The Policeman Masked and Dumb: A Foucaultian Reading of The Third Policeman

Corina Mitrulescu

University of Alba Iulia, Romania

 Volume III, Number 1, 2017 I Download PDF


A Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) and Nineteen EightyFour (George Orwell) were two dystopian narratives published in the twilight of modernism, looking back upon the emancipation  dreams of modernity as projects that had gone wrong. Although it has never been contextualised among novels of totalitarian plots, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman does invite a reading in light of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), where the relationship between the rulers and the ruled in the modern state is described as “descending individualism”: those who hold the power withdraw behind the scene of history, pushing the common individual into the foreground, where he is permanently being observed and disciplined so as to fit into the political agenda of the system. Our paper identifies two aspects of power in O’Brien’s novel: one visible, bullying, self-sufficient and narrow-minded, represented by Sergeant Pluck, and the other one invisible, cunning and manipulative, who always remains secluded in the dark recesses of actual history, represented by Policeman Fox. The third Policeman looks like the obscure but potent Power of modern societies: policed, intimidated and disciplined, acting on command and ignorant of the whole design of their journey in history.

Keywords: Flann O’Brien, Michel Foucault, faces of power, Panoptic scheme, disciplined modern society, surveillance system.