My experience reading Foucault tells me a few things. The more he’s talking about a thing, the easier he is to understand and to apply. Also, he’s much easier when you’re 40 than when you’re 22. He’s also much easier when it’s not your first go-around as well. I think this is my third reading of this book, and this is the first time I am not reading the book for use in a class or an essay. Just for fun!
The other thing to remember about Foucault is that he’s always describing something while also not describing something. What this part means is that while this is about the birth of the prison as a concept and physical space, it’s also about the social structuring of society into the surveillance state, the state of self-suppression, and the state of the public self. It’s also important to recognize that Foucault’s references in this book are primarily France before and after the revolution, the United States, and the UK. For me, this is an important distinction because he doesn’t need to reference Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany for this examples of surveillance, when the much more benign English public school works just as well, actually better. It’s better because the overt political and violent control of Stalinism and Nazism belies how ubiquitous docility and surveillance are. This is also the first time, I’ve thought about Foucault in terms of something I read after — Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer, and a question I’ve been thinking about more given currently climates, the ways in which financial controls function on docility. As someone who owes a lot of student loans, my behaviors and attitudes are very controlled by how trapped I feel by those. I imagine this might more so be covered in something like Piketty, but I will have to see.