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Orwellian Foucault

You might notice this one is still “sketched-out”. That’s because I abandoned it to write it again, as the more succinct version below. I find that these two papers are contradictory; I’m glad I can write like that in two days on one subject.

NOTES FOR INTRODUCTION: Foucault established power as a process. This sense of power acts as a critique of Orwell’s 1984, and Orwell’s approach to both power structures, and the culpability of the people within a hierarchical power structure.

Foucault took an interest in the development and maintenance of totalitarian systems in his work “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison”. In the book, Foucault outlines several major “Instruments of Power” – that of hierarchical observation (surveillance), normalizing judgment, and examinations.
Surveillance is a process in which someone, or some group, is monitored for their activities. Prison guards, parents, educators, and disciplinarians take on surveillance tactics in efforts to ensure behavior on the part of those watched. Foucault and others complicate this watcher/watched relationship more interesting is through the analysis of tactics that “suggest” surveillance. These are deterrents to negative behavior, and examples include CCTV, the 360º prison “The Panopticon”, and a teacher in the classroom. What deterrents encourage is self-monitoring, and group efforts to guarantee the desired behaviors on the chance that the “threat” of surveillance is brought to use.
This leads to Foucault’s “normalizing judgment”. With this system of “self-monitoring” in place for a group, the tactics of surveillance are brought to a level of disciplining – “Tie your shoes!” “Speak properly!” “Asseyez-vous!” Associated with disciplining are micro-penalties for these actions: a “time-out”, a correction of language, and seating yourself, respectively. These directives and consequences are brought out within one’s own group, and over time we internalize these actions, causing power to arise from all levels. “He inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection” (202-3, Discipline and Punish), Foucault argues.

These “technologies du pouvoir” provide other examples of power as a process resulting from every level of interaction. Societies shower because of its interactions that made showering prestigious, not due to the decisions of a small elite group, is a Foucauldian analysis of power. Orwell disagrees about the nature of power, and yet these concepts of surveillance and “normalizing judgment” appear in 1984. HYGIENE BAD EXAMPLE – Shaving might be better.

Oceanian London is a surveillance state, marked by its “telescreens” and hidden microphones. People are encouraged to monitor each other and themselves for different actions which could be the signs of crimethink. This ties into Foucault’s conception of power, by which the Oceanian citizen “becomes the principle of his own subjection” (203, Discipline and Punish) by means of the “instruments of power”. These characters are trapped in a state of predefined actions, thoughts, classes, and speech. The Two-Minutes Hate provides an example, in which Outer Party members are compelled by mob mentality, seized by the zeitgeist of emotions around them. Orwell portrays some of these characters as trapped, yearning to break loose, as is the case with Winston Smith, who discovers contrary thoughts in his mind during The Hate. “At one moment Winston’s hatred was not turned against Goldstein at all, but, on the contrary, against Big Brother” (15, “1984”). There is a level of exerted dominance present in the totalitarian structure of 1984, and it pushes downwards (in contrast with Foucault’s “power” pushing everywhere). Winston, in Orwell’s depiction, is a victim of the system, tormented and without blame for the “powers that be”.

But what is culpability for Foucault? What is his view of Orwell’s choices for the character Winston? Foucault recognizes in The History of Sexuality that power is not always asserted intentionally, as “from the choice or decision of an individual subject” (95). This reminds one of the Eichmann trial in Israel. On trial for crimes against humanity and membership in an outlawed organization in 1961, Eichmann pleaded that he was following orders. “The principle of my will must always be such that it can become the principle of general laws” (66, Arendt), Eichmann argues. As in other Nazi cases with the “Nuremberg defense” of being commanded by a higher authority, Eichmann was found guilty. Even as part of a larger system, one is still responsible for one’s actions, the legal argument goes. Then why were there no trials for the use of atomic weaponry, or the bombings of Tokyo or Dresden?

If the armed conflicts in World War II had gone differently, we might well have seen the “Washington defense” of following a higher authority arise, in a complete interchange of supposed “culpability” in regard to military action and genocide. In these hierarchical power structures, Foucault would argue, there is only legal responsibility on the part of the “loser”, and there is no difference, structurally speaking, depending on who “won”.  Would “MacArthur in Tokyo: Ein Bericht über die Banalität des Bösen” be as intriguing for Americans as “Eichmann in Jerusalem”? This is where Orwell and Foucault stance on power is in strongest contrast – it means the world to Orwell who won, and to Foucault, the interactions are merely reversed.

Foucault and Orwell arrive at similar conclusions about the maintenance of society
1984 comes as a place for Foucault to read Orwell, though I wish there was more back-forth, Orwell would argue for more top-down power than Foucault.


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