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surveilling citizens (short)

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Jeff Clapp

on 9 April 2016

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Transcript of surveilling citizens (short)

surveillance and transparency in claudia rankine's american lyric
jeff clapp hong kong institute of education
New Work: Surveillance, Difference, and the Gaze
"visibility regime"
(Brighenti)
Nothing In Nature is Private
Claudia Rankine (1994)
2015
2015
Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics
ed. Ridker 2014
from "Surveillance"
by Nikki Giovanni
Where was the camera
That Saturday night my father
Hit my mother so hard
She literally flew
Across the living room...
Pronouns and language
2001
1998
When I wrote
The End of the Alphabet
I was having this conversation with myself about confessional poetry – what it is and what it is not. I didn't want to get to the expression of a feeling through the investigation of actual events in
my own life
.
The End of the Alphabet
...was in my mind about silence, about
a darkness
...
What's all around--
singled out in its willingness--
beating its shadow. Wholly

within a chill
not progressing, spreading.
And wrapped, and soaked into

is the
stripped
unanswered:
The first person
,
herself a kind of pedestrian
institution
dearly slipping

into some remote deceit
of
transparent
wrists, slit, reaching up
to grab the loathe.
(77)
from "Where is the Sea?"
2004
Contemporary Surveillance Studies
Foucault 1979: panopticism as subjectification

Deleuze 1992: control as dividuation

Brin 1998: the transparent society

Haggerty and Ericson 2000: the surveillant assemblage

Albrechtslund 2008: participatory surveillance
Surveillance is not totalitarianism
Contemporary surveillance studies does not take its theoretical cues from Orwell or Arendt.

CCTV is only the image of surveillance for people who insist that surveillance is ancillary to social life.
Contemporary surveillance is about
managing and exploiting identity.
Movements oriented to the enlargement of democratic participation within the polity should be seen as always...oriented toward redressing imbalances of power involved in surveillance....There is a basic flaw, however, in the [idea] that the expansion of organizations inevitably supplants 'democracy'....The intensification of surveillance [is]
the condition of the
emergence
of tendencies and pressures toward democratic participation
. (Giddens 1985, 314)
Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric
begins to question the regime that produces identities among visibility, recognition, and rights.

...in my dream the lights are out in New York City....Then where I am going or what I want is
behind a black curtain
, but it is so dark the curtain becomes the night....This wish for further paralysis wakes me.

You think voting won't make a difference, says my husband. This might be a wise thing to think. He says all this without lifting his gaze from the morning paper.

My dream is about a voting booth? I am not convinced. He is not interested in convincing me. He is reading about candidates for the presidency. (127)
[another poet suggested that
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
] was simple and direct in order to perform truth-telling. This reading of the style of the book surprised me because I worked hard for simplicity in order to allow for...a sort of
blankness and transparency
that would lose the specificity of "the truth"....I am not interested in narrative, or truth, or truth to power, on a certain level; I am fascinated by affect, by positioning, and by intimacy....

What happens when I stand close to you? What’s your body going to do? What’s my body going to do? On myriad levels, we are both going to
fail
, fail, fail each other and ourselves. The simplicity of the language is never to suggest truth, but to make transparent the failure. The linguistic failures are disappointing and excoriating, as you say, and
the images
don’t exactly recoup or repair—they are
a form of recess
...
2014
The book takes up ways in which
a person's presence
fails
to result
in that person's recognition.

It does this in two ways:
by narrating experiences of invisibility, and
by narrating experiences of hypervisibility.
When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows....

...You are twelve attending Sts. Philip and James School on White Plains Road and the girl sitting in the seat behind you asks you to lean to the right during exams so she can copy what you have written...

Sister Evelyn never figures out your arrangement perhaps because you never turn around to copy Mary Catherine’s answers. Sister Evelyn must think these two girls think a lot alike or she cares less about cheating and more about humiliation or
she never actually saw you sitting there.
(5-6)
43: Apparently your own
invisibility
is the real problem causing her confusion

85: Have you seen their faces?

142: And still a world begins its furious erasure
17: you want the child pushed to the ground
to be seen
....to be brushed off by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself
Bourke-White and Caldwell, 1937
"Though no one was saying anything explicitly about Serena's black body, you are not the only viewer who thought it was getting in the way of Alves's sight line."
(
Citizen
, 27)
Hawk-eye, 2005
(not pictured in the book)
I left my client's house knowing I would be pulled over. I knew. I just knew. I opened my briefcase on the passenger seat, just so they could see....

And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.
(from
Citizen
, "Stop and Frisk," 105-109)


Rankine's juxtaposition of invisibility with hypervisibility frames visibility as a locus of what Lauren Berlant has called "cruel optimism."
This cruelly-optimistic assessment of visibility as impossible/too possible is reproduced at multiple scales in
Citizen
, and particularly at the level of the phrase, in the form of paradox .
trying to dodge the buildup of erasure



fighting off the weight of nonexistence


(11, 139)
For Rankine,
citizenship
is the apotheosis of cruel optimism's exhausting endurance:
In
Don't Let Me Be Lonely

DL127 You think that voting won't make a difference.

And in
Citizen
's only reference to citizenship:

C151 Yes, and this is how you are a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on.

Apostrophe and the Second Person
apostrophe: "A figure of speech in which a thing, a place, an abstract quality, an idea, a dead or absent person, is addressed
as if present and capable of understanding"
(Penguin/Dict/Lit)

"Eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard" (Mill)

"[To go back to Mill's aphorism], the lyric poet normally
pretends to be talking to himself or someone else....the poet, so to speak, turns his back
on his listeners" (Frye,
Anatomy of Criticism
)
Lauren Berlant has herself noted that

"Citizen
’s great phrase about
your
being “too tired even to turn on any of your devices,”... is metapoetic but also implies that the maneuver of tone is one of your citizen-actions, a
weapon..."

