Acknowledging Expectations: Derrida, Alexander Blok, the Trickster, and…Anonymous?

Now is the time; the time to change my discourse is now. I’ve been holding back on things for months. I do this a lot. Sometimes it is because I’m not sure exactly how I feel about something, and I never want to do a topic an injustice by speaking of it before I’m ready. Other times, I know the rhetorical situation is not clear, and the dust needs to settle before the people left standing might listen to what I say.

This moment is the first. I’m pretty sure most of the people I know are not quite ready for the leap I’m going to make, but I’m making it anyway.

I left you all with a post on identity politics and how our social construct frames our selves into pre-ordained boxes. Then I posted “The Twelve” by Alexander Blok, the Russian poet. I did this because of Evgeny Morozov’s (@evgenymorozov) comment on Twitter this morning: “Anyway, why compare Anonymous to The Weatherman rather than the Red Brigade.” This was a direct reference to Yochai Benkler’s article, “Hacks of Valor” from yesterday. I was immediately intrigued, and made all sorts of revolutionary connections based simply on the color red. Morozov clearly meant the movement in Italy, but I went north. I tend to do that.

So I flung myself into my gradschool readings file bin, and dug up the Blok poem, knowing it had no reference to the Red Brigade, but there were 12 “revolutionaries” in it; and, hey, the academic world needs more revolt talk, I think. We’re gonna start with Blok.

Leon Trotsky (you are all forewarned: my two favorite men of all time, Trotsky and Derrida, are in this post. Fetish must prevail.) discusses Blok’s work:

Blok’s symbolism was a reflection of this immediate and disgusting environment. A symbol is a generalized image of a reality. Blok’s lyrics are romantic, symbolic, mystic, formless, and unreal. But they presuppose a very real life with definite form and relationships. Romantic symbolism is only a going away from life, in the sense of an abstraction from its concreteness, from individual traits, and from its proper names; at bottom, symbolism is a means of transforming and sublimating life. Blok’s starry, stormy, and formless lyrics reflect a definite environment and period, with its manner of living, its customs, its rhythms, but outside of this period, they hang like a cloud-patch.

Trotsky effortlessly pulls off his Marxist chops in this moment. Not only does he understand the inherent problem with all theory—reification—, but he turns it on its head. Trotsky deconstructs the Marxist problematic of taking something abstract, and making it concrete. But hold on to that. To reify any abstraction is a risky venture, one you’ll see play out here in a moment.

The thing[ness] with “The Twelve” is that red became their symbolic identity. Blok’s poem only slightly echoes this throughout, mostly at the end. Though the color red is always implied, in the blood and the terror that sits in the back of the mind as one reads the poem, knowing not much good will happen. Red, of course, has been associated with communism for decades upon decades. Trotsky dissects “The Twelve” and Blok’s style; he focuses on Blok’s chaos and difficulty in dealing with religion. And while this is all critical and quality theoretical analysis, Trotsky’s one comment here in light of what is my own turn makes something infinitely more beautiful, more everlasting that this one poem does alone. Shall we go on?

The climate and environment of today is not one of a red Russia. We are embroiled in a much more inanimate state where things are not as clean-cut and forward as they have been in the past. Fascism and inequality were part of many political structures in what a friend  @sargoth calls ‘The Old World.’ Lines were easy to see; revolution was ripe and prime. People were starving and ready to fight for bread. (Have you all read Mother Courage? I suggest it.)

And times are different, naturally. Err. Or not. Maybe it is just all pleasant on the Western front. Err…or something. I’m going out onto my ledge here, and declaring a stance. It is not all pleasant now. Times are not so different. But the major difference between now and then is the loss of borders.

With the Internet, we do not have boundaries between people. For instance, I am going to rush through this post so that I can translate a new friend’s blog from Swedish to readable English because it’s there, and she’s amazing (hi!). This is our new world—a world where I can make genuine connections with people anywhere simply by having a common interest or language.

All fun and nerding aside, this world has a pain: itself. The Western front has been seeking to control our interconnected world by appropriating the Internet. Think of SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and CISPA as just some controlling mechanisms of many. And in these times, we the people have so little ground to stand on in which to say something back to these controlling mechanisms.

Ah, but I was just kinda wrong right then. We do have ground.

