The Panoptic Worlds of Lord Jim: A Foucauldian Approach

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Michel Foucault, the French philosopher and historian, has a remarkable position among modern thinkers and researchers. His investigations and writings were welcome and appreciated by different fields of study among which the most important are Philosophy, History, Art, Literature, and so on. In his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), Foucault for the first time shed light on the idea of ‘Panopticism’, which was originally Jeremy Bentham’s proposal for the British prisons. Panopticon’s architecture has two major components, one is the central tower and the other is the small cells around it. The primary goal of Panopticon is to keep the prisoners in a state of conscious and permanent visibility in such a way that visibility becomes a trap. Foucault emphasizes that this machine can be operated by everybody who is located in the central tower. Parallel to the idea of Panopticon is Foucault’s notion of ‘vision’ and ‘gaze’, of which he has a pessimistic view. For him, Panopticon is a complete composition of carceral network and disciplinary control in which ‘gaze’ has a significant and primary role. In other words, it is ‘observation’ and ‘gaze’ which make the machine operate so that the inside captives become the object of some guardians’ gazes. Thus, Panopticon and its power are the results of eyes’ superiority and subjectivity which exert a control upon some subjugated objects.
Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim is a novel in which the motives of control and punishment are present. The idea of prison and Panopticon originate from these motives so that three sorts of Panopticon are viewed in Lord Jim. The first Panopticon is a psychological one in which Jim becomes the object of his own gaze and self-assessment. Therefore, he is both a warder and a prisoner in his mental prison. In the second Panopticon, Marlow performs the role of a looker-on while Jim is metaphorically jailed. Marlow’s omniscient and stereoscopic vision together with his meticulous and cubic speech, and also Conrad’s impressionistic style, qualify the warder to be an alert watcher. The last Panopticon is a universal one so that almost all of the characters in the novel, directly or indirectly, are observing Jim. He is not only watched by major and minor characters but also by Joseph Conrad — the author— and even by readers for whom the book and Jim become a prison and a prisoner. Consequently, the central character becomes an outcast of the lands so that his only remedy in order to escape these various gazes is to accept his death. Hence, death becomes Jim’s last choice to flee from these panoptic worlds which are originally the result of his guilt and scandal. This paper, which has employed a new approach, tries to examine a modern and mother novel, both in style and in theme. Thus, two qualities are noticeable here. First, Michel Foucault’s work is an analytical book which discusses the roots and the process of discipline and punishment. Second, Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim heralded the twentieth-century novel. Therefore, the uniqueness of this research rests on its fresh outlook at a novel which has been evaluated from different and interdisciplinary angles.


Keywords: Michel Foucault, Panopticon, Prison and Punishment, Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Moslem Zolfaghar Khani

Ph.D. Researcher of English Language and Literature, University of Mysore
Mysore, Karnataka, India

I am a Ph.D. researcher at the university of Mysore, India. I am working on "The Discourse of Power in the Select Novels of Joseph Conrad" in which notions of gender, sex, race, vision, space, politics, culture, and so on are traced in terms of power. I did my M.A. in English literature at the university of Shiraz, Iran in 2002. I started my Ph.D. program in 2005. Two of my articles have been published the titles of which are: 'Discourses of Power from the Primitive to Modern Ages" Some Reflections" and " Sympathy of Comprehension in Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes". Another article of mine is going to be published, it is "The Gaze in Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim". Also, I have written two other articles which will be published in the coming seasons, they are: "Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness:An Ecocritical Study" and "Man and Nature in Conrad's 'Youth':A Search for Immortatlity". I have also been invited by Joseph Conrad Society in UK to present my paper "Panoptic Homosociality in Conrad's Fiction" in Lincoln, UK on 5th July 2008.

Ref: I08P0884