Improper Names: Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous

Quadrant: Global Cultures

This study explores the political and aesthetic dimension of distributed co-authoring practices by tracing a genealogy of the improper name, which Professor Deseriis defines as the adoption of the same pseudonym by organized collectives, affinity groups, and individual authors. Bridging gaps between the history of the labor movement, the twentieth-century avant-gardes, and contemporary theories of immaterial labor, Improper Names focuses on collective pseudonyms which make their appearance in Europe and North America at three critical historic junctures: the Industrial Revolution, the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism, and the emergence of the information society. By examining four case studies—i.e., the pseudonyms shared by nineteenth-century English textile workers (Ned Ludd), North American and European mail artists (Monty Cantsin and Karen Eliot), Italian cultural activists (Luther Blissett) and Internet hackers and activists (Anonymous)—the book shows how improper names are productive of a crisis in the production of the modern subject as either collective or individual. In this respect, Improper Names argues that between the Western modern individual and institutional forms of collectivism such as the Party, the Corporation, and the Church, there exists a third, minor, strand of subjectivity which does not conform to either side of this polarity, but recombines the I and the We in a “co-dividual” or “trans-individual” assemblage of enunciation.

University of Minnesota