Hidden Recordings
On the Idea of the Secret File


The mistake starts with talking about it. Collecting information and mapping history, knowledge and culture, that?s something books and catalogues do as well, in a printed manner. But the file?s secretive policy is different - and so is its anatomy. The file has no beginning.
Planned as a flexible system, the single-information-units circle and turn around themselves, get reloaded or await new directions in stand-by mode. Permutations of digits give weight and shape to the reports. The permanent transportation and the implication of accomplishment constitute their power. In respect of the possibility of permanent re-defining and unlimited improvement, the inevitable fragmentation of the file seems a constant threat. What we see is an attempt at description, a systematic construction to make things comparable.
Searching for a new literature, Marcel Proust writes in ?Time Regained? (1927): ?How much more worth living did life appear to me now, now that I seemed to see that this life we live in half-darkness can be illumined, this life that at every moment we distort can be restored to its true pristine shape, that a life, in short, can be realized within the confines of a book! How happy would he be, I thought, the man who had the power to write such a book! What a task awaited him! (...) He would have to prepare his book with meticulous care, perpetually regrouping his forces like a general conducting an offensive, and he would have to endure his book like a form of fatigue, to accept like a discipline, built it up like a church, follow it like a medical regime, vanquish it like an obstacle, win it like a friendship, cosset it like a little child, create it like a new world without neglecting those mysteries, whose explanation is to be found probably in worlds other than our own... In long books of this type there are parts, which there has been time only to sketch, parts which, because of the very amplitude of the architect's plan, will no doubt never completed. How many great cathedrals remain unfinished!?˚
When the communist regime in East Germany collapsed in 1989 the public experienced the rare moment of getting an unmediated glimpse of the amount of devices the state believes to need to preserve the status quo. To pursue its objective and subjective existing will for power, the state seeks to maintain its social synthesis however structured. Because the inherent violent / aggressive character of the state is not congruent with its formal character, a dark / grey area occurs which is controlled by the state's agents: Henri Lefebvre has called it the ?secret of state.? Only the disclosure of those secrets and the ?mystery of state? - at least in principle - provides an unfeigned view of the basis of the modern state. Some records and files of the East German State Securities' archives come to light and reveal mechanisms of the system. But the supposedly crucial documents get franticly absorbed in the channels of different but familiar systems and services remain in the their orbit, changing just the cover. All arguments pointing towards international conventions and UN-Charter fail to recognize the true secret of the contemporary state: the systematic extension of its foundations of violence and the increasing of its mortal power.
As the Minister for State Security from 1957 until 1989, Erich Mielke commanded a network of 92,000 professional spies and 170,000 voluntary informers and part-time snoops in East Germany. Merely restricted by law, the state security can perform purely as an instrument of control, although based on personal rather than state-of-the-art technology. The political system in the West is different, as are the techniques of securing its power. Facing another threat, the second German state is developing specific and criminal methods of organizing surveillance and search routines. From April 1968, West German society was confronted with politically motivated terrorism, the Baader-Meinhof-Group, (later the ?Rote-Armee-Fraktion? [RAF]) shaking the system's foundations. 11m investigatory files are one result of this war. The chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (BKA), Horst Herold, organized the painstaking collecting and analysis of this data. The police information system Inpol is his brainchild; he introduces the pinpointing of suspects by filing computer data and the analysis and cross-reference system of many citizens (Rasterfahndung). The BKA files identify 5,000 people in the personal surroundings of the ?Rote-Armee-Fraktion? at that time, people that sympathized with the ?city guerillia? and would possibly support the terrorists with accommodation, cars, money. As the police observe and record the movements of citizens, the information gets more profound, the access quicker. Nevertheless, the instruments used by the East German state security, such as photocopies of mail and recorded phone calls, give much more of an inkling about the desire, organization, structures and effects of surveillance, as it has been partially revealed after a system's rare fall from power.
Meanwhile the agents, whether they are former members of the state security or paid by one of the other intelligence services, operate beneath the surface, far away from the public, which they avoid as vampires do daylight. The weaving of the net has been happening silently for quite some time, increasing swiftly. ?How huge the card boxes of the police are? Franz Feldhaus writes astonished in 1926 ?I was shown in the Berlin police headquarter. The registration index, started in 1836, is already consisting of 14m cards (...) The oldest index boxes known to me are the card system of the Basel University library, the famous card box of the writer Jean Paul born in 1763 and the index system of the Mannheim police.?˚
The collections cover all sorts of criminal coleur. Amongst the extensive files discovered in 1989 in East Germany are also smell samples of members of the opposition. Pieces of fabric preserved in jars: designed to provide tracker dogs with a spoor. Soaking up intimate essences, hardly present in the individual's conscience, the system gathers ingredients for the construction of a new body, only alive in the archive's vaults. Though ?Humunculus?, the synthetic / organic alter ego in the system's mind might have turned against its creator when it simply crashes on the rocks in the sea. Occupied by manic absorbing, collecting, scanning: there is no software to process all this. A wealth of audio tapes and photocopies of letters and their envelopes block the channels, so that the state and its services chokes on the sheer amount of virtual data and heterogenic information.
Besides the obvious practice of surveillance, authorities articulate themselves graphically within the papers. Stoically repeated phrases write a signature of power into every form; the unintentionally cruder the aesthetic formulation, the more efficiently the reader's impotence is translated. The crest of the king gets exchanged for the anonymous, and therefore omnipotent, machine prints. Split into the lines of the matrix printer, the image of the grammatical subject frees itself from any personality. Individuals are replaced by figures and numbers. This is the new bias. What formerly constituted attitude is here the system of break-down, the lining up of locations, names, dates; what the literature in despair of its own morality is still dreaming about, the police state has already established through its vocabulary, the hierarchy of its channels and its machine parks.
