Want To Grasp Intel Surveillance Better? Read More Classic Novels

The Long March
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob Smith

Today, issues of surveillance dominate the news as FISA procedures, practices and their implications grab attention. As someone trained to read novels, I absorb these stories with a particular interest, because surveillance is central to the novel.


Not only is the novel a deeply visual form that vividly brings characters and settings in front of a reader, but it is also a form obsessed with watching, with characters looking at one another. The novel isn’t just visual, though; novel readers are hipped on the question “Who speaks?” Reading a novel is, in fact, an act of watching and of listening, of observing and hearing. So novel-reading teaches its practitioner not only how to look and listen, but how to keep track of information. To add in one more layer, we’ll see that novel reading is an act of keeping track of keeping track of information.

Charles Dickens is especially celebrated for the pictorial quality of his novels. A well-known fan of popular visual entertainments, including the theatre, the panorama, and the diorama among others, that allowed viewers to achieve new and interesting points of view Dickens brings this interest into his writing. Early lines of Bleak House run, “Fog everywhere… Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all around them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.” Dickens shows off here, and more than a little. In writing of the obscuring effects of the fog, the unnamed London-dwelling characters look down only to see fog, Dickens parades his ability to show his readers a scene that is about the difficulty of looking experienced by people in that scene.

Of course, there are plenty of times when people in novels do watch, look, observe and examine. Jane Eyre may be the poor relation in a brutally unfair household, but Charlotte Brontë creates a character that knows how to keep her eyes open. It’s through Jane that other characters, events, and settings come into view. When she and her spoiled cousin stand face to face in the opening scene of the book Brontë has Jane report, “John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old; four years older than I, for I was but ten; large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and large extremities.” Through Jane’s eyes, the reader sees John Reed in all his grimy pudginess.

Novelists also speak openly of the difficulty of accurately painting a world for their readers. George Eliot’s narrator lays out her troubles on just this score, “[M]y strongest effort is to … give a faithful account of men and things as they have mirrored themselves on my mind. The mirror is doubtless defective… the reflection faint or confused; but I feel as much bound to tell you as precisely as I can what that reflection is.” Accuracy and precision, painstakingly achieved, are Eliot’s watchwords. The acutely self-aware novelist is aware that their writing is, for all that it strains towards the truth, a representation of things and not the thing itself. The mirror shows an image; a novel captures the image of that image. It turns out that keeping tracking of information, of its sources and its origins is crucial to fiction.

No type of fiction dramatizes this more fully than detective fiction. In addition to looking closely, there’s a reason that the magnifying glass so easily stands in for the detective, the detective also asks questions and listens. The recent film version of Agatha Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express wonderfully captures how full the narrative is of dialogue between Poirot and his suspects. Kenneth Branagh sweeps up and down the carriage, fills trains rooms, sits at tables in the dining car and stands outside of doors, all in the service of talking to people, often singly but sometimes in groups. During these conversations two things happens. The detective learns things, he gains information, about people’s pasts, their families, their jobs and their movements. He keeps track of information. Poirot also links the actual information with the person who gave it to him. He has to keep track of keeping track of information.

This all happens within the world of the fiction, but reading about that world makes readers, too, keep track of keeping track. Moving with Poirot through the carriage and listening in on conversations he has with his suspects makes the reader follow along as Poirot does what he does best. Of course the reader doesn’t literally follow Poirot, and the reader knows this. Remembering that there is a line between a world of words and the worlds in which we live, taking seriously the plausibility of fiction even as we recall its very status as invention is the hallmark of novel reading.

So it is that consumers of fiction are surprisingly avid and critical consumers of information. We’re in the midst of a national screaming match about information, its origins, its sources, and how it flows. To be sure reading fiction doesn’t automatically make one conversant in FISA anymore than knowing about FISA makes one an astute reader of novels. Of all the recent explainers and comments about surveillance the one that sticks closest to me comes from another English Ph.D., Virginia Heffernan, who says of those concerned that their conversations have been overheard: “They are their own wiretaps.”

Katherine Voyles teaches, reads, writes and observes in Seattle.

WATCH NEXT:

Casperassets.rbl.ms

Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Karl Munson pilots a 26-foot boat while Petty Officer 2nd Class Gabriel Diaz keeps an eye on a boarding team who is inspecting a 79-foot shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of New Orleans, La., on April 27, 2005

Radio transmissions to the U.S. Coast Guard are usually calls for help from boaters, but one captain got on the radio recently just to say thanks to the men and women who are currently working without pay.

Read More Show Less
REUTERS/Carlos Barria

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Saturday to receive the remains of four Americans killed in a suicide bombing in northern Syria.

Trump, locked in a battle with congressional Democrats that has led to a nearly month-long partial government shutdown, announced his trip via a pre-dawn tweet, saying he was going "to be with the families of 4 very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country!"

Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House prior to departure that he planned to meet the families, a duty which he said "might be the toughest thing I have to do as president."

He was greeted by military staff at Dover Air Force Base after a short flight from Joint Base Andrews, but did not speak to reporters before entering his motorcade.

Flanked by military officials, Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan filed up a ramp leading onto a military transport aircraft, where a prayer was given to honor the memory of Scott Wirtz, a civilian Department of Defense employee from St. Louis.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump filed down the plank and saluted while six service members clad in fatigues and white gloves carried an American flag-draped casket carrying Wirtz to a waiting gray van.

The Dover base is a traditional hub for returning the remains of American troops abroad.

The United States believes the attack that killed the Americans was the work of Islamic State militants.

Trump announced last month that he planned to speedily withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, but has since said it does not need to go quickly as he tries to ensure safety of Kurdish allies in northern Syria who are at risk of attack from neighboring Turkey.

Trump told reporters on Saturday that his Syria policy has made progress but that some work remained in destroying Islamic State targets. He defended his plans for a withdrawal.

"It's moving along very well, but when I took over it was a total mess. But you do have to ask yourself, we're killing ISIS for Russia, for Iran, for Syria, for Iraq, for a lot of other places. At some point you want to bring our people back home," he said.

In addition to Wirtz, those who died during the Wednesday attack in Manbij, Syria, were Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, and Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent, 35, identified as being from upstate New York, the Department of Defense said in a statement.

The Pentagon did not identify the fourth person killed, a contractor working for a private company. U.S. media identified her as Ghadir Taher, a 27-year-old employee of defense contractor Valiant Integrated Services.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Writing by Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler)

A low-flying C-17 gave Nashville residents a fright on Friday when the aircraft made several unannounced passes over the city's bustling downtown.

Read More Show Less
George W. Bush/Instagram

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Former President George W. Bush is calling for an end to the partial government shutdown, which is about to hit the one-month mark and is currently the longest shutdown in US history.

In an appeal made on Instagram, the 43rd president called on "leaders on both sides to put politics aside, come together, and end this shutdown." The caption was posted with an image of him and former First Lady Laura Bush giving pizza to their Secret Service detail.

Read More Show Less