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The Genealogy of “Secrecy": Toward the Democracy to Come

Takaaki Morinaka
Professor, Faculty of Law, Waseda University

What position does the concept of secrecy occupy and what value does it hold for citizens living in our present society? This may seem like a simple question, or a question with an obvious answer. But no other concept today is as highly-loaded or multi-layered in meaning as secrecy. It is such an important concept that the maturity of a society is measured by how well secrecy is preserved and functions in that society. But secrecy in what sense, exactly?

First and foremost, there is secrecy that has psychological value. It's generally understood that everyone has a mind or inner world with areas (secrets) one doesn't want others to know about. We must note, however, that this understanding itself is a cultural formation with a specific date in European history. Michel Foucault has provided the most systematic analysis of this point. In his lecture “Sexuality and Power" (1978), Foucault traces the moment at which secrecy was structurally incorporated into the modern subject to the establishment of the “shepherd = pastoral power" in Christianity. In this religious system, the “shepherd = pastor" plays the privileged role of “knowing and monitoring everything about the individual" and exercising “continuous control" for the salvation of the individuals as a flock of sheep. This role can be seen specifically in the mechanism of the confessional in churches. Here, a person “must communicate […] everything that happens in the secret recesses of his soul" to the “the shepherd = pastor," who acts as the “teacher of truth." Foucault points out, however, that a critical illusion is produced at this moment without the person's awareness. When the person “confesses," it appears that “something that was already there" is expressed and heard. What is happening here, however, is that this “something" is actually formed and recognized for the first time through the act of representation; in other words, confession is an event that produces the dimension of “sin," and thus a dimension of the subject's “reality = truth," through the “direction of the soul." Foucault then concludes that the “inner world," “self-consciousness" and “subjectivity" which characterize modern Europe are nothing less than the effects of this religious=historical apparatus.

Using this as a point of departure, we can gain a new critical understanding of various social systems. One example is the training Japanese students receive in writing compositions during compulsory “national language" classes. I'm sure we've all had experiences in our youth of being “directed" by a teacher in class to “write exactly what you feel and think." Foucault, however, would argue that what this activity does (regardless of teachers' good intentions) is to form the “mind" or “inner world" of the young subjects and construct their “subjectivity" by making them aware of this inner world. During this activity, the young subject “creates" a “mind" or “inner world" no one has ever seen for the first time.

And then there's psychoanalysis or its more popularized form, clinical psychology, an obvious modern form of the “shepherd = pastoral power." In analytic therapy or interviews, the person being analyzed is expected to overcome psychological problems, which are regarded as the cause of a disease due to the person's previous unawareness of them, by literally becoming aware of and verbalizing their “inner world"—particularly, (what are believed to be) the deepest, most hidden areas of their experience—with the doctor or counselor playing the role of the listener. I do not deny the fact that this process is meaningful for people who are suffering. But we should be aware that this system is, at the end of the day, something which by its nature “directs" people to adequately conform to social norms.

Taking all of this into account, what should we reconsider today regarding our “inner world," which is clearly a historical and cultural formation rather than a natural, absolute and universal phenomenon, and the psychological value of “secrecy" it maintains?

In his book Passions (1993), Jacques Derrida examines another dimension of “secrecy"—“secrecy" in the ontological dimension, if you will. This secrecy “is not a private interiority that one would have to reveal" or “confess." On the contrary, it is a non-appropriable dimension in which the “secret" is independent of the subject's “inner world" and is always already open to the “outside" without being named as such. The “secret" cannot be “analyzed" or “represented" in any way and remains an enigma even to the subject himself, although it defines the existence of the subject on a fundamental level. It is something more than the “inner world," so to speak, something more than the “freedom of thought and conscience" (Article 19 of the Constitution of Japan). Derrida says that it is this that constitutes “a hyperbolic condition of democracy." In other words, if certain conditions are met, this “secrecy" overflows from the “inner world," which is unable to block the dangers of intrusion, manipulation, or influence, and remains a mark of the irreducible specificity of the subject without ever being turned into information. Once we preserve and have mutual respect for this form of secrecy, we can guarantee the arrival of true democracy…

This in itself may sound like a difficult and secretive proposal. But at this moment in time, when the Japanese state is promoting the “protection of specified (state) secrets" and “moral" education to rectify the mind, this concept of “secrecy" would surely provide the basis for a beneficial ethical-political resistance, even if it were just reserved as an ideal.

Takaaki Morinaka
Professor, Faculty of Law, Waseda University

Professor Morinaka was born in Tokyo in 1960. After serving as a part-time lecturer at Gakushuin University, Tama Art University, and other institutions, he became an assistant professor at the School of Law, Waseda University in 2001, assuming his current position in 2006. He specializes in modern French literature and thought. He is the author of Deconstruction [Datsukōchiku] (Iwanami Shoten, 1999), Being and Ashes: After Celan and Derrida [Sonzai to Hai: Tsueran, soshite Derida Igo] (Jimbun Shoin, 2004), Law [Hō] (Iwanami Shoten, 2005), and Infinite Passion: Derrida, Blanchot and Deleuze [Owarinaki Passhon: Derida, Buransho, Durūzu] (Miraisha, 2012); coauthor of Transformative Thought: Against Global Fascism (The Frontier of Thought Series) [(Shikō no Furontia) Henseisuru Shikō: Gurōbaru Fashizumu ni Kōshite] (Iwanami Shoten, 2005) and The Challenges of a Collapsing World and Age (The Frontier of Thought Series) [(Shikō no Furontia) Kowareyuku Sekai to Jidai no Kadai] (same publisher, 2009); translator of Jacques Derrida's Khôra (Khôra: Plato's Space) [Kōra: Puraton no Ba] (Miraisha, 2004) and co-translator of Gilles Deleuze's Critique et Clinique [Hihyō to Rinshō] (Kawade Bunko, 2010), among other publications. His major literary works include A Collection of Poems by Takaaki Morinaka [Morinaka Takaaki Shishū] (Shichosha (Gendaishi Bunko), 1999).