Presidio Modelo, a panopticon-styled abandoned prison in Cuba.

Presidio Modelo, a panopticon-styled abandoned prison in Cuba.

Last week, I wrote about the spiritual journey of Billy Corgan, the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for Smashing Pumpkins. His journey has taken him from a nihilistic lack of faith to a spirituality that embraces many faiths – including elements of Christianity. The band’s excellent 2012 album Oceania reflects Corgan’s spiritual state, and Judeo-Christian themes run throughout the songs.

Track 2 of Oceania has an odd title. I’ll admit I had to look up what a panopticon was. Wikipedia explains the concept of a panopticon this way:

The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without their being able to tell whether they are being watched or not…

The design consists of a circular structure with an “inspection house” at its centre, from which the managers or staff of the institution are able to watch the inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter. Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, daycares, and asylums, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely understood by the term.

In the song, Corgan may not be in a prison, though he speaks of “rest[ing] in the shells I’ve designed.” Rather, I see him as the observer in the tower (perhaps the tower on the album’s cover), looking out into the world around him. And he is seeking – seeking God.

Rise! Love is here
Oh, don’t make me wonder
Life’s never clear where choice is a gift
To use and abuse
To build on proof


Oh don’t make me wonder
To ask on behalf of you
Of you, where are you?
Where are you in you?*