52 Books in 52 Weeks #1 – Michel Foucault’s Discipline & Punish

Tonight I finished my first book of 2007 – Discipline & Punish by Michel Foucault. I spent about three weeks reading it through (my third time), and as I always do with Foucault, I struggled with it.

I struggled with it, not necessarily in terms of understanding – by now, I can recite his main arguments by heart; in that regard, I failed to get anything new out of it.

What Discipline & Punish revealed to me this time around was the nuance in his argument – the manner in which the arguments are constructed, and the importance of some of the shorter narratives that seemed “tossed in” in previous readings.

Regardless of the criticisms of “sloppy scholarship” that are bandied around by the American academy (where, as I read tonight, Foucault bashing is their favourite “indoor sport”), this work is masterful. A work of art.

Where it succeeds for me, now more than ever, is the ways that I see him fitting in our current condition. I have been talking with Mark this week about this in detail, and though I will not steal his thunder for his presentation on Monday, I will say that this book says a great deal about my own life. The degree to which Foucault sees us heading in this book – towards greater surveillance, external and internal, while still present, are present in ways that he could not have even imagined when he was writing this thirty years ago.

As I have said on this blog in the past, I have a fairly bleak outlook on the culture I exist in. I think that, for a wide variety of reasons, that we are in trouble. The whole reason I am doing Sociology, as idealistic as it seems, is to try and ease this trouble. What a book like this does, more than anything else, is helps me to identify the trouble spots. As I learned in my very first Sociology course, sociology helps us to see what is otherwise invisible to us, or at the very least obscured.

The very nature of the “carceral city” and the panopticon are that they work in ways which are unknown to us. We sense them being there sometimes, but we can’t quite “get our hands on them.” Though I often have difficulty getting my hands on Foucault, I had him in my arms long enough for it to rub off on me (though, I have to say, these pants are totally ruined now…)

On a lighter note: a music video by one of my all time favourite Canadian bands The Weakerthans called “Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault).”

Just one more drink and then I should be on my way home
I’m not enterely sure what your talking about


I’ve had a really nice time but my dogs need to be fed
I must say that in the right light you look like Shackleton


Comment allez-vous ce soir? Je suis comme ci comme ça
Yes, a penguin taught me French back in Antarctica


Oh, I could show you the way shadows colonize snow
Ice breaking up on the bay off the Lassiter coast


Light failing over the pole as every longitude leads
up to your frost bitten feet oh, you’re very sweet


thank you for the flowers and the book by Derrida
But I must be getting back to dear Antarctica


Say, do you have a ship and a dozen able men
That maybe you could lend me?
Oh Antarctica

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