VI

ERRATIC HUMOR IN DAVID LYNCH’S LATER FILMWORK

VI

ERRATIC HUMOR IN DAVID LYNCH’S LATER FILMWORK

Humour exists in the midst of serious
things, or in the wrong place.
David Lynch, Interviews1

Screenshot from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment
Screenshot from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment

The predicate “erratic” and the verb “to err” mean, in their literal sense: wandering about, drifting, losing one’s way, going astray and therefore being out of place –being mistaken, being duped or being a fool. In a colloquial use erratic can also sometimes mean a person or an action that appears strange or mysterious: strange perhaps in the sense in which it is “strange what love does”, in the words of the soundtrack to David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE; and mysterious perhaps in the sense in which there are “mysteries of love”, in the soundtrack to Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet (1986) is the first movie of what can be considered as David Lynch’s later film work, a period which extends at least until INLAND EMPIRE in 2006. Lynch’s earlier film work would cover the first 20 years of his career, beginning with Six men getting sick in 1966. In the later film work we find many erratic characters, such as Fred Madison, the main protagonist in Lost Highway, Betty Elms (respectively Diane Selwyn) and Rita (respectively Camilla Rhodes) in Mulholland Drive, or Nikki Grace (respectively Susan Blue) in INLAND EMPIRE – all of whom appear as double or split characters. These characters are erratic in the true sense of the term, since erring necessarily implies a split or at least a double character. For a person can only be said to err if, and only if, she is erring unknowingly. That is to say, only if, while erring, she falsely believes that she is actually not erring. One cannot err and at the same time know that one is erring. Now if to perform means to be or to become what one is not, then erring has an essentially performative dimension, given that the erring subject is and at the same time is not itself. The erring subject performs its own ignorance. This is why erratic actions or events almost automatically display sound aesthetic qualities, whether on stage, in front of a film camera, or in so-called real life. Very often they lend themselves to comedy. Psychoanalysis would say that ultimately everybody errs and that everybody displays forms of acting out that can be interpreted aesthetically as a kind of performance. One may, if one can, take such erratic performances with good humor, especially in its comic dimension.

And with J. R. R. Tolkien one might want to add the remark that ‘Not all those who wander are lost’. Yet as consoling as it may sound, the point of this line should be different. One should reverse it and say: ‘Not all those who are lost wander’. If only they wandered, if only they took a schizophrenic walk outside! Most of us are lost in some respect, but often, far from wandering, we do not even wonder. It is in this latter sense of ‘not wandering/wondering even though you are lost’ that Lacan argued in his Seminar 21 of 1973/1974 Les non-dupes errent/ Les noms du père that it is so-called reality itself which to a certain extent through its fictitious structure dupes us every day. Consequently it is precisely those who are not duped, those who do not straightforwardly believe in everyday reality, i.e. those who betray a fundamental Unglauben towards reality, that get on the wrong track or derail. And while we are real only insofar as we are duped by reality, it is those who err that may have a privileged approach to the root causes of both reality and subjectivity.

Abjective humor

What then is erratic about the humor in Lynch’s later films? The main thesis proposed here is that their humor betrays forms of sublimation of the abject as understood by Julia Kristeva. Abject in this sense refers to the part of sexual enjoyment that is necessarily and originally rejected2, at the moment in which subjectivity is constituted through introjection of the prohibition of incest. The result is the topological structure of subjectivity as described by Freud: ego, id and super-ego and ego-ideal. The abject does not quite enter this structure. Instead, it is, as Kristeva tells us in Powers of Horror, “derailed3 and excluded from it. It remains in a “land of oblivion4, that we could call, with Lynch, an inland empire. At some point, however, it will rise, suddenly appearing like an erratic block, wrapped in laughter for example. As to Kristeva, the abject “[…] errs [, it errs] instead of recognizing itself, [instead] of desiring, of belonging to or of refusing. It is situationist in a sense, and not without laughter – given that laughter is one way to place or displace abjection.”5 For Kristeva modern avant-garde literature from Mallarmé and Proust to Joyce and Céline was a major attempt to achieve this “impossible sublimation of abjection” through literature.6

In the following it will be argued that David Lynch as a film-maker must be counted among these avant-garde authors. Like them, he belongs to a long 20th century that would come to an end in our time. Accordingly, Lynch’s investigation into the subjectivity of contemporary bourgeois western culture would have come to an end with INLAND EMPIRE as the third part of his so-called Los Angeles trilogy. Starting with Twin Peaks, but particularly in this trilogy (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE), Lynch continually played through the mythical logic of occidental subjectivity. Lynch thus comes close to the account of contemporary subjectivity by post-structural psychoanalysts such as Jacques Lacan or Julia Kristeva.

