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At the junction of Joyce and the War on Terror
June 16, 2013 2:16 PM   Subscribe

The first thing I did after I heard about the highly classified NSA PRISM program two years ago was set up a proxy server in Peshawar to email me passages from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
posted by From Bklyn (49 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
We'll have our private palypeachum pillarposterns for lovesick letterines fondly affianxed to our front railings and swings, hammocks, tighttaught balletlines, accomodationnooks and prismic bathboites, to make Envyeyes mouth water and wonder when they binocular us from their embrassured windows in our garden rare.

Finnegans Wake 2.1.235 lines 21-26

(A-and yes, it's about spying...)
posted by chavenet at 2:24 PM on June 16, 2013


If Joyce were alive today, it is slightly comforting to imagine NSA agents getting freaked out going through the emails between him and his wife.
posted by JHarris at 2:35 PM on June 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


I presume the agent's name isn't really O'Brien... they just thought "literary smart-arse, is it? We'll show him."
posted by pompomtom at 2:36 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


pompomtom: "I presume the agent's name isn't really O'Brien... they just thought "literary smart-arse, is it? We'll show him.""

The learning to love the government at the end is the tip-off, innit.
posted by symbioid at 2:37 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


(...and then I got to the end...)
posted by pompomtom at 2:37 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Beautiful
When the FBI showed up, my heart truly was struck with terror. The prospect of explaining the texts—it was possible, but I had a secret and awful shame: I didn’t actually understand some of them. The Hopkins texts I could perhaps handle, but Finnegans Wake?
posted by adamvasco at 2:37 PM on June 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Excellent.
posted by Jode at 2:38 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


wow... great story.. thanks!
posted by snaparapans at 2:42 PM on June 16, 2013


the tip-off

Yeah, it looks like Poe's law applies to the security services these days.
posted by pompomtom at 2:43 PM on June 16, 2013


Finally the truth is at long last revealed; the writings of James Joyce are truly unconscionable acts of terrorism!

TAKE THAT AP ENGLISH TEACHER WHO GAVE ME A B+
posted by elizardbits at 2:44 PM on June 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


It would be nice to know what he pled guilty to.

What was the point of his prank? His prank certainly didn't succeed in making the government look stupid, if that was the point.
posted by Unified Theory at 2:45 PM on June 16, 2013


I didn't get the impression that any of this was intended to be taken literally, as a true story.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:47 PM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I didn't get the impression that any of this was intended to be taken literally, as a true story.

Of course you would say that. Is that code for something?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:48 PM on June 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


The first thing I did after I heard about the highly classified NSA PRISM program two weeks ago was listen to the new Daft Punk album because I like to think that French electronica can solve most any problem in this world.
posted by Fizz at 2:49 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


What was the point of his prank?

Just to clear up any misunderstanding, although Warscapes publishes both non-fiction and fiction, this short story is filed under "Literature" on its site, not "Reportage" or "Opinion".

The learning to love the government at the end is the tip-off, innit.

Innit, though? Here is the end of Sifton's piece: "But it was all right now, I didn’t need to answer Fitzgerald’s question. Everything was going to be all right, the struggle was finished. I had learned to love the government."

And here is the close of 1984: "But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:59 PM on June 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


When prose is outlawed, only outlaws will write prose.

They can take my prose from my dead, cold fingers.

Happiness is a warm poem.

A poetic society is a polite society.

Prose doesn't kill people, people kill people.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:59 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Feh, he just sent ambiguous words through the 'net. I've actually committed a federal crime through the Internet.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 outlaws discussions of "where, how, or of whom, or by what means any drug, medicine, article, or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion . . . may be obtained or made". The minute I learned that it had been passed and contained that clause, I looked up the address of a local clinic that provided abortions and emailed the information to my sister. Thank ACLU the act was ruled unconstitutional.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:06 PM on June 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Happy Bloosmday then?
posted by vrakatar at 3:10 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Feh, he just sent ambiguous words through the 'net. I've actually committed a federal crime through the Internet.

DISAMBIGUATION COMMENCE

THIS DID NOT HAPPEN

IT IS A STORY

DISAMBIGUATION COMPLETE

PROCEED WITH THREAD
posted by Sebmojo at 3:19 PM on June 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I didn't get the impression that any of this was intended to be taken literally, as a true story.
I'm sure it was intended to be taken literarily.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:21 PM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is just utterly perfect. Thank you for sharing it.

Here is what I offer in recompense:

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:22 PM on June 16, 2013 [19 favorites]


I think the point this guy is trying to make is that the NSA doesn't hire enough liberal arts types.
posted by dortmunder at 3:31 PM on June 16, 2013


That was brilliant.
posted by homunculus at 3:36 PM on June 16, 2013




John Sifton on Twitter
posted by homunculus at 3:44 PM on June 16, 2013


When he is forced to explain definitions and explain why someone would engage in the act of wordplay, it really brought back to me the scenes in Godard's Alphaville where the Alpha-60 supercomputer was interrogating Lemmy Caution, and through poetics and abstractions, Lemmy confuses and eventually destroys the computer that controls an entire city and its population.

I wish I could find a link to the scene, but it seems Studio Canal has had that segment removed from YouTube.
posted by chambers at 3:50 PM on June 16, 2013


Fantastic. I like this John Sifton. Thanks for the post.
posted by TrolleyOffTheTracks at 3:58 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sebmojo: so, were you just pretending to disambiguate the thread?

