in prison


The landmark I’ve found is that of prison. Nothing less. Across the planet we are living in a prison. The word we, when printed or pronounced on screens, has become suspect, for it’s continually used by those with power in the demagogic claim that they are also speaking for those who are denied power. Let’s talk of ourselves as they. They are living in a prison. What kind of prison? How is it constructed? Where is it situated? Or am I only using the word as a figure of speech? No, it’s not a metaphor, the imprisonment is real, but to describe it one has to think historically. Michel Foucault has graphically shown how the penitentiary was a late eighteenth-, early nineteenth-century invention closely linked to industrial production, its factories and its utilitarian philosphy. Earlier, there were jails that were extensions of the cage and the dungeon. What distinguished the pentitentiary is the number of prisoners it can pack in—and the fact that all of them are under continuous surveillance thanks to the model of the Pantopticon, as conceived by Jeremy Bentham, who introduced the principle of accountancy into ethics.

more from John Berger at Guernica here.