Re: Films: The Prisoner

I was beginning to think that no one else out there had seen The Prisoner!

Mark Welch says

To my eye it is not so much about "discipline
>and punishment", or even state control, as a postmodern odyssey full of
>games and riddles, jouissance and mirrors within mirrors, a veritable
>Russian doll of masks and identity, and, as anyone who has actually been to
>Portmerrion where it was filmed, will testify, the real village is the most
>bizarre place. It seems that the McGoohan character is indulged as well as
>teased, and although conformity may be one aspect of the sub-text, it is
>both more subtle and slippery than it might first appear.

I both agree and disagree - I agree The Prisoner is not about 'discipline
and punishment' in the the pre nineteenth century definition - but it is
most certainly about governmentality, and about the whole process of trying
to persuade people to govern themselves in the interests of power and the
state. If number 6 (the prisoner) is indulged it is part of that whole
process of power making itself attractive that Foucault mentions in _La
volonte de savoir_ . If power were purely repressive no-one would agree to
it. In addition, The Prisoner offers an interesting view of the limitations
of power. There are constant exortations not to damage the prisoner - power
only works if *both* partners agree to the exercise of power as Foucault
suggests in his 1982 offering 'The subject and power'. If one of the
partners in the exercise of power is subjected to extreme violence, then it
is no longer a matter of a power relation. The prionser must be made to
desire and want his imprisonment.

The village is a nice place to live - everyone appears content - it does
not outwardly appear repressive - It is a kind of Toquevillesque democracy
- the sort of thing Foucault describes as well - comfortable but definitely
not free. The games and riddles are part of the complex relations of power
that the Prisoner (a metaphor for the individual in modern society) finds
himself subject to. The exercise of power is also about trickery and hiding
its processes. The prisoner's resistances then provoke further changes in
the strategies aimed to get him to 'confess' and to 'conform' to the rules
of the village. The prisoner refuses to 'confess', to tell the 'truth'
about himself and thereby refuses to allow himself to be governed. (There
are some nice foucauldian attacks on the practices of psychology and
psychonanlysis in the series, as well as on education and political rule
etc) Often the conformities required of the prisoner in the series are
merely symbolic and their surreal nature only serves to emphasise how
absurd and insidious are the practices of power in reality.

>>not so concerned with Otherness or abjection. If it is related to any
>>"school" it might be the Kafka-esque dystopian vision.

There is a lot of Kafka in The Prisoner, and I agree The Prisoner is
certainly not about Otherness and abjection - but then neither is
Foucault's work during the 1970s - The Prisoner is about carving out
difficult freedoms within the constraints of society - which in my view
makes it very foucauldian. I think the episode where Leo McKern's number 2
has hypnotised number 6 into believing that he (number 2) is his father is
very demonstrative here. The prisoner resists and refuses to conform all
the way through but reveals at the end he has filial feelings for this
'father' in spite of his resistance.

>Howver, I think that the use of films in seminars like this is a marvellous
>way of demonstrating the continuing pertinence of Foucault's analysis

I agree absolutely .

> I wonder if the dystopian vision may be a fruitful
>avenue to explore.

I think there are very strong dystopian elements in foucault's work
particularly during the 1970s.
The catchcry of The Prisoner is 'I am not a number I am a free man!' - what
could be more foucauldian than that?


Clare O'Farrell
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