Screenshot from David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE, 2006, Concorde Home Entertainment
Screenshot from David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE, 2006, Concorde Home Entertainment

For Lynch, this logic is realized in the famous scene in INLAND EMPIRE in which Laura Dern as Nikki/Sue passes through her own death on the walk of fame in Los Angeles (fig. 2) and then kills the so-called phantom, her imaginary double. Elsewhere I have argued that this realization of subjectivity must be interpreted in terms of Lévi-Strauss’ structural interpretation of myth.7 Passing through her own death, Nikki/Sue eventually realizes – or rather consummates – the occidental myth of the nuclear family, dad-mum-and-child, which is the myth of procreation, procreation being the only known way to overcome death. The various motives of this myth in INLAND EMPIRE – such as violence against the wife, murder of a rival, infidelity of the husband, infidelity of the wife, and so on – can be grouped into clusters of events. These clusters coalesce into two propositions which form a paradoxical equation, in which the impossibility of the family, that is the impossibility of procreation, equates with the failure of the family and of procreation. Yet that which is impossible cannot, strictly speaking, fail. So only in terms of the result, the eventual absence of procreation and of new life, can this paradoxical equation work. It is the main character Nikki/Sue who transcends the paradox by performing her imaginary death. In Nikki’s/Sue’s crucial death-scene abjection is staged precisely in Kristeva’s sense of a “resurrection which passes through the death (of the ego)”8, a resurrection which in INLAND EMPIRE leads to the deliverance of the Lost Girl.

Abjective humor is erratic humor

Following the hypothesis proposed above that INLAND EMPIRE must be regarded as Lynch’s famous last words on 20th century occidental subjectivity, insofar as it achieves itself as essentially female, it would seem that we will not witness another film by Lynch to continue this subject matter. If, on the other hand, Lacan and Kristeva are right in that sublimation and representation of the erring abject will ultimately remain impossible, then there are two reasons why the staging of this impossibility in 20th century avant-garde works of art like in Lynch’s later films must imply a specific form of humor, namely a humor which should be called erratic humor.
The first reason is that, aesthetically speaking, humor is the most refined form of sublime enjoyment, not the only form, of course, but the most refined – at least if we adopt theoretical frameworks such as Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics or Freud’s theory of humor. Then humor and more specifically erratic humor can be interpreted as key concept of a “meta-discourse for modernity” which would allow to track and „conceptualise artistic innovation“9 in both early and late modernist aesthetics, i.e. similar to the way in which the grotesque respectively the absolutely comical had been interpreted by Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire10. In Hegel’s Aesthetics, humor, and precisely what Hegel calls “objective humor”11, marks both the utmost achievement of art but also its absolute limit at the end of the Romantic art form. Refined though humor is, it remains like all other art bound to the sensuous world. Therefore it cannot achieve the role that, according to Hegel, is the preserve of religion and philosophy: to sublate subjectivity’s attachment to a natural body and to dissolve and sublate the sensuous material of art works into religious feeling or philosophical thought. Hegel held that after having passed through the ancient mystery cults and the passion of the mortal flesh in Christian religion, it is philosophical science and nothing else which would achieve the exhaustive consummation of subjectivity. Of course the – not only – post-structuralist or psychoanalytical argument against Hegel is that subjectivity is essentially embodied, that it is anchored in passionate attachments to the living flesh. The death of the natural body marks the absolute limit of subjectivity. In the same vein the spiritual overcoming of imaginary death by symbolic means, for example through mystery cults, giving birth and rebirth to social subjectivity, remains strictly bound to a passionate, natural remainder which cannot be removed. If therefore, in contrast to Hegel but in accordance with Freud, the sublation of this abject remainder is impossible, and if its artistic or else cultic staging remains problematic, then, in terms of aesthetics, it is erratic humor which best tackles this rest resisting consummation. The second reason for the prominent role of a certain erratic form of humor in 20th century artistic avant-garde is that humor can turn pain or distress into enjoyment; thus it can protect the author of an artwork as much as the spectator or reader against the evil enjoyment of the abject within the artwork. This is a classic function of humor, highlighted already by Freud in his Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten (1905)12 and Der Humor (1928)13 and later by Julia Kristeva in her book Revolution in poetic language (1974)14 in the case of Stéphane Mallarmé.

