Prompt #8: Entering the Panopticon

Posted in prompts at 12:49 am by Dominique

Dear all,

We only scratched the surface of our journey into panopticism on Thursday; I hope to be able to hear a few more of your reactions to the in class exercise when we are together again this Tuesday. In the meantime, I am going to ask that you not forget to look at the helpful (and entertaining) guide to Foucault that I passed around in class. It will give you a clearer sense of how the notion of the “Panopticon” as a mechanism of coercion and control fits into Foucault’s larger beliefs about the way much of modern Western culture operates; it will also help you to begin to understand why one might call Foucault a New Historicist–something we’ll talk a bit more about on Tuesday.

Steve Carpio and Arianne Williams have agreed to be our main bloggers this week. By Monday at midnight, they will respond to the following prompt in 500-550 words:

After reviewing the packet that serves as an introduction to Foucault’s well-known New Historicist critique of power relations in modern society, Discipline and Punish (1975), please return to the excerpt from the chapter on “Panopticism” and re-read it. (It’s posted on the “course readings” page as part of the excerpt from Foucault’s work, pp. 206-213).

Then, find a passage from Heart of Darkness (no more than  250 words or so) that illustrates what you understand Foucault to be saying about the concept of “discipline.” Write out a passage from the novel and a passage from Foucault, too. You might start by thinking about the section I read aloud to you near the end of Thursday’s class: “…discipline fixes…it clears up confusion [read: it attempts to clear up confusion]…[it functions through] hierarchical surveillance, continuous registration, perpetual assessment and classification….[it is] a power that insidiously objectifies those on whom it is applied…” (208, 209). After you’ve made your selections and typed them out, write a three sentence description of  why the Foucault passage illustrates, highlights, or clarifies some aspect of Heart of Darkness for you.

By Wednesday at midnight, commentators will reply to the main bloggers’ responses in 150-200 words by describing a scene of their own from Heart of Darkness (NOT by writing out a passage but summarizing an event, dialogue, or reflective moment in the text in a few sentences) and indicating why you think it illustrates Foucault’s notion of discipline in the excerpt from “Panopticism.”  If you’re feeling brave, I invite you to look to the sections that precede “Panopticism” (“Docile Bodies”–Foucault’s critique of the soldier–and “The Means of Correct Training”–his analysis of the way exams work as instruments of power) to find other connections to scenes from Heart of Darkness. Finally (an in addition to your analysis of the text) if Foucault really gets you going, please let us know what examples of the power dynamics he’s describing seem to you to be reflected in the people, places, or interactions of your daily life!

Finally, two additional reminders:

1) In addition to the normal reading and post, your one-page proposal for the first paper is due in the appropriate Dropbox folder before the start of class this coming Tuesday. For a reminder of what belongs in the proposal and how to complete it, refer to your notes from the first half of Thursday’s class and to the prompt and directions for paper 1. If you have already searched your inbox and still cannot locate an invitation from me to join our shared folder, “English 170W, An Introduction to Literary Study” on Dropbox, please email me before the end of the weekend to gain access to that folder. 

2) The bookstore is beginning to send back books that have not been bought. If you need to buy The Turn of the Screw, which we’ll be using in about a week, please do so first thing on Monday before the bookstore sends it back. (Thanks for Marissa Gonta for alerting me to this!)

Have a fantastic, productive weekend,


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  1.    awilliams108 said,

    October 17, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Discipline and Punish lays out Foucaults’s thoughts on how the elite in society dominate and control the rest of the society. He believed no societal advancements have occurred since the Renaissance, only technology had grown, further enslaving the human spirit. The passage that I found that illustrates the understanding the Foucault “Discipline” was,
    “I went to work the next day, turning, so to speck, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove? I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion”.

    The word ‘ivory’, has taken on a life of its own for the men who work for the company. For them, it was far more than the tusk of an elephant, it was represented an economic freedom, social advancement and an way of escaping from a life of being an employee. Marlows words to saying that elephants and native Africans both die as a result of the white man’s pursuit of ivory, and the entire enterprise was in rotten to the core. Part I would say it was cruelties and the greed are both part of a great, timeless evil, and scheme of the natural world.

