All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage

All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage

All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage

All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage

Synopsis

The world of international politics has recently been rocked by a seemingly endless series of scandals involving auditory surveillance: the NSA's warrantless wiretapping is merely the most sensational example of what appears to be a universal practice today. What is the source of this generalized principle of eavesdropping?

All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage traces the long history of moles from the Bible, through Jeremy Bentham's "panacoustic" project, all the way to the intelligence-gathering network called "Echelon." Together with this archeology of auditory surveillance, Szendy offers an engaging account of spycraft's representations in literature (Sophocles, Shakespeare, Joyce, Kafka, Borges), opera (Monteverdi, Mozart, Berg), and film (Lang, Hitchcock, Coppola, De Palma).

Following in the footsteps of Orpheus, the book proposes a new concept of "overhearing" that connects the act of spying to an excessive intensification of listening. At the heart of listening Szendy locates the ear of the Other that manifests itself as the originary division of a "split-hearing" that turns the drive for mastery and surveillance into the death drive.

Excerpt

Are they listening to me?

Do they hear me? Do they receive me? Do they spy on me when I speak? When I confide secrets? When I share an idea or an opinion?

That is not possible—I tell myself as I try to reason with myself. Why would they keep me under surveillance like that? There is surely nothing that could lead me to believe that I am being listened to—that I am being overheard?

Of course, reading the newspapers, I encounter the recurrent and often disquieting signs of the unheard-of development that auditory surveillance seems to be undergoing in its most violently arbitrary forms. These include the phonetapping scandals in the Élysée Palace under Mitterrand’s presidency, whose trials are in full swing as I am writing now, and more recently, the one that targeted the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. Or consider the case of “Echelon,” the system of espionage that could allegedly intercept any communication circulating in the world. Created in 1947 by the United States and Great Britain, Echelon is a network born of the Cold War that the . . .

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