Featuring twelve original essays by leading Beckett scholars and media theorists, this book provides the first sustained examination of the relationship between Beckett and media technologies. The chapters analyse the rich variety of technical objects, semiotic arrangements, communication processes and forms of data processing that Beckett’s work so uniquely engages with, as well as those that – in historically changing configurations – determine the continuing performance, the audience reception, and the scholarly study of this work. Greatly enlarging the scope of earlier discussions, the book draws on a variety of innovative theoretical approaches, such as media archaeology, in order to discuss Beckett’s intermedial oeuvre. As such it engages with Beckett as a media artist and examine the way his engagement with media technologies continues to speak to our cultural situation.
This chapter undertakes a medium-theoretic analysis of the life of Harvey Matusow, Communist Party member, McCarthyite informer, and a man who famously recanted. Matusow described his early betrayals in terms of a need for recognition in a world of spectacle and in terms of automation – the camera and its distancing vision making the act of informing on his previous allies palatable. In later life he became a vocal opponent of computers and of the database society, founding an anti-computing league to fight against the tyranny of the automated sort and the automated cache. At one point he claimed as many league members as there were computers in England. Drawing on papers from the Matusow archive, this chapter tells an anti-computing story with medium transformation, mediatization, and the politics of identity at its heart. It plays into the present as an early iteration of database anxiety; and it haunts partly because it foreshadows the dangerous mixture of ignorance, incompetence, and authoritarian malice that characterized dealings around the Snowden events. 1
* * *
I don't like fascism, don't like bureaucracy, I don't like technology.
(Harvey Matusow, interview, cited in Berenyi, 1971)
A witness is a paradigm case of a medium: the means by which experience is supplied to others who lack the original.
(Durham Peters, 2001: 709)
This is the outrageous story of Harvey Matusow, notorious and later notoriously repentant anti-communist, House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) witness, campaigner for Senator McCarthy, contributor to counter-cultural magazines Oz and International Times (IT), and founder of an anti-computer campaign – the International Society for the Abolition of Data Processing Machines – which flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the UK, at one point claiming as many members in England as there were computers. 2
Rolling Stone magazine described Matusow as ‘Hustler Supreme’, a man who operated under a series of names, boasting that he had ‘led twelve lives’ (Rolling Stone, 1972: 17 August). His early adulthood was in the Cold War climate of the US. His journey was from US Communist Party (CPUSA) member, to informer and professional blacklister, to anti-database campaigner, via a term in prison, a period in exile, a portfolio career of bewildering dimensions, and a string of personal reinventions; a life evidencing complex relationships between identity, publicity – and new forms of data sort and storage.
Matusow is remembered today in relation to the public anti-Communist hearings, but his life story is better understood in relation not only to spectacle but to the list, the archive, and the database. Operating as a professional anti-communist witness in the early 1950s Matusow destroyed the careers and lives of many former Communist Party friends and associates, and those of hundreds, if not thousands, of other people. He did so by dealing in information – generating and collecting it, witnessing to its veracity, and claiming veracity for it through the force of his invocation of it. Matusow gave up, and made up, names, contributing to blacklists, and invoking names in public, notably in the courtroom. Writing of the parallels between the trials and the McCarthy witch-hunts, the playwright Arthur Miller invokes the concept of ‘spectral evidence’, important in the events that inspired The Crucible. This required ‘not the accused person, but [only] his familiar spirit’ to be found committing a crime (Miller, 2000). Matusow's ‘spectral’ identifications’ (Communist by implication, association, innuendo) assumed substantial, persistent, and damaging form – and had disastrously real effects.
Following a recantation, Matusow found a role as an ambiguous, and not necessarily welcomed, godfather figure in the UK counter-culture. He was involved in the London Film Co-Op, and became increasingly concerned with computers, then embedding in business and industry, powering government data banks, surfacing in various realms of everyday life, and clearly about to expand their reach further and faster, threatening, as Matusow saw it, ‘to swallow us whole’ (Matusow, 1968a). 3 In many ways an untaught medium theorist – and avowedly influenced by McLuhan – Matusow understood computers as media and information systems, machines for the storage and transmission of data, including personal data, which might eventually encode the entire world. And he hated them.
The result was the launch of the International Society for the Abolition of Data Processing Machines (ISADPM) – President, Harvey Matusow. The society was in many ways a media construct and little substantial activity took place on the ground, although much was promised. It was a minor, but for a time significant, part of a broader public debate in England around the emerging database society. It resonated with a cultural unease around computerization and its medium effects felt in the late 1960s, what might be termed a database anxiety. For many at that time computers seemed alien and the proposition that they might be ‘far more deadly than the Beatles’ yellow submarine’, as one US Congressman put it, 4 not entirely absurd.
There is something bathetic about the later lives of Harvey Matusow. In the 1950s he was at the heart of events of global significance in 20th-century history, deeply entangled in the US domestic response to the Cold War. By the 1960s he was a minor figure in the UK counter-culture, chairman of a tiny organization in many ways as unreal as the front organizations he had operated for in the 1950s, and certainly less influential. Matusow's own unstable and unreliable personality encourages schismatic readings of his life. He was coy, often frankly revisionist, about his past (e.g. Rolling Stone, 1972). My proposition, however, is that the lives he led were not entirely disconnected, and that tracing out connections between them can be productive.
Undertaking this task, this chapter has two aims. The first is to explore questions concerning identity arising in relation to databases and their automation, where identity is understood as that which pertains to the self, and where the latter (computerized databases) are explored in terms of the processes they enable, including those that remake the ways in which the individual is known to, defined by, produced by, and controlled by various others – including the state. Matusow himself came to believe that database automation posed a threat to identity, dignity, and freedom. As he saw it fascism, bureaucracy, and (computer) technology were allied. His own experiences suggest why. This is not a psychological reading, however. Rather, Matusow's story is understood as symptomatic of broader cultural formations. The moment of the anti-computing league coincides with (contributes to) rising awareness of the social consequences of automation in the UK, and specifically to anxiety around the computerization of everyday life, and perhaps of ‘life’ itself.
The second aim emerges with the realization that this is a medium history. It is this both in terms of its content – Matusow, like McLuhan, was an early media operator – and because it challenges overly linear genealogies of media history that emphasize, to the exclusion of all else, a shift from representation (old technology) to information (new technology). Matusow's own life – let us take it as a medium and make its examination a method – points to more complex entanglements and trajectories. His blacklisting activities constitute a forcible reminder that the database flourished in other forms before the advent of its computerized form. New media(tion) is (also) old. This can be pushed further. The film theorist Thomas Elsaesser argued that the internalization of elements of ‘cinematic perception’ had put us ‘in … the cinema’ by the middle of the 20th century, but also insisted on cinema's entanglement within a broader audiovisual history including the phonograph and perhaps the Babbage engine (Elsaesser, 2004: 76). Elsaesser's material history provides an oblique commentary on user histories, and Matusow's story suggests how these could be extended. For Matusow, at least, questions of storage and access underpinning technical media were integral to the cinematic spectacle as he experienced it ‘live’, even if they were not (yet) internalized as more generally extant modes of cognition. More continuities emerge if this is viewed the other way around; the spectacularization of the political sphere entailed by McCarthyism, emphasized by the cinematic quality of the HUAC hearings, remains a key mode of politics in today's computational times. It is, albeit in altered form, a key feature of contemporary network media politics. Jodi Dean (2001), amongst others, has explored the queasy combination of abundant but terminally self-referring contributions that constitutes network media in communicative capitalism, an ecology that supports endlessly circulating forms of spectral performance, not least by ensuring their performative power.