    In the Michel Foucault Panopticism passage, “That is why discipline fixes; it arrests or regulates movements; it clears up confusion it dissipates compact grouping of individual wandering about the country in unpredictable ways; it establishes calculated disscutions. It must also master all the forces that are formed in the very constitution of an organization multiplicity; it must centralize the effects of counterpower that spring from then and which form a resistance to the power that wishes to dominate it: agitations, revolts, spondtaneous organization”.

    Foucault passage illustrates, highlights or clarifies some aspect of Heart of Darkness because it the power of the use to human slavery and empowerment. It is a diagram of power in action on how modern society operates by observation and examination. In the Heart of Darkness novel we discover the aspect of over powering by Kurtz, where he Foucault did not the view the effects of power negatively but it was a power of repress, censor, mask and conceal. In the Heart of Darkness reveals discipline and punishment as a negative and abusive use of native Africans for labor.

  2.    steveocarpio said,

    October 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    “A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path … each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking.”

    This passage in directly points on how the slaved men where treated at the building of a railway. Being chained showed the white men that they have the power to do anything they want, they have power to treat them like pets, who in my mind are the only ones who should be tied up. Slaves , like in the passage we read in class about the guards, must fear the white men with weapons because many of them do die in chapter 1, so the discipline in this chapter comes about on how the white men treat them, with fear. In this passage specifically the white men discipline their slaves with chains, the passage also says rhythmically clinking, which means they were following what they were supposed to do and not swung side to side, if you paint a picture in your head we can see men who are linked, connected together, by the chain and having to do a straight line forced by what the white men see as discipline. Their loss of trust of them running away is the reason why they chose this form of discilpnary.

  3.    emina said,

    October 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    “Heart of Darkness” is full of scenes that in one way or another share a similarity with “The Panopticon”. In this handout that we received in class, it talks about certain ways of discipline. For example one that stood out to me while reading was “The Minute Control Of Activity”. I found this method very similar to how the army works, how all the people are treated as a group and they have a very strict schedule that they have to abide by.
    Detailed Hierarchies is a chain of authority and training. The people at the top of the chain have power over the people at the bottom. Similarly with this, the passage on page 61 in the “Heart of Darkness” that talks about how a man when confronted with Conrad and saw who he was, he fell onto the floor next to his feet. I took this as almost as a sign of respect or fear, because the man only did this when he found out who Conrad really was. This goes with the hierarchy system in the handout by Conrad being on the top of the hierarchy system and this man that he encountered with being below him.

  4.    emendoza said,

    October 18, 2011 at 12:39 am


    Page 55, just after Marlow and them folks collect firewood and are point eight miles away from Kurtz’ station, the crew is surrounded by silence and fog, and then they hear cries of cannibals. Momentarily they are stuck in the fog, unable to see their enemies, and eventually the cannibals unleash an arrow attack. This is much similar to Foucault’s Panopticism in that Marlow and his crew are subjected to being blind sighted, with cannibals in the surrounding area, unknown to Marlow and the crew. The cannibals can see their ship (obviously if they were able to open fire upon them), much like how the prison guards were able to see the prisoners, but not vice versa.

    I have previously studied Foucault:
    The power dynamics of Panopticism extend to institutions one would commonly overlook. For example, many non-profiting institutions employ these power dynamics, such as the military, hospitals, and schools, in which they leave one or few superiors to govern the masses. Taking a further step into reality, the dynamics of power in Panopticism also extend into religion. Think of it this way, God/the Gods (whatever) is the prison guard, and that religious institution’s followers are the prisoners; Followers must obey a series of rules and regulations set forth to potentially reach Salvation or fail and be damned to a Hell.
    Furthermore, if we were to just take a general observation, for example, Panopticism in society, you would see the prevalence. Until recently, and arguably even to this day, Homosexuality is frowned upon in society (which is why many homosexuals are deemed “in the closet,” etc).
    People in general, when subjected to panopticism, internalize it. To be clear, when you think you are under watch and/or being observed, you act in a certain way. A real simple example is how you dress yourself before you step out the door. your clothing selection is based upon the rules set forth that you internalized over time since you were being raised and stuff. If it was deemed acceptable and ordinary, or the common “norm” for everyone to only come outside in their underwear, then believe it or not, everyone WOULD come outside in their underwear.

