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Filth, Dr.

Subject: 'Desolation Row': Dr Filth verse (again)
Date: Tue, 29 Apr 1997 17:53:35 GMT

Dave Palmer pointed out that Dr Filth could as well be American as
Russian: the Soviet use of psychiatry to lock up dissidents could be
paralleled by recent US phenomena like 'recovered memory syndrome' and
drug overprescription.

I certainly did not mean to suggest the abuse of psychiatry has been
confined to the old USSR, far from it. Dr Filth is no doubt all too

Meanwhile here's a possible take on this verse:

I suspect Dr Filth's 'world', hidden inside his sinister, Daliesque
'leather cup', may be his (none too savoury) professional secret - his
'system' or 'method'. His patients are secretly planning a revolt,
with the aim of blowing up - destroying - the whole 'system' and
setting themselves free. This might recall the inmates' rebellion in
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', or a story by Poe, 'The System of
Dr Tarr and Professor Fether', in which the patients take over a
mental hospital. They are called 'sexless', most likely because Dr
Filth's experiments have in some way damaged them as sexual beings.

They will not succeed, of course: the doctor has the nurse on his side
(as 'some local loser', she may typify the 'ordinary' person who is
willing to go along with dictatorship), and she has the stocks of
cyanide ready to eliminate the patients if they do rebel. Meanwhile,
Dr Filth tries to paste over the cracks in his edifice by encouraging
a totally spurious sense of 'community': and so we hear them 'all'
(this 'all' can only refer to doctor, nurse and patients) playing on
the penny whistle, perhaps at a hospital party.

Dr Filth is obviously the crudest and most cynical of manipulators,
and if anyone needs the message 'have mercy on his soul', this is the
man. The stanza probably dramatizes the abuse of
psychiatry/psychotherapy. One might even suggest the name 'Filth' is a
travesty of 'Freud' (same number of letters, both one syllable, both
begin with F). This is possible, though I don't think Dylan is
denigrating Freud as such (the reference in 'Joey' to the radical
post-Freudian psychotherapist Wilhelm Reich is, at least, neutral, not
derogatory). It is unlikely that in this song, with its possible
references to the Shoah, Dylan would offer an out-and-out satiric
image of a celebrated Jewish intellectual: I find the Einstein verse
more tragic  than comic, with Einstein representing the Jewish
intellectual-turned-outlaw, depersonalized from fleeing persecution.
It is, however, quite conceivable that Dr Filth stands for the abuse
of Freud's ideas in unscrupulous hands ('sexless patients' could point
to Freud's theory that neurosis originates in repressed sexual ideas).

Finally, it would be interesting to trace Dylan's treatment of doctors
in general across his work - not, on the whole, very flattering, I
think we'd find!

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