Monday, 17 December 2012




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I have come to the end of my Poetics of Surveillance module, and I have come away with a whole view of the poetics of surveillance, which is not as fragmented as before taking the module. During the module I felt paranoid and very much aware that I was being watched, by a higher being, the government, CCTV cameras and by others. I was aware of my changing perception of myself, as I knew I was being watched, which thus made me internalise my conscience.  Obviously I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but the idea that I was being watched, and didn’t know when or where made me nervous. I now have an understanding of the use of surveillance in society, and personally do not feel that the government is being oppressive in its use of surveillance. I believe it is very much needed in society. My time at court for jury service has also proved this, as in my cases the criminals knew where the CCTV cameras where, and still they were not deterred. This goes to show how in society, the need for surveillance and a government who watches you is necessary.  I do not understand why people feel that the government is spying on them, as a negative thing, as it can only be negative if you are actually doing something wrong, and thus feel guilty for it. I have come away from this module of the poetics of surveillance, with the idea that in society, we all have a sense of self-scrutiny, and surveillance.

Will Increasing Technology Change Fiction?

Never Let Me Go

After subsequent readings of Kazuo Ishiguro’s, Never Let Me Go, (2005) I find the novel to be extremely bleak in its view of humanity. It’s a disturbing novel. Especially at the end, with Kathy’s metaphor of the rubbish wasting away. For example when she says, “I was thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of old stuff caught along the fencing.” (282) which suggests that she is literally the old plastic bag, being used as a body to hold its contents, merely being a vessel for genes, being used as an instrument for the use of someone else. What is more shocking, however, is the form of surveillance that runs throughout the novel. The surveillance of the students (clones) and their art. The surveillance is shown through the value and importance placed on art by the figures of authority, the Guardians.  The revelation at the end of the novel, of the real reason for the production of the art is cruel, as throughout the novel, the students where given a false sense of hope, of being told and not told, and they put their hopes into the dream of having a normal life, or into the rumour of deferring for true love,  which would never come true. The real reason for the art, was used to determine whether the students have souls and are actually human. This raises questions of scientific and anthropocentric concern of their personal identifies. Miss Emily states, “We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put 9t more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.” (255) This therefore questions the clones and thier sanctity of life and if they have equal rights and liberties to life as every other human being. Ishiguro thus creates a satirical self-reflection of the world. For example, when the delivery men say, “sweetheart” (41) it is ironical as it makes the reader self-criticize themselves, making them look inside themselves and observe.

Society of Control After 9/11

Jonathan Raban’s novel, Surveillance, (2006) questions the society of control in a post 9/11 world where the state has control over its people. For example, in staging these preventative accidents, the government is trying to discipline its people into taking precautions, for when it happens in reality. In Raban’s novel, there are elements of the Foucaldian disciplinary society of control. It can be argued that while the government is trying to make people more aware it seems that the state is trying to control people. The government is not interested in people’s freedoms or liberties, but interested in a society of control. On a personal level, we see in the book that new technologies make it easier for people to survey others. This can be seen when Lucy says, “Look at the way people Google their prospective dates. Everybody does it. Everybody’s trying to spy on everyone else.” (225) This can also be seen in the use of Google maps, which even I have used to Google my own street. I have even seen myself in the Google maps street view, which seems to be taken years ago. It’s rather spooky. Because this technology is so widely used by everybody, does it then make it acceptable to use for spying on others? I admit it’s useful, however, when put into the wrong hands; somebody may use it for unethical and immoral reasons. Personally, I don’t mind the state having such intrusive access to my life, if they use their powers for good. The minute they abuse their powers, for example, taking somebody’s personal identity or fraud, then it is wrong. But the line seems very blurred. It seems hypocritical to say that it’s okay if I use technology as a form of surveillance to spy on my neighbour, let’s say, but its wrong when the government spy on us. In my opinion of the people who feel so strongly about the government spying on us, it may just be that they have something to hide.

City and Perception

In Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs Dalloway, (1925) Woolf comments on the city and its perception. Woolf seems to argue that surveillance is positive in its attribution to an organic city of London that is pure and natural. Can surveillance be a positive thing? Or is it too overpowering in its gaze?

Woolf shapes her readers way of seeing in the novel and challenges her readers to deconstruct a cognitive process of thinking. This can be seen in the 3rd person narration, which shows an unbroken stream of consciousness. For example, in the opening of the novel we are introduced to Clarissa Dalloway, “What a plunge! […] with a little squeak of the hinges, […] she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air.” (5) Here the windows are seen as being open to the stream of consciousness, which opens up her memories and her perceptions of things in the past. Woolf suggests that everyone in the city is being watched, thus having no privacy. All the characters seem to know one another, or know each other’s business, which shows a connectedness, attributed to the function of Victorian Literature. This can be seen in the novel through the organic and natural imagery, which is woven into the world of connectedness. For example, this can be seen as, “a single spider’s thread after wavering here and there
attach[ing] itself to the point of a leaf” (144) which shows the nature backdrop against the city environment showing spider webs of surveillance. This seems to suggest that there is a positive and natural element to surveillance.

Facebook and Self-Surveillance

Practically everyone I know uses a form of social networking, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… social networking functions as a way to connect with people you know. However, one of the darker sides of these social networking sites is the company behind it, who controls everything within the site, and who can also see everything you do on your own Facebook. This new technology of social networking sites can be argued to be authoritative, similar to 1984’s Big Brother. The company behind Facebook, own all of the content that you post, and you can’t do anything about it as you chose to put your information into Facebook. Facebook is a company which you do not own, and everything you post is therefore owned by them and not you. It comes to no surprise, seeing as we all signed up to the Terms and Conditions of the site. This therefore creates a risk, as people are now scared as to what information they choose to share with Facebook, with many people complaining about their privacy being taken away from them. But before we start complaining about our privacy on the internet, if we really wanted privacy, then we would not have shared information on the internet, because as soon as we do this, it does not belong to us anymore.