Obviously, it's meant to be taken literally literally, not figuratively literally.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:10 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to clear up any misunderstanding, although Warscapes publishes both non-fiction and fiction, this short story is filed under "Literature" on its site, not "Reportage" or "Opinion".

Good for him. He got me. I could totally see someone doing a prank like this and it going exactly as it does in the story. Which I guess is the point.
posted by Unified Theory at 4:14 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh, this piece moved me in the opposite direction. The prose felt weak. The descriptions glossed over or nearly non-existent. The freakish jump to the obvious 1984 reference at the end.

It's a plausible tale and would make a great, fantastic even, prank in its own right as a form of disinfo ("Did that really happen???"), but it's not tight enough to be sudden fiction and it's not cohesive enough to be a short story.

And I really wanted to enjoy it, too.
posted by artof.mulata at 4:49 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


He would have had less trouble if server was located in the US...did he expect to write stuff that might raise red flags and not be questioned? Was he happy that he had fooled some guys doing their job to protect us? Would he prefer that messages imply bad shit be totally ignored by his govt. Liberal arts might be what is needed, says one comment , (they hire humanities people)..but humanities wise asses are the types that do such pranks, thinking they are clever.
I too do not like govt snooping but it is here and is not going away, it seems, and so don't taunt them to show how I managed to provoke someone, then, at taxpayer's expense, I got cleared.
posted by Postroad at 5:09 PM on June 16, 2013



He would have had less trouble if server was located in the US...did he expect to write stuff that might raise red flags and not be questioned? Was he happy that he had fooled some guys doing their job to protect us? Would he prefer that messages imply bad shit be totally ignored by his govt. Liberal arts might be what is needed, says one comment , (they hire humanities people)..but humanities wise asses are the types that do such pranks, thinking they are clever.
I too do not like govt snooping but it is here and is not going away, it seems, and so don't taunt them to show how I managed to provoke someone, then, at taxpayer's expense, I got cleared.


Are you trying for a bad Joyce pastiche or do you just naturally write like this?

Some part of Ulysses seem relevant here... like the one where everything is told in advertising slogans, and the Night Town chapter gone surreal.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:15 PM on June 16, 2013


Postroad is kidding, CiS. Check his history.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:24 PM on June 16, 2013


But 'history' is just another narrative, man.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:35 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


History is a nightmare. Wake up, sheeple!
posted by homunculus at 5:38 PM on June 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


That was excellent. I loved that the interrogations were basically the same questions asked in high school literature class when you read Joyce.

I need to read more by John Sifton.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:09 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


When prose is outlawed, only outlaws will write prose.

They can take my prose from my dead, cold fingers.

Happiness is a warm poem.

A poetic society is a polite society.

Prose doesn't kill people, people kill people.



Ooh-ooh ... I've got one: No matter how bad the prose is, it could always be verse.


What did I win?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:23 PM on June 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'll admit, that's a good one.
posted by JHarris at 6:36 PM on June 16, 2013


very, very good.
posted by grubby at 6:55 PM on June 16, 2013


I'll admit, that's a good one.

Did you consider the prose and cons?
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:49 PM on June 16, 2013


What a great project. Now where are all the 35-minute EC2 instances again?
posted by a halcyon day at 7:50 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The hypothetical prank would be more interesting if the texts were twiddled before being sent. Like, you have a process that modifies every n characters, and the changes are the output of a Markov process applied to the speeches of Henry Kissenger. And these are XORed with the string "BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE."
posted by zippy at 7:55 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The hypothetical prank would be more interesting if the texts were twiddled before being sent.
That would miss a major underlying subtext of this essay: that the various intelligence agencies are now staffed with unthinking robots* and technicians, rather than the sort of liberal arts types from Harvard and Yale that would have known Joyce's work intimately and were the original employees of the OSS and later CIA.

* literal robots, as in drones and computer programs
posted by b1tr0t at 8:26 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find his theories on fungoalgaceous muscafilicial intriguing, and would like to know more. Does he have a newsletter I can subscribe to or perhaps a cryptogam enthusiast meetup?
posted by Ad hominem at 8:27 PM on June 16, 2013


I just wanted to say anotherpanacea has posted my favorite poem, ever, and you should read it again.
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:27 PM on June 16, 2013


A couple of times I've posted some of the supposed "key" words that the Homemade Security people look for on social media just to sort of test the waters. I think we should all do that, and tweet some of these dangerous words several times a day as well.
Cause Big Brother.
posted by Hobgoblin at 8:38 PM on June 16, 2013


And thanks, anotherpanacea, for the Wendell Berry.
posted by Hobgoblin at 8:43 PM on June 16, 2013


That would miss a major underlying subtext of this essay: that the various intelligence agencies are now staffed with unthinking robots* and technicians, rather than the sort of liberal arts types from Harvard and Yale that would have known Joyce's work intimately and were the original employees of the OSS and later CIA.

And nobody thought that having a corpus of etexts to pass intercepted phrases through (is this from the Koran? the Communist Manifesto? A poet favoured by adherents of _____?) would be useful? I doubt that. If the CIA/NSA are investing millions in developing AI systems that summarise and interpret data, building up databases about the real world that could be used to provide crib sheets for analysts (“this guy has a quote from Kafka in his Facebook profile but he got the words wrong; paranoia+1, attentiveness-1”) would make a lot of sense, and running any random suspicious text through it would as well.
posted by acb at 6:03 AM on June 17, 2013


Homemade Security

Perfect.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:20 AM on June 17, 2013


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