Matusow travelled, but much concerning his life is collected in one place. The Matusow repository at the Special Collections unit at the University of Sussex includes papers and personal documents assembled by the man himself. The collection is split, roughly dividing the early and late lives. Each section consists of a series of document boxes, along with a small collection of books (e.g. last Whole Earth Catalogue, writings on communism in the US, the autobiographic False Witness) and other visual and audio-visual material, including The Stringless Yoyo, a self-made surrealist documentary made in 1961. Exploring the collection, I have, not without compunction, accepted Matusow as the archivist of his own life. To open the brown cardboard boxes containing materials he assembled is to feel his ghost at my shoulder; there are page numbers scrawled on the front of magazines (e.g. New Scientist), 5 envelopes with notations clarifying addresses, times, post-coding events, marginalia in the book collection. There is also what he left out.
This collection is – of course – a database of a kind, and the connections between fear of a database society powered by computers and controlling identity, a distrust of mainstream media arising out of an intimate knowledge of its operations, and the desire to send an account of oneself into the future by organizing the materials of your own memorialization are easy to see. Matusow, who knew lists could produce lies as truths and make those ‘truths’ operational, in the end bundled up the analogue materials of his own life story, including books, papers, stock photography, clippings, original documents, short-playing records – for posterity. Perhaps he did so in a bid to protect his name from the kinds of automated categorizations he campaigned against in the anti-computing campaigns and from the kinds of distortions and untruths (character assassination) he himself promulgated through his spectral identifications. It is thus ironic that parts of the Matusow collection are digitalized and in that process are de/recontextualized, in the name of access. I wonder how Matusow himself, who gave his story, and specifically those sections on prison and the McCarthy era to the ‘Librarian and the Head of Department of American Civilization’ 6 at Sussex and whose last will and testament document states that ‘final authority’ ‘for any question which may arise from the use of these files … be the Librarian of the University and the head of Department of Department of American Civilization jointly’, 7 would take this? Whilst he did wish that the material ‘be available for research without restriction’, digitalization involves the liquidation of the reassuring bulk of the cardboard on the original passport, the ink on the notebook, the fixer on the black-and-white 10 x 8 photographs, and the insertion of his history, now in coded form, into far vaster databases stored on the computer technology that, at one point at least, he disliked so much.
Looking at the detritus of a life, 8 I am enrolled as both voyeur and collaborator, engaging in the dissection and the reproduction of an endlessly fragile ego. Further, it appears that this is an ego that first consciously felt itself at risk not from information technology but in relation to the kind of valorization of spectacle that makes only one kind of life real or meaningful – that which is displayed in public and celebrated. The collection signals across the years an obsession with identity, the stable establishment of which appears at once to be desired and desperately to be avoided. A word that recurs endlessly – on greeting cards, on a pass signed by ‘Joe McCarthy’, in articles, plays, recantations, dubious legal documents, letters home, remission certificates, a series of passports, society photographs, hotel postcards, a 45rpm record – is ‘Harvey’. Albert E. Kahn, the radical lawyer who dealt with Matusow's recantation, said ‘[h]e had apparently been unable to discard anything mentioning his name’ (Kahn, 1955: 48). So perhaps Matusow's fear of computerization concerned not only what might be retained as ‘fact’ and regarded as such, but what might be lost. Pre-capitulating concern with the ‘enduring ephemeral’ (Chun, 2008) of digital memory forms, Matusow feared that automation would amplify what was already a faulty ingestion process; memory itself being lossy.
What can be learned from somebody who has revealed himself as a liar? In the preface to Matusow's autobiography, False Witness, which he helped to produce, Kahn asks ‘[h]ow can one be sure that … having lied so profusely … [Matusow] is now actually telling the truth?’ (Matusow, 1955: 14). The latter addressed his 1950s readers directly: ‘I know that many people will wonder how they can believe me now, when I have lied so often in the past; and I do not expect to be taken merely at my word. Readers will have to judge the truth for themselves’ (Matusow, 1955: 17). The archive material in Special Collections could be viewed as another invitation to people to judge ‘for themselves’. 9 Something raised by the Matusow case, after the 1950s, and the 1960s, and after the 1990s web with its endearingly hopeful sense of possible completeness, is the relation between the archive and the archived, and the distance between an archive as constituted and the new (increasingly computational or differently computational) forms it may take as it persists. Into this is inserted the question of the relationships and determinations arising across the archival process, particularly relations involving the depositor, and the archive's human and non-human curators. Matusow wanted the cardboard and celluloid archive he sent into posterity to speak his always contingent, always unreliable ‘truth’. What follows opens the archive.
Matusow was born in the Bronx in New York on 3 October 1926. His early life was painfully unremarkable, as is made clear from the collected personal effects. Amongst them a Bar Mitzvah card, dated 1939, reads: ‘Congratulations on achieving this first milestone to a healthy and happy manhood’. 10 A wartime ration book shows that by the age of sixteen Matusow (sex: ‘M’, weight: 160lbs, height: 5ft 8in, occupation: ‘School’), had a number; 713043-FB. He kept his parents’ ration books too, amongst the official documents he hoarded. He did badly at school, graduating on the basis of enlistment (Lichtman and Cohen, 2004). A yearbook for Taft Senior in 1945 lists him as in the armed forces. 11 He fought in the Second World War, spending two years (1944–46) with the US army in Western Europe, writing diligently, but with apparently very little to say, to his parents. He returned to New York and joined the Communist Party (CP) in 1947 and was initially an active member, including in various petitioning operations. In a filmed interview with Jean Luc Godard, Matusow said he had joined the CP to be ‘somebody’ once again, rather than being part of a crowd. He told Goddard that he was too impatient to work on writing, which might have given him a name. Instead, as he put it in False Witness, ‘wanting identity’, ‘I chose the short cut, I joined the Communist Party’ (Matusow, 1955: 21, 26). 12 Matusow's period of active membership of the CPUSA was short, although not untypically so, according to Ernst and Loth's (highly ideological) contemporary profile of the CP ‘everyman’ (Ernst and Loth, 1952). 13 He was for a time very active, but was expelled from the CP in 1951, 14 accused of being an ‘enemy agent’ (Matusow, 1955: 33, Daily Worker, 19 January 1951). This accusation was justified, since by February 1950 he had contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (Matusow, 1955: 27), to say he wanted to inform. Another milestone; not one that would lead to happiness.
