Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Power and Silence: Discourses of Secrecy

This week's reading brought us an interesting account of the global information network as constructed by both visibility and invisibility. At first account is Peter Galison's discussion of the sheer magnitude of information that is classified. While many speculations are made, one thing is clear, that, "the classified universe, as it is sometimes called, is certainly not smaller and very probably is much larger that this unclassified one" (229). Beyond this, Galison shows the sheer amount of capital and other logistical forces that must be maintained in order to keep it this way.
Paglen, an artist and experimental geographer, takes up Galison's presentation of invisible facts and posits a necessity for uncovering what he identifies as "blank spot's" through geography. His premise revolves around the rule that even if something is secret, officially nonexistent, it must and does occur in space and therefore can be located, mapped, understood by geographical inquiry. His research into the "black world" versus the visible "white" poses interesting problems in terms of subject agency or what he (echoing Galison) identifies as a process of democracy or at least foundational for democracy to exist. Paglen states,
It is easy to Imagine that the antidote to state secrecy is more openness, more transparency in state affairs. That is, no dbout, a crucial part of a democratic project. But transparency, it seems to me, is a democratic society's precondition; transparency alone is insufficient to guarantee democracy....I see people actively working to prevent the secret state from spreading even further. In their efforts, I see people practicing democracy. (281)

Yet while Paglen sees that these conflicting force relations of power, based in a knowledge economy are at the heart of a political project we must turn to Foucault to understand what is exactly at stake and question society today. Foucault identifies power-knowledge as the locality of the modern power formation, as opposed to the sovereign right of the monarch. Foucault identifies his project as a study of power, constituted through a scientific body of knowledge and its discourses; this notion of power is interesting in terms of Paglen's and Galison's arguments. In History of Sexuality, one of Foucault's principle work on subject formation, he posits, "that power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization; as the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them..." (92). Power is therefore not conceived by Foucault as emerging from an outside and therefore acting upon a subject, rather, the subject, as constituted by power, is always-already bound to it and constantly is in production of it. This marks a shift from power as confirmed and guaranteed by the Law, or state, and rather that the hegemonic powers at work are merely the concentrated force relations "whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formation of the law, in the various social hegemonies" (93).
And yet, Galison poses an interesting reversal--it is not the black world that is some small outside, but rather the "white" available discourses that are an outside to a massive network of secrecy. Must the model of power-knowledge, due to the nature of secrecy and its sheer force as measured in size and breadth, not constitutive of a hierarchical order, a depth model of power? I believe that this is the most important question that must be asked in relation to the secret "black world." In some ways the right to secrecy confirms the right-to-death; information that is deemed important can be extracted by force using and enacting upon subject's limits of human life as the process of an extraction of truth from secrecy. This once sacred right, now possessed by governmental agencies like the CIA, which seem to be outside the known system of power and are able to erase whole subjects and discourses.
Yet secrecy itself should be analyzed through Foucault's own terms before declaring a new order of power relations. Although offered as an analysis in relation to the "confession," I believe his theoretical implications still hold important for this analysis. Foucault proposes that,
Silence itself--the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers--is less the absolute limit of discourse, the other side from which it is separated by a strict boundary, than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them and in relation to them within over-all strategies....There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses. (27)

As Foucault identifies that which is not said, which is forbidden, is not necessarily outside, but a constitutive and productive factor of the force relations which exist. Still it seems that these propose an interesting look at the way the force of power relations exist in our society. As always only more questions...

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