Panopticism's Difficulty

Topics: Michel Foucault, Panopticon, Prison Pages: 8 (2937 words) Published: October 2, 2008

Michael Foucault’s essay Panopticism was written much differently than other essays that I have read. Panopticism is intended to be, as mentioned by Hunter, a “meticulous tactical partitioning” (pg. 212). Foucault writes in such a different style then most of the authors that I have studied. He uses unique grammar and sentence structures that make sense but take a while to understand, as well as different use words that truly mean one thing and in his mind meaning another and even just random quotes. From reading the Introduction in Ways of Reading, I managed to have a better approach to understanding such difficult pieces as this one. Reading with and against the grain has been a very big help as well as other techniques mentioned in the book.

As stated in Tracey Hunter’s essay, “All readers find Foucault’s prose tough going. It helps to realize that it is necessarily difficult. Foucault, remember, is trying to work outside of, or in spite of, the usual ways of thinking and writing. He is trying not to reproduce the standard discourse but to point to what it cannot or will not say.” (pg 209) Tracey used this passage throughout her essay to show that Panopticism is meant to be a more intellectual piece and needs to be looked at in different ways in order to get the points across. She speaks of the “strategic” methods in which Foucault writes and connects different concepts, such as when she speaks of his “definition” of discipline. Hunter states “Discipline is commonly used term among Foucault’s essay and is not always used in the terminology we are used to… After rereading, I understood that Foucault used the term to fix an area up as to reinforce change.” This is a good example of how Foucault uses common terminology and makes his own “meaning” of the terms. He seems to make different connections with objects that usually do not “go” together, such as the plague and leprosy.

In Panopticism Foucault speaks of the plague in Europe and the disciplinary system that was being used to separate those who were lepers, considered to have been hit by the plague. Foucault states, “If it is true that the leper gave rise to rituals of exclusion, which to certain extent provided the model for general form of the great Confinement, then the plague gave rise to disciplinary projects,” (pg.211). This statement made me question exactly what it is that Foucault is trying to say. Is he trying to say that leprosy is the plague and that those who are lepers caused the disciplinary projects to be formed, or is he trying to say that it is possible that leprosy is possibly the cause of the plague but it is not certain? I began to reread the passage to try and get a better understanding of what Foucault was trying to express. As the Introduction states “We believe the best way to work on a difficult text is by rereading…” (pg. 12) Through rereading the passage I understood a little more what he was trying to say. This concept of rereading made interpreting the passage easier and I learned this concept from the Working with Difficulty portion of the Introduction.

I believed that Foucault was trying to say that the plague was the basic beginning of the disciplinary projects. It caused the discipline factor to become stricter, and the lepers, basically, brought the need for such discipline projects. However, through continuing on in the text to the next few sentences I realized that lepers were not necessarily the plagued ones, they were just “…caught up in the practice of rejection, of exile-enclosure…” Therefore, the lepers were just put to suffer by the society, they really were not the plagued ones, but since they would die sooner or later they were not really cared for or cared about. This portion of the essay was very difficult to comprehend and without rereading the text, I probably would have had a more difficult time trying to interpret the meaning of the passage. Rereading allowed me to recognize and notice...
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