Good Old NeonLeaks: Transparency in Politics and Literature

The WikiLeaks story is dramatic on so many levels, with a character at center stage, Julian Assange, worthy of Shakespeare: accused of sexual impropriety and putting lives at risk, touting an idealistic mission of transforming global geopolitics by turning them inside-out, inspiring the creation of a hall of mirror-sites and spawning cyber-attacks on his behalf and counterattacks from all corners. I’m not sure which Act we’re in right now. I am sympathetic to many of the ostensible aims of WikiLeaks in terms of opening and framing a discussion about the actual motives of U.S. foreign policy, and/or making for a more accurate assessment of body counts, especially innocent civilian deaths, for instance, which may have been covered up in Afghanistan and so forth. But that’s not exactly what I’m interested in pursuing here. Rather, what I want to start to explore is this idea of transparency that has become part of our common parlance–at once meme, metaphor, value, tool, call to action, and presumption–and I want to initiate a conversation about its pervasiveness, its relationship to selfhood and privacy, as well as why we are (rightly, I think) so conflicted about it.

The conflict is this: transparency is desirable in many situations–when it comes to how charitable organizations spend donations, when it comes to what corporate lobbyist met with what senator and how many times, as well as what their voting record was. But things get a little stickier when it comes to the self. How many of us, for instance, want to live here?

Perhaps I should wallpaper with WikiLeaks documents?



While this house looks isolated in the picture, presumably tucked away in the woods away from prying eyes, the question demands that we think about transplanting the very same structure into the midst of others, and furthermore that those others dwell in similar conditions. In other words, imagine a town like this (“Dogville,” sort of). Most, I think, would object, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we have this notion of the self as a bastion of privacy, a self to which we attribute a proprietary relationship. To some degree, perhaps, we are all Hamlets, rebuffing the Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns of the world.

Hamlet
Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of
me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my
mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to
the top of my compass: and there is much music,
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot
you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me.

Hamlet famously defends an inner sanctum, a “mystery” to which none but he can ever be privy. And yet there is paradox here, insofar as Hamlet’s soliloquies are precisely where he makes himself most transparent, lays bare his consciousness, and sets forth as one ideal for literary character the full disclosure of consciousness, even as he seeks to lay bare the true motives of Polonius, Claudius, and his own mother, co-conspirators. In short, Hamlet becomes at once both a mouthpiece for transparency and one of its most ardent critics.

How thoroughly do we want to know ourselves, do we want to envision the possibility of being known? There is something undeniably exhilarating about the “Bodies” exhibitions, which set forth our mortal coils with all of the coils intact, intricate and elegant and raw, unadorned by the makeup that is skin, the lip-gloss comprised by lips. Yet is there not something disturbing, also, in such transcendental nakedness, such baldness, figurehood, brute physicality? And what attributes of humanity are lost or effaced when we foreground bodies this way–I, for one, a brute materialist, dare not speak of a “soul,” but involuntarily in even glancing at the picture below I am tallying a loss, a repleteness that is departed, a Cartesian upper deck that was once teeming with vivacity and nuance, with all the dynamism  that is recalled by the dance still resounding in these bodies.

Can we know the dancer (or spectator) from the dance?

Similarly, there’s a part of me that wants to go gaga and applauds the breakthroughs in neuroscience of the past few decades that afford us an unprecedented view both of the physical landscape and the neural correlates of behavior in fMRI and other imaging techniques, for instance. But what happens as we become more and more transparent, when our frontal lobes and limbic systems begin to look like the bodies above, except while we are still alive and thinking/feeling? You might not object to a full-body scanner at the airport–might prefer it, in fact, to a full-body groping–but how do you feel if your thoughts are as readily exposed as your underwear? Sheer speculative fiction, for today…pun intended.

Tomorrow's Facebook status update?

