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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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Recent events compel us to revise our conceptions of publicity. We are witnessing a regime-oftruth change. How can cultural studies recognize its own commitment to transparency and publicity. including one Nixon researcher who noted the irony that we have a ‘Deep Throat who can’t talk’ (Kincaid 2005. activism. and friends) publicly exposed himself in Vanity Fair as the shadowy source for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s mythic Washington Post series. but feared that this was not to be (Greenberg 2005). 1 January 2007. who taught courses at the University of Illinois in which students researched DT’s identity. Hoff 2005. spectacle. This essay explores one such tactic and commitment. Waas 2005). one of American political history’s grandest mysteries was solved. cf. justly. and ultimately neutralize. Former FBI agent W.tandf. 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. Sandoval 2005.1080/09502380601046956 . public sphere. No. numerous bloggers and broadcast pundits were skeptical over the revelation. masks In June 2005. including William Gaines. and activist strategy. cultural studies can become a strategic craft that enhances its capacities to remake its context. pp. 21. Mark Felt (via his lawyer. that Watergate template for enigmatic revealers. to secrecy 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. Finally. occult. and make it alterable? By turning an eye towards secrecy. family. Deep Throat (DT). one that requires us to rethink our own notions and attachments to truth. himself was finally revealed. Indeed. Keywords secrecy. The Deep Throat event is just a more visible example of a Cultural Studies Vol. all speculation and sleuthing could be put to rest. secrecy. power’s machinations. Regardless of whether Felt is DT.co.Jack Bratich POPULAR SECRECY AND OCCULTURAL Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. strategy. perhaps we can experiment with new techniques. but intensified and redistributed it.uk/journals DOI: 10. insofar as it is tied to revealing and concealing. 42 ! 58 ISSN 0950-2386 print/ISSN 1466-4348 online – 2007 Taylor & Francis http://www. what is important about this event is the fact that the moment of revelation did not end secrecy. namely the faith in publicity as a truth-telling strategy to expose.

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

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

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

From the CIA to the KKK. Jodi Dean. in Publicity’s Secret (2002). A number of theoretical tools are available in this ‘just revelation’ project. that this conception has political value. revelations do not eliminate the secret. 31. p.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. and as political question of democracy? How do we theorize secrecy when theory is etymologically tied to looking. disinformation has been endemic to public secrecy. but preserve and extend it. in redressing the concentration of state secrets. The phrase ‘secrecy is everywhere’6 best captures this dynamic. p. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 46 C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S cryptographic. as activist tactic. Dean argues. It is crucial. in the service of domination. From its traditional roots. But this notion of a cryptocracy depends on assuming publicity’s secrecy: the form of an envelope/box. while publicity is agreement and consensus. In multiple senses. privileging the visible and observable? We can take our cue from Walter Benjamin. of special interest power that blocks consensus). for instance. This version of publicity entails the following values: a faith in exposure. Within public occulture. 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. then. She argues that democracy is typically equated with publicity and with the elimination of secrecy (as a domain of self-serving corruption. but a revelation which does justice to it’ (Benjamin 1977. Disclosure might be part of secrecy’s game. as popular cultural phenomenon. What happens when secrecy becomes visible: as spectacular media event. 2). of elitist exclusivity. and I agree. not an end to it. a becomingpopular of secrecy that is not a public execution? In political activism. that is publicity’s secret. and a desire for revelatory truth at the heart of the ideal of public reason. the typical assumption is that secrecy is a tool for power. Secrecy is illegitimate and nonconsensual. quoted in Taussig 2002. a rational subject endowed with the right-to-know. contextualizes the issue of secrecy within modernity and US political history. She does justice to the secret by firmly establishing it as publicity’s internal limit and convincingly argues that there can be no public without a disavowed secrecy. is there a secret that is not publicity’s secret? Can we only think of secrecy’s activities within the determination made by publicity? Is there a different route. The delicate art of popularizing secrecy often involves publication of devices to deter the unworthy. and say analysis means telling a ‘truth that is not a matter of exposure which destroys the secret. for instance. I want to add to this discussion by asking. and it is worth briefly summarizing them here. and disclosure as its . and kept by elites or the State as a means of maintaining hierarchical exclusions. secrecy is a sign of pernicious hidden agendas. Alongside the messages for the initiated are decoys and red herrings for investigators and general audiences.

or secretion). but the ‘skilled revelation of skilled concealment’ (2003. I would like to suggest that revelation is precisely what the secret intends. What if we began to think of cryptocracy in other ways. both secret influence (the way secret societies affect social changes) and the propagation of the secret (its spread and leakage. not despite its exposure but on account of it. 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. p. cryptic book Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1998) (originally titled Treatise on Secrets. p. an anthropologist. Taussig. absorbing critique at the moment of publicity. The political public secret orbits around revelation-management. Guy Debord in his short. preventive revelations appropriate the power of the challenge. unsettling a fundamental assumption among oppositional forces. p. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) break secrecy down into three components: (1) as the contents in a box or envelope (the common sense of 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. 272). in other words part of secrecy is secretion’ (2003. then.Downloaded by [University of Minnesota Libraries. Debord’s point is that our obsession with secrecy as a box to be opened is itself part of the spectacle. secrecy is always in negation. p. if not mystical’ (2003. 306). It is not skilled concealment that characterizes the power of secrecy. (2) as an action. like from the perspective of secrecy itself? As publicity’s other. Twin Cities] at 10:27 29 May 2012 POPULAR SECRECY opposite and vanquisher. Debord compels us to think secrecy outside of its commonsensical status as opposite of a public. a distraction from the myriad ways generalized secrecy permeates the political body. The fact and mechanisms of secrecy are exposed. and not to be confused with the original Society of the Spectacle [1970]) introduces the concept of ‘generalized secrecy’. publicity may no longer be an effective political force 47 . like Deep Throat). namely the belief that the publicity of secrets is inherently a progressive force. examines shamanistic trickery and magickal rites but not as a way of describing exotic Others. but we also need to find analytic tools that can move secrecy beyond publicity’s shadow. not just about it? Dean’s deconstructive work on the limits of publicity is a good start. Magick is thus effective. Making this argument entails a shift in focus. 297). (3) as the secret perception of the secret (shadowy revealers. In the US political imaginary. For example. never given the powers of negation. How can we make the covert productive? What can be learned from the secret. we can pursue secrecy as a strategy. Michael Taussig elaborates their second point: ‘To the extent that the secret can be and is revealed. but in ways that only enhance those mechanisms. 273): the ‘success of such ritual is not in concealing but in revealing trickery’ (2003. especially in exposing the very techniques of concealment.7 Rather than surrender to a totalitarian state of secrecy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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