"Ignorance" & the Open Secret (was RE: Keeping My End Up / Re: Sexism Redux)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sun Nov 28 21:40:50 PST 1999

>Max, no one's asking you to be a scholar of feminism, but it seems to
>me that some familiarity with the basic ideas and debates are part of
>being politically literate. It's not like they're secret - the
>literature, specialized and popular, is huge, and they've even seeped
>into everyday conversation. Why do you make it sound like such an
>arcane branch of knowledge?

Perphas it is sometimes not knowledge but ignorance that is power, or a sign of the power to ignore, from the position of strength, what's perceived to be outside of one's self-interest, political or personal. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes in "Privilege of Unknowing," _Tendencies_ (Durham: Duke UP, 1993):

***** Knowledge is not itself power, although it is the magnetic field of power. Ignorance and opacity collude or compete with it in mobilizing the flows of energy, desire, goods, meanings, and persons. If M. Mitterand knows English but Mr. Reagan lacks French, it is the urbane M. Mitterand who must negotiate in an acquired tongue, the ignorant Mr. Reagan who may dilate in his native one....[B]ecause "men, with superior extralinguistic resources and privileged discourse positions, are often less likely to treat perspectives different from their own as mutually available for communication," their attitudes are "thus more likely to leave a lasting imprint on the common semantic stock than women's."

Such ignorance effects can be harnessed, licensed, and regulated on a mass scale for striking enforcements -- perhaps especially around sexuality.... *****

The closet is not mainly about gay men & lesbians wanting to hide their "sexual identities" from the supposedly straight society; if anything, self-closeting is merely a secondary effect. The closeting is primarily about institutionalized ignorance, the power to say, "such things are not discussed here." Don't ask, don't tell. The closet imposes a duty to secrecy on sexual non-conformists, to be outed at will by those on the side of power when it becomes convenient to do so. And in the event of outing, righteous begots can unleash their fury on the ground of the deceitfulness of queers. It's the Brandon Teena story.

And not just about sexuality either. U.S. imperialism functions in large part not through total secrecy but through the continuous management of the Open Secret. Plausible deniability is the operative term here. Open Secret is much better than Total Concealment, in that, in the event of disclosures of this or that "covert action," the opinion-making elite can simply say, "Don't we already know this? What's the fuss?" After strenuous denials, that is. "Civilians killed in the NATO bombings? Of course, they are. It's war, as you know. What did you expect?" In this sense, to be American is, by definition, either to be ignorant, or to be all too knowing to care. No wonder some Americans are paranoid enough to believe in the Federal Government hiding the contact with space aliens. Nothing is impossible in the National Security State of the Open Secret, or so says ideology.


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