│Birgit Däwes is Professor and Chair of American Studies at the University of Flensburg in northern Germany. She received her doctoral and post-doctoral degrees from the University of Würzburg, Germany, and held previous professoral positions at the University of Mainz, at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and at the University of Vienna, Austria, where she also directed the Center for Canadian Studies. Her works include two award-winning monograph studies, Native North American Theater in a Global Age (Heidelberg: Winter, 2007) and Ground Zero Fiction: History, Memory, and Representation in the American 9/11 Novel (Heidelberg: Winter, 2011), as well as editions such as Indigenous North American Drama: A Multivocal History (Albany: SUNY Press, 2013) and (with Alexandra Ganser and Nicole Poppenhagen) Transgressive Television: Politics and Crime in 21st-Century American TV Series (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015). She is co-founder and editor (with Karsten Fitz and Sabine Meyer) of Routledge Research in Transnational Indigenous Perspectives and currently works on surveillance as a theme in fiction, film, and television serials.
Flickers of Vision: Surveillance and the Uncertainty Paradigm in Dave Eggers’s The Circle
In modern industrial societies, uncertainty and insecurity have emerged as favored metaphorical antagonists to wealth, order, stability, and meaning. Over the second half of the twentieth century, and especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks between 2001 in the U.S. and 2015 in France, they have also become the major discourses in legitimizing systematic surveillance: the promise of public safety has sustainably overshadowed, if not substituted, concerns of privacy in a larger semantic shift of risk and security.
Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle (2013) addresses this shift through the lens of contemporary Internet technology. In his dystopian roman-a-clef, the protagonist Mae is transformed from the new, insecure employee of the world’s leading social media corporation into one of its most fervent agents in the battle for a gaplessly transparent society. This paper will investigate the interfaces between uncertainty and control around which the novel revolves, as well as its specific representations of what Ben Hayes has termed the “surveillance-industrial complex.” In a reading based on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, by which the process of observing particular systems inevitably impacts those systems and distorts the observation’s results, I am interested in the ways in which Eggers’s text engages with (and falls victim to) the traditional nexus between seeing and power.