There are two sequences from Lynch’s Twin Peaks, the end of episode 7 (fig. 3 to 8) and the beginning of episode 8 (fig. 9 to 26), that best exemplify the misplaced, erratic humor focused upon here:

Bergande_Erratic-humour_Bild-3 Bergande_Erratic-humour_Bild-4 Bergande_Erratic-humour_Bild-5 Bergande_Erratic-humour_Bild-6 Bergande_Erratic-humour_Bild-7

Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, First Season, 2002 [1990], Paramount Pictures
Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, 2009, Paramount Pictures

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Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, First Season, 2002 [1990], Paramount Pictures
Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, 2009, Paramount Pictures

There is a comic contrast between the protagonist, wounded FBI-agent Dale Cooper played by Kyle MacLachlan, and the inappropriate behavior of the old Room Service Man who does not seem to notice Cooper’s injury at all – the enjoyment of this contrast falls into the perspective of the spectators, of us, who identify with the perspective of Cooper. When Cooper looks up to the Room Service Man, responds to him and even signs his receipt, as if nothing were wrong, he is virtually absolutely comical according to Hegel’s definition of comic and humor. In his Lectures on Aesthetics, Hegel had claimed that only the protagonists who “are comical themselves”, not “only in the eyes of the audience”, would be “really comical”13. In this scene Cooper faces his own death, given that he appears to be mortally wounded and that the Room Service Man would not call for help. Nevertheless Cooper conforms to the rules of courtesy, and we as spectators are invited to suppose that Cooper is very aware of the comic contrast in which he participates. So Cooper, together with the audience, approaches an absolute limit of the comical. He is not just comical for us but performs, if only in dim overtones, his own awareness of the fact that he is comical. Deriving humorous enjoyment even from death, Cooper is about to achieve what Hegel calls the “mastery of the whole of reality”14, which is the distinctive feature of Hegel’s definition of humor. “True humor”, claims Hegel, “requires great depth and wealth of spirit in order to raise the purely subjective appearance into what is actually expressive, and to make what is substantial emerge out of contingency, out of mere notions”15.

Death is substantial

Yet what is substantial in secular modernity is knowledge about death: first natural death of the individual body; but second and more importantly, imaginary death which, if symbolically overcome, creates human subjectivity. If death is the absolute master, as Hegel writes in the Lordship-Bondage-Chapter of the Phenomenology of Spirit, if it is the internal mediator as much as the last resort and the absolute limit of modern subjectivity, then true humor as the absolutely comical would be identical with death and therefore strictly speaking impossible – an impossibly absolute sublimation. It is only through the most reflective cultural practices, through art, religion and philosophy, that the absolute limit of death can be approached – passing thereby through some ‘mysteries of love’ which veil this limit. Ancient mystery cults such as the Eleusinian or Dionysian mysteries, or the cult of the Great Mother in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, are prominent examples for these practices, as is the Christian Last Supper. It generally seems that mysterious features in David Lynch’s later films would ultimately draw on the fundamental mystery of imaginary death as the symbolic genitor of subjectivity. So the mastery of the whole of reality that humor is supposed to permit must fail, together with the pretension to enjoy even the absolutely unenjoyable, if only because there would be no more subject to consume it. Humor, if it comes about at all – and in Lost Highway for example, Lynch’s investigation into male subjectivity, it does not come about, save a few comical scenes – humor fails in the more or less absolute sense in which Hegel conceived it. Similarly, Cooper, wounded and facing imminent death, is not yet truly comical. Death as the root cause of subjectivity cannot be sublated. If humor fails because it cannot sublate natural death nor the moment of enjoyment which the symbolic introjection of death cuts from the body, then it becomes erratic.

