Wish You Were Here: A Conversation With Your Former-Self

The namesake of Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album, “Wish You Were Here” is one of five songs on the English rock band’s concept album released in September, 1975. Wish You Were Here was the first album released by Pink Floyd following lead guitarist Syd Barrett’s departure as a result of mental health and drug abuse problems. In response to Barrett’s leave, band-members and songwriters Roger Waters and David Gilmour dedicated their next album to him, with heartfelt slow-burns such as “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” reminiscing over the camaraderie that was lost amidst Barrett’s absence. While the song “Wish You Were Here” may have been written an ode to Syd Barrett, over the years the lyrics have merited a more universal interpretation of it as a documentation of the loss of innocence and the changing outlook on the world as one ages.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell?
Blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

In the first stanza of the song, the speaker ponders on one’s ability to distinguish between juxtaposing ideas, such as heaven and hell or blue skies and pain. The juxtaposing words have positive and and negative connotations; heaven, blue skies, green fields, and smiles are all associated with happiness and hopefulness, whereas hell, pain, cold steel rails, and veils are more representative of uncertainty, punishment, and disappointment. The speaker employs these juxtaposing ideas in order to show that to some people, these ideas are not so back and white. Especially as children, many have naive outlooks on the world, blurring the lines between things that are considered good and bad. Even into adulthood some people choose to remain ignorant in difficult situations, rather than have their hopeful outlook on the world shattered. It would seem that the speaker is addressing their past self through reflection and reconsideration of what they had once falsely thought to be “heaven” or “blue skies”.

Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a leading role in a cage?

In the second stanza, the speaker shifts from asking questions about distinguishing between emotions to pondering over the loss of innocence over time. Continuing the theme of juxtaposing ideas, the speaker compares soothing, warm thoughts with cold, uncomfortable ones. The loss of innocence is often associated with a changing, increasingly negative outlook on the world. The line “Your heroes for ghosts” is an example of the loss of innocence through the idealization of things as children which transitions to pragmatism and acceptance of reality when one gets older. Heroes, in this case, are symbolic of the glorified and magnificent world seen by children, whereas the ghosts are symbolic of these dreams crushed by reality. Change is also an effect of the loss of innocence. To have to trade “cold comfort for change” is often a result of growing older, since as age increases the weight of responsibility does as well. To continue the theme of loss of innocence, the line “A walk-on part in the war/ For a leading role in a cage” represents the shift from the glamorized idea of hardship as a young person to the suffocating reality of it as an older person. Through this stanza, the speaker expresses the loss of innocence as a result of trading realism for romanticism. 

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here

In the final stanza of the song, the speaker reveals their gradual understanding of the ways of the world. While the speaker used to view the word as gloriously full of opportunity, they have reached a point in which they’ve found that life is merely tedious, confining, and repetitive. By using metaphors comparing the speaker and the audience to lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, the speaker connotes the idea that human beings are trapped by the degrading nature of life. Despite changing and aging, the speaker finds them-self confined to the same situation as they had before. In the final line, “Wish you were here” the speaker expresses their desire for their past self to return so that they can regain a little bit of the innocence that they have lost.

In effect, “Wish You Were Here” takes the listener not only on a journey into the speaker’s loss of innocence, but also forces the listener to reflect over their own outlook on life. This song dispels any romantic idea of life, causing the listener to reconsider their own heroes, blue skies, and cold comfort.

Matthew McConaughey- The Embodiment Of Existentialism

Many know actor Matthew McConaughey for his roles in Dazed and Confused, How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days, True Detective, and Wolf On Wall Street, among many other films. Most recently, McConaughey has been starring in a series of commercials for the luxury car brand, Lincoln. His contribution to these ads has been so powerful that Lincoln sales have increased during the period that he’s been starring in the ads.

These ads consistently feature McConaughey cruising down dimly lit, often misty, streets, while asking the big questions in life. While all of his ads are masterpieces in their own right, one is particularly moving in its encapsulation of the existentialist philosophy. The five-minute ad, titled Existential Crisis, is more or less a short film, featuring McConaughey in a dark diner, looking out the window as rain falls outside. As he stares out the window at his Lincoln MKZ, McConaughey ponders upon the essence of life. He asks questions such as, “how did I get here?” and makes statements such as, “just riding along this merry-go-round, too scared to jump off or stop,” and, “just ride this crazy wave, on and on and on, until my fire burns out.” McConaughey continues to dive into more bizarre existential thoughts when he ponders, “why did I order this water? There’s perfectly good water falling from the sky. All I need to do is look up into the sky and drink.” The ad ends with McConaughey silently leaving the diner and getting into his car, eventually riding off into the darkness of the distance.

