it. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 46 C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S cryptographic. and I agree. Within public occulture. The delicate art of popularizing secrecy often involves publication of devices to deter the unworthy.

(2) as an action. p. but in ways that only enhance those mechanisms. both secret influence (the way secret societies affect social changes) and the propagation of the secret (its spread and leakage. Debord compels us to think secrecy outside of its commonsensical status as opposite of a public. For example. preventive revelations appropriate the power of the challenge. like Deep Throat). p. a distraction from the myriad ways generalized secrecy permeates the political body.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. 272). Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 POPULAR SECRECY opposite and vanquisher. but we also need to find analytic tools that can move secrecy beyond publicity’s shadow. (3) as the secret perception of the secret (shadowy revealers. but the ‘skilled revelation of skilled concealment’ (2003. not despite its exposure but on account of it. then. 306). 273): the ‘success of such ritual is not in concealing but in revealing trickery’ (2003. How can we make the covert productive? What can be learned from the secret. p. Debord’s point is that our obsession with secrecy as a box to be opened is itself part of the spectacle.7 Rather than surrender to a totalitarian state of secrecy. Michael Taussig elaborates their second point: ‘To the extent that the secret can be and is revealed. Guy Debord in his short. I would like to suggest that revelation is precisely what the secret intends. unsettling a fundamental assumption among oppositional forces. or secretion). we can pursue secrecy as a strategy. secrecy is always in negation. Magick is thus effective. 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 secrecy). In the US political imaginary. and not to be confused with the original Society of the Spectacle [1970]) introduces the concept of ‘generalized secrecy’. 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. absorbing critique at the moment of publicity. if not mystical’ (2003. Making this argument entails a shift in focus. not just about it? Dean’s deconstructive work on the limits of publicity is a good start. an anthropologist. examines shamanistic trickery and magickal rites but not as a way of describing exotic Others. namely the belief that the publicity of secrets is inherently a progressive force. in other words part of secrecy is secretion’ (2003. p. like from the perspective of secrecy itself? As publicity’s other. 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. publicity may no longer be an effective political force 47 . never given the powers of negation. cryptic book Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1998) (originally titled Treatise on Secrets. Taussig. The political public secret orbits around revelation-management. The fact and mechanisms of secrecy are exposed. It is not skilled concealment that characterizes the power of secrecy. What if we began to think of cryptocracy in other ways. especially in exposing the very techniques of concealment. 297).

Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 48 C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S against a cryptocracy. Secrecy may at least be afforded a similar generosity. Bey’s calls were written over twenty years ago. the will to disappearance is a logical radical option. and imperceptibility are increasingly demonized if not criminalized? More recently. in fact this detachment is the very condition of possibility for public sphere theory (see Dean 2002). For Bey. Bey cites the historical role of monasteries. Rather than the full-frontal visible attack that reveals a martyr-wish. this type of activism . we can explore the generation of secrets and their exposure as a political force. or a popular secrecy? Secrecy. How do we address these untimely meditations in a homeland security context. Secrecy as a strategy is already the subject of experimentation in the activist milieu. When dissent primarily operates by seeking to expose the State’s secrets. crypto-anarchists have turned the tables on a technoculture that seeks to render society fully visible. an active secrecy. 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. anonymity. Bey suggested they be modeled after the Chinese Tong: mutual aid societies that kept their work hidden as a key to preservation. in other words. Most famously enshrined in Timothy May’s ‘Crypto Anarchist Manifesto’ (2001). has been associated with circumstantial necessity. These are techno-anarchists who put their faith in cryptography as a political tool. Hakim Bey (1985) argued that the Left needs insurgent secret societies. a minor secrecy. Why not accord it some affirmative powers? Popular or minor secrecy would be immersed in what Negri (1999) calls ‘constituent power’. 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. where secrecy. insurgents need to use both visibility and disappearance tactically. Rather. depending on historical circumstances. which became sites of refuge and knowledge-preservation during the plague. it may be playing into a larger logic of concealment and revelation that is ultimately disempowering. The oppositional political imaginary up until now has focused on reactive secrecy. the capacities and wills to create new worlds. Publicity has been allowed to transcend its own historical conditions (including its Enlightenment origins within secret societies). can we begin to experiment with an insurgent secrecy. and argues that we may be facing a political plague of sorts today. at best. So what better way to explore active secrecy than by tracing a line through secret activism? Secret activism In an influential little book called Temporary Autonomous Zone. Borrowing the idea from William Burroughs.