Each of the 144 clicks of my shutter caught the face of a friend … [This was] my first major report … My future as an informer depended on the success of my picture taking. I overcame the hesitancy which I had in taking my first picture with my second picture … the deed had been done … although these were my friends … it seemed almost impersonal to me. The camera was functioning as an informer, not I.
(Matusow, 1955: 30, 31–32).
On May Day 1950 Matusow attended a New York parade as an FBI informer. There he ‘took photos of my friends’ (Matusow, 1955: 31). With this move he became a collector of names, a contributor to the linked and discrete databases gathered as part of the anti-communist operations of the US government that began from 1947, before the McCarthy era proper (Cameron, 1987), and ran on well into the 1960s. These operations included loyalty programmes, congressional hearings including the HUAC hearings, blacklisting – most notoriously of those in the entertainment industry but also of those in journalistic and university professions, trade unionists and industrial activists, and the use of various legal instruments including the Taft Hartley and the Smith Acts (Cameron, 1987).
Through his informing camera, which bought him more distance from his sense of personal betrayal with every shot, Matusow became an actor in a greater machine, a larger apparatus – one that often appeared to him to be as impersonal as the camera. Moving from photography ‘for his friends’ (who sometimes asked him to photograph them), to image capture as ‘evidence’ for the blacklisters, Matusow reworks photography from image to data.
Matusow's activities as a paid informer, an industrial spy, and a professional witness, have been considered by many historians working within the context of broader histories of aspects of McCarthyism. Lichtman and Cohen (2004), who used the Matusow Collection to produce an authoritative account of the ‘deadly farce’ that constituted Matusow's engagement with the American establishment during the McCarthy era map this scholarship, and I draw on them here along with the evidence in the collection. The essential facts are these. Matusow informed and testified for the FBI in HUAC sessions, gave evidence to Justice Department cases in various court and hearing sessions, and also directly campaigned for McCarthy's Senate re-election campaign on an anti-communist platform. He was active as a professional spy and engaged with private blacklisting and anti-communist publishing outfits, notably Counterattack (see later).
What began that May 1950 grew into a cluster of related activities that together constituted the working life of a professional anti-communist expert. Others were there before him; Matusow placed informers including Elizabeth Bentley, Matt Cvetic, 15 Louis Budenz, and Herbert Philbrick at the top rung of his new profession. His own ‘career’ began with a low-key first appearance in a closed session of HUAC, in which he was at pains to appear modest, not wanting ‘to be seen as a glory seeker’. Kahn notes that, modest or not, his testimony was reported in sensational terms (Khan, 1955: 44). In 1952 Matusow gave open testimony to HUAC after being subpoenaed to do so. A letter to his parents documents his excitement about his more prominent role in the spectacle:
well we had the first snow of the season …
… don't say anything ******* both of you … on 27th November I am going to start testifying at the Capital before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities … I have been officially called and am very happy about it … DON’T SAY ANYTHING TO ANYBODY … (2 November 1951). 16
He was congratulated for this appearance in many quarters, including in Counterattack (Matusow, 1955: 43), which later made him an associate editor. By this time any diffidence about the scale of claims made, or the names given, had gone. Matusow later described himself as then a ‘publicity addict’, adding that ‘to see the headlines scream and a few people cringe’ was satisfying, and so was intervening in news agendas; being ‘able to sell a story gave me a badge of importance’ (Matusow, 1955: 65–67). The November 1951 letter concludes with this: ‘When it happens you'll see me all over the NY newspapers, when this happens save them … That's all for now … Love Harvey.’ The rewards of informing were material, providing earnings and entrée into particular kinds of society, but were also measured by Matusow in terms of fame: ‘I was addicted to what printers’ ink could do’ (Matusow, 1955: 70). The archive itself is evidence of Matusow's fascination with the inky spectacle of himself, containing many assiduously collected clippings from this period.
John Durham Peters defines witnessing as ‘a paradigm case of a medium: the means by which experience is supplied to others who lack the original’ (Durham Peters, 2001: 709). False witness is defined in the book of Exodus as raising a false report. 17 Given that Matusow very often lacked original information and that the names and accounts he gave were culled from other press reports, reliant on fabricated connections, or made up, he was from the start a false witness. But false or not, it was ‘witnessing’ that was key to his burgeoning activities. As he recognized, he did not become a witness because of his expertise in communism but, rather, used his ‘reputation as a witness to establish myself as an “expert” on Communism’ (Matusow, 1955: 82). With Bentley and the rest he became known as a former communist turned testifier, somebody uniquely qualified to speak about CP activities.
Matusow had a specialism. Youth was his ‘gimmick’ (Matusow, 1955: 68). He was introduced in the media as an ‘authority on the Communist conspiracy to penetrate the youth of America’ (Kahn, 1955: 11). 18 His ‘revelations’ included the CP's use of intellectual and sexual lures as modes of indoctrination (Matusow, 1955: 77), its sinister rewriting of nursery rhymes, Red Scouts, and lurid reports on licentious goings on at a CP summer camp on Lenin's Rock. Also notable was Matusow's activity around New York schools; a Clark H. Getts presentation leaflet describes him as formerly a ‘leader of the Kremlin's youth movement in this country’, adding that ‘amongst his sensational revelations in the press and before Congressional committees was the fact that there have been “more than one million card-carrying Communists in America, and more than 3500 young communists in the schools of New York alone”’. 19 He was also involved in a thwarted attempt to designate Antioch College a red base, and in actions over ‘suspect’ books held in State Department overseas libraries (see also Zinn, 1980).
In these and other activities testimony itself became evidence of expertise and expertise reinforced testimony. Matusow's time as an FBI informer was brief, since the FBI quickly understood that his claims were unreliable, but the Justice Department was happy to use him as a witness because of his HUAC reputation as an FBI informer. In this activity, which brought him into contact with Roy Cohn, assistant US attorney for the Rosenberg case, and still notorious, Matusow gave Grand Jury testimony in the Clinton Jencks case (Matusow, 1955: 190). Jencks, a union leader, was indicted and sent to prison for offences against the Taft Hartley Act. Matusow thereby arrived at the pinnacle/nadir of his professional anti-communist activity; the Jencks case was the linchpin in his later recantation. But there were many other activities before that recantation, since, in the public world of politics, there were many things that witnessing qualified him for. In 1952 Matusow was an aide in McCarthy's bid for re-election. He spoke on anti-communism in various states. His personal life was transformed. On the way up the ladder as a witness he married Arvilla Bentley, an heiress active in McCarthyite circles. As a moneyed celebrity he dined out, often in the very best places, on his fame and reputation, and on the misery of those he had incriminated. The menus and the photographs show up in the boxes. 20
Lists and databases
Dear Folks, … Please send me a copy of the “Worker” … DON’T FORGET. It's important that I get it. Love Harvey.
