Sunday, July 25, 2010
Tentatively Entitled Panopticon
I'm working on a short story tentatively entitled "Panopticon". During a slow day at work last week I decided to brush up on my knowledge of Utilitarianism and naturally found myself researching Jeremy Bentham, a leading proponent of the philosophy. While roaming and reading, I came across a diagram and description of his invention, the Panopticon. A Panopticon is a prison that holds the prisoners in the center and guards on the outside. It is designed to permit observers to look inward without being detected. In other words it provides what architect, Silke Berit Lang, calls "sentiment of an invisible omniscience". I scribbled down some key attributes of the structure and drew disturbing connections to society on a small piece of paper I have been carrying around with me since. This strange creation struck me. Fascinated and disturbed me. I can't actually get it out of my head. Needing the threat of an invisible watchman (sorry for the term since denotes sex but it fit) to force us into doing good out of fear of punishment-not because it is our choice is unsettling. You know the discussion of an ultimate power must be discussed. The thought that society is more interested in enforcing rules and norms than explaining and convincing people and really, allowing for individuality over conformity bothers me. Some questions I am contemplating: Is morality objective? Can a person really be a moral agent if acting for motivations other than to be a good person? (I think I need to go back and read my Kant).
A Panopticon serves as an interesting case study and a beautiful platform for a dystopian satire. I have had the main concept and various interweaving themes of great personal interest floating around my head, working towards becoming a cohesive story for about a half year now.
It all began while waiting at the bus depot downtown for the number 28 to campus last winter. I sat there watching people and particularly doors. There will be great focus on doors in my story. Sliding tracks and doorknobs. Pay close attention to the details--I promise you I've spent more time considering doors than is probably considered acceptable. I am particularly preoccupied with the simplicity in function and dutiful fulfillment of purpose that doors accomplish. And what happens if they no longer satisfy their ready-to-hand (reference to Heidegger) conformist role? The protagonist in my story will experience a present-at-hand disruption.
A bus stop may be where I realized that my ideas were gathering together with exciting rapidity and important cohesion but really, this story started years ago in airports. Observing my fellow travelers, disconnectedly watching people pass by--so many people with different motivations, talents and fears--so many involved and encompassing lives people were living inside their heads. It is so easy for me to forget there are other narratives and eyes things are being viewed from other than my own-until I find myself confronted with it at the airport. Waiting at a terminal it is an inescapable reality.
What all this means isn't quite clear to me. But something has been building up and I am excited to release my thoughts and more importantly my questions, fears and warnings onto paper.
As a side note, character development is something I'm working on as I haven't written a fictional account since I was a third grader and wrote (and illustrated!) a story about Germy, the friendly bacteria, and her boyfriend, Germaine. I have found this list of character questions extremely helpful if you need a little help too: