Empirically: We infiltrated the Rockefeller library, outfitted in stealth apparel and armed with our tools of resistance: rubber bands, glue sticks, paper clips, official government notices, a video camera, and an umbrella. The government notices, which may have been downloaded from the website of the Department of Homeland Security or may have been convincingly fabricated by our collective, reads as follows: "As of 15 November 2007, the book you are holding has been deemed [sic: designated] 'Elevated Risk' in accordance with PATRIOT-USA as per NSA and DHS regulations. By checking this book out of the library, you may be subject to the exceptional deployment of certain surveillance measures from the United States Department of Homeland Security." We proceeded to determine which volumes should be so regulated as per current governmental definitions of 'pornography' and 'politically hazardous material.' Most of these titles were located in the HV-HX sections of the DLC (Library of Congress) classification system, which includes genocide, terrorism (foreign and domestic), hate crimes, the Democrat Party, anti-Americanism, communism, and anarchism (this section being a downright breeding ground for clear and present danger); additional sections attacked include those on the history of Islam, censorship, and government publications from the Department of Defense. All in all, 160 titles were defaced.
Contextually: Ever since the passage of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001forty-five days after 11 September 2001, and to a lesser degree even before then, the records of anyone using public libraries have been subject to governmental surveillance and regulation. Accessing certain types of titles can result in increased attention to the personal activities of such questionable readers. Thankfully, such surveillance does not [might not] apply to the library system on Brown University, although all records are indeed logged indefinitely, and are searchable by both user and bibliographic entry. Additionally: in the days leading up to our project, Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, made an interesting statement: "We need to move beyond the construct that equates anonymity with privacy and focus more on how we can protect essential privacy in this interconnected environment." In his speech, which cites this changing notion of privacy by framing it as the transition from the Lone Ranger and Tonto to mySpace, Facebook, and YouTube, Kerr goes on to explain that privacy no longer means we can expect anonymity; rather, it means that governments and corporations must learn to be responsible with the personal data they collect.
Textually: Our project is, first and foremost, a prank (Dery)--a weighty one that attempts to jam the media (Branwyn), or at least attempts to jam an apparatus for the dissemination of media texts. We tried to do this through a few different mechanisms. One was to construct a dialogue with current users of the books: we inserted our system of signs, which adopts the rhetoric of the enemy system (note that this tactic relies on sincerity as much as parody, Yes Men), into the governmental system of signs itself. This is a form of parasitism (Martin) in many respects; we piggyback on an oppressive semiotic system, and enhance it with our critical commentary. We also encourage a form of resistant viewership (Certeau) by (disclaimer: conceptual dysphoria ahead) parasitizing the texts into which we inserted our already-parasitized rhetoric of security, leading these potential readers of the physical books to read with a critical eye: why would this book be censored or surveilled? On another level, we're interested in constructing a dialogue across time, that is to say, with future users of the library. Many books we defaced had not been checked out for over 20 years; perhaps they will not be consulted for twenty more. What does it mean to forcibly affect some future researcher's conception of the 2007 political climate? Here we're trying to subvert the archive itself (Lyotard), assaulting not only the knowledge/power contained within the books, but also the researcher's understanding of how to access this archive (or, as Lyotard would say, "data bank"); this skill of access has replaced the skill of memorization. Also in this second scenario, the dialogue across time, we're trying to interrogate the notion of temporality as mediation (Mariniello). How does this simple passage of time mediate our message? Does it become de-radicalized? Is archival time as much a form of mediation as, say, spatial indexicality a la the Rockefeller Library or digital indexicality a la YouTube?
Branwyn, Gareth. Jamming the Media. San Francisco: Chronicle, 1997. (esp. on pranking--p.272)
Certeau, Michel de. _"General Introduction." _The Practice of Everyday Life, pp. xi - xxiv.
Kerr, Donald. "Remarks and Q&A by the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence." 2007 United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation Symposium. 23 October 2007.
Lyotard, Jean-François (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
Mariniello, Silvestra. "Temporality and the Culture of Intervention." boundary 2, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Autumn, 1995), pp. 111-139.
Martin, Nathan. "Parasites and Other Forms of Tactical Augmentation." Anarchitexts, pp. 115-122.
Yes Men: Gatt.org Project.