24 Ocak 2011 Pazartesi

On the use of Panopticon and the dystopian discourse in Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go


The general framework of Ishiguro's novel, Never Let Me Go, seems to have been based on dystopic themes, motifs and discourses. Though the possible readers of Ishiguro's novel may be accustomed to those qualities from previous classic dystopian novels such as 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 and so on, the dystopian structure of Ishiguro's novel works on a new and different axis.
Ishiguro's use of Hailsham, the watchers, cloned students, organ transplant issues and the questioning of bioethics in such a "closed" environment creates a claustrophobic microcosm which may stand for the modern Western societies and their current conditions. However, it does not seem to be valid enough to interpret the whole novel through an analogy between Hailsham and the Modern world though there are many striking implications including Tommy's anger management problems, the song Never Let Me Go and the existence of the watchers and their attitude towards the students of Hailsham. Throughout the novel, Ishiguro revolves around many political, philosophical and psychological themes, motifs and sub-texts including seemingly minor details such as Kathy H.'s favorite song, Never Let Me Go by Judy Bridgewater. Memories that take place in the fabula of the novel such as this tape Kathy gets from the Sales are not only complementary parts of the novel, but also indispensable components. One can realize the hopelessness of the Hailsham students, those clones and donors, even solely by the song Kathy plays obssessively. However, it is not the only role of the song to play in the novel. As the title of the essay suggests, one may be able to analyse the dystopian qualities of the novel and the way they function in the novel through Bridgewater's song.
            If one is to take Hailsham as a microcosm for the clones and the outer world as the macrocosm which they are not allowed to be a part of even the title of the song Never Let Me Go marks great significance. As Madame suggests in the end, it may show the reluctance of Kathy and the other Hailsham students to go "out" of that aquarium although they are confined to a fate that they they cannot change. When Madame's interpretation of Kathy's intense interest in the song is taken into consideration along with the theory of Panopticon of Michel Foucault, Ishiguro's criticism towards the modern societies and their ways of ruling the individuals becomes clearer.
            In Foucault's theory of Panopticon, the prisoners are held in a tower along with an unnumbered guardians, or watchers as in the case of Hailsham. Since the prisoners always carry the possibility of breaking another law, they are controlled by some unknown mechanism of being watched. Though, they learn and process the information of being watched by the guardians since they have no concrete proof they inhibit their tendency to escape from the tower despite the impossibility of watching and recording the acts of every prisoner every minute. However, that becomes how they are controlled. All the prisoners in the tower somehow know that they are being watched but since they can never be sure when they are watched or not at an exact time in a day, they have to inhibit and confine themselves all the time. As Foucault suggests, this uneasiness and skepticism of the prisoners towards the Panopticon system, troubles the prisoners and the whole mechanism conjures up a microcosm where the individual act becomes limited and gets no "deferrals". Therefore, at some point, despite all the oppresive power, they also feel relieved because it is safe in the tower and the whole system makes them free of doubts about their future misdeeds.
            In this case, Madame and the other watchers act like the guardians in Foucault's example of Panopticon. They create a seemingly safe, sterile microcosm for the students. Therefore, the students do not rebel against the whole system since they internalize every single process about the dynamics of the hierarchy and they feel themselves on the safe-side. Almost everything in Hailsham is reliable to some extent, they know that they are going to be found if they ever happen to escape, they know that they are going to be a part of a bigger project of organ transplants and that they will never have children of their own. However, the "outer world" seems impossible to reach, full of adventures yet dangerous since they cannot process anything except for what they have been taught at Hailsham.
            In his Collected Essays, Foucault suggests that the underlying dynamics of Panopticon are supposed to fulfill one and single aim, that is, preventing the prisoners from escaping by the total removal of  their desire to escape. With his theory, Madame seems to be right in interpreting Kathy's interest in the song. If one is to consider, as aforementioned, Hailsham as a representative of the modern societies, the Panopticon analogy becomes much more significant. Since the students of Hailsham resemble "happy" prisoners, Kathy could be begging to an unknown person not to let her go from her prison, not to let her escape from that claustrophobic, oppressive yet sterile, safe and familiar environment. Therefore, the strategy of the watchers in Hailsham proves to be performing well, as all the upper hierarchical levels of society – prisons, hospitals, courts- do in the 21st century.
            On the other hand, one also witnesses how Kathy herself interprets her interest in the song. She claims that it had absolutely no connection with her desire for staying there at Hailsham, but rather, it was all about the impossibility of having a baby of her own. At first glance, Kathy's interpretation of her own act may seem far more innocent than Madame's. Nevertheless, it marks another dystopian theme which is about the rights of the female body. All the female students in Hailsham, without their consent, are deprived of their rights of giving birth and Kathy's singing along with the song with a pillow held against her breast may be considered as the representative of inadequate women rights in the apparently advanced societies where women have almost nothing to claim for their own body and rights of procreation. In Ishiguro's dystopian microcosm, a teenage girl can realize her deprivation of her own rights at a very early age and she can even process the pain as an ordinary rule without any manifested trauma at later ages.
            Therefore, it can be stated that the song, Never Let Me Go, not only works on the fabula axis but rather its existence espouses the dystopian qualities in the novel on the narrational level. Kathy's reaction towards song, in one way or another, is tragic and marks the incapability of the "Modern Man" to take an individual step without getting the consent of higher stratas of the societies. The existential fear and the inhibited freedom of civilized humankind makes it almost impossible for them to rebel and we all discover that we have been processing every single piece of information we have been taught which makes us volunteers to live in Hailsham rather than venturing into the unknown despite how much we crave for it.

1 yorum:

  1. Thank you for broadening my horizons by defining Foucault's Panopticon and interconnecting it with Never Let Me Go! It definitely changed my perception on how I usually perceive things and made me realize how I should look at them instead...
    By the way, if you haven't already read 'The Giver' by Lois Lowry, I'd highly recommend it on this note.

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