Volume 3 Number 43, October 1999
Response to Bleasdale
'Letting Go of David Lynch'
_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 3 no. 42, October 1999
An author wants a reader. John Bleasdale has read my book, _The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood_, very thoroughly and with gratifying engagement. Bleasdale is somewhat uneasy because I have taken Lynch at his word about surrendering control in his capacity as a director, and he finds some of my points about Lynch's cosmology unconvincing, but his critique requires no rebuttal. The role of a critic is to voice such opinions. However, since one of the best features of _Film-Philosophy_ is that it serves as a salon for dialogue, the following brief comments on my part about the issue of critical distance -- which impacts on my concern with the Lynchian hero and Lynch's cosmology -- may be of interest.
Critical distance, the hero, and cosmology are connected in Lynch's work to concepts of surrender and receptivity, of which I speak extensively in the book, both of which are heavily laden with gender baggage. These are all too often attached to femininity as fearful qualities that conjure images of victimization, invasion, and domination, and trigger flashing red lights in the early warning circuits of our defense systems: Don't Let This Happen To You. The limitations imposed on our humanity, and the terrible implications for women's lives triggered by this semi-automatic response, are the very reasons why I have found Lynch's work to be so extremely important. Talking and working with Lynch -- I was privileged to spend four days with him on the set of _Lost Highway_ in which I took a small role that mercifully ended up on the cutting room floor (though I have photos for anyone who wants to see me in the outtakes) -- have made it clear to me that if there is surrender implied in Lynch's artistry it is a surrender of a certain kind of critical distance, not a surrender of the capacity for control of all kinds. Control of his technology and craft in the service of receptivity to his visions is what he strives for, neither a particularly esoteric or incredible work mode.
Rather, in his work Lynch practices the renunciation of a delusional form of control, usually associated by Hollywood with effective masculine behavior -- something that Lynch critiques in all his films, and thereby lifts the onus of 'weakness' ordinarily attached to receptivity in women, suggesting that that kind of surrender is human and not gender-based, and makes an authentic human control possible.
Lynch's films thus resonate with his resistance to a bi-polar understanding of the extremes of control and abandonment. What they tell us is that such bipolarity is a major misrecognition of the human condition. Genuine human control/creativity, whether critical or artistic, is about a spectrum of receptivity and assertion, each of which must come into play at the appropriate moment of a process. This is the lesson that the Lynchian hero learns. Starting out either as the conventional Hollywood victim or as the conventional dominator, he/she learns through his/her experiences either to let go of the cliches that surround these categories, or to live through experiences that enable us to envision that kind of letting go. A part of this lesson for characters and audience is invariably some contact with Lynch's cosmology, his evocation of the many levels of reality outside of that constructed by our culture, contact that invites expansiveness beyond reductive definitions that render us either cruel or hopeless.
My book, then, is in some respects a guide to the kind of critical engagement with Lynch's films that will permit the spectator to let go of a rigidly detached critical distance that has been constructed and mandated by a rationalist, reductive culture. My aim has been to encourage my reader to consider the possibility that such a letting go will ultimately end not in confusion but in expanded modes of vision, vision that sees beyond the boundaries that have been capriciously drawn around our lives by cultural conventions. When Lynch appeared at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City several years ago to talk about _Lost Highway_, he was asked if he knew what happened in the scene on the lawn in front of Pete's (Balthazar Getty) house -- a powerful scene implicated in the enigmatic switch of identities between two characters. There was a very long silence, after which Lynch replied, 'Yes'. After another long pause he added, 'and so do you'. To summarize my project in the briefest possible terms, I have sought to make my book a gloss on the very deeply felt meaning of Lynch's response.
Mercy College, New York, USA
Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 1999
Martha P. Nochimson, 'Response to Bleasdale', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 3 no. 43, October 1999 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol3-1999/n43nochimson>.
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