Many of the information we share is being used for marketing tools, and advertising. In a seminar discussion, we talked about how advertisements where conditioned to what we ourselves put onto our computers, and many found it shocking to realise that when they were online shopping, advertisements kept popping up of things which appealed to them and they wanted to buy. This shows that everything on the internet is conditioned, by us, so it seems. We are self –surveying.


And a new earth.

I discovered this video on Youtube, called “And a new earth”, in my first year at university, and found it to be very inspiring. Inspiration is hard to come by, especially as University students when procrastination takes over! I’m sure everyone has been there, when the loss of motivation drives you over to the dark side and you spend the better part of the day watching cute cat videos on YouTube! Or is that just me?! So, I found this video and keep it bookmarked for times of need. I find that it really helps to motivate me, and left me feeling in awe. It changed my perception of the world, my future and my present. It is beautiful to say the least! Relating it back to surveillance, in part (1:17) the narrator says, “you are being watched, my friends, you are taxed livestock, you are numbers on our screen,” After watching the video back, I found that this is actually quite creepy, to think that our every move is being watched, but we don’t know when or where. We have no power or control over ourselves, and this is reiterated in the video when it says, “and you’re starting to feel scared, you’re starting to forget just how free and powerful you really are”. (1:42) This really shows just how powerless we are as a race.

The world will follow. As above. So below. A new heaven. And a new earth.

The Eye of God

One of the main ideas surrounding surveillance is the idea that we are all being watched. But who are we being watched by? This idea has stemmed from a long held religious belief of the Eye of God. The seeing, all knowing eye of God comes from the ancient Greeks and can even be traced back to the Egyptians who created this idea of surveillance as a deterrent, to deter people from even thinking about doing anything wrong. This seems rather an austere measure and reminds me of the 2002 science fiction film, Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg, which has Tom Cruise in it. The idea of the film is based around the “precogs”, which are mutated humans with precognitive abilities to determine future murders before they have even happened. This brings into questions the argument of free will versus determinism, as how can we be judged for our actions, as the future is already laid out. The idea of being constantly watched will make people less likely to break the rules. This idea, of behaving morally can be argued to be a way of securing your place in Heaven, alongside God. This gives people a purpose in life, to live an eternal life in Heaven with God. This is then the ultimate form of Surveillance as it controls us even after death. People hand over their freedom, into the hands of God, or some may argue, the state, which has the right to control us and have power over us. It is this fear of our freedom which keeps people under the control of the state, creating a paradox of free will, which states that we cannot be blamed for our actions as we are simply puppets acting the way society tells us to act, in order to achieve an afterlife alongside God. Therefore the idea of surveillance and being watched comes from ideas of philosophy and religion, and being watched by an omniscient being.


Do we have freedom and control over our body?

Do we have freedom and control over our body? Where does power lie? I will discuss these two questions in relation to the two texts studied; James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

In Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, the body is docile and material.  He describes the image of the soldier as not being individual; having no free will or autonomy. If a solider steps out of line then he will be punished. Discipline and punishment exist to regain the control back as a process of space and time and as a way to make the docile body feel useful again, giving it a sense of gratification.

Within Hogg’s Confessions, Robert loses his awareness of space and time and as a result he loses his mind. Time is an important aspect in the two texts as in Foucault’s book, every minute of the soldiers life is accounted for. This creates a fear of time and of freedom itself, as there is no agency or autonomy. The theme of Calvinism that runs throughout Confessions reveals to the reader that free will is not important. Calvinism is the theology that a selection of the elite are predestined to be saved and will go to Heaven. In Confessions, Robert loses all sense of humanity and kills people because he is one of the “saved” elite who does not have to be good, as he has a place in Heaven already. We see his body become a mechanical machine being operated by Gil-Martin, and this suggests that he has no control over his own body.

Foucault believes that power is an entity which manifests itself in different ways. He believes that control is power. Yet power is abstract and you can have no control over it. Foucault states that power is used by the institutes as a tool of manipulation. He states that manipulation occurs through scrutiny and the power of the guards as they are actually helping us. Thus we have a fear of freedom, owing to the panopticonism. The all Seeing Eye is also a symbol of power, as it is always watching and holds the power of looking, which creates a fear of freedom.

Within Confessions, Hogg’s reveals the act of confessing as a type of self-scrutiny, where the mind must monitor itself. Confessions are held in the Catholic Church, and are seen as a pathway leading to religious conditioning where a confession is made to someone else, which in turn teaches you to judge yourself. Here is where we see the idea of Doubling and the Doppelganger, as through confessing you are talking about yourself, creating a split self, however, you lose power and control of yourself and hand it to the political and religious power systems. For Foucault, the doubling process is seen in schools, markets and prisons. Hogg’s doubling is one of religion, as the scrutiny is either done by God or some may say through the reader. They are an introspective figure, watching over us.

Confessions is a type of self-scrutiny where the mind must monitor itself. Confession is Catholic Church, pathway to religious conditioning where you confess to someone, conditions you to judge yourself. This is because you must step outside of yourself to look in, urging you to atone for your sins and to be good. Therefore, it is evident that we do have control over our bodies, through confessions as we are able to monitor ourselves and self-scrutinize ourselves. However, we cannot have power over ourselves as power is abstract. Power is an entity, and is of a higher power. As human beings we will always have an introspective figure looking at us, somebody in a higher position to us, watching over us, whether it be a boss, teacher, or God. This is something we cannot fight, because if we rebel and try to take back the power for ourselves, we will be punished.