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Foucault’s Dilemma

Samuel Posten

All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery.

—Paul-Michel Foucault

He sits in the center

of the panopticon.

He’s the controller,

wielding vision,

no land unseen.

He has hundreds

of contacts:




on a machine.

He has their burdens,

pooled from all.

Their joys are

his sadness,


of other lives

he cannot have.

He may seem the prison guard

for he resides

in the center.


he is the prisoner.

A plan of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon prison drawn by Willey Reveley in 1791 (Wikimedia Commons)

On every TV screen,

users have,

a picture of his face pops up.

They seem to be on the perimeter.

Each sends a quick hello

Before departing

To their frozen, fascinating lives.

The man


From his crystal tower,


With faces.

He sits,

Absorbing all his surroundings,

Hoping that one day,

He can live all their lives,

That they are his own:

his pleasurable mythology.


Samuel Posten is an aspiring poet and philosopher born in Plano, Texas. He currently attends St. Mark’s School of Texas. Despite his unrequited love for science fiction and dystopian novels, he has instead chosen to focus on nature and society to invoke catharsis in himself and his readers. When not living vicariously through poetry, he enjoys reading, running and going to dinner with his friends.

Willey Reveley (1760–1799) was an 18th-century English architect trained at the Royal Academy Schools. About 1791 he received his first professional fee as an architect, £10, for assisting philosopher Jeremy Bentham in preparing architectural drawings for Bentham's scheme for a Panopticon prison. Reveley continued to work on the project with Bentham for the rest of the 1790s.


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