Where can we find it? It appears in brief scenes such as the scene in Twin Peaks just mentioned. Generally, it is the mortified body of a subject which in one way or the other survives its own death and which thus gives birth to something which for better or worse is erratically enjoyable. This erratic something may at times be only vaguely discernible. In the scene just mentioned it is the strange comic enjoyment generated at the moment the Room Service Man, having just left Cooper’s hotel room, returns to see Cooper silently wink at him and signal ‘Thumbs up!’. It is in this very moment of silent performance – which is a little too extended, and a little too contrived in comparison with dramatic convention – that something erratic introduces itself, emerging from beyond the overall comical atmosphere of the scene, a presentiment of humor that hints at an absolutely sublime perspective, a perspective in which the subject would, so to speak, live up to death. It is a presentiment that is easily overlooked or confounded with what else is comical in that scene.

On the level of Twin Peaks as an entire series, this erratic enjoyment is the murderous enjoyment of the incestuous relationship between father and daughter (which realizes symbolic death), between Leland and Laura Palmer. It underpins the entire plot. If we consider that in Twin Peaks it is not natural death but the murderous incest of the Palmer family that is ‘substantial’ in Hegelian terms, then it can come as no surprise that in episode 8 Cooper can escape death thanks to a hidden bulletproof vest. This is because for Twin Peaks to end, Cooper must face and incorporate what is even more deadly than natural death, namely the evil enjoyment which underpins and haunts imaginary death and which in Twin Peaks is embodied in the evil character of ‘Bob’. Cooper will do so at the tragicomical end of the last Episode. There he will see himself as Bob in the bath mirror and ask for his love, Anny, with a sinister and crazy laugh (fig. 27).

Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, First Season, 2002 [1990], Paramount Pictures
Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, 2009, Paramount Pictures

Can abjective humor heal the split?

Will Bob ever be worked through? This may sound like a question the so-called Log lady in Twin Peaks could have asked. Like so many other dramatis personae and incidents of Twin Peaks, the log lady (fig. 28) certainly adds to the romantically humoristic character of the series.

Bergande_Erratic-humour_Bild-28 Bergande_Erratic-humour_Bild-29

Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, First Season, 2002 [1990], Paramount Pictures
Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, 2009, Paramount Pictures

The sayings of the log lady, the poetic lines of Mike (fig. 29), the former ally of Bob, the three riddles of the Giant (fig. 30) who appears to the injured Cooper, and most of all many of the interspersed song performances by Leland Palmer and others – they all share an epigrammatic quality, the epigram being, according to Hegel, a main feature of what he calls objective humor.

In objective humor, Hegel tells us, the “intimacy with the object” heals the romantic split between “spirit’s inward being” and the “objective world”. This however is something which ”can only be partial and can perhaps be expressed only within the compass of a song or only as part of a greater whole”.16 Hegel’s objective humor cites a state of affairs “in which […] the subjective reflectedness of objectivity is a dimension of objectivity itself”17, to the extent that the fictional microcosm of the townsfolk of Twin Peaks tends to become something like a subjectivity in its own right, including things as mundane as a donut (fig. 31). The Donuts of Twin Peaks are indeed one of the best examples of an ‘abjective’ humor which comes close to objective humor in Hegel’s sense.

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Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, First Season, 2002 [1990], Paramount Pictures
Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, 2009, Paramount Pictures

In this greater picture of an apparently objectively humorous world which nevertheless is substantially split, the death of Waldo the bird, one of the witnesses of the murder of Laura Palmer, his blood spreading across the Donuts on the table in the Sheriff’s office (fig. 32), is strangely fitting. It does appear that Twin Peaks and its folk could pass for a realization of Hegel’s objective humor. Except for what is substantial in it, except for Bob and the blood he spills, it could be heaven on earth: cheerful, reconciled everydayness – and at points it appears to be just that.