but this time as occulted. blend in to surroundings (1987. black bloc masking imaged the burgeoning networks of global justice activism.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. black bloc became the media face of anarchism. The mask came to function as a dominant representation ! of something to hide. of violence. but in fact you have turned the ‘‘everyone’’ into a becoming. pp. Becoming-secret is akin to what Deleuze and Guattari call becoming-imperceptible. And try as it might. In tandem with the balaclava icon of Zapatismo. ‘there are no longer secrets. Becoming-imperceptible helps explain the black bloc tactic. their use of technology creates strategic potential for secrecy under surveillance state operations. and can thus ensure un-monitorable activities. it is a form of exteriority. financial transactions). You have become like everyone. Imperceptibility provides a counter to a politics based on identity and representability. appeared on the nightly news. becoming-imperceptible is primarily a relation with others (1987. 279! 81). For Deleuze. p. It entails a negation of rootedness in identity in favor of a more relational network: merge as a collective. New activism. but the right to speak in a language that is occulted. While the news media tries to fill in the abyss with content and give the mask an interiority. and thus as a tactic of disappearance not identity. Their practice is based on an atypical interpretation of the First Amendment. 277! 79). like its 1960s ancestors. cryptoanarchism finds in technological developments not the instruments of domination through surveillance and data mining. mutual assistance and a general sense of solidarity through anonymity. For cryptoanarchists. but toolsbecoming-weapons against that scopic regime. use camouflage. The mask de-individualizes actors and 49 . The mask and the black bloc Perhaps the most recent public ‘face’ of secrecy in US activism is the black bloc. 127). Benefits for participants include evasion of surveillance. Programs such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) create untraceable interactions (communication.8 At the very least. During the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. p. of cowardice. free speech is not the right to be heard. it misses secrecy as form. We can return to Deleuze and Guattari here to elaborate. Not simply reducible to being invisible or disappearing. if not the whole counterglobalization movement (Albertani 2002). the media spectacle cannot fix the meaning of the mask. You have become imperceptible. Secrecy is not primarily defined by its interior ! it seeks its outside. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 POPULAR SECRECY consists of constructing codes and ciphers to shroud messages in secrecy. as action. as secretion. as imperceptible. clandestine’ (1977. While the cryptoanarchists tend towards the libertarian and technophilic stream.

I highlight black bloc not to debate the merits of the tactic. now you are one of us’ . The Zapatistas’ trademark balaclava is a powerful signifier that allows anyone to becomeimperceptible collectively. produces an immediate collectivity without personality.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. one which ‘wants to take possession of belonging itself’. Continental Drift Seminar. 89). As a tactic or ‘gesture’ (Agamben 2000). This mask operates as a global image that anchors their performative statement. the collective mask is nothing new. where squatters took to masking themselves as a way of preventing identification by the police (Katsiaficis 1997). More recently. p. The experience of having people you don’t know at your back is often cited by black blocers as a powerful moment of solidarity. What would a different politics of masking look like? Becomingimperceptible constitutes what Giorgio Agamben calls the ‘whatever singularity’: a community without identity. NY. November 2006. a workshop from Pdero Lasch’s Naturalizations Series (2002 ! present). 16Beaver. which ‘declines any identity and conditions of belonging’ (2000. black bloc can be traced back at least to the Autonomen in early 1980s Germany. but to acknowledge that it is the most visible example of secret activism. as a direct action tactic. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 50 C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S Author in mediated mirror mask. Anonymity during public action goes back centuries. performing as part of ‘Indigenous Immigrants’. 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. ‘You are no longer you.

this public secrecy infuses modern societies. emphasizing instead the collaborative and anonymous production of textual meaning. During the World Economic Forum demonstrations in 2002 and again at the Republican National Convention in 2004. the Zapatista balaclava is intolerable to the State. ‘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. we can unmoor it. Anonymity and secrecy in themselves have no necessary political allegiances or effects. however. The State abhors masks that are not its own. As Agamben argues. not just left to the State and its surrogates. This is precisely the point. 239! 42).9 But just as the State wishes to keep all the masks and to unmask others. where these revelationrituals are performed as a matter of public policy and media spectacle. including Chiapas. pp. 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). But instead of disempowering him. Masks are signs and practices to be struggled over. 239). Taussig isolates a fascinating component of masking. 238! 46). The mask donned as nahual is often one of an animal. and not just when its riot police wear armored disguises (Taussig 2002. this public act proliferated a magical force (in the subsequent re-maskings performed by the Zapatistas). The Ku Klux Klan’s hoods and robes.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 POPULAR SECRECY (see EZLN 1998). reappropriating it strategically as a type of minor secrecy. p. pp. p. Not all collective masks or popular secrecies are to be valorized. as well as secret organizational form. Originating from the Nahuatl language indigenous to many parts of Latin America. The state and its masks Much like the infinite secretion of anonymity spurred on by black bloc. namely the practice of nahual (2002. Taussig alerts us to the mystery-making impact of any exposure done by the State. the artist collective Guerilla Girls donned ape masks to de-individualize authorship. The Zapatistas remind us that the State is always masked. He analyzes how the Mexican government ‘unmasked Marcos’ (the Zapatista subcomandante) at a news conference by revealing a photo of his ‘true face’ (2002. A decade or so ago. nahual refers to both disguise and co-essence (or familiar). obviously resulted in widespread atrocities. but the 51 . signifying not simply the negation of one’s identity. So while we cannot simply affirm masking. While we might accept these practices as part of ‘primitive societies’. It wishes to make itself imperceptible while eliminating other instances of becoming-imperceptible. They also worked in direct response to the individualized mask of the superhero (whose selfinvolved brooding and existential crises are enhanced with the disguise). 89).

gazing. but mask-to-mask. where communicating and becomingperceptible are quickly turning into internalized commands. Deleuze and Guattari also link becomingimperceptible to becoming-animal). to give it proper identities and interiorities. The State. 248). To reappropriate this becoming through the preservation and proliferation of masking is indispensable for the current conjuncture. At minimum secrecy tells us that we do not always need to seek visibility and recognition to legitimize our politics. As the State appropriates secrecy. in seeking to monopolize the power of masking. neither as publicity’s negation nor as spectacular domination. masking. As Bey puts it. Becoming itself is becoming the property of the State.11 Secrecy’s gifts Secrecy does not belong to the State. To paraphrase Michel Foucault. but maybe not now or here. The coming politics of secrecy might involve a confrontation that is not face-to-face. Deleuze . not simply utopic withdrawals. At least there is less need for recognition. Why is this important? Because. In a surveillance/control society. 256). it is ‘dangerous’ (1997. Perhaps today. . Why bother to ‘face’ a power that has operated through. p. it seeks to appropriate becoming as such.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. Identity. which as detailed above is already part of collective experiments. becoming-imperceptible. and partially become.10 Masking. of becoming-animal (interestingly. it is not that publicity is necessarily ‘bad’. ‘the New Left never really believed in its own existence till it saw itself on the Evening News’ (1985). p. It has a positivity of its own. what does popular secrecy give us? . Masking is an act of shape-shifting. existence comes with the exodus from this spectacle. 132). as Taussig argues. Our task is to map those hazards and possibilities. This active secrecy is a ‘preventive resistance’ that prompts our concluding question. and exposure have their usefulness. like everything. for a conferral of identity by the State and its vision. p. and the State’s ability to see. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 52 C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S transformation into another being. perceptibility. and unmasking. desires ‘to control transformation . The nahual fuses the power of secrecy with the power of transformation. and reappropriating secrecy are affirmative gestures of disappearance. the State attempts to appropriate nahual for itself. Publicity is not necessarily the best strategy. and appropriate becomings’ (2002. . Beyond the defensive tactic. a clandestine action group or affinity web operates in a self-valorizing manner ! beyond naming. simulation and spectacle? It would only provide the same spectacle with a new object of representation and an easy target of inveigling. . but.

