September 29, 2010

The Copy-Editor’s Dilemma #4


Yet again we are exploring the rich language and varied references that make Jean-Christophe Valtat‘s Aurorarama a novel of such layered delights.

Today Valtat discusses the significance of the most famous prison ever invented, the panopticon:

This word has been immortalized by Michel Foucault in his wonderful Discipline & Punish. It was invented by Jeremy Bentham in 1787, with the slogan: Morals reformed – health preserved – industry invigorated – instruction diffused – public burthens lightened – Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock – the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied – all by a simple idea in Architecture!

This idea mostly consists in conceiving circular buildings – prison, schools, madhouses or “manufactories,” they’re all the same, apparently – in the center of which a “lodge” allows the “inspector” to see and control everything that surrounds him without being seen. The grandfather of Big Brother, so to speak. And, not surprisingly it is contemporary to this wonderful spectacle known as panorama, which is showcased in the novel as the “Inuit People’s Ice Palace.”

In the book, the image of the panopticon illustrates the increasing control-freakness of the Council of Seven. And Bentham himself, now on display in London as a stuffed scarecrow with a wax head, would have been fine among the wax effigies of the Seven Sleepers.