Friday, March 20, 2015

Seminar 2 Position Statement: Dr Clare Birchall (Institute of North American Studies)

A Secrecy of the Left
Secrecy and its productive possibilities have been obscured both by the fear that secrecy is always a gateway to micro-fascism and a moral attachment to disclosure. Recognizing this could open up a new way of understanding the political and moral alignments of concealment and disclosure. Should the radical Left jump on the bandwagon of Liberal (and neoliberal) transparency as a way to instigate change, or should it experiment with a politics of the secret?

When referring to a secrecy of the Left, I am thinking of different spaces, subjectivities and relations opened up by critical theories of, and aesthetic experiments with secrecy. For instance, Jacques Derrida has a ‘taste for the secret’ (2001), but not the common, contextual secret that hides somewhere waiting to be revealed. He is interested, rather, in the unconditional secret: ‘an experience that does not make itself available to information’ (1992: 201). Eschewing the hermeneutic drive and circumventing attempts to anticipate revelation, the unconditional secret within a text should be thought of as an encounter with the Other through which a responsibility of reading is made possible (and impossible). The secret, here, is fashioned in a productive capacity, in the service of ethics. In terms of democracy, Derrida defends the secret qua singularity, seeing it as an alternative to ‘the demand that everything be paraded in the public square’ (2001: 59). ‘If a right to the secret is not maintained,’ he writes, ‘we are in a totalitarian space’ (2001: 59). In light of such a formulation, we should be concerned for those who do not want to adhere to the dominant doctrines of democracy, including the doctrine of transparency. The subject of democracy is not simply one who is asked to be transparent to the state and act on transparency but also, in the guise of Derrida’s non self-present subject, one that is constituted by a singularity that prevents full capitulation to the demands of transparency.

For further inspiration, we can draw on the politico-aesthetic imagination of two collectives that span both ends of the twentieth century: Acéphale (1936-9) and Tiqqun (1999-2001). Georges Bataille wanted to ‘use secrecy as a weapon rather than a retreat’ (Lütticken, 2006: 32) and imagined how a secret society named Acéphale (which translates as ‘Headless’) could regenerate or revolutionise society at large by instigating the kind of unorthodox values he championed throughout his oeuvre including expenditure, risk, and loss. In their ‘Cybernetic Hypothesis’, the collective, Tiqqun, who were highly influenced by Bataille among others, call for ‘interference’, haze’ or ‘fog’ as the ‘prime vector of revolt’ (2001/9). They see opacity as a means to challenge the political project of cybernetics and ‘the tyranny of transparency which control imposes’ (2001/9).

We can also look to certain technological practices that question the promise and probe the political economy of openness. Take, for example, Freedom Box and TOR, which both, in different ways, try to facilitate secure networks and online anonymity; TrackMeNot, a browser extension that aims to derail surveillance and data-profiling by flooding engines with random search terms; the (now defunct) Web 2.0 Suicide Machine that scrambled one’s online identity by erasing individual data and friendship links on social media sites; or the decentralised hacktivist culture that connects under the title Anonymous.

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