This week I'm being asked, along with some 5 thousand other employees at Roskilde University to fill in a questionnaire regarding conduit, and atmosphere at work. I fill in the blanks, and all is well. That is, until I get to a series of questions inquiring: does the president, or the head of department, keep anything secret from his employees? Do the employees keep anything secret from each other and the leadership? Does anybody keep any secrets from anybody? I'm gaping. The only reaction to such questions is to gape, precisely. You cannot answer either yes, or no. If things are kept secret, there's no way in which anybody would know about it. This is logic 101. On a more sophisticated level, however, in poststructuralist parlance, or to be more precise about it, in Jacques Derrida's words, a secret must be told, not revealed. So for a brief moment, it occurs to me that whoever drafted the questionnaire must have made the subtle assumption that if the leadership or the employees keep secrets, they must also make sure to tell the rest about it, as if to say, 'we have a secret to keep, and we let you know about it, because it gives us power.' On second thought, it also occurs to me that this already involves too much thinking, so I conclude that the drafter is daunted by deconstruction. It's more likely that what's at stake here is psychology 101. What the person really wants to ask, is, do you keep any secrets? The only problem with this question is that it's bound to fall outside anybody's interest - at least on a large scale. So I conclude again that for the 'questioneer' the secret series of questions doesn't have to do with potentially interesting answers, but with confirming that people correspond to types. Thus people's answers are anticipated to reveal nothing new. They are anticipated to reveal something old. Or something that has just been learned and that has a general character. This old banality is then passed off as new information. And lo and behold, we appreciate the effort.

This is no different than TV programs about so-called life-style experts who follow in the footsteps of a person whose identity is kept secret until the end of the program. The spiel is to reveal, by reading clues about the secret person's life (often by looking into his or her fridge or bedroom), what type he or she belongs to. I like the irony of these programs, an irony which is however lost on the ones involved in making them. The secret person is supposed to be interesting, but in the end is usually not. If the person turns out to be more interesting than anticipated, it always comes as a surprise. This is not very gratifying to the ones that are supposed to know types and what makes them. In other words, it's very how annoying whenever the banal is transcended. The success of the program is not contingent on discovering the underlying tone of a type, as a different tone would not be in tune with the typical lot. The greatest irony is thus that the experts pass off most expertly as experts at the moment when they show least expertise, by delivering the most rehearsed clich├ęs. We are meant to gape and be amazed at their conclusion arrived at through clever deduction when they decide, for instance - and quite rightly at that as everybody already knows - that in the Danish context, most often than not, those interested in neatness, especially where gardens are concerned, vote with the fascists. I'm thinking of sending a couple of letters, both to the Danish television and journalists, experts in questionnaires, with a note that entices them to change the tune, typify less, and intone to Robert Frost's poem: "We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the Secret sits in the middle and knows".


Anonymous said…
Perhaps the questionaire was reasoning in Baroco:

All informative things are useful
Some websites are not useful
Some websites are not informative


All bosses keep secrets
Some employees don't keep secrets
Some employees are not bosses

While both syllogisms produce true statements, none of them are relevant....
Camelia said…
Right on. You should try reasoning in baralipton: if every secret is a conspiracy, and every boss is secretive, then every conspiracy is a secret. Some esoteric circularity... Isn't logic just wonderful?

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