McConaughey’s withdrawn persona and pondering of life leaves the audience with a sense of admiration. But what exactly is it about McConaughey’s performance that is so resonant with his audience that he has been able to bring such success to the brand? In particular, McConaughey appeals to a certain group of people who aspire to be greater than the constraints of society. Rather than selling the audience on the car, he sells his persona- the independent man who makes meaning out of his own life. McConaughey sells freedom and solitude, the car merely being an extra bonus. In essence, the success of McConaughey’s Lincoln advertisements comes through their appeal to existentialism.

Colette’s Take on Female Sexuality vs Social Order

Initially published in 1924, Colette’s story The Secret Woman was a mechanism for exhibiting the complicated concept of female sexuality despite it being a taboo subject in society. The Secret Woman took place during an era when women were expected to be subservient, pure housewives who were dependent on their male counterparts. However, Colette challenged this view by exposing the true nature of woman- the woman in her natural habitat, liberated by her control over her own sexuality. Irene, the wife of a wealthy doctor, is portrayed as a flustered, subservient woman while at home in the beginning of the story. Though when Irene is hidden behind a disguise at the Opera Ball, she is portrayed as being confident and empowered, in control of her sexuality. Irene has seemed to master the societal expectations of women while still holding onto her “native state” of self- sufficiency and control over her sense of self.

Colette’s critique on the crippling gender norms in society, though expressed just under 100 years earlier, are still applicable to this day. Harmful stereotypes have developed at the expense of women who take control of their own identities, especially publicly. The “ball-buster” is an example of a stereotype labeling independent women, especially in the business field- a woman who climbs the executive ladder by being irritatingly assertive; a woman who is self-absorbed and ruthless, unafraid to bring down those around her to make it to the top of the ladder.

Furthermore, modern feminism is a mechanism for women to fight against the grain of gender binaries, by promoting women taking control of their sexuality. However, the “feminist agenda” is highly unpopular by many people in society. Politician Pat Robertson claimed that feminism “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”. While quotes like this may seem ridiculous to some, it truly does reflect the opinion of many people who view female control over sexuality as a threat to the social order.

Through her short story The Secret Woman, Colette does a fantastic job not only portraying a woman who is in control of her own sexuality and sense of self, but also the effect of the male gaze. While Irene seems fully in control of her own identity at the opera ball, she continues to live a double life as a subservient housewife. While it is admirable that she is able to feel liberated for even a night, the perspective of her husband and the male gaze connote the unyielding criticism that she will be met with for doing so. While freeing, removing oneself from the constraints of public opinion and socialized gender norms is extremely difficult. Colette understands this disappointing reality, conceding that as free as Irene is, she will return to her husband and cookie-cutter life of a housewife the next day.

Do Good Writers Make Good Readers?

In Vladimir Nabokov’s Good Readers and Good Writers, Nabokov defines what makes a good reader versus a good writer. When I finished reading his article, many thoughts were flying through my mind. One question in particular that came to my mind when I was reading was how much the qualities of good readers and good writers overlap, and if a good writer would make a good reader? As I analyzed Nabokov’s argument, I found that some of the traits of a good writer easily overlapped with those of good readers. For example, good writers must possess the four traits critical to good readers: imagination as storytellers, dictionaries & memories as teachers, and artistic sense as enchanters.

However, other traits that Nabokov noted as critical to being a good reader made me uncertain of if a good writer could earn the classification as a good reader. In order to be a good reader, Nabokov claims that we must study the worlds within books as brand new, paying very close attention to the details. We must visualize the author’s setting and characters by learning to curb our own imaginations. Good writers, though, do not accept the world in its entirety, and instead see it as the “potentiality for fiction”. So, if writers approach worlds with the intent to craft it anew, how can they immerse themselves in the details of the worlds of other writers without creating their own? Are good writers even able to curb their imaginations in order to do partake in good reading? While I am uncertain of the elasticity of Nabokov’s traits of good readers and good writers, I would like to ask him what his thoughts on this matter are. I wonder if it is possible to be too imaginative; if there is a point where a writer is so good that they could not possibly be a good reader.