Tradecraft accelerated, or, The spy who ceased being afraid of becoming mad

Coley, Rob (2015) Tradecraft accelerated, or, The spy who ceased being afraid of becoming mad. In: Spying on Spies: Popular Representations of Spies and Espionage, 3-5 September 2015, University of Warwick at The Shard.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


This paper takes three television spy dramas as expressions of certain ‘accelerationist’ tendencies in contemporary political culture. Accelerationism is a heretical political philosophy. It contends, in contrast to any faith in the inevitability of capitalism’s self-destruction, that the energies of this system are radically creative, and so must be pushed further and faster, meaning that the social effects of such forces must become even more intense. In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, this is to ‘cease being afraid of becoming mad’, to seize upon the pathological energies of capitalism as the means to escape it. And yet, what prompts the return of such debates to contemporary theory is the horrified realization that apparent vectors of escape are now routinely captured, securitized, and exploited by the very system they aim to disrupt. I unpack this idea in reference to three modes of tradecraft, or, the art of espionage. I begin with Homeland and Carrie Mathison, a CIA analyst who muddies the intellectual rationality of conventional tradecraft with paranoiac and schizophrenic powers of intuition. As national security becomes apophenia, Anderson embodies the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report, a document that responds to the threats and challenges of big data by emphasizing the need ‘to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratizing, the exercise of imagination.’ Revelations concerning the practices of UK and US intelligence agencies demonstrate how this is actualized, namely in the virulent but barely perceptible operation of what Fuller and Goffey have called ‘gray media’. In the second part of the paper I consider the BBC drama The Game, and its attempt to summon the spectre of le Carré’s George Smiley, as an instance of anti-accelerationist nostalgia. Far from evoking the real fug of digital surveillance, the techno-fetishistic tradecraft in The Game marks a retro retreat to the slower tempo and comparative clarity of human intelligence. In the concluding part of the paper I turn, in contrast, to TNT’s knowingly trashy Legends, a show that more accurately diagnoses the circumstances of the present. Charting the escalating crisis of Martin Odum, agent in the FBI’s Division of Covert Operations, the show deals with the radical fragmentation of the individual, and the surrender of human intelligence to the logic of the video game. In Legends, there is no escape from ever faster, ever more intense processes of mediation. I turn to the writing of Steven Shaviro to suggest that the show acknowledges that ‘like it or not – we are all accelerationists now.’

Keywords:espionage, spying, accelerationism, tv drama
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
ID Code:18657
Deposited On:16 Sep 2015 11:02

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