(Letter from Matusow, American Red Cross, 8 October 1951) 21
The spectacle of the staged hearings is emblematic of the era in popular culture. But supporting the spectacle were the subterranean activities of collection and listing; the naming, capturing, storing, and use of names. Matusow was heavily engaged with this. Between hearings he briefly became ‘official communist hunter for the State of Ohio’ (Matusow, 1955: 55) 22 and an industrial spy. Back in New York, he associated with anti-red journals and with their blacklisting operations. One of these was Counterattack, an organization combining journalism (including the eponymous journal) with blacklisting – the latter often undertaken as free enterprise. Counterattack's owners were American Business Consultants (ABC), a firm offering ‘security’ information to employers, including General Electric and many large department stores in New York (Matusow, 1955: 109). Cold War historian Ellen Schrecker notes that whilst ABC were known for Red Channels, the entertainment blacklist, their activities were at least as expansive in other areas (Schrecker, 1998). 23 Counterattack was also involved in the murky and lucrative business of ‘clearing’ smeared names (Lichtman and Cohen, 2004, Matusow, 1955, Schrecker, 1998). Matusow sold subscriptions to the print publication (something he must have felt at home with, given his time in the CP), but this was only the visible tip of the larger operation. Counterattack ran on lists. Matusow describes ‘thousands upon thousands of names … cross-indexed with corresponding full documentation’ (Matusow, 1955: 111). McCarthyism undeniably operated through mass media and spectacle, and Matusow himself described McCarthy as ‘America's first electronic demagogue, riding the airwaves to preach his cause’ (Matusow, 1969), but the listing operations underpinned the public show and extended far beyond it.
The dangerous connections between these categories are evidenced in Matusow's own activities, only initially to be understood as divided between collecting and testifying. Lists invoked in media accounts – accepted as really existing lists, independently of the specific entries that made them up – themselves became guarantors of proof when invoked in the sensationalized reports to which they lent some credence; this despite the fact that they were arbitrarily gathered, and often themselves relied on earlier press reports for their construction. Evidence of this lethal circularity can be found in the terrible and banal ways in which teachers were entrapped, and in the notorious claim made to a congressional hearing that there were ‘well over 100 dues-paying Communists on the staff of the Sunday edition of the New York Times’. The total staff of the publication numbered far less than that, but nonetheless the claims were not entirely set aside (Kahn, 1987: 11). Categorization itself produced data operating with performative force to designate a threat. To put it this way, Matusow's clear unreliability, the far-fetched nature of the claims he made, the obvious issues with the lists he made (remarked upon by the FBI), were disguised by, or possible to pass over, due to the fact that he had a list. It was in fact his capacity to list rather than his capacity to observe which was at the heart of his activities. If the camera captured the images, the listing process which placed individuals in particular categories laid them down and sorted them.
Matusow is dead, for good I hope.
(Letter to Billie, 13 January 1954) 24
By the mid-1950s Matusow wanted to stop informing and remedy some of the damage done. The threads of his life were falling apart. He had broken with the McCarthy camp and had also divorced multiple times. 25 He first admitted to lying whilst witnessing (notably to the Methodist leader Bishop Oxnam, whom he had earlier slurred), whilst still testifying against others. He was then approached by the lawyers Kahn and Cameron, who were working with union leaders and others. Their hope was that admissions of lying from Matusow could be used to reopen cases of jailed ‘communists’ – amongst them Clinton Jencks. The mine union worker's conviction on the charge of being a CP member whilst signing the Taft Harley Act had been supported by just one witness – the ‘bastard’ Matusow. 26 The latter's decision to document his activities, obviously likely to produce perjury charges, was agonized (see also Kahn, 1955). He feared the end of celebrity and permanent infamy, and at times appeared ready to pull back:
When I first returned to New York, I planned to write a book … exposing everything … Mc C. Counterattack et al … I was bitter, … you might say sick … unimportant … I was offered a lot of money to do … and to make a long story short … I AM NOT WRITING THE BOOK … Reason number one … I don't belong in politics. Number two … Harvey Matusow couldn't die if the book was written … I would only live in the past …
(Letter to Arvilla, 13 January 1954). 27
False Witness did get written. Matusow dictated it to Kahn, who transcribed it (Lichtman and Cohen, 2004). Affidavits signed in the run-up to its publication in which Matusow declared he had made false testimony under oath sensationally ended his career as an informer and threatened to blow apart the entire system of professional anti-communist informers (Schrecker, 1998 and Schrecker cited in Lichtman and Cohen, 2004: 162). It did open the way for charges to be laid against him. This wasn't straightforward, since victims of his testimony who had gone down as communists could not be used as defence witnesses, but material involving Roy Cohn could be and was used (Lichtman and Cohen, 2004). 28 Kahn notes that, ironically, this meant that Matusow was never indicted for ‘what he had confessed to in False Witness … lying as a government witness … helping railroad people to jail, for blacklisting and ruining the reputation of scores of citizens’ (Kahn, 1987: 253).
In August 1956 Matusow went to prison. He served some time in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, where the librarian was Wilhelm Reich, known to fellow cons as the ‘sex-box’ man (Elmer Swink, IT, 8 May 1956). 29 He was paroled early and was discharged from supervision on 3 September 1961, typically saving the parole board certificate from the Federal Prison in Allenwood, PA. 30 Six years later he left America. He had tried to evade his earlier life but, suitably enough, was constantly informed upon. His decision to leave was apparently made after a hostile meeting with singer Pete Seeger's wife, who held him partly responsible for her husband's blacklisting. He went to England.
