The National Security Sublime: On the Aesthetics of Government Secrecy

[Matt Potolsky's new book, The National Security Sublime, is a tour through the look-and-feel of mass surveillance, as practiced by the most unlikely of aesthetes: big data authoritarian snoops and the grifter military contractors who wax fat on them. This is a subject dear to my heart. -Cory]

The US National Security Agency is big, really big. But it’s unlikely that most people outside the government can (or would even try to) quantify its size or powers with any specificity. The agency is just massive, a quality that can produce in those who try to contemplate it the overwhelming sense of awe and wonder called the sublime. Triggered by an encounter with something grand (towering mountain peaks) or verging on the infinite (the number of stars in the universe), it describes a generally pleasurable feeling of cognitive breakdown, the sensation that you just can’t wrap your head around an object or idea so vast and boundless. Read the rest