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

pp. a style of warfare that fuses together social. It is this revelation-management that I explore here. a fog of mourning and depression settled on many social justice activists and anti-Bush citizens. Why? Because the War on Terror is defined by its immersion in everyday life. political strategies. at least since the recognized importance of Gramsci’s notion of ‘war of position’. 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. 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. This current media environment is rife with public secrecy or what I elsewhere (2006a) call ‘spectacular secrecy’ (where publicity of the covert is strategic). to borrow the military language. especially where cultural studies is concerned. but first let us contextualize the argument within the current conjuncture. as a number of 43 . Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 tendency that has taken center stage in post-9/11 information warfare. ideological. that operates directly on ‘biopower’ (2004. or as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue.POPULAR SECRECY Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. As a contextual practice. 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). 51! 62). For instance. the military has accomplished what cultural studies has tried to do for decades: bring politics to everyday life. 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. of a ‘full spectrum activism’. one that would transform the reactive components of cultural studies into a project that actively creates and strategizes. The Revolution in Military Affairs has implemented ‘full spectrum dominance’. This miasma of defeatism2 transformed into a revived will to resist. counterinsurgency manuals and studies are important sources for understanding the games of power and resistance. Cultural studies and the polemological: strategy in neo-new times After the 2 November 2004 US election. This would be one component. as the lines of terror/war travel along the most mundane spaces and practices. In other words. Cultural studies ought to be leading conceptual innovations in the post-9/ 11 context. has been constitutive of cultural studies. cultural studies continually restrategizes according to changing conditions. cultural.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. November 2006. I highlight black bloc not to debate the merits of the tactic. Continental Drift Seminar. a workshop from Pdero Lasch’s Naturalizations Series (2002 ! present). performing as part of ‘Indigenous Immigrants’. one which ‘wants to take possession of belonging itself’. This mask operates as a global image that anchors their performative statement. ‘You are no longer you. where squatters took to masking themselves as a way of preventing identification by the police (Katsiaficis 1997). NY. As a tactic or ‘gesture’ (Agamben 2000). as a direct action tactic. the collective mask is nothing new. produces an immediate collectivity without personality. which ‘declines any identity and conditions of belonging’ (2000. now you are one of us’ . 16Beaver. 89). What would a different politics of masking look like? Becomingimperceptible constitutes what Giorgio Agamben calls the ‘whatever singularity’: a community without identity.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. The experience of having people you don’t know at your back is often cited by black blocers as a powerful moment of solidarity. 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. More recently. 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. p. The Zapatistas’ trademark balaclava is a powerful signifier that allows anyone to becomeimperceptible collectively. Anonymity during public action goes back centuries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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