The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Data ghosts

Four excerpts of Romanian Nobel laureate Herta Müller on the ontology of bad data:

1. For me each journey to Romania is also a journey into another time, in which I never knew which events in my life were coincidence and which were staged. This is why I have, in every public statement I have made, demanded access to the secret files kept on me which, under various pretexts, have invariably been denied me. Instead there is evidence that I am still under observation…

2. The three years at the tractor factory Tehnometal where I was a translator are missing. I translated the manuals for machines imported from the GDR, Austria and Switzerland. In the third year a “protocol office” was established. I had to be made suitable for the office by means of two recruitment tests carried out by the secret service officer Stana. After the second refusal, his goodbye was: “You’ll be sorry; we’ll drown you in the river.” One morning when I turned up for work, my dictionaries were lying on the floor outside the office door. My place now belonged to an engineer, I was no longer allowed in the office. I couldn’t go home, they would have sacked me there and then. Now I had no table, no chair. For two days, defiant, I sat my eight hours with the dictionaries on a concrete staircase between the ground and first floors, trying to translate so that no one could say I didn’t work. The office staff walked past me, silent…

3. In October 1984 I really was allowed to travel. The intention, however, was malicious: I was to be seen as profiteering from the regime and, in the west, to be suspected of being an agent. The secret service worked intensely on both, but in particular on the “agent” persona. Spying staff were sent to Germany with the task of smearing. The plan of action of 1 July 1985, states with satisfaction: “As a result of several journeys abroad, the idea was launched among some actors at the German State Theatre in Timisoara that Cristina is an agent for the Romanian Securitate.” After my emigration, the measures to “compromise and isolate” were intensified. A “Nota de analiza” from March 1989 reads: “In the action to compromise her, we will work with Branch D (Disinformation), publishing articles abroad or sending memoranda – as if issued by German emigration – to several circles and authorities wielding influence in Germany.”

4. In my file I am two different persons. One is called Cristina, who is an enemy of the state and is being fought. To compromise this Cristina a dummy is produced in the falsification workshop of Branch “D” (Disinformation), with all the ingredients that harm me the most – party faithful communist, unscrupulous agent. Wherever I went, I had to live with this dummy. It wasn’t just sent after me, it hurried ahead of me. Even though I have, from the beginning and always, written only against the dictatorship, the dummy goes its own way to this day. It has become independent of me. Even though the dictatorship has been dead for 20 years, the dummy leads its ghostly life. For how long yet?

For more on the history of files, secret police, and identity, see Cornelia Vismann’s magnificent book Akten, translated last year as Files: Law and Media Technology.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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