It was awful, IMO. Never again.
In the winter version of this thread, didn’t we already go through a “world’s worst reading” phase?
Well, djb, since we’re “un-recommending” books, here’s a book I just finsihed you might want to avoid: Michel Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.”
“Discipline” is one of those staples for anybody interested in contemporary theory. It’s nominally about the evolution of the penal system which went from one where the body of the prisoner was the site of a spectacular punitive theater to one of almost scientific if not industrial incarceration.
Foucault starts by recounting the judicial torture and execution of Damiens, a regicide of 18th century France. The executioners pulled strips of flesh from his body with specially crafted metal pincers and poured molten wax, silver, gold, etc into the wounds. The hand grasping the knife he used to kill the king was coated in sulphur and burned. Damiens body was attached to horses to be quartered but so resistant was his flesh that it came apart only with 6 horses and starting slashes along the joints. They say his torso was still alive when it was thrown on the executioner’s cart to be taken to be burnt and the ashes scattered.
Foucault traces the evolution of what he calls the technologies of discipline from the world of wheels, gibbets, scaffolds, and pillories to the world of “correctional facilities” and the ‘carceral city.’ The modern state no longer stages contests of power played out on the torn bodies of men, but encodes power in its very architecture symbolized by the Benthamite Panopticon—a circular prison where every cell is visible to an all-seeing-but-never-itself-seen central watch station. Never knowing when they were being observed, prisoners would be forced to behave correctly at all times—basically a précis of the modern condition. Aren’t we all to some extent subject everywhere and at all times to anonymous and ubiquitous forces tending towards conformity … a network of forces—some physical but many institutional?
I would like to write the history of this prison, with all the political investments of the body that it gathers in its closed architecture. Why? Simply because I am interested in the past? No, if one means by that writing a history of the past in terms of the present. Yes, if one means writing the history of the present.
Yes, the world I suggested earlier, Dahl’s world, is disturbing, but at least it’s supposed to be fiction. But Foucault’s world? Like they say in the new Matrix movie, it’s all about control.
Despite my rather schematic summary, “Discipline” isn’t a tough read. Its prose (in translation) is elegant and only occasionally obscure. I’m sure I don’t understand all the implications of “Discipline and Punish” but I believe it extends beyond the penal system. In the Victorian lit class I just finished, the professor brought “Discipline” up several times in discussions related to the ideology of the realist novel.
There actually is a dance book I was going to say something about but I have to get my mail out of vacation hold before the post office closes…
<small>[ 07 June 2003, 11:15 AM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>