I will be at UCSD next month to give a talk, sponsored by the Program for the Study of Religion and the Literature Department.
Out There, As If, Not Me: A ‘Mythological’ Reading of the Online Surveillance Society
I know they might be watching, Snowden told me so – but I don’t ‘feel’ it happening. The government tells me surveillance prevents terrorism – but proof of this is classified. Contemporary online surveillance is characterised by a persistent recession of surveillance practice and knowledge from the individual. Consequently, the reality of surveillance manifests as a world ‘out there’, one which ‘must be working’ in ways we cannot quite confirm ourselves. The ways in which we come to ‘know’ and ‘believe’ surveillance are irreducible to narratives of information transmission, rationalist deliberation or false consciousness.
In this talk, I attempt to characterise these ways of knowing and believing as ‘mythological’. Nonmodern myths depict a world ‘out there’ beyond our space and time precisely so that it may schematise our everyday life, stabilise our affective and intuitive orientations, and help us feel the world makes some minimal ‘sense’. The ‘mythological relation’ is thus an act of world-building. This talk examines media discourse around the early months of the Snowden affair, and identifies two key techniques for such knowing and believing. First, subjunctivity leverages the recessive unknowability surrounding surveillance as if it were in some way true and certain, producing hypothetical, provisionary bases for real, enduring actions and beliefs. Second, interpassivity projects others who believe and experience what we cannot ourselves in our stead. Even if the world of surveillance and terror is not real in my back yard, these interpellated others make it ‘real enough’. A mythological reading interprets our emerging surveillance world as a key site for generating our affective, lived relationships with new media technologies.