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Journal Articles Revue d'études benthamiennes Year : 2022

Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon (2012). When contemporary fiction grapples with disciplinary visuality

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Abstract

In her 2012 novel The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan chose to examine the possibility of emancipation from within the care system, and between the walls of an institution modelled on Bentham’s 18th century eponymous invention. Setting the adventures of Anais, an orphan and chronic offender, in that building, testifies to the persistence of the master trope of surveillance, which turns the visual world of the novel into an anxiety-ridden field of observation and control. The reference to disciplinary and punitive visuality proves particularly effective in conveying Fagan’s critique of a system that has relinquished its duty of care and devotes itself to the marginalisation and subjugation of the young delinquents it purports to rehabilitate. However the novel also inspires itself from Foucault by reminding us that the visual field of discipline is not one in which power can be exerted absolutely. In the Panopticon, surveillance elicits the resistance of the residents, who repeatedly escape the all-seeing watchtower, claim a “right to look” (Mirzoeff) and eventually bring down the dispositive of disciplinary visuality, allowing Anais’s emancipation in the process. Ultimately the narrative uses the visual paranoia of panopticism as a foil, as its young protagonist looks for practices of seeing and modes of inscription in the visual landscape that will nurture rather than discipline and punish. Far from rejecting visuality altogether, the narrative seeks out spaces where visual care and consideration constitute a response to the failure of the State system of surveillance effectively to reform or care for its citizens.
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Dates and versions

hal-03484222 , version 1 (16-12-2021)

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Diane Leblond. Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon (2012). When contemporary fiction grapples with disciplinary visuality. Revue d'études benthamiennes, 2022, "Panopticism: Literary and Critical Approaches", 22, ⟨10.4000/etudes-benthamiennes.10122⟩. ⟨hal-03484222⟩
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