The man ‘punching holes in computers’
In 1970 Oz, the counter-cultural magazine, launched issue 28, the Schoolkids issue, and went to court in a famous obscenity case that sentenced two of its three founders to prison (Sutherland, 1982). 31 Oz was notorious as an organ of 1960s generational rebellion and, according to Charles Shah Murray, one of the kids, the issue arose out of a desire to interrogate ‘actual rather than notional’ kids (Murray, 2001). Oz had a clear sense of the connections between medium, media style, and political intent. It set out to redefine the publishing format. In his account John Sutherland sums it up as ‘a polychrome mélange. Pages changed colour, print came from all directions in a vertiginous riot of typography and disorderly layout … it had no set format. One issue was entirely pictorial – an “image bank” with no words attached’ (Sutherland, 1982: 117). In accord with this, in notes for a project entitled ‘New Horizons’, Oz co-founder Richard Neville, noting the importance of sheer presentation to movements at the time, described the alternative society as televisual. 32 Of Oz he said that ‘in terms of its topography, its use of colours, design and layout, it's … much more akin, I'd say to a colour TV screen than it is to old fashioned molten lead bits of Grey A point type publications which are really the result of a sort of nineteenth century way of thinking, … sort of McLuhanistic, tactile and lateral … ’. 33
All the more surprising, then, that on page 45 of the ‘Kids’ issue, somewhere after a notorious cartoon showing Rupert Bear doing unimaginable things that shocked English judges, were two starkly printed and formally laid out black and white pages. This was database form ‘OHID’. The acronym stood for On Human Individual Dignity (Oz, 1970). 34 The form demanded that users fill in boxes giving information on ‘information quota allowances’, made demands for ‘information averages’, information ‘gains’ or ‘losses’, and ‘sale, exchange or involuntary conversation of said information’, and set out ‘alternative information computation’ boxes. In short, it was a spoof. The author of this medium-theoretic contribution was Matusow. In a magazine designed for those whose sensibilities were consciously televisual, he was satirizing computing, databases and ways in which the computational might be used to redefine, capture, or threaten identity. 35 If Oz was beyond print aesthetics, Matusow was beyond the image and into information. 36
How did he get there? That is, how did he come to hold this position, what was he doing in Oz? Arriving in England, Matusow became a journalist and broadcaster. He had some mainstream success (e.g. talks to BBC Radio 4, the Third Programme, work with trade press publications), but also became a counter-cultural journalist, contributing to underground and alternative magazines, including Oz and more often IT. He associated with the London Film Co-Op, became a filmmaker, 37 led a band which produced one (very relatively) successful album, the War between Fats and Thins, 38 and engaged in various acts of quasi-situationalist activism. He also collected taxis.
The arrival in England amounted to a reinvention. Matusow's journalism did reference the US, and even McCarthyism 39 – but rarely his own role in it. He wrote as a ‘scene’ insider and as an émigré, avowedly fascinated by the difference between UK and US politics. 40 In the Fats and Thins he invoked his past in indirect terms, but a more sustained engagement is in the Stringless YoYo, a film produced in 1961, which collages HUAC hearings and Nazi rallies, both run backwards to the sound of dance music, and the swirls of a stringless yoyo, which latter are used to produce psychedelic Bridget Riley-style graphical effects. The eponymous yoyo had a bit part in the recantation hearings and revealed the absurdity of the process. At one point, captured on the film, Matusow discusses his invention of the yoyo and is asked by his accusers whether the manufacturer is or has ever been a communist. 41 As a database compilation of a series of archive assets, the film might be an early post-narrative database film. It also indexes Matusow's developing views on computing itself, thereby bridging his earlier and later activities. Sometime later, writing about the anti-computing league, he summed this up when he declared, ‘I don't like fascism, don't like bureaucracy, I don't like technology’ (cited in Berenyi, 1971). 42
Anti-computing: database anxiety and the anti-computing league (computerized collecting)
‘Should we … organize mass demonstrations, march on IBM? I don't think so. If nothing else this is a cool organization. It's the computer that's going to get short-circuited. It's we who communicate.
(October 1969) 43
By the mid- to late 1960s computers were becoming more visible in UK society, and were not only being represented as reclusive instruments for giant corporations, governments, or as Cold War weaponry (Stone and Warner, 1970). Their further expansion was also understood as imminent. A new job category – computer programmer – arose and was widely advertised. New uses for computers in offices and businesses generally were under development. The Daily Mirror commented that in the US ‘the Mets won the world series and the bulk of paper thrown out of New York streets turned out to be computer punchcards’. The Mirror added that this computer ‘revolution’ was coming England's way (Daily Mirror, 17 April 1969).
Matusow's growing dislike of computational technology was already evident in the Stringless Yoyo. In the few years following, he wrote anti-computing articles for various outlets. Technology became a recurring theme in his columns on ‘Anti-Matter’, written for American in London. Drafts in the collection 44 include stories on social shaping and technology, the unintended consequences of innovation (e.g. the cotton gin), the computerization of personnel management in the US army as its difficulties with Vietnam escalated (November 1970, column on Vietnam). 45 In fragments of a book draft Matusow makes a case for Vietnam as a ‘computer atrocity story’. 46 There are also articles on computerization and political process. In a discussion that seems prescient in the light of the later ballot-box scandals of the Bush/Gore era and Trump's use of social media, Matusow noted dryly that ‘now we have a computerized president’. 47
However, the major focus of Matusow's anti-computing activities concerned the consequences for individuals of the computerization of everyday life, particularly life in the UK, specifically in relation to databases. 48 Around 1968 or earlier, declaring himself ‘interested in the abuses of the computer’ he founded an anti-computing society. The International Society for the Abolition of Data Processing Machines, or ISADPM, which took off a few years later, and had some reach by the late 1960s, had as its aim ‘the destruction of man's over-dependence on the computer’ (Matusow, 1968b: 7). In the UK it gained a membership of up to 7,000 people and had some resonance. It helped to make Matusow an unofficial spokesman for anti-computing sentiment in general for a period. The Society was always most active in England, but there were copycat outfits in other countries (e.g. in New Zealand and Germany) and some ISADPM material, including the ‘atrocities’ book (Beast of Business, see later), was translated into German. There were also claimed links with Japan. 49
The ISADPM logo was a catapult, a ‘symbol for battle’, man pitted against the giant machine. Matusow recognized that a sling would be more correct, but he didn't think a total war against machines could be won anyway. Of his society he said we ‘are not Luddites as such’ (see Daily Mirror, 16 January 1969: 11). 50 The battle was ‘against over dependence’ 51 and the unwanted intrusion of the computer into unnecessary areas. It was allowed that the computer might have a ‘constructive function’ in ‘mathematics and the other sciences’. But when ‘the uses of the computer involve business or government … the individual is tyrannized – and … society makes its stand’ (Matusow, 1968b: 22).
Matusow's hostility came in three parts. He raised practical objections to (what he saw as) an over-reliance on computers, and in this context also objected to what he saw as a widespread overestimation of their powers: ‘firms which use them expect too much from them … They look on the computer as an omnipotent God which can do no wrong and make no errors.’ More fundamentally, he feared computer autonomy: ‘the computer companies are turning more and more to ultra-sophisticated computers …which they hope will develop a sense of reasoning … for me this is too much – computers programming computers’ (Matusow, 1968b: 23). Underpinning these objections was a more general hostility to the computational mode. Matusow feared computers would bring a ‘pure, clean and sterile world’, introducing modes of uniformity and systematization, and that they would undermine the individual, threatening their autonomy, and remaking them. People would be retro-fitted to conform to programming needs rather than the other way around (Matusow, 1968b: 23). If one feared outcome was machinic individuals, the other concern was that people would become the human individual the computer declared them to be. Matusow often returns to the consequences of computer error, concerned that assumption of computational infallibility would entail the presumption of human fault, and also worried that errors made would be increasingly difficult to correct. These concerns are repeatedly tied in to questions of reputation and identity: ‘if any information is incorrectly programmed into the machine, no one questions it – there is no recourse and a person's reputation can be seriously hurt by an incorrect computer statement’ (Matusow, 1968b: 23).