nor a valorization of coping strategies. This right would be counterposed to the right to privacy. clandestinity is mutual-aid. which would like to appropriate becoming for itself. in the service of an exodus. this tactic would parallel the public’s ‘right to know’ with a ‘right to be unknown’. This public affirmation could take a liberal. secrecy has long been recognized for its value to dissidents. 175. but is used by activist groups for their own survival. Secrecy as strategy is not simply a provisional instrument for attaining goals ! it offers a rethinking of secrecy for any future social arrangements. not just concentrated in the hands and boxes of the privileged. It is the task of what Michel De 53 . A need. Secrecy here. means inserting imperceptibility into circuits of control. A public affirmation of secrecy is not a dialectical trick. We can thus tie this active secrecy to the customary jus resistentiae. Currently. affirming the powers of secrecy is a defensive argument. Becoming-imperceptible creates the ‘whatever singularity’: a community without identity. then. safeguarding future forms of life on a line of flight. the right of resistance. A right to secrecy would change the tenor of freedom from privacy’s passive. p. 42! 3). Military strategic analyses even acknowledge this. It has historically been a necessary component of dissident culture. As the black bloc and Zapatistas demonstrate. 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. 76) can now form a confluence. pp. Similar to the cryptoanarchist claim. From guerrilla manuals to Edward Luttwak’s (1987) highly influential counterinsurgency work. a tactic that promotes collectivity. namely in a call for the right to secrecy. Any collective future will need to acknowledge secrecy’s lineage so as not to lapse into the domination of pure visibility.12 The importance of secrecy as a defensive stand is noted even within political theory indebted to publicity and the public sphere (Squires 2002). 1995b). Secrecy becomes a circuitbreaker. like Bey’s will to disappearance. individualized zone to an interactive exteriority of relations. One need only think here of how ‘security culture’ is a term not reserved for Homeland Security immersion into everyday life. juridical form. entwined as the latter is with the western subject of self-possessed individuality and interiority. which wants to take possession of belonging itself. This imperceptible collectivity is intolerable to the State. for a public affirmation of secrecy: a demand for its extension to all sectors. .POPULAR SECRECY Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. Virno 2004. It is a reawakening of ancestral customs whose trajectories in ‘secret corners and cracks’ (Wilson 1998. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 . p. suggests we create ‘vacuoles of noncommunication’ (1995a. 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). the right to resistance (cf.

transparency. even illness. p. J. one whose potentials we are just beginning to glimpse. masquerading alternative. 304). . Rather than counter secrecy with revelatory truth. it cannot monopolize strategy. Notes 1 2 Portions of this essay have been published in Bratich. Taussig writes. for an analysis of this movement from an autonomist perspective see my 2005. . that we have to associate with the will to knowledge’ (2003. including ‘that most elusive trick of all. figures. but to lay foundations for something along the lines of that gay science Nietzsche proposed as its critical. but an occulted presence.) . (2006b). It can also be read as a part 2 to my recent article in this journal (Bratich 2006a). For Michael Taussig. and while the State is a dominant experimenter. p. Wilson 2005.54 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. the ‘very idea of a secret behind a fac¸ade is not just plain silly but sign of another sort of philosophic despair. the magic of mimesis ! at heart. justly. (2003. Previously taboo topics like secession were regularly discussed both humorously and as serious options (Flores-Williams 2005a. This attentiveness to tricks. a fraud. cultural studies can become a strategic craft that enhances its capacities to remake its context. As the White House Cabinet was going through a shake-up so activists rethought previous tactics and sought out new techniques of resistance. These are experimental times. let us perform a just revelation. 306). one that is worthy of the secret. Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. 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’. and maneuvers is polemological and entails a commitment to secrecy as strategy. p. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 Coda: occultural studies as gay science Secrecy is thus not an absence. not to further the mystifying effects of unmasking that the Enlightenment. to the use of tricks to out-trick other tricks . yet most necessary for that ceaseless surfacing of appearances we defer to as truth’ (2003. 2005b. project seems to assume. By turning an eye towards secrecy. We need to pay attention.

