[eDebate] panopticon as paradigm

Kevin Sanchez let_the_american_empire_burn
Wed Apr 28 06:32:27 CDT 2010


"For 'extirpating idleness, debauchery and excess', promoting a spirit of industry,
'lowering the price of labor in our manufacturies, and easing the lands of the
heavy burden of poor's rates', [Malachy Postlethwayt, an English economist]
proposes the well-tried method of locking up workers who become dependent
on public support (in one word paupers) in 'an ideal workhouse'. Such an ideal
workhouse must be made a 'House of Terror', and not an asylum for the poor
'where they are to plentifully fed, warmly and decently clothed, and where do
but little work'. In this 'House of Terror', this 'ideal workhouse, the poor shall
work 14 hours a day, allowing proper time for meals, in such a manner that
there shall remain 12 hours of neat labor'. [...] The 'House of Terror' for paupers,
only dreamed of by the capitalist mind in 1770, was brought into being a few
years later in the shape of a gigantic 'workhouse' for the industrial worker
himself. It was called the factory." (karl marx, 'capital: volume 1', ben fowkes
translation, pages 388-9.)

we're not far from the panopticon here - an ideal diagram of power that's
realized unevenly in various institutions and practices. marx: "These 'small
thefts' of capital from the workers' meal-times and recreation times are also
described by the factory inspectors as 'petty pilferings of minutes', 'snatching
a few minutes' or, in the technical language of the works, 'nibbling and
cribbling at meal-times'... *'Moments are the elements of profit'*" (ibid., page
352). foucault: "[I]t is a question of extracting, from time, ever more available
moments and, from each moment, ever more useful forces. This means that
one must seek to intensify the use of the slightest moment, as if time, in its
very fragmentation, were inexhaustible or as if, at least by an ever more
detailed internal arrangement, one could tend towards an ideal point at which
one maintained maximum speed and maximum efficiency" ('discipline and punish',
page 154). 
-- http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2009-June/079067.html


that's taken from a post of mine, to which jack stroube replied in kind,

"the panopticon had been over-emphasized as an ideal of mechanistic,
determinism creating the illusion of radical servitude on par with the leviathan.
whereas foucault saw his protests as acts of defiance refusing to accept
overarching super-structures as determinative, the academics globbed onto
the picture of radical un-freedom. living in the panopticon is mostly living in
a world of abstractions -- a world of abstractions that have become so solidified
that they seem real. living in a world of intellectual abstractions is a disembodied
experience. it is difficult to theorize for people [...] who have come to love
abstractions like the panopticon."
-- http://www.ndtceda.com/pipermail/edebate/2009-June/079068.html


for an incisive refutation, refer to part 3 of this lecture by giorgio agamben,

"The panopticon functions as a paradigm in the proper sense of the word, as
an example which defines the intelligibility of the set to which it belongs and
at the same time it constitutes. [...] Foucault always works in this way: there
is always a concrete phenomenon ('the great confinement', 'the confession',
'free speech', 'juridical inquiry', etc., etc.), so it's always a historical, concrete
phenomenon, which will function as a paradigm because it will decide the whole
problematic context, which it will both constitute and make intelligible. This is
probably what distinguishes Foucault's work from the work of a historian."
-- http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=DCGhRJVtCjs


upshot: abstractions like the panopticon enable us to confront the difficulty of
concrete theorizing by making intelligible a whole problematic historical context.
 		 	   		  
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