by Solomon Philbrick
[Sorry everyone. It’s finals week in Philbrick Land. Here’s one from the archive.]
It came to pass that I found myself lost in the strip mall. I looked all about me and the buildings all appeared the same. It had been a long day and I was weary. The stores all looked the same and I could not find my car.
Suddenly I was menaced from three sides: a woman, fortyish, with three ferocious chihuahuas on one side. On another, a high school kid with eyes red like flame asking me for a cigarette or some spare change. On the third, a homeless man ranting about technology and Armageddon and Jesus. I could not run, for I was surrounded, nor could I fight for I had been eating nothing but pasta for three days. Panic mounted.
“Leave that man alone, demons!” I heard from afar. I gazed to the location from where the voice came, the patio of the coffee house. “I say, go!” My three foes hastily scattered and I saw T.S. Eliot approaching me.
“My inspiration!” I cried. “My reason for putting myself through years of mental torture and a life of poverty! Thank you and God bless you for saving me! Could you please help me find my way back to my car?”
“The road back to your car is long and perilous, but I shall be your guide. Follow me at once and do not look over your shoulder, for danger follows us at all times and you must not have fear. You must trust me to guide you.”
“Mr. Eliot, I have trusted you all these years to be my guide and I shall not falter now. Show me the way back to my car.”
“Very well, young one. Follow me into this storefront and remember: have no fear.”
We entered the building. It was long and narrow. Fluorescent light shone down, causing all inside to glow as if afflicted with some sort of skin disease. The inhabitants sat meekly, staring at their feet and moaning almost inaudibly due to the cacophony coming from the walls of the room. On one side were machines that made the sound of hissing and swishing water. On the other, built into the wall, were machines that roared and spun clothing in a circle. The place smelled of bleach and soap and lost souls, who gathered in the center around long Formica tables.
“What is this place, oh great master?” I inquired.
“This is the place of French intellectuals who spent their lives intentionally misleading and confusing gullible American academics,” replied my mentor.
I looked about me. “Why yes,” I said, “I believe I recognize Jacques Derrida!"!” I approached the dapper Frenchman. “Good day to you, sir! I well remember your tortured sentences from years ago, which made me tremble and chain-smoke at their very thought!”
Derrida stared blankly at the machine on the wall, muttering
Thus it has always been thought that the center, which is by definition unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which governs the structure, while escaping structurality. This is why classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center.
I shoved him violently, but he did not notice. “I do not fear you anymore, you sniveling weasel, you pretentious bore! Fie! I shall look upon you no more! I see someone else with whom I wish to speak.” I walked up to the bald and bespectacled man. He was staring at the machine in front of him, much in the way of Derrida. “What say you Michel, you whose students are so infuriating and stubborn!”
Foucault rocked back and forth, wailing
We are talking about two things here: the gaze and interiorisation. And isn’t it basically the problem of the cost of power? In reality power is only exercised at a cost. Obviously, there is an economic cost, and Bentham talks about this. How many overseers will the Panopticon need? How much will the machine then cost to run? But there is also a specifically political cost. If you are too violent, you risk provoking revolts…In contrast to that you have the system of surveillance, which on the contrary involves very little expense. There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorisation to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercizing this surveillance over, and against, himself. A superb formula: power exercised continuously and for what turns out to be minimal cost.