Yochai Benkler’s “Hacks of Valor” defines Anonymous as something/someone(s) extraordinary in the ways of abstraction and concrete reality. Yup, I’m going to hang out with Benkler, and we’re going to reify Anonymous in some interesting ways. Are you ready? Buckle up, buttercups.

I haven’t been completely aware of what Anonymous is. I had ideas, heard stuff, but had never really had a conversation with anyone about it/them. It’s taken scattered bits to know whatever little I do know. But now I’ve read Benkler’s article, and found it explained Anonymous in relatively accessible fashion. Benkler says,

Anonymous is not an organization. It is an idea, a zeitgeist, coupled with a set of social and technical practices. Diffuse and leaderless, its driving force is “lulz”—irreverence, playfulness, and spectacle. It is also a protest movement, inspiring action both on and off the Internet, that seeks to contest the abuse of power by governments and corporations and promote transparency in politics and business. Just as the antiwar movement had its bomb-throwing radicals, online hacktivists organizing under the banner of Anonymous sometimes cross the boundaries of legitimate protest. But a fearful overreaction to Anonymous poses a greater threat to freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation than any threat posed by the disruptions themselves. (“Valor”)

I see some Marxist discourse in this statement too. Debord anyone? Further than that, Benkler defines Anonymous for those of us that do not understand what the ‘idea’ is. Admittedly, I had no idea what a DDoS attack consists of; my literacy of such discourse now has a general idea based on Benkler’s description. But I notice that he explains Anonymous as an identity I, myself, have a good deal of knowledge of: the Trickster.

In my field of study, composition, we know of the Trickster from Native American literature and how this identity is an inherent creative force in our field. Scholars in Everyday Writing Center  say this of the Trickster:

Trickster crosses both physical and social boundaries; Trickster is often a traveler, and he frequently breaks societal rules, blurring connections and distinctions between “right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead” (Hyde 7), changing shape (turning into an animal, for example) to move between worlds. (15)

To recognize Anonymous as an idea, then to see the identities of Anonymous on the Internet, throws us into the realization that the Trickster isn’t a far leap of definition. Oddly, and like I’ve promised, this is a form of reification of Anonymous’ identity. I don’t suggest that we concretize what I refer to as “my favorite unidentified gentlemen” (by simply referring to them as all gentlemen even limits the idea of Anonymous.) The idea of Anonymous is what counts. No matter what shape the liminal identities within Anonymous take—as chaotic and disorderly as that need be—the idea remains the same. EWC goes on, “Trickster figures are impossible to package, manage, school, or concretize. In some ways, then, they personify chaos, the disorderly order inherent in all systems” (16).  So we see that like Tricksters, Anonymous is a native, inherent identity in the Internet. When one resorts to attempting to pin them down, either by singling out a person, a SEC, or a single DDoS attack, they are missing the idea. Something more significant—more symbolic—is at play.

Benkler points this out: “This is power—a species of power that allows millions of people, often in different countries, each of whom is individually weak, to surge in opposition to a given program or project enough to shape the outcome. In this sense, Anonymous has become a potent symbol of popular dissatisfaction with the concentration of political and corporate power in fewer and fewer hands” (“Valor”). The idea is the symbol. We can note the Guy Fawkes masks (as much as that intones); we can fear the idea of hacking (nevermind how prevalent this is in the very institutions that decry outrage over hacking); we can laugh them off for their lulz (often missing how satirical and breathtakingly smart some of their tricks actually are); or we can take a deeper look at what the idea symbolizes. I think Benkler gets at this, teaches us what Anonymous means. Right on this blog I’ve expressed some of my own dissatisfaction with certain governments, laws, and cultures that restrict human identities. Have I erred for doing so? You may or may not think so. Thankfully, I still have the right to say such things without suffering repercussion—for now. And that is it right there…

Why are we in a world where we cannot say the things we think? I am writing this with a tinge of fear: who is reading this (heyyyyyy ya’ll), and in what ways is this being positioned in some file to be possibly used against me for whatever reason the institution sees fit. Because disseminating information is problematic these days. I am liable to be associated with my thoughts, no matter how lasting they may be. (Be sure to give my file a nice, pretty little sticker on it to cheer me up when you smack me in the face with it, will ya?)