In more recent literature, David Foster Wallace contends with some of these problems in “Good Old Neon,” a story which I’ve had occasion to reread several times of late. Wallace’s narrator announces from the outset, “Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people. mostly to be liked or admired.” Later in the story, the narrator alludes to the “fraudulence paradox,” whereby the more fraudulent one is, the more one tries to cover one’s tracks, convince others that one is sincere, i.e. anything but fraudulent. One of the most compelling aspects of Wallace’s story is the way in which it positions and implicates the reader as it enacts the very problem that it is describing—its narrator appears to be exhaustively revealing to the reader and revels in confessing the ways that he has deceived Gustafson, his therapist, depicting him as well-intentioned but a goof, lacking in “enough insight or firepower to find some way to really help me[.]” In denigrating Gustafson, Wallace’s narrator cozies up to us, but it’s readily apparent that his rhetorical techniques might as easily be seen to apply to this story; he declares, “I’m putting all this in such a long, rushing, clumsy way to try to convey the way I remember it…” The account is peppered with seeds of doubt, of self-awareness of its own fictionality and our desire to transcend this. To take merely one instance, early on he reveals that he is dead, and ponders the absurdity of our “even hearing this” and so forth.

Briefly I must  mention “confession,” which entangles this issue in a whole set of theological concerns and precursors,  making me wonder about our inheritance of Judeo-Christian traditions and the role they play in all of this. To what degree do we fetishize transparency, and further how much of this is playing out a secular version of a Judeo-Christian hand where God already sees all the cards?

It would also be inexcusable for me not to mention at some point the great film “Liar, Liar,” which makes Jim Carrey’s character, against his will, that “one man picked out of ten thousand” that Hamlet alludes to. Carrey’s character gets turned inside-out, his depths plumbed and his “inner mystery” veritably paraded out on a catwalk.

There are myriad other angles that I should deal with but can’t here, for reasons of time and space: limited versus omniscient point of view, reality tv, online privacy, Habermas’s notion of transparent communication versus the postmodern skepticism toward the very possibility of such, “Machiavellian intelligence” in primates, i.e. how deception and concealment are intrinsic features of chimpanzee behavior, and on WikiLeaks itself, the compelling argument made by Daniel Drezner that the current state of affairs will lead to an unfortunate backlash with more opacity rather than transparency: http://chronicle.com/article/Why-WikiLeaks-Is-Bad-for/125628/.

Getting back to Wallace, though…I don’t want to give away too much about where the story winds up, but suffice it to say that his grapplings with paradox, authenticity, and genuine emotion reach their apotheosis in the last few pages of “Good Old Neon.” I’m pretty sure he’s tipping his hat to Shakespeare in the final moments, thus situating himself in an age-old conversation.

And I’m fascinated, lastly, in the metaphorical implications of neon in this context. Wallace equates neon with–if not authenticity itself–at least something approximating it toward the end of the story. Neon in itself is a colorless gas, whose bright properties are evoked only with the infusion of electricity. It is at once something utterly natural, a trace element found in stars and air alike,  yet representative of all that is artificial–the giant signs that blaze like fires might have in primitive times, signaling human gathering, and now signaling bars, gas stations, strip malls, city life, things open. Transparent it is invisible…and yet can be caught solely in the transparency of tubes. As a sort of paradoxical element, then, it embodies the many paradoxes, contradictions, and ambivalences that arise as we confront the timeless, urgent issue of transparency.

Good old neon self-storage

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24 thoughts on “Good Old NeonLeaks: Transparency in Politics and Literature

  1. I say, make transparency scalable. The more power something has, the more transparent (non-private and accountable) it should be (I’m speaking here about corporations and nation-states). The less powerful, the more private it can be. (Measuring power in terms of % of GNP or amount of land owned or whatever.)

    Or something like that. This is probably impractical on some level, but I’ll stand by it for now.

    INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE!!!!!

    • I like the impetus behind the idea, Adam, like taxing environmental emissions. But I’m sure you can anticipate the challenges. Power, in spite of your admirable attempts to quantify it, is extremely difficult (impossible?) to measure, not to mention that it’s a moving target. And further, power and transparency tend to operate in a kind of recursive interplay. One of power’s effects is to be able to control exposure, while one of the effects of transparency is a vulnerability–feeling exposed, open to interpretation, to misunderstanding and perhaps simply to harm.

      Then again, the powerful can be transparent about their motives without concern about vulnerability at times; I’m thinking here of the footage I saw last night of some seals that were attacking each other. The alpha male seal, hoarding females, was brazen in its display of power, while the lower status seals had to resort to subtler, more deceptive tactics.

