That Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Boy: An Amazing Psychoanalytic Journey
Colebank, Kathleen D., PSYART
Freud pioneered psychoanalysis as his method for investigating the conscious and unconscious psychic apparatus. Psychoanalysis is an avenue by which the analyst can explore the individual's compromises and conflicts in adaptation to the demands of social order. Freud, in his analyses of Jensen's Gradiva ((1907), Leonardo's childhood memoir (1910), and Michelangelo's Moses (1914) used literature and art to expand the theoretical concepts of psychoanalysis to include civilization and culture at large. This paper uses the libretto of a modern rock opera, The Who's Tommy (1969), to examine the sources of Tommy Walker's intrapsychic alienation, his memories and affect, and the translation of his emotional communication. Modern Freudian psychoanalytic thought is employed to address the challenges and opportunities the analyst experiences when the preverbal, pre-oedipal analysand has incorporated the directive: You won't say nothing to no one. Never tell a soul what you know is the truth! (The Who, 1969)
Deaf dumb and blind boy, he's in a quiet vibration land.
Strange as it seems his musical dreams ain't quite so bad.
The artist, like the neurotic, had withdrawn from an unsatisfying reality into this world of imagination; but, unlike the neurotic, he knew how to find a way back from it and once more to get a firm foothold in reality. His creations, works of art, were the imaginary satisfactions of unconscious wishes, just as dreams are; and like them they were in the nature of compromises, since they too were forced to avoid any open conflict with the forces of repression (Freud, 1925, SE 20: pp 64-65).
Freud (1907) discusses the process by which the creative writer reveals his /her fantasy world through literature. The reader is drawn to the heroic character and feelings of concern, desire, and sympathy are induced as the character's dilemmas and reactions unfold throughout the narrative. The reader is given entrée into a world of fantasy that is constructed from memory, experience, wish, and desire. As Freud notes, within the creation is threaded the connection of past, present, and future. The Who's Tommy (1969), a rock opera, is just such a multi-dimensional work of creative vitality. Conceived and primarily written by British rocker and "Who" band member Peter Townshend, it is an enigmatic anthem of the rock generation, an exuberant, manic extravaganza of performance that vibrates with musical passion and pulsates with a raw, aggressive, sexual energy. It is a story that unfolds with both a sense of the real and the surreal. It is aptly subtitled "An Amazing Journey."
The rock opera opens with hope and beauty. A much wanted child's birth is heralded with the refrain It's a boy Mrs. Walker! It's a boy! However, tragedy hangs in the shadows. The child is born in the fog of a war that promises to extinguish the voice of the father. The father is a pilot in the Air Corps. An aerial dogfight - and Captain Walker disappears. Mother's grief and longing, her ambivalent feelings of love and hate, are unendurable. She slides into melancholia (Freud, 1917). Finally, when she takes a lover, a semblance of what was lost is restored. Mother and her Lover are very optimistic as the year 1920 comes to a close, and they toast their newly found happiness. I think '21 is going to be a good year as long as you and I see it in together. Some wishes, though, are not to be fulfilled. In the night, the presumed-dead man returns and finds his wife in the arms of her lover. Consumed by rage, he kills the trespassing "other". Little Tommy stands as mute witness, watching this violent enactment reflected in a mirror. Finally he is noticed. Captain Walker and his wife turn on their child and stridently command:
You didn't hear it, you didn't see it
You won't say nothing to no one ever in your life
You never heard it, how absurd it all seems without any proof
You didn't hear it, you didn't see it
You never heard it, not a word of it
You won't say nothing to no one
Never tell a soul what you know is the truth. …