Academic journal article New Formations

Aesthetics of the Secret

Academic journal article New Formations

Aesthetics of the Secret

Article excerpt

The secret itself is much more beautiful than its revelation Epigraph to Jill Magid, Becoming Tarden

Since June 2013, the US National Security Agency's secrets have been spilled on a daily basis. They were revealed in The Guardian and other newspapers, on TV, in the blogosphere and on social networking sites; hard to miss, one might say. What would it mean, therefore, to suggest that we have not fully seen or heard those revelations? In re-igniting a familiar debate about the balance between state security and individual privacy, the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have stalled on matters of regulation and reform which treat secrecy, securitisation and surveillance largely in procedural terms (whether a warrant is needed; the difference between data and metadata; whether US citizens as well as foreign nationals can be spied upon; how long data can be retained etc). Suggested government reform misses the problem--far from curtailing mass surveillance, it might very well be 'permanently entrenching it in American law' (1)--and a direct look at the politics of secrecy and the value of the secret at a geopolitical level has had an oddly depoliticising, perhaps even obfuscating, effect.

This article will configure secrets as subject to and the subject of radical politics rather than regulation. It is a modest attempt to interrupt the containment strategies of communicative capitalism/democracy evident in the current debate by giving attention less to a hermeneutics of the secret, which set up the secret as a problem to be solved through revelation and interpretation, and more to an aesthetics of the secret. Its premise is that we might be better able to form a radical political response to the 'Snowden event' by situating the secret 'itself' within a distributive regime and imagining what collectivities and subjectivities the secret makes available (rather than those that it closes down). (2) As a central element of this speculative argument, I want to look at the secret not only as it figures in current affairs but also in artworks by Trevor Paglen and Jill Magid, an analysis of which will help us shift from a purely hermeneutic consideration of the secret, interested in questions of meaning and interpretive challenges, to an aesthetics concerned with the distributive as well as affective force of the secret. These works place secrecy, rather than the more individualistic notion of privacy, in the foreground. They help us to stay with the secret as secret, instead of moving too quickly towards revelation and reform. They present secrets as processes operating within a particular delimitation of space, time, the visible, the sayable, the audible, and political experience--what Jacques Ranciere calls the 'distribution of the sensible'. (3) I suggest that the Snowden event had all the markings of a properly political redistribution of the sensible; but that it has been contained by dominant presentations of the problem.

I argue that in order to mount an enduring political response, we need to consider subjectivities available to us after Snowden. On a collective level, this might entail thinking and identifying horizontally under the banner of the 'datatariat'. I use this term to indicate a 'class' encouraged to make use of and be used as data; a mass connected through data access, production, accumulation, and exploitation. For the datatariat, data is the prime currency, vector, commodity, lifeblood. It is the means employed by third parties to evaluate the data subject's worth but it can also serve as the basis for a politics that puts first not privacy, but rather a secrecy that interferes with the dominant distribution of the sensible. In the later stages of the article, I will turn to Edouard Glissant's notion of a 'right to opacity'. As a way of presenting a subject who does not comply with the demand to be knowable, understood and transparent, Glissant's 'right to opacity' chimes with the willing turn from cognition to aesthetics identified in the art of Paglen and Magid. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.