    Panopticism also employs a certain dynamic of exclusion through its dynamics of power. Obviously, those who fail to abide by the rules get punished, removed, and/or downcast from that society/community. Easy examples include people who kill other people–they go to jail, gay teens in high school– they get bullied, homeless people on the streets– they get ignored…and the list goes on.

  5.    brianfinnerty91 said,

    October 18, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    “Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair.” (p.31)

    I believe this passage best illustrates Focault’s notion of discipline in the excerpt from “Panopticism”. In this passage Marlow is describing the natives, which were African American slaves, who are slowly but surely dying right in front of him. The reason why I believe this passage is a perfect example of Foucaults notion of discipline is because I think the trees are acting as the panopticon. I believe the trees could act as the panopticon because they are long and high up so that no one would be able to see if anyone was watching them. I believe the trees acted as prison cell for the natives. The trees blocked in sunlight and acted as a barrier to the outside surroundings for the natives. I think European soldiers would be able to climb these trees and look down upon the distressed and sickened natives. In the Heart of Darkness the natives were shown as the prisoners and enemies even though they were as innocent as can be. The European soldiers were looked at as the guards in the story who would beat and harass the natives if they did not follow their instructions and orders.
    -Brian Finnerty

  6.    victoriane said,

    October 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    On page 29, “He shuffled athwart, keeping one eye vigilantly. Don’t be too sure, he continued. The other day I took up a man who hanged himself on the road…He kept on looking out watchfully.” In this scene the Swedish man and Marlow are conversing about a man who hung himself but as the man is telling the Marlow the story he is looking out to see if anyone is around them. This scene relates to Foucault’s notion of discipline in the excerpt from “Panopticism,” because the man and Marlow are the prisoners being watched by the guards which is the company. They are being careful of what to say or when to say things because they know someone is always watching and/or hearing their every move. This also reminds me of what we did in class last week. As the prisoner (the people sitting down with eyes closed) I was cautious as to what I was doing because I was not sure as to When I will be watched but I knew I was being watched by the guards.

  7.    beezy said,

    October 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    A particularly interesting passage that would demonstrate Foucault’s theory of discipline through Panopticism is on page 74. “His ascendancy was extraordinary. The camps of these people surrounded the place, and the chiefs came every day to see him. They would crawl… Curious, this feeling that came over me that such details would be more tolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz’s windows.” Kurtz place surrounds all those around him, with the heads of those foolish enough to oppose him in clear view. The heads of those slain by Kurtz are his guardians as well as a warning. They maintain order, and make sure nobody would dare do anything foolish. The chiefs would crawl to him; a method of worship to their God. Although they cannot see him or what he is doing inside, they are well aware the eyes of those be-headed are watching, and to oppose or betray Kurtz would prove to be a fatal error. Through this, Kurtz has absolute power over all those around him, and thusly solidifies his ascent amongst all those below. Much like Foucault’s theory; “That is why discipline fixes; it arrests or regulates movements.” Total control is in Kurtz’s hands…

    -Enes Mrkulic

  8.    jenn691 said,

    October 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I believe that an appropriate example of panopticism is one of the pasages that I will be discussing in my essay, on page 23. Mentioned on this page is the scene where Freslaven hammered the chief with a stick because he felt wronged in someway. In response and as a discipline, he killed Freslaven by wacking him back, as the racist comment quotes, ” therefore he wacked the old nigger mercilessly” (Conrad, 23). This violent scene is an example of violece, discipline, power, and racist towards a depiction of savages, representing Focault’s idea of panoptcism. Here, I do not believe the chief or Freslaven even knew what to expect or even saw any thiese actions coming, which in a way relates to our class exercise. We did not know what to expect when or if our names were called out by the guards and did not know where the guards were at a certain time. Freslaven came up to the chief ashore unexpectedly, just like our names in class were called out unexpectedly. I saw a direct relationship through the class exercise and scenes in this novel that illustrate accurately the ideas of panoptcism that Focault aimed to get across through his excerpt “Discipline and Punishment.”

