Power and Freedom -- Foucault and Benjamin

Topics: Panopticon, Michel Foucault, Critical thinking Pages: 2 (541 words) Published: September 26, 2013
Benjamin’s essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, and Foucault’s essay, Panopticism, don’t seem to have anything in common at all. The former discusses the reproduction of art and the loss of aura that follows it, while the latter is mostly about discipline, with a design of a prison as its main foundation. However, after further reading and a lot of analysis, both essays talk about power quite a bit. While the two authors have opposing views on this subject, their ideas complement each other nonetheless.

Walter Benjamin strongly believed that art exerted power over the masses, especially before film became a popular medium. Back then, paintings and sculptures merely reflected what was going on in reality. Ironically, though, the same paintings and sculptures also shaped the lifestyles of the people living in that era. It wasn’t until film that people started to develop their critical thinking skills. Instead of merely accepting what was being shown to them, they saw movies as a permeation of reality – this led to the audience being drawn away from contemplation and promoted heightened sense of mind. In a way, this was a form of liberation for them.

On the other hand, Michel Foucault believed that man had no real freedom. The thoughts they feel are their own, or the decisions they feel they make alone, are in fact imitations of the norms of society. From birth, people have been constantly under the watchful eyes of parents, teachers, or religious leaders – elders who are more than eager to impart all their wisdom and ways of life to the next generation. Thus, their ideas aren’t actually their own. All their thoughts have been molded and influenced by social institutions such as home, school, and church. This kind of mind play is the real source of power, at least according to Foucault. Using Jeremy Bentham’s design of the panopticon, he discussed how the prisoners were controlled by their own minds. The knowledge that someone might be...
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