I couldn’t sleep last night for the idea, or question, really, that was buzzing around the inside of my skull. I was thinking about the final moments in Steppenwolf when he is waiting to be executed in his prison cell and there’s that stunning passage that I try to live by now.
My thought-train leapfrogged to the influence of German expressionist film upon film noir, particularly in the use of a single harsh light blazed through a set of horizontal blinds. Strips of dark and lightness are used to heighten the claustrophobia of fast-encroaching modernity – every individual is caught, literally, in a prison of his own making.
Then I was struck by this thought: what if you could choose your claustrophobia?
What if you could choose for your cell to be in any 6m by 10m space?
If you had to look at one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Would you choose the main belly of a train carriage, for constant variety?
Or would you choose the edge of the sea?
A library jam-packed with books?
Or the kitchen of your family home?
Of course, all these options are to do with space rather than company. It is this distinction that brought home to me the key to imprisonment: it is not about restricted boundaries so much as your inability to cross them.
No matter what space you choose, whoever enters it has the ability to leave again, whereas you do not. And would you condemn another human being to live with you forever in a 6m by 10m box, no matter how bright the paint, or how real its colours? It is almost like a condensed form of immortality – you will outstay (rather than outlive) the people that surround you; although they may share some patch of time with you, isolation will be the defining state of your existence.
I guess your prison may as well be blank and bare; being imprisoned elsewhere may let you believe, momentarily, that you are free again, and the memory that you are not would make the plunge in the pit of your stomach all the more deep.
Also, I came across this video of inmates in a Philippine prison performing a mass dance routine to Gangnam Style and it sent chills down my spine.