Spectacularizing Crime: Ghostwriting The Law

Author: Hutchings, P.J.

Source: Law and Critique, Volume 10, Number 1, 1999 , pp. 27-48(22)

Publisher: Springer

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Beginning with an examination of the process whereby punishment turns its point of application from body to subject, and its scene of application from public to private -- as Foucault outlines in Discipline and Punish -- this paper attempts to complicate Foucault's thesis of a shift from corporeal visibility to invisibility as it appears in his account of the withdrawal of punishment from a public, spectacular domain into the no less public yet private sphere of the prison by attending to the transformations of spectacle itself which accompanied this process of disembodiment. The embodied spectacle of punishment -- the state's theatre of cruelty -- gave way to a disembodied discursive explosion of images of crime and punishment, and this process can be traced through the texts of Bentham (Panopticon Letters, Fragment on Ontology) and Dickens (Great Expectations). Foucault's dichotomy between the spectacle of public punishment and the disciplinary, non-spectacular prison overlooks the importance of images of crime and punishment which come to pervade public discourse and imagination as part of the installation of the disciplinary régime. Spectacularizing entails a move from the specific, embodied singularity of spectacle to the condition of a generalized, disembodied, and continual insistence: it is this that constitutes and characterizes the shift from spectacular sovereignty to disciplinary surveillance. This spectacularizing is akin to the spectre: ``some `thing' that remains difficult to name: neither soul nor body, and both one and the other'' (Derrida). The spectre haunting the nineteenth century was the criminal, and that century's rationalizing of crime and punishment was based upon a fear of the spectral itself.

Keywords: Bentham (Panopticon Letter, Fragment on Ontology); Derrida; Dickens (Great Expectations); Discipline and Punish imagination; Foucault; crime; criminal; prison; punishment; spectacle

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury, Australia p.hutchings@uws.edu.au

Publication date: January 1, 1999

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