  9.    mary03 said,

    October 19, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    I agree with steveo carpio on page 30 , on how the white men showed control and fear to the natives , By using weapons and chains to tame them. Like if the natives was animals, like dogs. Just by the natives seeing the white guards like it also say on page 30 “The product of the new forces at work , strolled despondently , carrying a rifle by its middle”, the white mens having weapons meant having control mentally ,physically. The white men already had embedded the discipline apparatus with techniques in watching over them , punishing them and inflicting the natives pain , the whites had put fear in their hearts and mind.

  10.    acervinaro90 said,

    October 19, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    As most of my classmates have mentioned the main theme of Foucault’s panoptic was to portray discipline and punishment to those who didn’t abide by the rules. In Heart of Darkness we see this happening through the whole book. The people are put to work as slaves so that they can do the work for Kurtz. We see the harsh punishments that these people have gone through such as body parts being mutilated. The part when Kurtz orders the savages to attack the steam boat and when Marlow actually finds out it was him for me demonstrates Foucault’s theme of discipline because those men knew that if they didn’t obey Kurtz they would be beheaded just like some of the people in the village. The disciplinary rules were set for them and punishment was a definite “yes” for Kurtz if the people didn’t do what they were told to. I feel like the article was very violent and cruel. Punishment in my opinion doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with torture.

  11.    seng101 said,

    October 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    As described by Foucault’s “Panopticism,” “disciplines are techniques for assuring the ordering of human multiplicities.”(Foucault 207) This is true in the “Heart of Darkness”. For example in the scene where Marlow is dropped off be the Swede boat captain at the first station one of the first things he encounters at the station is the use of slaves and the appalling condition they were working in, but looking at them did not interest him very much. What really interested Marlow was “the reclaimed, the product of the new forces at work,… carrying a rifle by his middle… He had a uniform jacket… and seeing a white man on the path hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with alacrity.”(30) This soldier keeping guard over his fellow Africans is one of the prime examples of one of Foucault’s techniques of discipline which is “to link this “economic” growth of power with the output of the apparatuses(educational, military… within which it is exercised.”(Foucault 207) One of the most economical way of running a business and keeping discipline there would be to hire workers from that region. The guards that were hired to keep watch over the slave workers were the cheapest workers they could afford and they knew how to keep their “prisoner” under control. The African guard who salutes Marlow by mistake is actually trained to think that way. The guard mistakes every white man as an officer perpetuate that feeling of colonialism is working to keep these people civilized and accept this discipline.

  12.    nadiab said,

    October 19, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    In “Heart of Darkness”, there a few scenes that demonstrate Foucault’s ideas in “Panopticism”. One scene starts in the last paragraph on page 31, “They were dying slowly….”Here, Marlow refers to the slaves he encountered. This scene portrays the control and power that the colonist had over the slaves. The slaves had become more like property. There isn’t any sense of defiance by the slaves which indicates the discipline the colonist enforced. They sit like black shadows as if they don’t physically exist. Marlow describes the slaves as shapes indicating that they are molded by the colonists. The slaves are prisoners by the colonists in which they work, eat and “crawl away”. The surroundings act like the “Panopticon” in which the slaves seem afraid and lost. The surroundings have become the eyes that watch them constantly. Since the colonists have taken over, the slaves don’t recognize where they are anymore. This place has become unfamiliar territory for which the Africans no longer recognize. Their eyes look toward Marlow acknowledging that he is a man of power over them.

    The power that Foucault describes reminds me of the “Panopticon” activity in class. To be under the watch of the guards indicated the control that they had. In being the “inmate”, it felt tense and uncomfortable. One could feel powerless and defeated in being watched. For the “inmate” it was as if you were almost anticipating your name being called out which led to an uneasy feeling. Like the slaves in “Heart of Darkness”, you didn’t know what to expect.

