The Prison with Symbolic Walls: Complexity and Structuration in Havel’s Power of the Powerless

Scott C. Hammond, Rene Houston


A dear friend who, as I write, is in a Chinese prison once told me this tale: For want of something to do, a prisoner gleaned from the sweepings of the shop floor tiny bits of glittering wire, which he deposited in a bottle. Years passed. On the day he was freed, there was nothing to take with him to make the passage of those years except the bottle, and so he carried it away. Back home he rose and he ate and he slept at the exact hours the warden had decreed. Too old to work anymore, he spent his days pacing, the exact space of his long confinement-four paces forward, four paces back, four paces forward, four paces back. For want of something to do, one day he smashed the bottle to count how many tiny bits of glittering wire he had collected. He wept. At his feet lay broken glass, and a clump of wires rusted solid in the shape of a bottle (Lord, 1990, p. 3).

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