That Foucault loves his long sentences. (Loved. I just checked wikipedia to check he was dead. He died twenty days after I was born. Coincidence?)
I had to read the surrounding sentences to parse the ‘question’ I’ve allowed myself to be set, and basically we’re looking at a notion that power is not held by the ‘powerful’, it is submitted to by the weak. Power travels bottom up, fueled by fear.
I suspect we’re working in a network of something else. Hegemony is still formed by structures that are in place within society, these are not built by the fearful, they are built by the society as a whole. But it is the oppressed submitting to them.
It feels threatening. It sounds like victim blaming. If you are powerless, then its your own fault. You have let fear bind your will. You have given the powerful their power.
I hope there’s still room for something empowering in there. I hope that there’s an escape in that the fear can be left behind, the will returned, and the sovereignty taken back.
Knowing Foucault, it’s more complex than that, but at the same time, that is the aim. I don’t think there’s value in scrutinising and detailing the power structures and discourses of society apart from trying to debunk and undermine them. Noting the artificiality of the discursive archaeology of everything from sexuality to madness is done to draw attention to its very fabrication. Seeing these invisible forces as artificial is a step towards undermining, challenging and maybe escaping them.
Although we may just end up writing new ones to replace them.
Fear dominates so much of what we do. It keeps us ‘normal’ and in line. It stops us stepping out, and often makes us ‘do the right thing’. Sometimes this must be positive, but it can be based on incorrect reasons.
Fear is objectionable though, so we mask it in want. We submerse our fears into something resembling our unconsciousness. Masked and redressed as desire and freedom, we are powerless to them.
So Foucault exposes our fears with labyrinthine prose.
And maybe we even try and look honestly. Stare back into the centre of the panopticon that scares us into allowing to rule us.
But it still feels like blaming the weak for weaknesses. Without the analysis of the discourses of control (the stories, grand and small, that both instill and mask the fear that controls) it’s hard not to find power granted by consent. ‘They weren’t oppressed. The way they were dressed; they were asking for it.’
The point is that oppression isn’t a clear and direct force. It is something deeper and more entwined in social structure and narrative. The battlegrounds of power are all around us, invisible and important and more complicated than we can easily understand.
But they can still be fought.
Submission through fear is not given willingly. The fear itself, as ethereal as it is, is oppressive.
But it can be challenged.
Illustration by Lucy.