Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Supervision without Vision: Post-Foucauldian Surveillance in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Supervision without Vision: Post-Foucauldian Surveillance in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

Article excerpt


Surveillance is one of the instruments or mechanisms of power for imposing norms. It attempts to monitor, scrutinize, and control the way we behave, talk, hear, or see and interpret our worlds and surroundings. The study of surveillance addresses some of the pressing questions at any point of history. Issues of power, resistance, identity, inequality, individuality, and ethics are dealt with under the framework of surveillance. Surveillance studies have often been traced to Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon as a theatrical guidance. Bentham's Panoptic is a penal building designed for problems of controlling and monitoring prisons. It is a circular building, divided into cells, with a tower of vigil at its center. The warder can see everything without ever being seen from its watchtower. There is a constant threat of surveillance, thereby the fear of being watched would lead the inmate to internalize the viewing tower's gaze and in effect regulate his acts.

Foucault (1977, 200) describes Bentham's panopticon as a punitive building, in which "visibility is a trap." However, the role of panopticon is far beyond this architectural plan. Foucault (ibid., 205) elaborates on this: "The Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form." Foucault's panopticon is a machine of power rather than machine of gaze that is generalized across all domains of society. Gaze, here, is only a mechanism by which power is exercised. The panoptic mechanism illustrates a system of power, the purpose of which is to discipline the body and create new docile and useful social subjects. Discipline is a product of surveillance, fabricating individuals by forcing them to internalize codes and discourse of institutions and to behave in a specified way.

With the advancement of technology, new surveillance technologies appeared. Disciplinary actions illustrated via Foucault's closed spaces have become decentralized and freed from their confinements. "Power is now exercised in nontraditional locations like data warehouses, software, airline, and phone companies" (Ball et al. 2012, 38). Processing and assessing of information about people without limitation across geographical borders illustrate the emergence of a virtual or simulation of physical reality-a hyper reality. "In all these developments, simulation provided tools for overcoming limits of control embedded in the panoptic model, limits tied to its form of enclosure and its conceptions of truth and reality" (ibid., 34).

Deleuze (Simon 2005) proposes that following from Foucault what we are dealing with is not discipline but control. Discipline as a mode of power relies primarily on enclosures, be they material, cultural, or psychical. Control however encourages mobility in an attempt to manage the wider territory and not just the social space of enclosures (ibid., 15). Deleuze (quoted in Ball et al. 2012, 26) argues that societies of control "are in the process of replacing the disciplinary societies." And with reference to the panopticon, he makes an atypically stark distinction: "Enclosures are molds . . . but controls are a modulation."

Foucauldian surveillance has always revealed the body as a central point of surveillance mechanism, and the detailed monitoring and recording of its movements and behaviors as one of the mechanisms of disciplinary power. However, in the age of information technology, data obtained from body rule over material body. Digitization processes in fact have augmented the numbers of ways in which body can be observed, analyzed, categorized, and, ultimately, managed. Moreover, "computer-power enhances the 'visibility' of those whose details circulate within and between databases on a scale unimaginable to those whose 'gaze' relies merely on window-light, blinds, and uninterrupted vision" (Lyon 1994, 92).

The surveillance system obtains personal and group data in order to classify people and populations according to varying criteria, to determine who should be targeted for special treatment, suspicion, eligibility, inclusion, access, and so on (Lyon 2003, 20). …

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