Mendocino State Hospital and Foucault’s “Panopticon”
We recently read Foucault in our Historical Methods class; specifically, his chapter on Discipline. At the end of the chapter, Foucault raises the specter of the Panopticon and a society so throughly infused with self-regulated discipline. What makes discipline insidious is not that it can be seen, but rather, it cannot be seen. The supervision can be constant and yet, incorporeal.
Which brings me to Mendocino State Hospital, which is now of course the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and where I spent most of my childhood. One of the largest wards in the former mental hospital is the 123 Building in the back (I’m not sure if it ever had a proper name). After reading Foucault, I suddenly realized that each ward had a small booth for observation and supervision, and all the light switches were in that room. If the observers turned off the booth’s light and kept the ward’s on, they could not be seen. It was a pretty heavy thing to consider the physical manifestation of Discipline in a building I have been in and around since my childhood.
My sister helped me take the picture above to illustrate the view of the supervisor from that booth.
Posted on: February 15, 2016, by : Q.Z.