Foucault talks about the devastation of the plague and how it nearly decimated the whole of Europe. The plague left scores of people dead and thousands more dying. The whole of Europe was infected, and the air smelled of decaying bodies, and filled with airborne diseases. In such a situation when medical help was inconsequential, and the number of dead was rising by the minute due to physical contact between the affected and unaffected, the only way to contain further spread of the plague was to enforce law to stop people from spreading the disease. He argues that it would be difficult to force people to stay indoors, as they would need to buy groceries and provisions, or talk and try to help people they know or are related to. This would only spread the plague and kill the others who till then, survived the attack. Therefore, it was only appropriate to ensure that people were collectively made to stay in a place where supervision and attending to the needy could be done with minimum effort.
On reading ‘Panopticon,’ there are certain words and expressions that were hard to understand, but yes, it did reveal certain characteristics and descriptions that seemed to suggest the Panopticon to be a correction center. While the introduction was easy enough for me to understand that Foucault was talking about the Black Plague that spread across Europe in the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, what really made it difficult to grasp was the use of the words like ‘Panopticon,’ Intendants and syndics, and expressions like ‘the ‘crows,’ who can be left to die,’ ‘pain of death,’ ‘no apothecary,’ and ‘the panoptic mechanism.’ On the basis of my understanding Foucault, Panopticon must be a reference to an asylum, where people who are mentally unstable are confined to during treatment. However, there is also another possibility of interpreting this word. Since the topic is on the plague, Panopticon could be a reference to a hospital. But what really is confusing is, why should Foucault mention an asylum or a hospital when the topic deviates from plague to policing and behavioural corrections? It is only when the words like Intendants, Syndics and Guards are used to support the theory of policing, does one get a firm idea of what Foucault meant. The Panopticon, according to Foucault could have meant a correction center; the Intendant was the superintendant, the Syndics were the officers, and the guards, the wardens.
This interpretation could be wrong; for that is what Foucault wants his readers to experience, but a correction center is a place where, those with behavioural and attitude problems are confined to, and constantly monitored. Why this interpretation could be close to that of what Foucault thought comes from the description of the Panopticon. In saying that the center of the tall structure consisted of an observation tower, tall enough for observers to see the inside of the cells where inmates were housed, it was obvious that the inmates of the Panopticon were kept under strict observation. Also, the fact that the windows of the observation tower were kept masked to hide the observers from being seen by the inmates of the Panopticon meant that the officials guarding the Panopticon didn’t want the inmates to know that they were under constant observation. Similarly, the use of the word ‘lock up,’ was a give-away.
However, one expression that was hard to interpret, was the , “crows, who can be left to die: these are ‘people of little substance who carry the sick, bury the dead, clean, and do many vile and abject offices’”