      In short, I’m not convinced that we really know what we want (or have a consistent enough vision) when it comes to transparency such that we could adjudicate the scalability you propose. Although now that I reread your post, if we’re limiting the conversation to corporations and nation-states, maybe it is possible. Hmmm, the problem with that, I guess, is that corporations and nation-states consist of people–witness how much of the WikiLeaks controversy is about individuals.

      So while in principle–and politically speaking–I am in agreement with you, I think we’re still going to have to interrogate transparency a lot more.

  2. Great post Tim.

    I’m kind of mixed about Mr. Wikileak and the whole enterprise. Yes, leaks outed Nixon, but they also outed Plaime. I consider the business invidious and just bad energy. I don’t think it will bring about the change people think – those with the real power have smoke and mirrors everywhere (I don';t know who has the real power, specifically, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the government per se) if there is something people don’t want out there, it probably won’t get out.

    Chompsky said the biggest conspiracy is that there are no conspiracies.

    In our relatively short lifetimes (I’m mean the 30’s set) look what has happened right in front of our noses. The official story has taken over again and again. As media has grown there are more ways to manipulate the masses, but perhaps the biggest is giving them the power to publicize themselves. What should they care about AIDS in Africa, Iraq or Serbia when we follow our own facebooked lives so closely? I know we can and do, it just seems like another wedge between us and reality.

    Getting back to the official story, I mean 911 specifically. There is no possible way that what happened coincides with the official story or that it was all out conspiracy. It’s somewhere in between. Yet, it happened. A story was sold and bought. The same with the massive campaign about Weapons of Mass Destruction. Yet, there was a day of protest FEb. 14, 2003? where more people on the earth protested together against a war that hadn’t even started. I was very happy to be one of those millions – we tried. Now a country is left ravaged, with millions dead. I don’t know where I’m going –

    It seems transparency and politics do not fit together. Politics is a business of graft, it’s about conceding something to get something else. Secrets and politics are synonymous.

    I’m much more interested in the question of transparency on a personal level. How people open up to each other and how much, what they hid, why they hid it. It seems these are the major questions in our lives and the Wallace story you cited.

    Living in NYC for the past year and bouncing around the dating scene has made me vomit. I have been “gamed” and have watched myself “game” others to my chagrin to gain advantage, to hedge bets… I am fairly transparent in my relationships and hence am more susceptible to pain. But I’ve thought that if one shows too much and someone else gets scared, it’s more about them than you. I guess not taking things personal.

    Anyway these are mysteries of life, it’s why we write, I think, why we do anything – why we get out of bed. How do we communicate with people? That’s what it’s all about in the end, right?

    • Thanks, Greg. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole political element here except that I agree that “business of graft” sounds about right. When you use the phrase “conceding something to get something else” it makes it sound more pertinent to personal relationships, however. And I wonder to what extent political negotiations have to do with personal relationships, in addition to resources and so forth. I’m just not sure. Hamlet is both personal and political, although the personal drama is by far the more engaging (Fortinbras? Who’s that?).

      Foster Wallace’s piece definitely speaks to that issue of wanting to be transparent–craving, even, the vulnerability and nakedness that come with disclosure. One great character I didn’t mention is the meditation guru in the piece, who gives the narrator a prize, which he in turns sees as a sign of being called out on his shit, a prize being precisely what you’re not supposed to strive for in meditation. The narrator is dismayed and ashamed but, I sense, also somewhat relieved at having his bluff called.

      Another element of the issue of transparency I didn’t discuss here is self-deception, which is a Pandora’s self-storage unit unto itself. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts and personal connection, Greg.

      • Yes Tim, when I wrote “conceding something to get something else” it did smack of the personal, sad as it is to say. Do we play love that way though? Can compromise be defined that way? Now we really start to hit the nerves. It’s one thing to talk about Mr. Wiki and what the government should do, but it’s quite another to look at one’s self and see what we do and what we do to survive, to gratifying our ego. And I guess this leads into the self-deception.