Benkler addresses how Anonymous is not the ever-feared boogeyman of our nightmares. The idea is what he calls “retaliation for [the] perceived abuse of power” (“Valor”). When drafts of legislation like CISPA come out, proliferating that there is a cyber threat of such huge magnitude that we need to sign over what is left of our Constitutional Rights to the Intelligence Community in order to protect ourselves, I begin to wonder about what is actually scary in this world. Benkler gives us more ground on the idea:

The political nature of these targets demonstrates why it is patently wrong to see Anonymous purely as a cyberthreat. Opinions about the justifiability of any given attack may differ, either because of the target or because of its form. The main challenge becomes one of deciding who gets to set the boundaries of legitimate protest…But surely there must be a place for civil disobedience and protest that is sufficiently disruptive to rouse people from complacence. (“Valor”)

I’ve ellipsed some good stuff out. Heck, I’d quote the whole piece if I could. But you all can read it for yourselves; I’ll post the link below in my mock-cited. So this is the deal with the idea. All fear of Anonymous comes from the target. If you’re messing with the idea, the idea will expose your ideology. The idea will make you transparent. Of course this is frightening—if you have something to hide. And this is why they blur the “[boundary] of legitimate protest”: to expose what is not ready-made there. Oddly, in a democratic society, this should not be an issue. Democracy is an invisible process. But we’re talking neither here, nor there, for that is not what our society is…

And Benkler gives us more: “Perhaps that is the greatest challenge that Anonymous poses: It both embodies and expresses a growing doubt that actors with formal authority will make decisions of greater legitimacy than individuals acting collectively in newly powerful networks and guided by their own consciences” (“Valor”). Oh my. This is what it is. Once people have begun to question the legitimacy of certain authorities, they become enacted individuals within a network of questioning, all fueled by their own ethics. I may draw a broad association of syntax here, but does to have doubt of the legitimacy of such “formal authority” mean that one has embodied within the “newly powerful network”? What a turn of identity made via quest.

I’m taking us on a turn now into another ellipsis. Derrida knows a thing or two about hiding, the hidden and abstraction. The man did sort of identify what is not there in philosophy. Anyway, enough running my fingers through his hair. I’ll just quote his “Ellipsis of the Sun” at length:

One knows or one does not know, one can or one cannot. The ungraspable is certainly a genius for perceiving the hidden resemblance, but it is also, consequently, the capacity to substitute one term for another. The genius of mimesis, thus, can give rise to a language, a code of regulated substitutions, the talent and procedures of rhetoric, the imitation of genius, the mastery of the ungraspable. Henceforth, am I certain that everything can be taken from me except the power to replace? For example, that which is taken from me by something else? Under what conditions would one always have one more trick, one more turn, up one’s sleeve, in one’s sack? One more seed? And would the sun always be able to sow? (Derrida 244-45)

You see what I’ve done here. I am going to resist explicating Derrida, and I’ll leave him to sit with you and your thoughts. What I will say is that I am implying –symbolising—a correlation between two forces in our current state of state. We are at work to appropriate something that will never be controlled by legislation for its nature is ungraspable: the Internet. We are at play in the Internet always. Every time we log on to say hello to someone, to check our email, to post where we are eating lunch, we are connecting with each other. This is the idea. This is rhetorical interaction with discourse. The idea needn’t, nay it cannot, be confined to one definition. The mimesis is in what we each, individually expect the Internet to do. In turn, the Internet can and will decide what to do with us. It’s kinda like sunshine that way—it shines whether we go outside or not.

Benkler, Yochai. “Hacks of Valor: Why Anonymous is Not a Threat to National Security.” ForeignAffairs. The Council of Foreign Relations, Inc. 4 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2012 <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137382/yochai-benkler/hacks-of-valor >

Derrida, Jacques. “The Ellipsis of the Sun.” Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984. Print. 230-245.

Geller, Anne Ellen, Michele Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth H. Boquet. The Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2007. Print.

Trotsky, Leon. “Alexander Blok.” Literature and Revolution. (yep, that’s all I got. This book is accessible though—how are ya MLA police?)

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One thought on “Acknowledging Expectations: Derrida, Alexander Blok, the Trickster, and…Anonymous?

  1. hello friend, this is a good written thing. I might use it to make up some tricks.

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