Matusow's early anti-computing commentary was in journals. In the mid-1960s he looked for a publisher for a book on ‘computer atrocities’, to be light-hearted but with serious intent. The Beast of Business was published in 1968. It declared itself a ‘record of [computer] atrocities against the human race … and a guerrilla warfare manual for striking back’. Matusow compiled and edited ‘atrocity’ contributions, which were also solicited by the publishers. 52 He also wrote a framing essay declaring computerization an affront to human dignity, reducing freedom, introducing specific un-freedoms, and rendering societies into bureaucratic monoliths unable to escape the ludicrous excesses of their own rule-makers. 53 The Beast's front cover declared:
The war is intensifying very rapidly. Be ready for its consequences. You have little time before it engulfs you to learn to know that the computer is here and to show you that you know what its dangers are. At a moment's notice you may be involved in a situation in a government office, or with the police, your bank or a post office. In that critical hour you will be alone and defenseless against the statistics and data which the machine pours out. You must be prepared. You cannot tell under what conditions and at what hour you may have to fight the machine. You want to know what is expected of you. You must be ready for any eventuality.
Matusow invited those interested in action against the threat of computerization to join his society (see e.g. Daily Mirror, 16 January 1969). He was back in an organization, of a kind. This one was in part a media construct, although it was more than that. What it was not was a ‘standard’ activist organization, nor was it attached to organized politics. Consonant with his affiliation to Oz, the society had more to do with the counter-culture than the practices of the Leninist Left(s). In a letter to putative members (‘Dear Individual …’), Matusow addressed the perennial (for revolutionaries) question of What Is to Be Done:
Should we … organize mass demonstrations, march on IBM? I don't think so. If nothing else this is a cool organization. It's the computer that's going to get short-circuited. It's we who communicate.
(October 1969) 55
The proposed theatre of disruptive and ‘cool’ activity extended from the sphere of personal, into the social arena, and into the corporate world. The society backed direct action of various kinds, from the pedantic through the absurd, and on to potentially serious acts of sabotage. Society members were said to add extra holes to punch cards to disrupt automated personal bills and records processes. Other sabotage methods discussed were rubbing clear wax on the space on forms designated ‘for official use only’. PHS in the Times diary invoked the society's suggestion that census forms should be thwarted by inserting ‘not legally competent to answer’ wherever possible, rather than obediently contributing to the exercise of data collection. Getting into the spirit of things, PHS also suggested using the OHID forms Matusow had generated for Oz (The Times, 15 April 1971). Most of the activities discussed were more talked of than undertaken. Sabotage, even that which was reported as already taking place, was largely a rhetorical possibility.
The society's most active and influential phase began when Matusow gave an interview on John Peel's Nightride show (1969), discussing his fears about computer databases and the social world. This produced a strong public response 56 and was picked up by other press and TV organizations. Matusow fanned the flames, giving interviews, writing letters to editors (e.g. to The Times, 24 August 1970, saying all errors are not human after all …). 57 Reports followed in national publications, in the main more attracted by the issue than the society itself. Dataweek was representative when it commented that the society, ‘though quite small’, was interesting because of the public response it had provoked. 58
Press reports on membership numbers of Matusow's organization varied. A column by Chris Ward in the Mirror (17 April 1969: 7), 59 headlined ‘How to Hit a Computer Where It Hurts’, announced that ‘more than 5000 computers are now working for – or some would say against – us in Britain and this number is increasing daily’. Ward noted that human opponents of computers were growing in response. He cited Matusow's prediction that ‘very soon … numbers [of supporters] “will outnumber computers”’. 60 An Evening Echo report on 27 August 1970 by Jean Ritchie, headlined ‘It's Them Or Us’, talked of ‘freedom fighting anti computer people’ and of an organization with 5,000 subscribing members. 61 Later membership figures quoted rose to 6,000 or 7,000 (although membership databases, particularly those of political organizations, are notoriously massaged, as Matusow himself was abundantly aware).
The society claimed international tendencies. In response to a Sunday Times article, Matusow pointed to a New Zealand chapter of ISADPM which declared itself a ‘computer control group’ (Atticus, Sunday Times, 2 September 1969). There was some coverage in international mainstream media (e.g. the Sunday Herald, in Australia, noted ‘Computer Hate Body Formed’ in September 1968, and the Vancouver Sun covered the same story in 1969). 62 There was also exposure in left and alternative presses outside the UK, e.g. in Automatisme (Boribard, 1970). 63 Managing the interest and the numbers of contacts by hand was an issue. Ward notes that Matusow was aware of the paradoxical nature of this difficulty: ‘what I could do with, around here, he said, is a computer’ (17 April 1969: 7). 64
The appeal of the anti-computing league and its ideas was diverse. It certainly linked into counter-cultural suspicions of the Machine, as Matusow's work for IT and Oz attests to. It also attached to a Middle England dislike of both modernization and ‘interference’ in personal or intimate life. Finally, it attracted some computer professionals; reviews of Beast of Business and reports on the society appear in various counter-cultural magazines/zines for data processor professionals. Real Time (strapline: ‘communication between computer people’) included society coverage in Issue 2 and ran an editorial in Issue 3. Matusow himself claimed that:
there are over 50 IBM employees who are members of the International Society for the Abolition of Data Processing Machines. Exactly what they do to screw up IBM operations, they are not telling, but rest assured, they are doing their bit, and IBM high up executives have cause to lose some sleep.
IBM apparently did not respond. It did, however, turn down a suggestion that it should back the book; with his usual ethical flexibility Matusow had suggested this on the basis that it was more about the need for ‘computer PR’ than an entirely hostile enterprise. In a column in a business-to-business magazine Office Methods and Machines, he reprised this under the headline ‘The Computer Needs a PR Man’ (May 1969: 14). 65
Although the press ‘made’ the ISADPM, arguably it did so because it recognized that the ISADPM stance resonated with a structure of feeling circulating in the UK at the time. Matusow made much of the response he received after the Peel show, though he kept very few of the letters he received in his archive. However, as an inveterate press clipper of his own work, he did archive discussions appearing in the press of the public's response to his book. In ‘Computers Under Fire’, an article for an issue of New Scientist specifically exploring computers and society, Rex Malik, 66 a ‘free-lance writer in computer sciences’, suggests that the ‘prolific flow of letters to Mr Harvey Matusow's ISADPM … reflects the widespread irritation and distrust generated by computers’ (Malik, 1969: 292).