        Time and again I’ve heard people say (myself too) how ‘all that time I thought I was x or doing x, when really I was y.’ So what we may think is transparent is really a veiled attempt to gratify. Telling other people what they should do in an effort not to look at one’s self – seems this happens in writing beaucoup de fois. Maybe it accounts for the ‘therapeutic’ aspects of writing, for some. Are the characters us? Well we made them. It seems we write what we are, invalidating the argument to ‘write what you know.’ Don’t worry – you’ll be writing what you are anyway, even if you don’t know it!

        Good point on the Bard. Same goes for Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Othello – the news from the front is kind of forgettable. We want the characters, not news of the army sweeping this army away, though Kurosawa makes it very interesting in Ran based on King Lear.

        • Michael O’Brien’s blurb on Devin Jonhnston’s Aversions seems pertinent here: “They [the poems] devote themselves to making distinctions: the world is a world of differences; everything doesn’t slide into everything else; unless we pay attention all we get is a blur.” Part of the travesty in certain of Shakespeare’s dramas or any Greek is the manner in which the political—and thereby the social or cultural or economic lives of the poor observing masses—becomes so accurately personal as to prevent the participants (so limited as to underscore incest and greed) from perceiving the political ramifications of their personal lives. All of that goes unwritten, of course, but is there as the context of the stage. Moreover, the existential crises depicted here in what we apparently choose to derive from those leaks smack of a larger problem in poetry land, namely, the reactionary, neo-liberal wish-wash that so thoroughly fails to engage the political and economic in favor of something more lyrically wrapped in mists of quasi-surreal suspicions regarding its premise—safe and salable, failing to see and hear clearly. “The news from the front is kind of forgettable”—of course it is, Amerika. (In other words, Greg, I mostly agree with you.)

  3. “How thoroughly do we want to know ourselves, do we want to envision the possibility of being known? / how do you feel if your thoughts are as readily exposed as your underwear? / To what degree do we fetishize transparency, and further how much of this is playing out a secular version of a Judeo-Christian hand where God [APES] already sees all the cards? / representative of all that is artificial–the giant signs that blaze like fires might have in primitive times, signaling human gathering, and now signaling bars, gas stations, strip malls, city life, things open. / In short, I’m not convinced that we really know what we want (or have a consistent enough vision) when it comes to transparency such that we could adjudicate / the problem with that, I guess, is that corporations and nation-states consist of people–witness how much of the WikiLeaks controversy is about individuals

    my god—while we go on spinning the point of WIKILEAKS—fetishizing YOURself—

    Cheers to the horrors in our name!

    • Jared-

      I’m not sure exactly what you’re objecting to…the ideas or the manner in which I’ve expressed them. I’m glad to try to clear any of them up–I’m pretty confident that although I’m not certain about a lot of things, the ideas themselves are coherent. Where’s the self-fetishizing? Any thoughts about transparency or its relationship to the “horrors” that you allude to? Would be glad to hear your take.

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  5. Great article, Tim.

    I’m reminded of a quote I once heard but can’t really recall correctly nor even remember who even said it historically. All I remember was that it dealt with the idea of “really knowing someone” based on how they react to a moment when their life is at stake. Regardless of the exact quote, the article makes me think about that concept.

    For many people there’s this concept of “showing our true colors” in a moment of crisis or danger yet who is to say that this is our “real” self more than the person we are most of the time? Is it because we’re most connected to our instinctual fight or flight response? I suppose it qualifies as a kind of “transparency under fire.” If we accept our behavior as some kind of role, does that make our most instinctual reactions more “real” and “genuine?”

    I suppose I’m asking more questions rather than commenting, but it’s just a fascinating concept for me. I guess if we’re going to consider transparency on the personal level, it’s good to question just what constitutes as what is seen underneath the clear layers so to speak.

    • Thanks, Eric. Have you read that new George Saunders story in this week’s New Yorker yet? It speaks uncannily to these issues.

      I like the phrase “transparency under fire.” It seems to me that this idea is largely traceable to the existentialists, where the authentic self is the self in wartime, put to to the test, staring down the barrel of a tank. And the question wasn’t an abstract one for them, as I’m sure you know.

      Nonetheless, I share your skepticism as to whether our “fight or flight” self can be said to be more authentic than our more contemplative selves. To put it in terms of the neon metaphor, which is the “real” neon, the invisible gas or the fiery flare in the tube? Both or neither is what my gut tells me.

