Reading: Woody Allen's The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose, “Yes, but Can the Steam Engine do This?” pg. 30 – 35
“Panopticism” by Michel Foucault
Donna Haraway's “Cyborg Manifesto”
We discussed, firstly, the idea of Panopticism brought about by the philosopher Michel Foucault. This tells us that we are all watching each other in society, essentially, and keeping us from doing whatever we wanted. Very limiting.
“Foucault argues in this chapter that the formation of modern disciplinary institutions can be linked (at least in a formal sense) to the treatment of plague victims in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe. Just as the great Confinement was, in Foucault's eyes, based on the exclusion of the leper, modern disciplinary institutions and practices are based upon the rigidly segmented treatment of plague victims. Foucault states that, "Rather than the massive, binary division between one set of people and another, the plague] called for multiple separations, individualizing distributions, an organization in depth of surveillance and control, an intensification and a ramification of power" (198). Thus, while lepers were merely excluded and left to their own devices (in the darkness of a dungeon, or simply the darkness at the margins of society) the new disciplinary practices were formed under the idea that all evil must be rigidly separated and excluded.
Thus, the leper and the plague victim become combined to form a disciplinary subject.
The fully developed model of this double subject (excluded and segmented at once) is given in Jeremy Bentham's discussion of the Panopticon. The Panopticon is literally a building in which individuals cells circularly enclose a courtyard in which there is a central watchtower. The key, for both Foucault and Bentham, is that the prisoners (or workers, or school children, or hospital patients, etc.) in the cells can all be seen in a glance by whoever is in the watchtower, but they can never see who observes them or even if they are being observed. For Bentham, the power must be always visible and never verifiable: power is thus evenly applied to separate bodies.
Thus, a new and total economy of surveillance and discipline is invoked. The previous model (that of the plague victim) was never as total as desired. In fact, through "the frenzy of passing time, bodies mingling together without respect" (197), a whole economy of transgression was inadvertently created. The totalizing specter of surveillance was, in fact, imperfectly applied; gaps between theory and practice were large and unavoidable. In addition to this theoretical and practical totality, the Panopticon promised a reduced economy (in terms of 'cost') of surveillance.
Not only is it more effective, but the Panopticon is cheaper and easier to manage than previous disciplinary systems. Foucault states that "The Panopticon is a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power" (202) and that "A real subjection is born mechanically from a fictitious relation. So it is not necessary to use force..." (202). Thus, not only does one remove the necessity for (usually expensive) force, but one removes even the necessity for constant surveillance. Rather than actual surveillance, all that is required is the constant threat of surveillance. When this is firmly ingrained, the subject becomes "the principle of his own subjection". (203). The constant, unknown threat of surveillance (and the resulting sanctions for 'wrong' action) constitutes subjects who are not only afraid of this constant threat, but internalize the external and begin to police themselves. The Panopticon affects "a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance" (202-203).” -
We also discussed Donna Haraway's “Cyborg Manifesto.”
“In “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism 1980s,” Donna Haraway argues that the emergence of cyborgs in human culture has merged the differences between man/woman God/man, mind/body and forced both people in general and scholars to reconsider what we mean by gender. Indeed, Cyborgs have forced us to reconsider what gender is. Her writing style is very abstract and poetic and juxtaposes various metaphors together, just as she claims humans have been combined with computers. Her claim is not that the 20th and 21st centuries have begun the tradition of the cyborg, but that it has taken on new importance with the emergence of new technology.
She writes that “by the late twentieth century. . . we are all chimeras” (8), and this shift means that humans behave in different ways. These differences force us to reconsider male heterosexual dominance in two different ways: first, cyborgs are by definition “unnatural” and therefore the terminology we use to discuss them forces us to consider that our conceptions of humanity are arbitrary – or at least culturally constructed (20-21). By seeing how gender constructions are just that . . . constructions, we can provide a new viewpoint on gender and sexuality. Second, they force us to reconsider feminism, itself, Feminism should not try to replace one all-encompassing philosophy about humanity with another, but instead feminists should avoid an “essentialist” theory, even in opposition to more dominant ideologies. One should use cyborgs as a way of articulating resistence against the idea of compartmentalization itself. Cyborgs make us reconsider both individualism and social determinism. Instead, the concept of the monsterous – much as in the medieval period and before – can be used as a lens to talk about what is on the “borderlands” (10, 38). Cyborgs break down and resist the conceptions of the individual. Haraway ends her article by summarizing her two main positions, that the “production of a universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake” and that cyborg imagery can undermine the dualisms that Haraway feels are damaging to our society (and possibly even “child abuse”). Instead, we should use cyborg imagery to create different conceptions of what humanity is all about.” - http://rhetech.wordpress.com/2008/04/06/vieregge-summary-of-haraways-cyborg-manifesto/
We also discussed Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451, which chronicles the time of when a future day “fireman”, who burns books for a living, ends up reading that which he was supposed to destroy and ends up getting completely captivated by the world that books bring him. I really enjoyed reading this whole novel and I just wish it had kept going when I got to the end. I wanted to learn more about Montag's character and the world that they lived in. A lot of this ties into some of Woody Allen's works, most notably his movie Sleeper, where Allen's character was cryogenically frozen and woken up thousands of years later when books have been abolished, the government has taken over the minds of the public, and artwork has been almost destroyed in how silly it all is now. Allen's character is called an alien and his thought processes are considered evil by the government because he actually has rational thought in this time and his “radical” ideas of wanting to express real feelings needs to be staunched.
This week was my group's week to do a group presentation. The book that my group was assigned was Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and we also wanted to tie in the Dystopian texts that we had read this semester as well. We decided to mix the exercise between Michel Foucault's “Panopticism” and Fahrenheit 451, so we had the whole class sit in the center of the room, while our group, who was dressed all in black to support conformity, kept a watchful ear out for any nonconformists. We decided that we'd try to facilitate a discussion based on a couple of reality television show clips that show the disgusting redundancy and lack of substance that exists in a lot of modern day television. We asked the class why these clips were “the best thing ever” so that we could get across the message that if we keep going in this direction as a society, there will be nothing stopping our whole lives from being just one giant trivial hair-do. We made a rule for the group presentation that no one could use personal pronouns, (ie. I, me, you, she, him.) and could only refer to themselves as one of the group, (ie. Us, we). If a person disobeyed the rules and ended up using a personal pronoun, we threw a plush dog at them to signify that the mechanical hound from Fahrenheit 451 was killing them since they were displaying signs of being nonconformists. After the small exercise in conformity, we decided to facilitate discussion from the class even further by talking about what we had just done. What it came down to was that most people were able to understand out “join or die” mentality that we were trying to get across since that was a large message in many of the Dystopian texts that we had read.