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Transcript of surveilling citizens
jeff clapp hong kong institute of education
New Work: Surveillance, Difference, and the Gaze
Against privileged paranoia
Nothing In Nature is Private
Claudia Rankine (1994)
ed. Ridker 2014
by Nikki Giovanni
...Where was the camera
That Saturday night my father
Hit my mother so hard
She literally flew
Across the living room...
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
What's all around--
singled out in its willingness--
beating its shadow. Wholly
within a chill
not progressing, spreading.
And wrapped, and soaked into
The first person
herself a kind of pedestrian
into some remote deceit
wrists, slit, reaching up
to grab the loathe.
from "Where is the Sea?"
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
of tendencies and pressures toward democratic participation
. (Giddens 1985, 314)
Don't Let Me Be Lonely
seems to turn to a new directness, one which discards the experimental modality in which "I" is understood as a problematic "institution."
In keeping, this book seems to reforge a series of connections, as for example between visibility, recognition, and rights.
I usually have one cup in the morning. Today I am staring into a possible second cup, and I do not see my husband's face when I tell him about the darkness and the curtain.
...in my dream the lights are out in New York City. They are out because they were out....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.
[Cole Swenson 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 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
don’t exactly recoup or repair—they are
a form of recess
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....
The route is often associative. You smell good. 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...You can’t remember her name. Mary? Catherine?
You never really speak except for the time she makes her request and later when she tells you you smell good and have features more like a white person....
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.
43: Apparently your own
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
What does a victorious or defeated black woman's body in a historically white space look like? Serena and her big sister Venus brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston's "I feel most colored when I am through against a sharp white background."
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.
Glenn Ligon, 1990-1
(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 "Stop and Frisk," 105-109)
Despite visibility as the apparently necessary mediator by which presence would lead to recognition, visibility in Rankine does not have this function.
In this way, Rankine's juxtaposition of invisibility with hypervisibility frames visibility as a locus of what Lauren Berlant has called "cruel optimism."
Rankine has specifically mentioned Berlant's work in discussing
, Berlant talks about things that we’re invested in, despite the fact that they are not good for us and
place us in a non-sovereign relationship to our own lives
. And I thought, on a certain level, that thing that I am invested in that is hurting me would be this country [laughs].
This cruelly-optimistic assessment of visibility as impossible/too possible is reproduced at multiple scales in
, 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
is the apotheosis of cruel optimism's exhausting endurance:
Don't Let me Be Lonely
DL127 You think that voting won't make a difference.
And from the very first page of
, and then throughout:
C1 When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices...
C66 Move on. Let it go. Come on.
C151 Yes, and this is how you are a
: Come on. Let it go. Move on.
C154 Every day your mouth opens and receives the kiss the world offers, which seals you shut...the go-along-to-get-along tongue pushing your tongue aside.
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"
"Eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard" (Mill)
"[To go back to Mill's aphorism], the lyric poet normally
to be talking to himself or someone else....the poet, so to speak,
turns his back
on his listeners" (Frye, Anatomy of Criticism)
"No poem actually does address a reader, at least not in any ordinary sense of the word 'address'" (Smith, "Apostrophe, or the Lyric Art of Turning Away)
Criticism tends to reads acts of speaking to
as the doomed attempts to “reconcile” alienated minds through a series of rhetorical strategies. That is to say, the apostrophic model is misleading, insofar as it has encouraged subjectivist interpretations of poetry….It is time, I think, that this long familiar notion that an
calls to a
, but cannot confirm anything beyond its own unanswered and unanswerable speech, is met with an anti-subjectivist, anti-Cartesian account of address.
Speaking to You: Contemporary Poetry and Public Address
Lauren Berlant has herself noted that
’s great phrase about
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
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:
, which defines the genre of genres, the lyric.
This kind of reading better describes Rankine's earlier work
than it does
I they he she we you turn
only to discover
to be alien to this place.
Overheard in the moonlight.
Overcome in the moonlight.
"a truce with the patience of a stethoscope"
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.
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 another form of cruel optimism that Rankine is exploring in this book.
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
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?
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."
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:
but yet, Rankine says:
Hypervisibility: Serena on TV
Invisibility in a lesson
so for example
We hide in play and in fear, but rarely otherwise. (1)
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
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
Emancipation [has been] experienced as a
coming into hiding.
or in other words:
the politics of representation versus the politics of recognition
upon me with a certain suddeness that I was different from the others; or like [them perhaps] in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast
veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil....
A Tennis Lesson
returns to tennis in its concluding moment, and this poem, unlike the first one or many others in the volume, is in the first person.
I can hear the even breathing that creates passages to dreams. And yes,
I want to interrupt
him her us you me
don't know how to end what doesn't have an ending.
Tell me a story, he says, wrapping his arms around me.
Yesterday, I begin, I was waiting in the car for time to pass. A woman pulled in and started to park her car facing mine. Out eyes met and what passed passed as quickly as the look away. She backed up and parked on the other side of the lot. I could have followed her to worry my questions but I had to go, I was expected on court, I grabbed my racket.
is slow and cloudy, dragging the light in, but barely.
Did you win? he asks.
It wasn't a match, I say. It was a lesson.
It wasn't a weapon; it was a truce
It wasn't an encounter; it was a lyric
It wasn't visibility; it was coming into hiding
It wasn't a match; it was a lesson
The image on this page is not an illustration of the text,
is it "a recess" which contrasts with "openness" and "truth-telling."
W.E.B. du Bois,
"The Souls of Black Folks"
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:
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
possible, sheer fantasy, or
possible, and toxic. What's cruel about these attachments, and not merely inconvenient or tragic, is that the subjects who have
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)
Apostrophe gives us a way to begin understanding Citizen's most remarked-upon gesture:
its use of the second person.
apostrophe as the lyric; the lyric as poetry
What is hiding?
Summary of my reading of
But only seems.
[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