  6. Tim,

    You are exceedingly patient. Everything you say is coherent, even interesting, and its gaseous conclusion is fascinating. Honestly. But the big, huge, tremendous problem is how far it winds up taking us from the central reason and value of Wikileaks. Everything you pose here seems an afterthought, perhaps appropriate later. Today –here, now– given the choice of all there is to talk about regarding the content of those leaks, why do you (or anyone) choose to talk about everything (anything) but? In other venues, I’d smell a rat; I’m not so cynical about your post here. But the fact that another observer here apparently finds comfort in the “bad energy” stenching up the closet suggests that, intentional or not, the trip you take us on makes for a better night’s rest this xmas season.

    The idea about making transparency scalable is untenable, as you suggest: “I’m not convinced that we really know what we want (or have a consistent enough vision) when it comes to transparency such that we could adjudicate the scalability you propose.” However, some do know very clearly what they want to be transparent. Assange writes (somewhere) that he believes transparency in governance translates into good governance. (The key word is “good,” not “perfect” or even “great.” Such would be an improvement, wouldn’t you say?) So, toss scalability out the window and draw the boundaries hard and fast: “transparency in governance.”

    One observer here observes that “politics and secrets are synonymous.” Hence, Wikileaks.

    I know you said as much was not what you wished to pursue. But what you don’t wish to pursue is precisely what a too great majority, and too powerful minority, doesn’t either. The “personal” problems explored here seem to sit too closely to all those objections that well being won’t find not each and every, but a very select pool of phenotypes in the name of humanity, fer chrissakes

    • Jared,

      Thanks for the thoughtful response and clarification. That’s the kindest use of the word “gaseous” ever, seriously. I agree with you that these matters are urgent–that’s why I used the word in the last line of my entry–and that the content of the documents that were leaked is critical. If the documents are the road then I’m not suggesting we take our eyes off the road. What I will say is that when we use a term like “transparency,” as we proceed with action and reaction it is equally crucial that we think through the implications of that terminology. Transparency is not an end, and it might be dangerous to elevate it as such. For instance, being forced to produce identification papers is a form of coerced transparency which has historically allowed those in positions of power to oppress, intimidate, and control those who were “exposed.” And while “transparency in governance” sounds great, I’m not sure what it means, exactly. As Drenzer points out in the article I link to in the post, what is written in diplomatic dispatches is by no means the last word on motives and intent. This is why Foster Wallace is relevant here–because it is precisely in the attempt to persuade others of his authenticity that his character is most duplicitous.

      More broadly, I am for an unabashedly interdisciplinary approach to these things. I want these domains to stir one another, to illuminate and provoke each other–politics and literature, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, current events and architecture and film, just to take the measure of the above (and I obviously excluded a lot too). I think we compartmentalize at our peril, become the blind men groping at the elephant in the proverb. However, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the elephant in the room of America’s foreign policy, either.

      • Jared,

        You wrote about ‘the central reason and value of Wikileaks.’ Can you define this for me?

        Because Mr. Wikileak says leaks would make for better governance doesn’t seem like a good reason. Who is he to say? (and who I am to say as well, yes, yes)

        Some of the most publicized leaks of all the leaks leaked have been he said/she said type – low grade gossip dressed in diplomatic gray.

        Did you know that at least five of the 911 hijackers named are purportedly alive? This information was out there weeks after the event. My point being, there are mounds of information out there (some misinformation of course, but that is another topic). Somehow I think Wikileaks is just another diversion, as in ‘Well let’s just sit back and let the leakers take care of everything.’

        I don’t believe the government controls our lives (in the US) and I am for government shakeup (and I mean shaking till its shook over), but is Wikileaks the answer? Playing armchair quarterback on the coattails of the leakers? What has sustained revolutions – bodies in motion.

        • Greg—

          It seems we pressed “post” to each other at precisely the same time—go figure!

