Nick Demske Responds to Page 26 of The Source

Nick Demske works at the Racine Public Library.

National Security Letter

after Sommer Browning’s post

As I ravished the chicken wings, you offered to make me an honorary brotha. 

I took away your black card.  You counter-played your race card.

Cataloging is overburdened with rules.

I take this as a sign that it’s a pointless endeavor.

My MC name is White Chocolate.  My MC name is Lyghtskin.

Does that mean you’re gay?

It means I can use the women’s bathroom, but security will probably harass me afterwards.

Linh Dinh’s “Love Like Hate,” in the romance collection.

“Nylund the Sarcographer” in the Mysteries.

I’m a writer.  A standardized-test taker. 

I understanderdize; I undertake.

The Source is a myth I like to think I can blame.

The power to name without the ethics to know.

I’m just as repulsed by it as I am awed.

So let me gag order your finitude.

Let me value your privacy at the fabled risk of national security.

We destroy the data the machine was created to record.

When will we destroy the machine?

A note on the culture and history:

Since library services became automated (I.e.-when computers came into library use), it became extremely easy for records to be kept for every single American library user’s check-out history.  Which is great.  However, when the Patriot Act came into legislation, it enabled different government agencies like the CIA to issue National Security Letters which were letters demanding that libraries (or other institutions) give up whatever records they request whenever they want.  These letters used to come complete with gag orders, so those who received them could not even tell their families or coworkers they had been received.  I have been told that a court ruled the gag orders unconstitutional a while ago, though I am not sure if that is true or not.

Because librarians have a history of highly valuing the privacy of their patrons, it became a best practice, in light of National Security Letters, to regularly and systematically destroy patron check-out records as a part of routine maintenance.  This is utterly hilarious to me.  It feels very similar to the failures of categorization that Sommer talked about.  A new technology emerges, ostensibly to make the quality of life better for library workers and patrons, a law emerges that tries to exploit that new technology for extremely dubious purposes and, in response to that response, the same people invested in the innovation of automated library services decide their best option is to constantly delete the data these new machines were created to organize.  Like cataloguing, these new technologies were just an attempt to organize information more efficiently, or whatever.  But it turned out that the very attempt in itself offered more detriment, ultimately, than benefit.

These issues relate to The Source and Noah Eli Gordon’s other works in a pretty direct way for me.  I guess I could abstract it even further and say it relates to “experimental” art as a whole, for me.  These impulses—to organize information through cataloguing, to automate human service to make it more efficient—parallel countless other advancements in our age that have brought such problematic side-effects they’re arguably devolution.  Whether it’s the genetically modified food we eat, the pharmaceuticals we’re prescribed or the social networking sites we use to organize our friends, the things we have turned to to help make sense of life have consistently bit us in our collectively unconscious ass.  The Source only makes as much sense as it willfully obscures.  In this way, I feel it’s a very spiritual text.  And spiritual practice has no place in capitalism. 

I played Racquetball for 5 hours today because I have an anger problem. 

Then I spent an hour or so in front of a screen, typing this.

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3 Responses to Nick Demske Responds to Page 26 of The Source

  1. Somer says:

    It is very frustrating to be involved in libraries and see them take actions that keep them behind the technology curve. I feel that many times, librarians in charge of libraries act from a position of fear, fear their funding is going to get cut, fear the public will demand they remove certain books from their shelves, fear the whole capitalist machine will gobble them up. If you look at our plastic culture, it’s a wonder an institution that doesn’t make money, that values sharing, that values the dissemination of knowledge, still exists. To be, pessimistically and so, irrationally, speaking perhaps, a”hold out” takes it’s toll on one’s behavior and their decision making. If we were free to innovate without the fear of being, at every turn, forsaken, maybe libraries would be run a bit differently, maybe technology wouldn’t have this veil of threat it still seems to have lurking in its culture.

    I don’t think all libraries expunged their patron records back in the slightly darker and newer days of the Patriot Act, but I remember seething, in the passive way librarians seethe, to myself, Just let that fucking FBI man come in here and ask to see what Tina Jones checked out. O he’ll see what happens!

    Just some thoughts. I enjoyed reading the piece. We missed you in Milwaukee by one day. And at risk of confusing the author with the narrator and revealing too much personally, boxing training really eases the anger problem.

  2. Pingback: Noah Eli Gordon’s “The Source” and “Foley Room” by Amon Tobin « NICKI-POO

  3. ndemske says:

    “If you look at our plastic culture, it’s a wonder an institution that doesn’t make money, that values sharing, that values the dissemination of knowledge, still exists.”

    Sommer, I feel like I marvel at this every day anew. Pretty cool that we get to be on the front lines of such a rad institution but, still, the way you describe it would make one think it’d be packed with throngs of people. Hopefully you, I and others can pass our infectious enthusiasm for libraries on to more people and promote even just the basic facts of what they do, which many people don’t seem to know (probably since librarians aren’t given much if any training on promotion and marketing). Like, when people find out that my library carries books like The Source, they’re totally floored. “How did you get them to order THAT?” My answer is usually just, “I asked.”

    Thanks for the response and I hope you guys pass through Milwaukee (or, better yet, Racine) again soon. In the meantime, I will look into boxing if, heaven forbid, I get fed up with Racquetball : )

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