  13.    amark916 said,

    October 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Foucault believed that Discipline is a tool for power. He also believed that all criminals should be visible and observed at all times without knowing when they are being observed. This process keeps the individual oblivious to their surroundings but the guard completely informed. He also says that Disciplines are techniques for assuring the ordering of human multiplicities. On page 40 in Heart of Darkness there is a passage where Marlowe is talking with the chief of the inner station and Marlowe noticed how the “Black figures strolled about listlessly, pouring water on the glow, whence proceeded a sound of hissing; steam ascended in the moonlight; the beaten nigger groaned somewhere. ‘What a row the brute makes!’ said the indefatigable man with the moustaches, appearing near us. ‘Serve him right. Transgression—–punishment—-bang! Pitiless, pitiless. That’s the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for the future.” This passage directly coincides with Foucault’s belief that discipline is a tool for power. Discipline will keep people in order and discipline can also be used as a preventative measure as well.

  14.    GordonWTam said,

    October 19, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Foucault describes a Panopticon as a sort of room where everything is visible, for a method of discipline. A watchtower of sorts, but stressing discipline. I think a great example but a slightly diverse one from Heart of Darkness is right in the very beginning. Marlow got the job from the Company because the person before him died. It’s when Marlow sees the body I think there is a good example of Foucaults theory. The scene Marlow describes is how the natives killed Fresleven and left his body there to rot. Aside from epic foreshadowing, this act of leaving his body there to rot where everyone can see is an example of panopticism to me. It warns everyone to stay on your toes, at all times during your stay in the Heart of Darkness. And by everyone, I mean it warns the natives, the Company, Marlow, and even the reader.

  15.    kocampo100 said,

    October 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    The Panopticism exercise we did in class was very different. I felt very uncomfortable not knowing what was going on with my surroundings. I hesitated when we had to raise our thumbs up just because I was unsure with what would happen next. With that being said, clearly the idea of discipline and punishment can be found throughout the text in its entirety. I would like to focus primarily on Part 2. On page 55 “The others had an alert, naturally interested expression…” This line was very interesting in that I saw some kind of detailed hierarchies here. The savages were working diligently while the pilgrims were not. It is weird to see that the “savages” or “cannibals” were actually in fact very humane and acted civilized. The way they acted during this part obviously showed that there is disciplined and scared for their lives. The idea of punishment and what can possibly happen to them is the only thing they were worried about.

  16.    terrylghong said,

    October 19, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    A good example of panopticism in Heart of Darkness is “He(Kurtz) declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased.” Kurtz gets the power in the local area. That is the key factor to determine how he can affect the relationship between discipline and punishment. He can make up his own rule–people need to follow what he said. People who fail to do so will be punished. The natives need to obey it by providing certain amount of ivory. Otherwise they will get torture or kill. In one word, power plays an important rule here.

  17.    cass88163 said,

    October 20, 2011 at 1:22 am

    “nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly…lost in uncongenial surroundings…” (Conrad 31)

    This passage demonstrates Focault’s notion of discipline in the excerpt from “Panopticism”. The natives were inmates and the prison was their surroundings.The Europeans represents the guards because they held the power. Although the natives were not legitimately criminals; in fact they were actually civilized, they are forced to undergo brutal bearings because they were powerless. These innocent natives abided and obeyed Kurtz because if not they would have been severely punished or killed.

  18.    Terry said,

    October 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

    ‘The camps of these people surrounded the place, and the chiefs came every day to see him. They would crawl… Curious, this feeling that came over me that such details would be more tolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz’s windows.’

    This quote is extremely similar to the Panopticon type of discipline. Kurtz’s has positioned himself in such a place where he has total authority and surveillance over all the natives that work for him. He has set up his compound much like the Panopticon prisons, with one ‘guard’ in a tower having the ability to see any ‘prison cell’ in the place. This is not necessarily the most secure of set-ups but it distills fear and anxiety in the subservient that a higher power might be watching and critiquing what they are doing at any moment. The natives will do as they are told for fear of the consequences, as boldly presented around Kurtz’s place by rebel heads on pikes. Kurtz is using this discipline with great efficiency.

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