          “Did you know that at least five of the 911 hijackers named are purportedly alive?” And that 18 of the 19 were Saudi? That close-up, slowed footage of the Trade towers reveals consecutive explosions all the way down? That respectably tenured scientists have found explosives residue common in demolitions and nonexistent in building materials at ground zero? That none of what I’m saying here is fiction? That the official explanation for the nonexistent debris at the Pentagon involves a 747 incinerating upon impact, a tale from Mars in the history of aviation? That Colin Powell has acknowledged the evidence informing his UN testimony was fabricated—cartoons and all? That Chuck Norris stars in “Ground Zero?” Those forgotten gifts of anthrax to a skeptical TV anchor et al? Etc. etc. “I don’t believe the government controls our lives (in the U.S.)”—ok. Who was it that said “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society?” And that’s the thing about belief—just cuz you feel it don’t mean it’s there?

          The “central reason and value” of Wikileaks is at least twofold:

          1) The exposure of lies as lies. E.g. now we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt and in defiance of OFFICIAL STORY, that we’re prosecuting war in Pakistan, colluding re drone strikes in Yemen, etc etc—whatever we think we “already know,” here we can get beyond merely thinking so. The proof’s there in the puddin. And elsewhere, lest we forget, the helicopter footage we all know and love documenting our all-American Hero (where knowing is half the battle, remember?)

          2) That our sense of the value of knowledge and verification regarding the corrupt, vicious, insatiable quest for dominion driving the greatest military industrial complex ever devised can be so easily dismantled. The fact that the same sources are all in a tiff regarding the dangers in exposing state secrets while consoling us with the knowledge that it’s nothing we didn’t already know sounds like the simulacrum of a very effective propaganda apparatus.

          Otherwise, the biggest problem with your position is the way it essentializes the question of Wikileaks with a false either-or conundrum: “Somehow I think Wikileaks is just another diversion, as in ‘Well let’s just sit back and let the leakers take care of everything.’” “Bodies in motion” indeed—this is not Wikileaks? A puzzle is composed of pieces. Just like collective action. Just like thoughts, awareness, which inspire action.

          And vice-versa.

  7. However, don’t forget the lies. There were one too many, and some of them were of not even meant to be believed.

    A good example was the terrorist attack on a train in Madrid some years ago. How long does it normally take to obtain solid evidence of how the attack had been carried out?

    Well, in that case, right from day 1 on, the Spanish Government declared it had been ETA and the US papers said it had been AlQaeda.

  8. Of course one supports wikileaks. How could you not? How could anyone not? It’s pretty clear someone wants him shut, and some of the more extreme threats aimed at him and his types smack of good acting but also something snickering, not content now to hang in the wings. So who wouldn’t want to keep the circus going? It’s serious business for the fate of concessions and exhibition.

    http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/geert/2010/12/07/twelve-theses-on-wikileaks-with-patrice-riemens/

