Madness and Democracy: The Modern Psychiatric Universe

By Marcel Gauchet; Gladys Swain et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
Impossible Power

Totalitarianism as an Illusion

NEED WE DWELL on the inexorable, obligatory, constitutive failure of the phantasmagoric totalitarian mechanism? Perhaps so; for some of our contemporaries have a peculiar tendency to be credulous. They are inclined to take a project literally, no matter how excessive, and put it on display like a scarecrow; they remain untroubled by any hints of the inherent lack of realism that makes the project impotent or inapplicable. They act as if the project could work; as if, for example, the “eye of power” that is positioned at the core of the panoptic machine, infinitely open and theoretically infallible in its exhaustive force, although lacking a gaze, could finally notice anything but the void; as if—even supposing the impossible, supposing that the eye could see everything—even the fact that nothing remained unknown about a human being, the fact that that person's environment could be completely controlled, offered any measure of control over the individual's personality, any power to direct its development. So far as we know, even where it has been brought to the pinnacle of panoptic perfection, prison has never put large numbers of people back on the right path.

Is that last observation an insignificant banality, merely “empirical,” as it would be labeled scornfully today by the bizarre “epistemologists” who profess quite seriously to respectful audiences that science has nothing to do with facts? Or is it an important sign of the fact that the most elaborate of surveillance mechanisms, in principle irresistible, still leaves its unhappy victims entirely free to pursue and perfect their most disastrous inclinations? If the latter is the case, how can one fail to take into account the avowed ineffectiveness of the mechanism, its definitive impotence, when one symbolically houses the unbroken servitude that is supposed to threaten us within the sovereign field of vision that power claims for itself? Indeed, power wants to see us. But what does it see? What does it understand, in what it sees? And in particular, what forces, what means for moving us without knowledge does power actually derive from its continual, obsidional, interminable investigation?

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