Berlant seems to refer (again) to a certain unembellished frankness in Rankine's style, a style that Berlant perceives to be without rhetorical "devices."

But the sentence Berland mentions is also metapoetic because in this very sentence Rankine "turns on" not only "any" device, but the device of devices:
apostrophe
, which defines the genre of genres, the lyric.
I they he she we you turn
only to discover
the encounter

to be alien to this place.

Wait.
...

Overheard in the moonlight.
Overcome in the moonlight.

Citizen
, 140
Coming into Hiding
Guernica: Talk to me about your decision to set many of these poems in the second person.

Claudia Rankine: There were a number of things going on. Because some of the situations were mine and some belonged to other people, I didn’t want to own them in the first person....

But that was the least of it. The real issue was, the second person for me
disallowed the reader from knowing
immediately how to position themselves. I didn’t want to race the individuals. Obviously [the reader] will assume—“She’s black, he must be white,” etc.—but I wanted those assumptions to be made...clearly, you’re race-ing these people in order to understand this dynamic.

I also
found it funny
to think about blackness as the second person. That was just sort of funny. Not the first person, but the second person, the other person.

Rankine's "you" does not offer the creation of an "encounter."

Like visibility and citizenship, the notion of a lyric "encounter" is a form of cruel optimism.

Rather than striking through the poem to a "direct style" or to "direct address," Rankine's you--and the designation "American lyric"--all but explicitly designates the oblique overhearing that constitutes the theory of the lyric as a genre.


I felt that the first person would have
deactivated the scene
....And there are ways in which, if you say, “Oh, this happened to me,” then the white body can say, “Well, it happened to her and it has nothing to do with me.” But if it says “you,” that you is an
apparent
part of the encounter.
The word "apparent" in this context has a double meaning.

In the first instance, it means that there is a calling out of the poem toward the reader: they are apparently in the sense of "obviously" part of the scene.

However, the reader is not part of this scene. They are "only apparently" part of the scene, in ways that are immediately obvious to any reader regardless of their own identifications: they simply have not had these particular experiences.
You are twelve attending Sts. Philip and James School on White Plains Road and the girl sitting in the seat behind asks you to lean to the right during exams so she can copy what you have written. Sister Evelyn is in the habit of taping the 100s and the failing grades to the coat closet doors. The girl is Catholic with waist-length brown hair. You can’t remember her name. Mary? Catherine?

(5)
Rankine collected the episodes in Citizen from her life, and from friends and colleagues.

It is possible to conceive that she might have simply adopted them using the conventions of the lyric I, in the first person.

It is possible to conceive that she might have hidden them behind fictional names, in the third person.

But Rankine had already tried those strategies--they are the strategies of hypervisibility on the one hand, and invisibility on the other.
"Tried rhyme, tried truth, tried epistolary untruth, tried and tried."
Citizen, 71
In keeping with the image as "recess,"
Rankine's "you" can be understood as "coming into hiding."
The first person and suicide
The third person and childbirth
so for example:
Rankine on an aesthetics of transparency:
Hypervisibility: Serena Williams on TV
Hypervisibility
Invisibility
Invisibility
so for example
1999
If you can flip back and forth between someone’s human and [alien] aspects it is one thing, but if the human aspect has never
dawned
at all, being blind to someone’s humanity but not yet their [alienness] is not just a matter of failing to see one aspect rather than another,
so much as a fundamental failure to experience another person
. (201)
or in other words:
the politics of representation versus the politics of recognition
The image on this page is not an illustration of the text,
is it "a recess" which contrasts with "openness" and "truth-telling."
Emancipation [has been] experienced as a
coming into hiding.
(Bull, 255)
David Hammons, "In the Hood," 1993
The desire to watch and be watched is a more deeply rooted element of the liberal democratic impulse than we normally care to admit. (Pecora 2002)
Rather than totalitarian,
surveillance is basically liberal-democratic.
stated more theoretically:
stated more colloquially:
Rankine:
This book rejects the idea that self-disclosure is a form of access to light.
Another American lyric
"Cruel optimism" names a relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility whose realization is discovered either to be
im
possible, sheer fantasy, or
too
possible, and toxic. What's cruel about these attachments, and not merely inconvenient or tragic, is that the subjects who have
x
in their lives might not well endure the loss of their object or scene of desire, even though its presence threatens their wellbeing. (2006, 20)
Berlant:
The canonical account of lyric apostrophe
What is hiding?
or similarly
[S]omething fully known going into hiding involves becoming less knowable... so for something unknown, hiding involves becoming more knowable.

In other words, being hidden does not involve going into hiding, but
coming into hiding
.

(Bull 26)

from "American Light"
In the lit landscape, in its peeled
back places, making the space
uncomfortable, representing no fault
in the self is a shadow

of a gesture of wanting, coveting
the American light.

(p2)
What is a hoodie?
In recent work, but particularly in
Citizen
, Claudia Rankine has designated the conceptual interference between the visibility regime that has obtained in liberal democracy, and the accelerating aesthetics of transparency, at the level of genre, and specifically through the invocation of lyric apostrophe.
Rankine's "you" does not offer the creation of an "encounter."

Like visibility and citizenship, the notion of a lyric "encounter" is a form of cruel optimism.

Rather than striking through the poem to a "direct style" or to "direct address," Rankine's you--and the designation "American lyric"--all but explicitly designates the oblique overhearing that constitutes the theory of the lyric as a genre.

"aesthetics of
transparency"
(Hall)
"a truce
with the patience
of a stethescope"

Citizen, p156
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