Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spooked-out Text.

In honor of Halloween, I though I’d blog about spooked-out text (hardy, har, har, har), you know, the big black-ed out words, passages, paragraphs, or even pages of material that has been censored by the CIA?

Have you seen them?

Rebecca Traister at does not find them amusing.

I like those long blocks of redactions in spy novels. I rather like knowing what someone thinks I’m not allowed to know, thank you very much.

When I first stumbled across them, I was like ... what the f*ck? But I quickly began approaching them like a puzzle, trying to imagine what the blacked-out words were. Hmm ... seems approximately three letters in length ... hmm ... gun?

What’s great about the blacked (or grayed, in this case)-out text in Valerie Plame’s autobiography is that if you turn to the back, the information in the public records the CIA would not allow Plame to include has been reported in an afterword.

So it’s very simple to flip to the back and fill in the blanks. A bit like a puzzle -- fun!

It is also a bit ridiculous, because if the information is already in public records, if any moron can flip to the back of the book and fill in "Athens," then why didn’t they just let her say Athens?

Oh well.

In novels, this is more or less amusing. Why leave them in? It does add to the ambience and gives the author a certain aura of credibility. It’s also fun, like a puzzle.

And since I enjoy using my imagination, it’s fun to fill in the blanks with all sorts of preposterous ideas. Probably much more interesting than the secret, anyway.

But to have whole words, whole phrases, and whole sentences blacked out definitely interrupts the storytelling experience.

Barry Eisler never has blacked-out words. It’s possible that the CIA has never censored a single word in his novels, but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ve come to the assumption that he must re-write those sentences to edit out offending words so that his storytelling is seamless.

He’s such a good storyteller that I think that’s a wise decision.

What do you think?


7 bonus scribbles:

Rhonda Stapleton 11/01/2007 07:48:00 AM  

Wow, that Salon review and your commentary are intriguing...I'm gonna have to check this book out!

Erica Orloff 11/01/2007 08:09:00 AM  

Hi Spy:
Even though I think Eisler is wise to allow his story to be paramount . . . I am more in favor of the blacked-out text, mainly because censorship angers me and I would want people to really pause and think abou the bullsh*t that allows this.

Intersting post!

Edie 11/01/2007 09:53:00 AM  

I'm so pissed off at the who Valerie Plume outing. It's amazing to me that they did this to an agent. I won't read the book. It would upset me too much. But I hope she makes a lot of money, lol.

spyscribbler 11/01/2007 11:51:00 AM  

It's fascinating stuff, Rhonda. Truly!

Erica, that's true. But I wasn't clear about the censorship. When you join the CIA, you have to agree to it, simply because of what happened to Valerie Plume. If what you write about can compromise an agent or a handler (or even national security, LOL), then even Plume is in favor of that.

The problem here is that because she was outed, much of what was censored is already out there in public records.

But yes, I agree: I want to know everything. The problem is, I don't want al Qaeda or Iran or China or everyone else to know everything, you know? Whoever knows the most secrets about the other has an advantage.

You're so right, there's a line there, somewhere. This one, in particular, went over that line.

spyscribbler 11/01/2007 11:52:00 AM  

LOL, Edie. You would probably like the book a lot. Valerie is a very positive, focused individual (at least in her memoir). Frankly, she's pretty kick ass.

Erica Orloff 11/01/2007 12:16:00 PM  

Hi Spy:
I hear you. I guess she's really a particular case. Eisler . . . sure . . . take it out and tell your story. But in HER case they screwed her in the press anyway, so why not let the pages stand.

I loved the Salon article, BTW.

spyscribbler 11/01/2007 12:23:00 PM  

You're so right. And what's worst about it is that she couldn't defend herself! She had to sit there and take it when people tried to downplay it, calling her a glorified secretary.

It's just sickening, really.

I've been so curious about that, lately. I mean, these people train hard and work hard, risk their lives even, all for a job and a country. And yet that job is full of backstabbing political bullshit, and their own country is willing to sell them out, their own president is willing to drive a stake in their heart.

With such little loyalty in return for their loyalty, how do they stay motivated? I just don't know. There's so much I don't know. It seems like a bum rap, to me.