On Freedom & the Indurance of Power Structures

“Even our children, our own flesh-and-blood, wore shirts and armbands bearing Morgan’s name…anywhere our children could write the vile word they wrote it, and transgressed against our orders. We commanded, Never say his name, so our children sang his name…Soon, the name defaced our public buildings…in provocative locations, such as schools, parks, homes and public walls. A town has many walls.” (321-322)

This passage caught my attention in light of Foucault’s essay because I feel it brings up an issue that the essay does not address at length. We have read and discussed how power structures are composed of actions upon actions that form institutions continually upheld, and that is seen in The Avian Gospels. However, the institutions that Foucault brings up (i.e. as pastoral and state leadership forms) have existed across cultures in some form for thousands of years; in this case, Morgan’s position of power is recently established and confined to a general region, which is part of what makes his influence so interesting. At this point in the novel, Morgan has gone missing – he is no longer around to engage in arson or to rally crowds with his bird shows. Yet, as seen in the quote, his influence prevails despite his absence, and he has become something of a godly figure in a mortal body. Despite the collective “we” of the narrator discouraging the children from acting in his name, they recognize that in actuality, they are free to praise him all they want; in the words of Foucault, they are “collective subjects…faced with a field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions and diverse comportments may be realized”. (790) In an ironic way, the children’s rebellion against power bestows power upon them, and the adults are left to realize the futility of their efforts.

This idea becomes more interesting when one ponders the final line of the above quote: “A town has many walls”. Symbolically, walls are a means of restraint and confinement, but vandalizing them diminishes their effect of authority; it is instead the original figures of authority whose efforts have become futile.

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