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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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