Sunday, February 19, 2006

PenOpticon... Panopticon... PunOpticon

It has been several weeks and at least one quail hunting accident since I began this blog and you have all been most courteous by leaving me to my lonesome self. That's ok. After all, of all the packets being flung out of a hundred million web servers, and of all the bumph, blurbs and blogs you have to choose from, how could you possibly have ended up here? Like thousands of other hapless bloggers, I'm just typing away in a vacuum -- a digital bell jar -- hoping to break through the glass.

Anyhow, since you have stumbled upon something called the PenOpticon, there should be at least one entry explaining the rationale for the name. It was in fact inspired by Jeremy Bentham's 18th century Panopticon, a design for a perfect prison. But, the only reason I knew about Bentham was from a shallow exposure to Michel Foucault's discussion of the panopticon as a metaphor for all sorts of state and institutional power relations.

And so I wondered, to what degree does language operate as a panoptic structure. Are there ways in which the habits of convention and cliché imprison the writer in his/her own language? In another sense, I am locked in this blog, typing my brains out, knowing that anyone could read these words, but never really knowing if anyone does (assuming no one will comment!). The best I can do is try to write as if you really are out there -- much like Offred in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: "I write, therefore you are".

So here is the obvious conceit: just as Bentham's Panopticon was an "all-seeing eye", I suppose I intended to turn this PenOpticon into an all-seeing pen. Aside from the pun there is a more serious joke: the realization that the pen - the blogger - is truly constrained and imprisoned by the very institution of writing/language in general and digital writing in particular. So the PenOpticon is not a persona, but something to transcend. The goal is to break free of language and conventions that make communication difficult, to shatter the glass of this digital vacuum. And finally, just to mangle the metaphor a little more: as long as the vacuum remains intact, at least some of these posts are bound to suck.

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