A flicker of annoyance passed over her face, then went away. “So melodramatic, Marcus. […]”
Well, Severe Haircut Lady (I’m still half-convinced that’s supposed to be a crude dogwhistle for “lesbian”) has a point. Pronounced Winston has just given the hammiest performance about “the Bill of Rights” ever, probably to match her Movie Mobster act.
What I find interesting here is this: he’s been imprisoned and brutalized for no obvious reason, and so far has just been reacting with fear and shock. But what makes him find his “spine” again is a spurious political argument about national security.
In other words, he doesn’t feel that what was done to him was unconditionally wrong. He just thinks it was done for the wrong reasons.
Am I reaching? Possibly, because that’s ascribing a lot of rationality to someone who is being traumatized practically as we speak. Still, we’re careful and experienced readers here, aren’t we? We all know about how texts are at odds with themselves.
I don’t really need to bore you with Derrida and deconstruction; just recall William Blake’s comment about Paradise Lost, that how Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it”. To convey the seductive power of evil, Milton chooses to make his Satan admirable — but can we really say, on the basis of Paradise Lost itself, that Milton was not likewise seduced? Or, in more precise terms, that the text, in the character of the androgynous Lucifer, displays an irreconcilable ambiguity at its very core? The only way to settle such ambiguities is to say — ah, but we know that the God of Protestant Christianity is good, from sources other than Paradise Lost, and because we are good Protestant Christians.
But we’re not — well, most of the people likely to read this aren’t. Apologies to any good Protestant Christians out there, for using you as a rhetorical device. I’m sure you can deal with it.
So the rift here, in Little Brother, becomes one between Marcus reacting the way he does because that’s the only thing he’s feeling sure of right now — his rights as an American — and of him reacting the way he does because of a narrative logic embedded in liberal political practice: you cannot infringe upon my rights, because there’s already a proper class of people for that, people who don’t have rights, the un-American “militants”, “enemy combatants” and “terrorists”. Go hassle one of them, that’s what my tax money is for!
So I rattled my wrists, wanting to get to my phone and unlock it for her, and she just looked at me coldly, checking her watch.
“The password,” I said, finally understanding what she wanted of me. She wanted me to say it out loud, here, where she could record it, where her pals could hear it. She didn’t want me to just unlock the phone. She wanted me to submit to her. To put her in charge of me. To give up every secret, all my privacy. “The password,” I said again, and then I told her the password. God help me, I submitted to her will.
The position of the phone in this scene is amazing. It’s like you’re reading the account of someone betraying their comrades-at-arms from the resistance after weeks of torture.
Except it’s just a phone.
Except it’s not just a phone, not for Marcus (and Cory). He loves his gadgets more than he loves any living person. As far as we can tell, anyway.
You might be wondering at this point what dark secrets I had locked away on my phone and memory sticks and email. I’m just a kid, after all.
The truth is that I had everything to hide, and nothing. Between my phone and my memory sticks, you could get a pretty good idea of who my friends were, what I thought of them, all the goofy things we’d done. You could read the transcripts of the electronic arguments we’d carried out and the electronic reconciliations we’d arrived at.
See, he’s right. Pronounced Winston’s condition — and ours out here in the real world, arguably — is that of cyborgs, our flesh and minds intertwined with electronics, social networking accounts and all sorts of machines that make our current way of life possible. It is a serious violation.
There’s something really liberating about having some corner of your life that’s yours, that no one gets to see except you. It’s a little like nudity or taking a dump. Everyone gets naked every once in a while. Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There’s nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them. But what if I decreed that from now on, every time you went to evacuate some solid waste, you’d have to do it in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, and you’d be buck naked?
Even if you’ve got nothing wrong or weird with your body — and how many of us can say that? — you’d have to be pretty strange to like that idea. Most of us would run screaming. Most of us would hold it in until we exploded.
It’s not about doing something shameful. It’s about doing something private. It’s about your life belonging to you.
I don’t have a critique of the concept of privacy. I don’t think a critique of the concept of privacy is necessary. Call it a bourgeois weakness in my otherwise total rejection of individualism or something.
Maybe it’s to do with my personal history, and with the fact that I’ve been deprived of privacy and self-determination for pretty long periods of time. I don’t know. I’d be happy to talk about it if you want, and figure out my position in greater detail. But as it is, I agree with Marcus.
They were taking that from me, piece by piece. As I walked back to my cell, that feeling of deserving it came back to me. I’d broken a lot of rules all my life and I’d gotten away with it, by and large. Maybe this was justice. Maybe this was my past coming back to me. After all, I had been where I was because I’d snuck out of school.
Again, I can’t help but sympathize, which kind of goes against the purpose of this whole blog, but whatever. Anyone would feel like they must’ve deserved it somehow in this situation, when their previous vision of a basically fair and predictable world is completely shattered.