The plague and the Panopticon: Camus, with and against the total critiques of modernity

Albert Camus’s 1947 novel La Peste and 1948 drama L’E´tat de Sie`ge, allegories of totalitarian power using the figure of the plague (Part I), remarkably anticipate Foucault’s celebrated genealogical analyses of modern power (Part II). Indeed, reading Foucault after Camus highlights a fact little-remarked in Discipline and Punish: namely, that the famous chapter on the ‘Panopticon’ begins by analysing the measures taken in early modern Vincennes following the advent of plague. Part III argues that, although Camus was cited as an inspiration by the nouveaux philosophes, he does not accept the reactionary motif of the total bankruptcy of the modern cultural and political worlds as hopelessly implicated in the totalitarian crimes. Indeed, Part IV highlights how Camus defends modern, descriptive scientific rationality against its totalitarian appropriations, alongside ‘the power of passion, doubt, happiness, and imaginative invention’ – positions which Part V suggests as Camus’s continuing poignancy and relevance in the period after post-structuralism (Camus, 1952: 301).


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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