Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and Sybil: Fascism and Our Music

The following is appended as a comment on the selection of the Rock Commentaries on “The Wall.”

   There is a whole study of the relation between The Wall and the book Sybil, by Flora Rheta Schreiber. Sybil had multiple personalities. One of these is actually named “Sid,” spelled not like Syd Barrett but like Sid Vicious. The name “Sid” comes from the initials of Sybil Isabel Dorsett, a pseudonym used to protect the privacy of Shirley Ardell Mason. The similarity of names is at the very least an interesting coincidence. Artists are very touchy about their influences and conscious and unconscious borrowing, and such is not our point or concern. If Shakespeare paused for such concerns, he would not have written some 36 dramatic works. Shakespeare, incidentally, is the first to write tragedy about villains (Richard III and Macbeth), rather than the noble character with a single Achilles’ heel. The Wall is similar to tragedy about villainy.

   The Wall is about the relation between the psychology of the contemporary man and the emerging fascism or wholly modern tyranny. But “Syd” Barrett was the pseudonym of Roger Barrett prior to the publication of Sybil in 1973. Other interesting points of coincidence between The Wall (1979) and the book Sybil is shown in the name “Substitute” for the alternate personality in the Wall (Sybil, p. 58), the wall itself (Sybil, p. 207, etc.), the aim to “Tear down the wall,” the scaffold, and even the igloo appearance of the bricks in the wall. In an Evangelical church, Sybil was made to draw the beasts from the vision in Daniel Chapter 7, from a scaffold, and projected for the congregation. The four in Daniel correspond to the latter four of what we consider to be five empires ruling over Jerusalem from Babylon through Rome, in Chapter 2 of Daniel. Since writing on the relation of The Wall and fascism, I have learned two new things which lead to this line of inquiry: first, that all the commentators repeat what Roger Waters himself says, that the opera is about “alienation,” specifically his wish to build a wall between himself and the rock audience. Second, from the Gilmour site on Twitter, posting a 2011 documentary on the making of The Wall: Waters journeyed to Patmos with friends, where a beam of light fell upon his forehead, at which others asked him if he wanted to be “famous.” Fame is of course an illusory desire, as once lost, privacy cannot be restored, and one’s own soul becomes something of a common property. Shakespeare too would distinguish between himself and “Will,” or between the public and private Shakespeare. Our question is rather that of the relation between this “alienation,” substitute personalities, and what in fascism is like a political form of diabolic possession. That is, one hypothesis is that these serious fascists are not properly themselves, though each is of course responsible for giving way, not to such things as multiple personalities, but rather to bad and evil. None of the personalities of Sybil are such, and there is a similarity to the saying that hypnosis cannot cause someone to do that to which they are ethically opposed, or that when stimulating the body to move, a brain surgeon cannot make one choose to move, but only to move. Our music, in the tree of its development, spawned a fascist branch (if to mix metaphor), The “Skinhead,” or, in Britain, the “Hammerskins,” the obvious referent of the character called the “Substitute” in the Wall. One point we draw as a preliminary conclusion is that our division within is related to the outer, political forms of modern totalitarianism. Another pertinent hypothesis is that modern totalitarianism bears an inverse relation to the Christian mysteries, or that its genesis in the soul is an inversion of the natural birth of the “child” in the soul through romantic travail. The Substitute emerges through his breakdown resulting from the failure of his marriage. Something like this occurs when Pink phones London from America to find that a man is answering the phone, and his marriage is over. Pink is a composite of four band members, and this characteristic of bands is considered well by Townshend in Quadrophenia. It is why these bands, even the Beatles, never do so well in their solo careers as they do in the magical conjunction of four or so functions that is the rock band. Music itself is rhythm, melody and lyric poetry, or words. Plato considers three parts of the soul, and Jung the conjunction of four personality functions.

   The seeing and bringing forth of The Wall must be personally very difficult. After seeing the vision of Chapter 8, Daniel writes:

   And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days; then I rose and went about the king’s business; but I was appalled by the vision, and did not understand it.”

                                                                                           Daniel, 8:27

   Now, OUR psychiatry would immediately have Daniel drugged. But as occurs to Pink when he is drugged to keep him performing, or “functional,” as ours say, these drugs may be a contributing cause. We have now an epidemic of mass shootings in the United States, where drugging as a replacement for therapy is practiced more than any other nation, and we we have extraordinarily promiscuous gun laws. Our psychiatry has been useless in addressing this crisis, while our politics has prevented even the statistical noting that all these cases may involve antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs. As our elder brothers learned the hard way, one must be extremely cautious with drugs, as we literally do not know what we are doing when we “diagnose” souls and minds and then prescribe for them.

   Sybil, as personality named Mike, builds a wall for privacy, and to “tear down the Wall is an image used for the ending of her isolation. Here are some points of similarity:

  1. Asked how she is, the alternate personality Vicky, the third to appear, answers the doctor: “I’m fine…But Sybil isn’t She was so sick she couldn’t come. So I came instead. (p. 58). Pink is not well, he stayed back at the Hotel, says the “Substitute.”
  2. Sybil p. 339: “… Then, elucidating the isolation, the alienation of what it had been like to be a multiple personality, she explained…” that when the parts did not fit together, she could not, for example, continue a conversation about a news article, because a different self would have seen it. “Stigma,” too is a cause of isolation, as those suspected of “illness” in general are scapegoated and outcast, the modern leper, as hypothesized by Foucault (Madness and Civilization).
  3. Sybil, 226: “Then, the doctor suggested artfully, “Help me take a whack at that wall- not for Sybil, but for yourself.” “For me?” Clara drew up her shoulders in dismay…”
  4. Sybil, p. 226 top: “I know more about religion than the others do,” Clara Dorsett said…” Clara thinks Satan is the antithesis of God, which is true in one sense, but surely not in the Manichean sense. Again, we have three things, you may only have two. The Revelation contrasts He who Is, was and is to come with that mere angel who was, IS NOT, and is to ascend in the end times. There are three meanings of the tetragrammaton (four letter name): I am who I am, I will be who I will be, and this name, which comes from the Revelation as written by John.
  5. A small point, from Sybil: p. 56: “The pupils of her eyes became dilated even more than usual””Wide, staring eyes,” (The Wall); “Now there’s a look in your eyes…”Like black holes in the sun” (Shine on You Crazy Diamond). This is said to be caused by adrenaline, as due to intense fear, called “anxiety,” as from “trauma.” That is very sad. But one can guess that in a crisis. the eyes dilate to see everything, as though one were in danger, and stuck in such a mode.

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