The tragicomical introjection of Bob by Agent Cooper at the end of the last episode is the unsolved problem, the dead hand of Twin Peaks. It will maintain Lynch’s investigation into subjectivity. To put it in a maybe all-too striking way, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive are the roads that will lead to INLAND EMPIRE, in order to provide a solution for Cooper’s tragicomical ambivalence. Cooper’s laughter at the end of Twin Peaks is a symptom of the failure of objective humor. Until this solution is found, there are various forms of erratic humor in LostHighway, Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE, all of which are exposed and denounced, it seems, as a failure to provide a solution for this problem. Technically speaking, they are therefore deliberately staged forms of failing humor, i.e. forms of abjective humor.

Pure subjectivity at the disjoint of body and enjoyment

In the following three further examples will be discussed, one each from the three mentioned films of Lynchs Los Angeles trilogy. To different degrees their characters can be referred to the three main clinical structures identified by Lacanian psychoanalysis: Neurosis, Perversion, and Psychosis.

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Screenshots from David Lynch, Lost Highway, 2002 Universum Film GmbH
Screenshots from David Lynch, Lost Highway, 2002 Universum Film GmbH

Firstly, there is the failure of humor in a neurosis opening out into psychosis that is exemplified by the Mystery man meeting the protagonist Fred Pullman during a private party event in Lost Highway (fig. 33 to 35). Sublimation fails. Inhibited enjoyment turns into the sadistic, murderous enjoyment of Fred’s super-ego which the mystery man represents.

In Seminars XIV and XVII Lacan states that “the pure subject places itself at the joint or to say it better at the disjoint of body and enjoyment”18. Subjectivity in its pure form originates when “death enters the play”, namely from the “separation of enjoyment from the hitherto mortified body”.19

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Screenshots from David Lynch, Lost Highway, 2002 Universum Film GmbH
Screenshots from David Lynch, Lost Highway, 2002 Universum Film GmbH

When Fred Madison (played by Bill Pullman) eventually slaughters his wife (fig. 36 to 38), he is in search of this “other enjoyment which is drifting”20 according to Lacan. It did not enter the subject’s topology. Unless it errs, it “takes refuge” in an “exclusive part of the body”21. Fred thereby places himself in the masterly position of pure subjectivity, in the position of the lord in Hegel’s lordship-bondage dialectic. Just like Hegel’s lord, he renounces the enjoyment of the natural body in order to achieve what Lacan calls the “surplus enjoyment”22. As we know, he does so in vain, because he does not search in the right place as he mistakes the extremities and in-betweens of his wife’s as it were ‘dismountable’ (see Footnote 17) body for the significant articulation of her subjectivity. It is in this vein that Lacan states in Seminar XIV that “enjoyment becomes questionable on the level of woman”23. Enjoyment becomes questionable as a disintegrated part of the female body into which the socially excluded surplus-enjoyment has taken refuge. Socially excluded it is because our society – just as the majority of societies in history – is founded on the patriarchic exclusion of the sexual enjoyment of women, in the subjective and the objective sense of the expression, an exclusion under penalty of social or symbolic death. In Lost Highway, Fred Madison takes this question of enjoyment literally. He investigates the natural body of woman: he mortifies and dismembers his wife’s body to access the exclusive part within it, that is, the constitutively excluded part. As we know from the film, he will never have it.

Screenshots from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment
Screenshots from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment

There is, secondly, the failure of humor in psychosis as exemplified by the elderly couple (fig. 39) who at the beginning of Mulholland Drive accompany the main character Betty to the factory of (her) dreams in Hollywood. In the erratic smiles of the elderly couple we can sense a hidden substantial remainder of a surplus-enjoyment that corresponds to Betty’s/Diane’s mortified body which is the reverse side of her dream-life as an actress in Hollywood.

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Screenshots from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment
Screenshots from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment

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Screenshots from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment
Screenshots from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment

Betty will always already have been a mortified body (fig. 44-46), even if it is only at the very end of Mulholland Drive that Betty/Diane is driven into suicide precisely as the elderly people, possibly to be interpreted as parental imagos which have not properly been introjected, reappear in form of a traumatic psychotic hallucination (fig. 40-43).

Thirdly, there is the failure of humor in perversion that is exemplified by the canned laughter in the plush-rabbits’ sitcom setting (fig. 47) in INLAND EMPIRE.

