D.A. Miller defines the panopticon in The Novel and The Police as “a circular prison disposed about a central watchtower…” in which “… surveillance is exercised on fully visible “prisoners” by unseen “guards “”. The quotations added by Miller state the fact that the panopticon does not necessarily exist only within a prison setting. It can also exist through people, one of those people being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes is a detective, or as Watson calls an “amateur bloodhound”. He is able to accurately make assumptions about people based on the smallest things. He correctly declared that someone was a retired marine sergeant from his tattoo, beard, and the air in which he walked. No one is safe from Sherlock’s profound abilities of deduction. Just one look at a person and he can accurately guess a person’s deepest secret, or so it feels. Sherlock becomes the panopticon in this sense. If you know about his abilities, you will always be on edge that he is watching you and, therefore, you are always watching yourself. But in the end, it does not matter, because however careful you are, Holmes will still find out information because that information “is most characteristically exercised on “little things “”.
This becomes most apparent with the retired marine sergeant. The tattoo of an anchor is the most visible marker that Sherlock sees but that only tells him of a previous profession that was on the seas. The two “little things” as Miller calls them, are his beard and the way in which he walks. If the sergeant were to cover up his tattoo, Holmes can still deduce that he was a retired sergeant of some kind. Holmes’ version of the panopticon is the scariest because it is invisible. No one can know when he is judging you and you never know if your small ticks or visible differences will be under his scrutiny.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet. Penguin Books. 1887.
Miller, D.A. The Novel and the Police. University of California Press. 1988.