Wednesday, May 11, 2005


It seems that Hannah Arendt is making many an appearance these days, adding depth to commentary about the current US regime. This quotation is irresistably apt, from The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951):

Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.

The quotation appeared in the 5/26/05 issue of TLS which also featured an article on codes - on US military use of codes in operations and intelligence (a review of William M. Arkin's Code Names). The essay notes the significance of amateur plane spotters (who knew?) in identifying the movements of the ominous Gulfstream V jet that was involved in "rendition," the term of art for moving detainees to states unsqueamish about torture.

Rendition: That's what the senior advisor to President Bush means, when he tells The New York Times (Sunday Magazine), "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." Render reality, render subjects, render the facts.

Back to codes: There was a secret level of secrecy in the planning for war in Iraq. This upper level of clearance was called "Polo Step." When the mere existence of this coded level of secrecy was revealed in the Los Angeles Times, the Air Force spent $1.5 million to uncover the leak. (And they can't find who leaked the identity of a CIA agent?) The government invests in codes of codes.

But someone names a code. Amateur plane spotters spot a secret plane. An officer slides a cd of torture and sex photos under a door. We don't even know - concretely, specifically, for sure - these violations until we get these facts. How is this not revelation of truth? If this is a different kind of naming, of language as code from the coded renditions of the Bush regime, how can we speak about that difference? Do we? (the we being the "you" of the university who "study what we do" as history's actors). What are the linguistics and semantics of this difference? I am invested in the distinction. I am drawn to the propositional, the referent, the signified.

On Lacan and language as password, see Jodi Dean's 4/26/05 entry from her thread on Zizek, at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes "codes" are merely the use of the enemy's words against him. My thinking is "advocate judges." Attorneys are supposed to advocate...judges, by profession, are no different. The same liberals who argue that legislation cannot be undone by judges because legislation is the infamous "will of the people" completely defy history and the "advocates" for social change that gave us, to offer but one example, the civil rights movement. Conservative legislators (and evangelicals, etc.) ignore the constitution, and the role of the judiciary in maintaining its integrity (in spite of/despite Congress' indiscretions). "Advocate" becomes a bad word, and arguments over the fillibuster piggyback tort reform. And the irony is ignored...the irony that Bushy wants to appoint judges, Bushy was elected, but judges should be reigned in...judges either elected or appointed by the same legislators calling for their resignations.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous clearly meant "republicans," not "liberals" in the fourth sentence.

5:16 PM  

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