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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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