Some of the letters are abject: ‘Dear Mr Matusow, I would like to help wreck computers. Yours sincerely’. Amongst those Malik cites are letters from people with no engagement with computing, apparently unnerved by their proximity to them; one letter writer announced that ‘[t]he University of Essex is a stronghold of computers and I dislike them greatly’. (Malik, 1969: 292). Many critiqued the assumption that ‘it must be true, it came out of the computer’, and Malik also highlighted explicit fears about computer use ‘in the organization of people without social control’; writer after writer fears ‘we might hand over too much to the machine’, as one of the correspondents put it. Malik suggested the letters reflected ‘an undercurrent of fear about the computer and its effects among the population at large’. The fears they express include concerns raised by Matusow directly – particularly his concern that ‘those who do not fit in well with the assumptions of a system could be mistreated by it’. It seems clear that the unclassifiable Mr Matusow, the man with twelve lives, would himself fit into this category. Malik's summation was that, ‘despite the absurd title of his society … [Matusow] … tells of a kind of nightmare – where a computer outcasts a man – which cannot be ignored … ’.
Reviews of Beast of Business in the mainstream and business press varied. Banker's Magazine excoriated the book as having ‘all the attractions of a kind of computer Powellism …’, 67 arguing that whatever Matusow's own more existential or radical position, the general public was exercised about computers largely around consumer issues. Kinder reviews also suggested that much of the dissent Matusow had tapped into amounted to concerns around the intrusive nuisance of direct mail. The Sun, introducing Matusow as the man ‘punching holes in computers’, did not question his ideological objections to computers, but reported on practical issues concerning automation and the threat to local post offices. (Richard Last, Sun, 3 May 1969: 5). 68 There is little about industrial sabotage, nor the military industrial complex, mentioned in these more popular mainstream accounts. There was a tendency to agree that Matusow's attack ‘with humour’ (The Office, August 1971: 30–34) belied a more serious intent. An Observer ‘Pendennis’ column reported on Matusow's call to ‘Worry a Computer, Confuse a Computer, Wreck a Computer’, alongside a picture of the man (the suits of the HUAC days disappeared as the young man of the 1950s became the 46-year-old hippie). It noted that, despite his peccadillos, including his penchant for the Jew's harp and for collecting taxis, he was ‘more serious than you might think – at least on automation’. 69
Elsewhere the society's aims were represented in more politicized ways. In the alternative press what was elsewhere described as a polite lament for the increasingly bureaucratic management of everyday life (good bill payers thwarted) produced a more thoroughgoing, if indirect and often surreal, attack on bureaucratic structures and their logics of total or permanent capture. Volume 2 of Real Time magazine 70 discussed anti-computing in an editorial and previewed a forthcoming issue on Matusow and the society with the bald question ‘are computers any use whatsoever?’ Reviewing the Beast of Business, it declares, more or less approvingly, that it will explain how ‘[T]he computer is there to serve you, not to be your master. It's a guerilla warfare manual for striking back at the creeping menace … From it you can learn how to de-magnetize your cheques, add millions to your computerized bank statement, get ten tons of broken biscuits delivered to people you don't like and generally how to worry, confuse, and wreck a computer.’ 71 Volume 3 does not appear in the archive – and may not have materialized.
The ease with which the society fitted itself into all these various organs suggests its founder's continuing ideological flexibility. Its Board included musician Anna Lockwood (then Matusow's wife) and individuals from Wolfe, the publishers of the ‘anti-computer book’. 72 Clearly, the society, whatever else it was designed to do, also functioned simply as a marketing tool for the book. Other PR work was done too; the archive contains press shots of Harvey strangling, or being strangled by, tape in front of the reel-to-reel-like cases of a bank of computers. 73
In finding the anti-computer cause, Matusow had arguably found a new ‘gimmick’ and was setting out to exploit it. Once again, in a new and much diminished sphere, he became an ‘expert’ witness and dined out on this activity. 74 He became known as an authority, speaking for the anti-computing ‘side’ in many debates around computerization, databases, and society. He was eschewed by some for his populism and obvious showmanship. IBM not only didn't back the book but declined to accept him as a spokesman in a debate about computers and society, stating that his involvement would not be at a ‘worthwhile level’ (Sunday Times, 9 January 1972: 32). 75 However, he attended other events where the debate was serious and sustained, including, for instance, a National Council for Civil Liberties forum on civil liberties and the ‘Databank Society’, 76 and his views were taken seriously by various MPs and politicians, including some involved in discussions around computerization and databases in relation to Kenneth Baker's 1969 Bill on Right of Privacy.
A consistent thread in the writing of Matusow at this period concerns exoneration. He repeatedly expresses a fear and a belief that the computerized collection of data on human individuals is a one-way street; once in, never out. The difficulty of deletion for those named on a list was also of course integral to the blacklisting operations of the McCarthy era (as it was, as Miller had noted, to the witch-hunts of Salem). Matusow saw the same dynamic threatening to return via computerization – where it would also become a general condition, and one that might, by virtue of its superior collecting capacity, be far more absolute. He feared that the computer industry might ‘like Moby Dick’ swallow us whole. 77
The end of ‘anti-computing’ …
If it happened, we didn't notice. Or perhaps we are in the belly of the beast. This early anti-computing moment, with its focus on the consequences of data capture and storage for personal freedom had faded by the mid-1970s. Computers became ubiquitous in offices, working with them was far more routine, and gaming arrived, in the UK at least, in the early 1980s (see Haddon, 1988), offering a different mode of interaction. At around the same time the personal computer was introduced, undermining for the moment visions of the centralized database society and explicitly challenging the IBM model of computation. Paradoxically, this challenge came from Apple, responsible for one of the most successful closed computing systems ever launched. In another paradox, one of the legacies of the underground press with which Matusow was involved was the rise of listings magazines (e.g. Time Out). As for the Beast, it went out of print and is now available only second hand through various online outlets. As one seller wryly comments, this in itself ‘proved we lost’. 78
Matusow himself left England. In his later years he spent time in austere low-tech communities in the US. Kahn tells us he was at times without even electricity. He did later revise his anti-computing stance, surfacing rather early on the web as Job Matusow, via a website called CockyBOO, which appears to be an attempt at a cooperative biography. Matusow died during its construction and the page became an early example of digital memorialization. The tributes there are often rather affectionate. They are for Job (Harvey) Matusow and are largely read by the odd few curious and uncertain onlookers, circulating around a now dead but still unfixed identity – ‘are you the same Matusow?’ one asks.
Matusow could be dismissed as a man entirely without consistency whose anti-computing activities were only a peculiar footnote in a life whose activities had been significant on a far larger stage. What has been argued here is that Matusow's hostility to the computational database and its operations, his concern with the relationship between the computer record and its operationalization, his focus on how what is collected is put to work, all find echoes in his earlier activities. So, if understanding ‘the truth’ of his motivations is impossible, not least because these motivations shift and dissolve, then we can note that his ambiguous relation to media, to the spectacle, but above all to the record, is remarkably consistent in its ambiguity. It is characteristic that more than once he declared his dislike for technology, and computer technology, in magazines dedicated to their promulgation.
