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Politics of Disclosure

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Organizer: Anne Brancky

Co-Organizer: Youna Kwak

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The past year has been marked by the intense social, political and discursive impact of movements of disclosure in the public sphere. In this seminar, we explore the public revelation of private experiences, feelings, and information that occur in autobiographical literary and cinematic forms, on social media platforms, through internet and social-media disseminated projects and movements such as #Metoo, “I Too Am Harvard,” whistle-blower reports, lawsuits and information leaks, and others.
 
To disclose private experience, especially when that experience is traumatic, is valorized as courageous and risky but can also be framed as malicious and disloyal, or derided as untrue altogether. On the one hand, to reveal damaging secrets is to be selfless, self-sacrificial, and empathic. On the other hand, it is possible to disclose too much, or to disclose in the wrong way—to be selfish, cowardly, and narcissistic (TMI!)--at the wrong time, or in the wrong context. This is true when disclosure implicates personal lives coded as singular, as well those touched by institutional, systemic, or structural harm or violence.
 
In her introduction to the edited volume Intimacies (2000), Lauren Berlant asked: “How can we think about the ways attachments make people public, producing transpersonal identities and subjectivities, when those attachments come from within spaces as varied as those of domestic intimacy, state policy, and mass-mediated experiences of intensely disruptive crises?” Almost twenty years later, we are perhaps living in a moment where those spaces have collided.
 
Some questions to help guide our inquiry:
 
What kind of knowledge is a secret that is publicly disclosed? What is the epistemology of disclosure? How do these public disclosures create competing forms of intimacy? How do they underscore the political and epistemological stakes of community, selfhood, truth and fiction?
 
Psychoanalysis and anthropology tell us that to disclose a secret creates a closeness between the keeper of the secret and the one to whom the secret is being disclosed. But what kind of closeness is created when the recipient of the secret is everyone? If the structure of the secret depends on the exclusion of a third party from whom the secret is being kept, who is being kept out when a secret is publicly disclosed? What kinds of communities are formed?
 
Is the notion of public intimacy merely an illusion? What does the illusion of intimacy in the public space (literature, film, TV, podcasts) actually do? Who gets to decide what being in the know means? Who sets the terms of intimacy, who establishes how much is too much, and how much is not enough?
 
Is there a sacrificial quality of disclosure? What does it mean to speak your trauma in the public sphere?
 
 

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