File Size: 2749 KB
Print Length: 370 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (June 18, 2013)
Publication Date: June 1, 2013
A nicely argued and for me, refreshing publication., This is a truly brilliant book: a large ranging, deeply researched, and compelling argument that " surveillance and literature, as kindred practices, have light to shed on each other. " It's a counterintuitive claim, initially, because these aren't fields we associate with each other, but it is about together as Rosen and Santesso deal with the ways in which monitoring is mainly about creating a narrative, and that the power to be gained through surveillance resides in control of that narrative.
So who controls the narrative: the one in front of the camera, and also the one behind it? The one writing the script, or the one reading it?
The questions started for Rosen and Santesso when they considered as the discipline of surveillance studies in the wake of the attacks on Sept 11, 2001. They saw contributions to surveillance discussions from political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, and technicians, but found that “the distinctive and necessary share of the humanities as a result to this conversation” had “largely gone unarticulated” (5). There was clearly a lot of gadgeteering, and plenty of discussions by what sorts of techniques were legal, should be legal, or could be legal, even some communications theory, but all founded on an presumption that if we are just able to assemble the right data, we will " understand the reality about people" (an important phrase for the book), and that we would have the ability to tell what they will do next.
Thus this book is a corrective to that distance in discussions of monitoring. Their work places humanistic thought–careful cultural history–in intricate and satisfying conversation with the disciplines working to theorize surveillance for our moment.
Arguing that “the ultimate target of most monitoring activity: the individual self” is best approached as a tangle of slippery questions rather than a stable given, Watchman in Pieces offers an account of “the ways that conceptions of selfhood have changed over time" (8). Working across modes and genres, their argument spans from the early modern period to the current day, alongside the way challenging current discussions of the role of literature in culture (I love their legislation that there is no substantial role for learning literature " in a conceptual field configured by Foucault and Baudrillard" –what?! Read it! ). Actually more, they take on the myth of interpretive competence that lies at the rear of much thinking about monitoring: the idea that if you start getting data on someone, it offers you the keys to their life.
Through careful examination of diverse text messaging, from Locke’s Essay on Toleration through Orwell’s oeuvre and Tolkien’s novels to Enemy of the Express and other films from our own era, Rosen and Santesso demonstrate that the “hermeneutic problems of surveillance are also literary problems” (13). There's a lot of modern and early modern history here, via a careful selection of representative figures, but what I actually love even more is the way that this strategically leaps forward to discuss most recent events in the light of previous discussions (I've have got to say that I did NOT REALLY expect this guide to evaluate the Keith Urban/Nicole Kidman wedding, but it DOES).
In assembling the broad conceptions of such a human and how the idea of watching and monitoring people have changed over time, the argument activates a substantial range of thinkers who have attempted to grapple with the power of narrative to shape our lives. I actually love what they do with Shakespeare, in handling both Othello and Typically the Tempest. We have discussion of More's Utopia as a predecessor to professional age experiments in demographic sorting and policing. I find their discussion of Bentham substantial in the way that they disentangle him from Foucault's conception of the panopticon–was Foucault ever not reductive? (but he was reductive so interestingly! )–and read Bentham through his cultural (social and literary) context, through more than just one passageway describing a prison. There's a great piece wherein Bentham describes his own experience of reading Richardson's emotional Camilla which is a no brainer price of admission. They will do some really interesting things with the development of surnames, the history of the postal office shooting and the surveillance of mail, the relationship between class and policing (and the detective novel), the split between progressivism and paranoia in twentieth century narratives. Critically, this book is great.
Being a literary scholar and an intellectual historian I actually just found this continually satisfying and surprising and on the mark. Typically the way they pull with each other Wordsworth and Luois Brandeis, J. S. Mill, Weber, Adorno, Habermas, Foucault, Baudrillard, while others just makes this compelling stuff. Overall, is actually an ambitious, and exactly what is more successful, attempt to think again about modernity, exploring “the outcomes that fiction has on fact, ” and finally offering us a new way of understanding how and why we watch and read our neighbors (9).
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