In addition. SpyKids. Rosicrucian Eye-in-the-Pyramid). headed by Poindexter. Perhaps it was conjured away. once again demonstrating that reactionary forces (with their cellular operational 55 . 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). was the title of a Spring 2004 special issue of the Massachusetts School of Law Journal. This seemingly new problematization of secrecy and technology is bound up with the history of cryptography. The logo ‘disappeared’ from the office’s website. 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 Reproduction’. from the secret agent (SpyGame. public relations’ value of ‘getting ahead of the story’ is an example. civilian and military think-tanks and citizen snoops). Singh 1999). p. Davis 1998. The logo was comprised of an eye-in-the-pyramid shining a diffuse spotlight on the globe. Angel. The Agency). 24.POPULAR SECRECY 3 Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. We can cite here the TV shows dealing with occult or supernatural themes (Charmed. And Mrs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Recruit. a number of films have taken secrecy as their subject matter. 1968). and the agency shortly followed suit. And in this visible face is one of the most well-known occult symbols around (the Freemasonic. This enigmatic phrase. Mr. Perhaps the most blatant example of the secret becoming visible as strategy is the short career of the Information Awareness Office logo (DARPA. itself seemingly everywhere. 74) (much like the perspectives taken by counterinsurgents when they study and mimic guerrilla and network-centric warfare). perhaps it still haunts other departments. with the phrase ‘scientia est potentia’ (knowledge is power) So here we have the public face of the will-to-publicize. whose link between revealing and concealing is embedded in a variety of codes and technologies (see Butler & Keeney 2001. From Hell. involves positioning one’s view precisely in another actor’s view (2000. it is an occult symbol for those who practice this form of symbology. and that it would continue its operations under different departments. This repressive law was later challenged but not overturned in court. Teen Witch Mad Mad House). goal of Total Information Awareness through integration of technologies. XXX. Regardless of the significance one wants to attach to it. National Treasure). The Skulls. It is important to note that this legal action was carried out by the Klan. the face of desire for total openness and absolute observability. Smith) to the secret society (The Order. 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). as Giorgio Agamben defines Guy Debord’s work. and with secret services (Alias. 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. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 4 5 6 7 8 9 Strategic criticism. In addition. Also.

(1977) The Origin of German Tragic Drama. New Political Science. As Luttwak. no. Cultural Studies. via massive data analysis and surveillance. Arendt. 20! 25. Black Blocs. July. Benjamin. London. C.56 C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. 2002) have been effectively and deliberately harnessing the strategic power of secrecy. much to the dismay and detriment of progressive forces. Karl Von Clausewitz. and revolutionaries become secret agents’ (1998 p. and other strategists have pointed out. G. J.A. 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 provocative. Eliminating surprise seems to be the new grand goal of State/counterinsurgency force. The Novel Intelligence Project provides one example. Essays and Reflections. New York. 20. 11). no. is precisely geared towards predicting and controlling surprise. 24. This model writ large would be a matter of rooting out and eliminating unpredictability as such. J.Z. namely because the tactic is vulnerable to infiltration and provocation. (2000) Means without End. Lumpen. as instrument for a strategy of tension). Benjamin. The lead character wears a Guy Fawkes mask. The spring 2006 film release of V for Vendetta turns this masked antagonism into a spectacular epic. leaderless resistance strategies. 4. H. After 9/11. References Agamben. pp. 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. ‘secret agents become revolutionaries. The NIP. (2005) ‘Swarmcession!’. (2006a) ‘Public Secrecy and Immanent Security: A Strategic Analysis’. 96. pp. State masking is cited as a reason to criticize black bloc. the key objective in the intelligence community is to prevent the ‘strategic surprise’. W. The black bloc has brought to light Debord’s assessment that in a society of the spectacle and secrecy. in Illuminations. Albertani. (2002) ‘Paint It Black. 4! 5. From ‘who is behind the mask’ to ‘who is behind the masking’. (1985) T. Bratich. . Notes on Politics. 579! 596. trans. secrecy is attached to the element of surprise. New York. pp. vol. H. At stake here for strategists is the element of surprise. nos.. W. Harcourt. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 10 11 12 networks. Autonomedia. New Left Books. Tute Bianche and Zapatistas in the Anti-globalization Movement’. Bey. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis. 493! 511. J. Brace & World. and insurgent manuals like Invisible Resistance to Tyranny. vol. ed. Osborne. Bratich. whose role in the Gunpowder Plot has created significant speculation about his identity (as agent. (1968) ‘Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. However.

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