Archive for October 2015

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[ecrea] new publication: Improper Names: Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous

Sun Oct 04 21:29:49 GMT 2015


Title: Improper Names: Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous
Author: Marco Deseriis
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Date of Publication: October 1, 2015

/Improper Names/ is the first comprehensive analysis of theshared
pseudonym, a collective strategy to build symbolic power that challenges
established forms of political and aesthetic representation

Bridging gaps among the history of the labor movement, cinema studies,
art history, media activism, and hacking, this book examines the
contentious politics and the struggles for control of a shared alias
from the early nineteenth century to the age of networks. Although
collective pseudonyms are often invented to pursue a specific authorial,
artistic, or political strategy, they are soon appropriated for
different and sometimes diverging purposes. This book examines the
tension arising from struggles for control of a pseudonym’s symbolic power.

Deseriis provides five fascinating and widely varying case studies. Ned
Ludd was the legendary and eponymous leader of the English Luddites,
textile workers who threatened the destruction of industrial machinery
and then advanced a variety of economic and political demands. Alan
Smithee—an alias coined by Hollywood film directors in 1969 in order to
disown films that were recut by producers—became a contested signature
and was therefore no longer effective to signal prevarication to
Hollywood insiders. Monty Cantsin was an “open pop star” created by U.S.
and Canadian artists in the late 1970s to critique bourgeois notions of
authorship, but its communal character was compromised by excessive
identification with individual users of the name. The Italian media
activists calling themselves Luther Blissett, aware of the Cantsin
experience, implemented measures to prevent individuals from identifying
with the alias, which was used to author media pranks, sell apocryphal
manuscripts to publishers, fabricate artists and artworks, and author
best-selling novels. The longest chapter is devoted to the contemporary
“hacktivist” group Anonymous, which protests censorship and restricted
access to information and information technologies.

After delving into a rich philosophical debate on community among those
who have nothing in common, the book concludes with a reflection on how
the politics of improper names affects contemporary anticapitalist
social movements such as Occupy and 15-M.

Marco Deseriis is Assistant Professor in Media and Screen Studies at
Northeastern University.

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