Conclusion 1: culpability
To explore the onion layers of Harvey Matusow's history is to become aware that his most constant trait was a constant tendency towards constant revisionism. This appeared to be enabled by a sense that his version of events could have credibility or force, even if demonstrably not true – something that now looks horribly familiar, particularly in relation to political leaders. Decades later, in an interview and report by David Madison (1998) from filmvault.com, Matusow represents himself as a peculiar kind of hero, rewriting his informing activities one more time to suggest he was ‘toying with Congress and the country's salivating media … telling a string of outrageous lies that McCarthy and the others never questioned’. This is at one with other moments in which he appears to be revising his recantation story. 79 Perhaps, after terminal exposure, and after his activities to expose others, and finally in the light of this late and disgraceful attempt at exculpation, he deserves oblivion. What seems more productive, however, is to observe the threads and events of his life, to understand that this engagement with the monstrously miscommunicating systems of the McCarthy era made him somebody opposed to database power, who understood databases as the powerful means through which people might be engulfed by large corporations, organizations, or states.
Conclusion 2: computer history
Matusow's story contributes to histories of the counter-cultural engagement with computer technologies. Antipathy to the Machine, the latter nomenclature designating both a political system (nascent global capitalism and the post-war world) and the hard, technocratic rationality that characterized it, which was part of the broader counter-cultural formation, might be taken to include antagonism to the specifically computational. A series of histories of the personal computing industry in Silicon Valley and its virtual suburbs have demonstrated that this history of alignment is more complex and certainly more partial than is often suggested. Such works have explored the diverse connections between the technology innovators and the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s and early 1970s (Levy, 1984, Cringley, 1996, Turner, 2006), and there is also the evidence of this to be found in Whole Earth Review (and perhaps in publications such as Ted Nelson's Computer Liberation). Fred Turner's work on Stuart Brand (the Whole Earth creator), for instance, traces out how, albeit in relatively small circles, a shift ‘into’ computer technology was made.
Turner accounts for what turned the US West Coast counter-culture towards digital technologies (what turned them on, technically perhaps), what made them re-evaluate technologies that had been developed as part of military agendas (the early Cold War in particular), and what led to the sustained engagement between the counter-culture and the Valley; this is the shift from the Whole Earth to Wired via Stuart Brand. The Matusow case suggests an alternative and supplementary trajectory exposing a form of engagement with emerging computer technologies in the late 1960s/early 1970s that is also essentially counter-cultural, but that did not follow a trajectory from hostility (to computer technology as military technology or the technology of the Man) to avidity. This is not necessarily because Matusow lacked the close technical relationship to computer technology that the hackers had, although he did lack that, since his engagement in film and the visual and sonic arts was analogue. Rather, what seem significant are his experiences of databases in operation, and in operation in specifically political contexts. This perhaps led both to his hostility to computers and to a more material series of objections to computerized culture than those arising simply from a principled objection to the (abstract) Machine, based on a general critique of technocratic culture. By the 1960s he was already an expert, not in computer circuitry but in the potentially devastating effects of particular forms of instantiated database operation.
The historical context of the mid- to late 20th-century information society debates was the Cold War, as it developed in the 1940s and the 1950s, and its permanent security imperatives (see e.g. Edwards, 1996). Turner's account considers how, in certain areas, this early conditioning (the fashioning of technology as weaponry) was overcome (tactically perhaps) as the technologically savvy turned (retuned) technology to their own (counter-cultural/later commercial) ends. In this way a counter-culture became a Wired culture. Matusow, who experienced the Cold War not through close-up engagement with its technologies but through close-up engagement with its political operations, the anti-communist America of the late 1940s and 1950s, 80 comes to take a different view. Specifically, he was interested in what might be termed, drawing on Latour, the obduracy of the categorizing operations that the computerized sort could undertake. Computerization is for him often an atrocity (even though he is also not entirely against it), and it is clear in fact, reading his papers, that his sense of why it is an atrocity comes from his understanding of how it might be used as a social weapon. After all, he has himself been caught up in the use of databases, and the use of data entry, storage and retrieval, to these ends.
Conclusion 3: media archaeological witnessing?
John Durham Peters, cited above, explores witnessing as a common ‘but rarely examined’ term in both professional and academic analysis of media events. For Durham Peters, witnessing raises questions of ‘truth and experience, presence and absence, death and pain, seeing and saying, and the trustworthiness of perception – in short fundamental questions of communication’. He also views the witness as taking on responsibility so that ‘[t]o witness an event is to be in some way responsible to it’ (Durham Peters, 2001: 707–708). Durham Peters moreover articulates his discussion in medium terms, talking of witnesses as a ‘fallible transmission and storage mechanism’ (Durham Peters, 2001: 710). Carrie Rentschler, following Durham Peters, develops his sense that the witness is also a medium, and the medium can constitute a form of storage space for witnessed material (Rentschler, 2004).
For Durham Peters, ‘in the moral sense: to witness means to be on the right side’ (Durham Peters, 2001: 714), because witnessing is a ‘mode of communication’. Matusow, in the witness stand, is in this sense not witnessing at all. The storage mechanism named Harvey Matusow was thus falsely understood as witnessing. This mechanism is both the man and the medium; the camera apparatus and the apparatus of the hearings. Testimony and technology are related. Indeed, as Durham Peters notes, drawing on Shapin, it was modern science that overcame ‘the low repute of testimony’. Writing of modest witnessing Donna Haraway makes a similar argument (Haraway, 1997). Both note that it is because of science and its instruments that testimony came to be trusted: ‘thing-like, and hence credible’ in its indifference to human interests.
The camera and the microphone both inherit this tradition of objectivity as passivity, says Durham Peters. They produce a form of assumed credibility and reliability that finds its way into court – that is, ‘[l]egal rules prefer a mechanical witness’. Durham Peters goes on to argue that ‘[T]he ideal human would behave like a thing: a mere tablet of performing’, a ‘dumb witness’ who has no motive to ‘lend comfort’ (Durham Peters, 2001: 715–716). In the end, it might be this, the threat that computing could turn human society into something automated so that it is run by a system with no motive to ‘lend comfort’, that the later Matusow, informed by his own experiences as a storage mechanism, the witness with the camera, the speaker with the microphone at the hearing stand, came to hate.
These final observations on history, the database, and the witness connect. They constitute three sites in which this media archaeology produces a reappraisal, a new possible route to understanding. To stress, these are not replacement ‘causal chains’ (say for some entirely other reading of the counter-culture and its technological orientation), nor is this an ‘escape into history’ (Huhtamo and Parikka, 2011: 4). What I am driving at is the restitution of under-emphasized continuities and connections, and a rethinking of computing and its ongoing and historical insertion into a mediated world. In his account of what he always refused to term media archaeology, Zielinski set out to understand (far) earlier forms of media and media work. He did so through what he describes as works of ‘praise and commendation’ (Huhtamo and Parikka, 2001: 11). I have no commendation, but would not wish to condemn, since it doesn't seem productive. The intention has been, rather, to work through a life history, viewing it as a matter of collection, storage, and retrieval, not to reduce it to its essentials, nor let it stand for an entire moment, but to understand it more fully.
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