In the 60s cult-TV series, The Prisoner, a British spy (played by Patrick McGoohan) is held captive in an Orwellian Village on an island controlled by a faceless authority. The prisoner, who we know only as Number 6, has resigned from the secret service. This appears to be his crime. In the opening sequence for the show, we see him burst into his spy chief’s office and passionately submit his resignation; he is subsequently drugged, kidnapped, and whisked off to the Village. We never find out why he quit. The authorities are perplexed. The prisoner is told that he will remain interned on the island until he has explained his actions to Number 1. But the prisoner refuses to do so. Instead, he seeks to escape. Insistently. The prisoner’s whole tenure on the island (the entirely of two seasons of the show) consists of attempts to elude his captors and flee to the distant mainland.
After being captured by the eerie bouncing balls that guard the island, the prisoner is hauled before Number 2 and issued a sardonic dressing down. ‘In a society, one must learn to conform’, Number 2 tells him. ‘I am not a number – I am a free man!’ replies the prisoner.
The moment that he is alone, he is preparing to escape again.
We can see The Prisoner as a metaphor for the sixties counterculture. According to the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995), the counterculture was defined by the myriad ways that groups and individuals sought to escape the society of normalisation and control that their parents had helped create. The driving impulse behind the counterculture was not so much to oppose the status quo as to get free of it – to head for the horizon with bloodshot eyes on experimental lines of flight (fuite - this can mean leaking, fleeing, or escaping). Lines of flight are bolts of pent-up energy that break through the cracks in a system of control and shoot off on the diagonal. By the light of their passage, they reveal the open spaces beyond the limits of what exists. In a series of books written with the militant psychotherapist Felix Guattari (1930-1992), Deleuze linked human creativity to flight. It is our desire to escape the status quo that leads us to innovate. Like the prisoner, we dream of being anywhere but here. We coordinate, form alignments, combine our powers and innovate. We remake the world on creative lines of flight.