Killing the Panopticon in Us

By Snehal Deshmukh. Snehal lives in Mumbai, India. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments down below.

A glance at Foucault’s epigram appears to be contradictory – if not fully, at least partially, especially when I am influenced by Descartes and his Cogito Ergo Sum [I think therefore I am]. A common ritual is that of understanding what we are and the idea of becoming someone, which is in sync with that idea. Descartes, to some extent, can be placed near that commonality as he initiates thinking as the central activity through which he proves his existence, unlike Foucault. To me it was like, will Descartes from Mars and Foucault from Earth ever find a common ground? Or are they going to remain as two distant points of the same tangent? Let’s wait until my series of memories unfold.

In my mundane routine, some places, sounds and smells make me travel down memory lane bringing life in those characters which were alive years before. Those memories are tied in a string of pearls that when slit, spreads pearls of inner contradictions all over. One such memory is the swinging of the pendulum clock. The chiming of the pendulum takes me miles away from Mumbai; miles away from what I am and miles away from what I think today. It reminds me of an old ancestral home, something best encapsulated in colloquial Marathi language as ‘vaadaa’. People living there had a distinctive style of living which I also had to adapt to when I went there for my vacations. I felt as if my parents had a switch on and switch off button in them which made them shift to two different modes of living: the city mode and the rustic village mode. My mornings passed by listening to prescriptions of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’. A simple wish of mine to roam in the twinkling light of the stars was silenced too as I had to grow up into a female; as a quality product to be shipped into the market of marriage. The Vaada was deliberately made self-sufficient so that females never thought of going out. In fact, they were just ‘meant to be’ – to dance according to the whims and fancies of others. Their life was enclosed within the four walls of the houses. Days and months glided by and years passed before I stopped having to be there. Gone are those days and those people. That Vaada remains to be a haunted dilapidated structure with no signs of vigour in it. What remains is the skeleton of broken human interactions. Its reminiscence could be felt when I find people still applying the same old obsolete principles of living. Now I understand that my parents weren’t endowed with any such switch. They never found it vital to consciously think and deviate from the already carved path. They took things as they came and maintained the status quo. They have not only started clinging to those principles but they feel that safeguarding those is their sole purpose in life. In a way, it has turned into a fight for survival on the basis of their old identity in a globalised world.

Another pearl of memory which I cherish is related to the hostel phase of my life. It felt as if magic was filled in that air, not that my life was a bed full of roses sans waves of turbulence though. The turbulence was dealt by a steady and calm mind. Real, spontaneous me was just pouring out as my actions weren’t judged by myself at least for that short period of time. A lesser thought about fact is that humans tend to judge their own actions before being judged by everyone else. We are captives of the discourse in which we are living in. It means the ideas of good, bad, what constitutes good life, what is normal etc is pre-determined. We are socialized gently so that we start behaving in the manner in which the dominant discourse wants us to behave in. We are both products and producers of the reality [society]. I didn’t require Foucault to understand this as I have managed to survive in a paradoxical society where we worship the feminine spirit in Goddess Durga and practice misogyny, objectification, and sexual violence. Gender is much of an object as it is a subject, an object which is shaped and acted by other people as well as me. I needed Foucault to validate what l was thinking of as right. It’s a feeling of belongingness to the same tribe and I felt I was not abnormal as the people around me impelled me to rethink on what I believed. It’s about learning to see and accept stuff as they are. For instance, in this case the naked truth is that I am not supposed to tailor my article to appear good but to let it flow. It meant to be what I am.

After contemplating a lot, I think if I would invest in understanding what I am, then I would probably get stuck or left with no tangible answer. Currently bells are ringing in my mind to remind me of the stance of which I took in the commencement of the article. Initially l felt as though how can one decide whether they have to remain the same or become someone else without making an enquiry of what that person is? These initial thoughts made me feel as though Foucault was seemingly contradictory. Finally, I settled down with an inference that there can’t be two views on Foucault’s quote. I am of the same view that for me it’s not necessary to know exactly what I am. I am not what I was taught to be. The main interest of my life is to be an ever-enduring person who can’t stand the everydayness and ordinariness of patriarchy at subtle and subconscious levels which is seeped into our day-to-day lives. The abhorrent repels me and angers me and conveys that, somewhere, we are going wrong as a society. I think I am growing every moment which is difficult to define and whenever a person thinks of labelling as ‘I am this or that’ then that person is killing his or her chances to grow. I can only have a broad contour of what I adhere to which is subject to change. Life is a larger canvas to add on colours and expand our horizons. I think our understanding of knowledge is very shallow and a flawed one. For us to know anything isn’t an enquiry of ‘what it is’. It is either reinforcing our existing belief or building upon an existing building of information based upon general perceptions. I believe that there is no true self that can be deciphered and emancipated but that the self was something that had been and must be created. Looking back at my journey from being a meek, docile and submissive girl to an assertive female who jogs on the roads giving cold looks to the onlookers, it wasn’t something that just came naturally to me. Its raison d’être is an amalgamation of thesis, antithesis and synthesis of many thinkers with an instinct for its application and my passion to observe, understand, learn, and unlearn which is redundant. While the fumes of fire are still burning silently inside me, they burst out when I hear educated youth saying an ideal picture or a utopia is good to write about and romanticize but the ways of living in this world are different. For numerous such men and women l am lighting a candle of change because a Utopia will always remain a Utopia unless we work relentlessly to turn it into a reality. Coming back to the meeting of Foucault and Descartes, they are passing through the same point on the circle and are not distant points of a tangent – Descartes formalizing ideas and thinking, with Foucault creating a new vantage point on the same and pushing it beyond.

9 comments on “Killing the Panopticon in Us

  1. Snehal Deshmukh on

    It’s a great feeling to know that without knowing Kant you have understood a part of his philosophy & that my words can be inspiring!

    Reply
  2. Shweta on

    Ingenious literary piece! Never thought somebody could link Descartes and Foucault in this way. Determined to destroy some of my own panopticons.

    Reply
    • Snehal Deshmukh on

      This is the best comment l could ever get from an authority on the subject.
      Pleased to know that my article is reflected upon.

      Reply
  3. Ajinkya Chavan on

    I don’t remember the last time I read something as good as your article
    It really made me think about everything
    My words won’t be enough.

    Reply
  4. Sharvari Pathak on

    Nicely written article! My father also read it and liked it. You are finding a philosophical basis for your nonconformist thoughts and actions!
    Keep writing!!

    Reply
    • Snehal Deshmukh on

      Thanks a lot for reading so meticulously & forwarding it to kākā. Your observation forms a valuable insight for my future essays.

      Reply

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