In a letter to Louise Colet Gustave Flaubert writes in 1852: ?What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the strength of its style, just as the earth, suspended in the void, depends on nothing external for its support; a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible (...) No lyricism, no comments, the author's personality absent. It will make sad reading... Nowhere in my book must the author express his emotions or his opinions (...) The entire value of my book, if it has any, will consist of my having known how to walk straight ahead on a hair, balanced above the twin abysses of lyricism and vulgarity (which I seek to fuse in analytical narrative). Never in my life have I written anything more difficult than I am doing now - trivial dialogue.?*
The filing system brings order and relief. Patented in 1899 by the American Frank Macey, the clip mechanism to affix each card transforms the card box into an efficient search index. Preferences for ?search and destroy? pre-set: the hunter owns a logistic device, which will specify accusations. Permanently changing its nameless author, the discourse disposes of its intention to direct its information particles towards a cold fusion.
The paranoia, written from the other side, has the initial ?K.? ?On one hand the desire gets caught up in this and that segment, office, machine or sub machine and fixed to a specific form of content, which is crystallizing itself in a specific form of expression...; on the other hand, it simultaneously slips away, dashes over the entire line, carried away by a liberated moment, dragging deformed contents with it to the vastness of the field of justice or immanence, where it finally finds an exit? Deleuze / Guattari write on a text by Kafka.* The paranoia of power finds its counterpart in individual madness. The person minuting is writing down the facts of the world in which he is living. Deleuze / Guattari put it this way: the paranoiac is practizing "macro physics". What they describe as a net of machinery of chains, where the lonesome people (in whom the subject is discovering itself) are celibatary and threatened, Henri Lefbvre calls the "repressive state": ?Thus the basis of repression is a controlled balance of sexuality and fecundity.?* To write down the story of his own pursuit is the fatal dilemma of the hunted because he cannot read it. The moment that they are opposing the process of spontaneous and uncontrolled transformation, either the state or the individual paranoiac reveal the shared nature of somebody in power. ?The paranoiac?, writes Elias Canetti in ?Crowds and Power?, ?is completely captivated by the dis-adaptation and proves himself to be a stiffened ruler.?** Impersonated by voluntary informants the two poles, sometimes acting like Doppelg?nger, converge. The paradox of articulation under the circumstances of the modern state becomes evident when Derrida points out: ?the madman's disaster, the never-ending disaster of their silence is that their top spokesmen are the ones who betray them best. When one wants to express their silence, one has already become an enemy and has changed to the side of order, even if one is opposing order within order and questioning its origin.?*
Apart from elliptical structures (and in reality often inaccurate) cross references, the file uses a significant range of graphic displays. Lines and boxes preempt the content, which then becomes affirmed by childlike signatures and handwriting. Each form articulates its entire biography, starting with the date of birth in the correct upper box or in the appendix. ?The text, which is called presence? as Jacques Derrida writes ?is only deciphering itself at the lower margin / edge of the spread, in the note or the post-scriptum. Before it comes to this turn backwards, the presence is just the appeal of a note.? The pre-fab grammar takes the individual responsibility away from the writer. Filling, the ultimate, sterile act of affirmation. It eliminates one's fear of the white spread, kills all hesitations. The motion of functions is exorcising the meanings of names to turn them into bodies without organs.
The anatomy of these forms and papers resemble that of a cripple. As a construct of pathetic disgrace the file attempt to escape this criteria via industrial recreation. Repetitions are in fact a characteristic of these recordings. In the world of reading / writing, of lithographers and printers, forgery is at home. As soon as the first gaze hits the form, it is transformed into the noose around the phantom's head. Uncounted piles and endless rows of archived material are the ingredients of the silent fraud. The data form is not waiting to get charged with new details, with contents, but to become authorized by the seal of a higher authority. Only then its identity gets shaped and it gets closer to reaching its final destination: to be filed and categorized in the legions of folders, to become completely absorbed - and possibly vanish in them.
The pages are labeled by the (military) messages of the headings and sub-headings. Categories triumph over information, information that possibly does not exist. The crucial part of the container is the standardized label.
The true horror lies in the case, which is supposedly impossible. The system doesn't assume this situation to become a reality: the encounter between the file and its object. File meets recorded being. The distorted mirror confronts Anti-Narcissus with the untruth and judges it laconically. Threaded on to cues and keywords on index cards, a biography of dissecting triviality in painstakingly detailed categories occurs. What does not exist is a narrative about people. Rather it is a tumor of rumor's permutations and precise inaccuracies, which grow, spreading to all sides.
The promises of the scripts in their conspiratorial quality the reality cannot fulfill. It appears like a crossword puzzle, but it is not. But this gap is, in fact, a device leading towards the file's vocation. The file serves as a legitimate strategy for the practice of state power; another easily bought witness, who reveals its corruption in each keystroke. It is poetry of treason that has been written between the file's black covers.


Marcel Proust Time Regained. Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin, trans. New York, 1993,
Franz Feldhaus, Polizei und Technik. Berlin 1926
Gustave Flaubert, The Selected Letters of Gustave Flaubert. Francis Steegmuller, ed. New York, 1953,
Deleuze/Guattari, Kafka. F?r eine kleine Literatur. Frankfurt 1976,
Henri Lefebvre cit. in: Hajo Schmidt, Sozialphilosophie des Krieges, Essen 1990
Elias Canetti, Macht und Masse, Frankfurt 1984
Jacques Derrida, Die Schrift und die Differenz, Frankfurt 1972