    1. … while one can look at WikiLeaks as a (political) project and criticize it for its modus operandi, it can also be seen as the “pilot” phase in an evolution towards a far more generalized culture of anarchic exposure, beyond the traditional politics of openness and transparency.
    2. …WikiLeaks’ strategy is populist insofar that it taps into public disaffection with mainstream politics. Political legitimacy, for WikiLeaks, is no longer something graciously bestowed by the powers that be. WikiLeaks bypasses this Old World structure of power and instead goes to the source of political legitimacy in today’s info-society: the rapturous banality of the spectacle. WikiLeaks brilliantly puts to use the “escape velocity” of IT, using IT to leave IT behind and rudely irrupt the realm of real-world politics…ME: I think we have a Pandora’s box situation that for now seems anarchic…
    3. …WikiLeaks in its present manifestation remains a typically “western” product and cannot claim to be a truly universal or global undertaking.
    4. … represent a new Gestalt on the world information stage.
    5. …What WikiLeaks anticipates…is the “crowd sourcing” of the interpretation of its leaked documents…WikiLeaks generates its capacity to inspire irritation at the big end of town precisely because of the transversal and symbiotic relation it holds with establishment media institutions…Therein lies the conflictual terrain of the political…. WikiLeaks has to approach and negotiate with well-established traditional media to secure sufficient credibility. At the same time, these media outlets prove unable to fully process the material, inevitably filtering the documents according to their own editorial policies.
    6. …Sovereign hacker Julian Assange is the identifying figurehead of WikiLeaks, the organization’s notoriety and reputation merging with Assange’s own. What WikiLeaks does and stands for becomes difficult to distinguish from Assange’s rather agitated private life and his somewhat unpolished political opinions.
    7. … the articulation between computational information and the military-industrial complex is well established. Computer scientists and programmers have shaped the information revolution and the culture of openness; but at the same time they have also developed encryption (”crypto”), closing access to data for the non-initiated. What some see as “citizen journalism” others call “info war”…The missionary zeal to enlighten the idiotic masses and “expose” the lies of government, the military and corporations is reminiscent of the well-known (or infamous) media-culture paradigm from the 1950s.
    8. …serious doubts about the long-term sustainability of WikiLeaks itself, and possibly also of the WikiLeaks model. WikiLeaks operates with ridiculously small staff — probably no more than a dozen of people form the core of its operation. While the extent and savviness of WikiLeaks’ tech support is proved by its very existence, WikiLeaks’ claim to several hundreds of volunteer analysts and experts is unverifiable and, to be frank, barely credible. This is clearly WikiLeaks Achilles’ heel, not only from a risk and/or sustainability standpoint, but politically as well — which is what matters to us here.
    9. … Is WikiLeaks a virtual project? After all, it does exist as a (hosted) website with a domain name, which is the bottom line. But does it have a goal beyond the personal ambition of its founder(s)? Is WikiLeaks reproducible? Will we see the rise of national or local chapters that keep the name? What rules of the game will they observe? Should we rather see it as a concept that travels from context to context and that, like a meme, transforms itself in time and space?
    10. …We cannot flee the challenge of experimenting with post-representational networks…
    11. …WikiLeaks is not a plug ‘n’ play blog application like WordPress, and the word “Wiki” in its name is really misleading, as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales has been at pains to stress. Contrary to the collaboration philosophy of Wikipedia, WikiLeaks is a closed shop run with the help of an unknown number of faceless volunteers. One is forced to acknowledge that the know-how necessary to run a facility like WikiLeaks is pretty arcane… If publishing is not carried out in a way that is absolutely secure for all concerned, there is a definite risk that the “revolution in journalism” — and politics — unleashed by WikiLeaks will be stopped in its tracks.
    12. …The glut of disclosable information can only be expected to continue grow — and exponentially so. To organize and interpret this Himalaya of data is a collective challenge that is clearly out there, whether we give it the name “WikiLeaks” or not.

    I fully support Wikileaks, for whatever it’s worth, because it’s beautiful and exciting…its ugliness is kind of pretty.

  9. Pingback: Forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press « BIG OTHER

  10. Hello,

    I am hearing a lot going on here but mostly what I think I hear in Tim’s original post is the idea that one never knows how much or how little one wants to expose oneself. He used the Wikileaks as a metaphor which is illuminating in that it was a large issue, but, was ill-fitted, as he admits, to the self, because a government and a person operate under different rules, though the primative survival cues are the same; as he alluded to with the example of the seals. The question of the self and then the self as reflected in larger governing bodies is difficult to quantify, though the question of what, and how much of that self we reveal is going to be discussed and gauged differently when talking about the individual and the state.

    This matters when discussing art and the role of the artist. I applaud Tim for tackling this issue. I also applaud his use of Wallace’s short story to bring the issue down to both a personal level (the narrator’s recounting of himself to his therapist) and to an artistic level: the use of the “transparency” theme in literature.

  11. Hello,

    I am hearing a lot going on here but mostly what I think I hear in Tim’s original post is the idea that one never knows how much or how little transparency makes for truth or mystery. He used the Wikileaks as a metaphor which is illuminating in that it was a large issue, but, was ill-fitted, as he admits, to the self, because a government and a person operate under different rules, though the primative survival cues are the same; as he alluded to with the example of the seals. The question of the self and then the self as reflected in larger governing bodies is difficult to quantify, though the question of what, and how much of that self we reveal is going to be discussed and gauged differently when talking about the individual and the state.

    This matters when discussing art and the role of the artist. I applaud Tim for tackling this issue. I also applaud his use of Wallace’s short story to bring the issue down to both a personal level (the narrator’s recounting of himself to his therapist) and to an artistic level: the use of the “transparency” theme in literature.

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