Screenshots from David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE, 2006, Concorde Home Entertainment
Screenshots from David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE, 2006, Concorde Home Entertainment

In perverse pleasure, the ego experiences the intense ambivalence of love and hatred at the same time. Interpassivity-theorists have affirmed perverse enjoyment as not only doubly intense but also as natural and possibly liberating. They are wrong, dead wrong, literally speaking, given that it is symbolic death which is denied in interpassive enjoyment. The canned laughter of television sitcoms is in fact a prime example of interpassivity theory. In Lynch’s Rabbits, by contrast, canned laughter and artificial applause are denounced as a weird and failed form of objective humor. They are denounced as an evil enjoyment separated from the rest of the scene, a scene which in INLAND EMPIRE actually functions as the primal scene of the main character Nikki/Sue, staged as a totemistic plush-rabbits family sitcom. Lynch stages this fetishized humor, which is an objectified or rather ab-jectified humor. This humor points to the silent workings of the death drive which in turn become symbolized by the quick match which at the end starts to destroy the phantasmatic screen.

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Screenshots from David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE, 2006, Concorde Home Entertainment
Screenshots from David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE, 2006, Concorde Home Entertainment

Towards the end of INLAND EMPIRE, Nikki will finally walk the walk, on the walk of fame, and pass through her imaginary death (fig. 48-53) which had only been veiled in the Rabbits-episodes. According to Lacan, the rejected enjoyment does not appear until the limit of the subject is approached. Hence it is at the very moment of Nikki’s imaginary death that the abject arises. Stabbed by another prostitute, Nikki/Sue will spit blood, her blood being the placeholder of the abject. As Kristeva in her 1980 essay on abjection has rightly suggested, spitting out the abject is different from hysterical vomiting. The abject has never been introjected. It is not a bad object and therefore strictly speaking cannot be vomited. Rather it is the very being of the subject and as such irrepresentable, anaesthetic like Lacan’s object a. Therefore spitting blood is a fitting symbol for defense against the obtrusive enjoyment of the abject, yet it does not produce the abject itself. Never introjected, the abject is a limit-concept, it marks, like Lacan’s object a, the limit of the pleasure principle, because it is the part of the enjoyment which does not fall under this principle. However, the abject leaves traces, namely in the erratic humor of the Japanese girl who sits next to the dying Nikki/Sue. The Japanese girl tells a story about her friend Niko, who, as we will learn, has a hole in her vagina wall. The erratic humor of her story corresponds to the moment of Hegelian Aufhebung, of sublation of the abject that occurs when Nikki passes through her own death. This sublation is something that can only be felt (and never be known), e.g. through initiation into a mysterious cult or into the staged mysteries of avant-garde art. Nikki dies and is symbolically reborn, as in an ancient mystery cult.22 If the spitting out of blood is an objectification of the abject core of Nikki’s subjectivity, then the erratic humor of the Japanese girl is the last resort of what remains abject. It makes us laugh and even makes Nikki appear almost absolutely comical, at least at one point when she briefly looks up as if listening to the story of the Japanese girl. The erratic humor indicates an enjoyment that has neither been spat out on the street nor been sublated into a new life. Rather it is something that finds its last resort in those who enjoy it, in us the spectators of the play-within-a-play who are now approaching their own inland empire.

So is evil Bob of Twin Peaks now with us? Or is this problematic enjoyment rather inviting us to critical thinking about the subjectivity of our time? Or is the staging of Nikki’s mystery on the contrary an uncritical “defense against the irruption of the drives and against social contradiction”, as we could presume with Julia Kristeva – given that historically the mystery cults, from Eleusis to the Roman catholic service, have regularly been the complicit reverse side of the patriarchal order? Lynch’s staged mystery of female enjoyment conquering death might be in perfect complicity with the patriarchal law, and be so in the very moment in which it makes us laugh about a hole in a vagina, because it fits all too well with a notorious phallocentric framing of female enjoyment (of which Lacan is well aware): namely female enjoyment as double negation, an absence within an absence as it were. Which interpretation is the correct one? Whatever the answer may be, here we touch upon the social and political dimension of David Lynch’s art of the real.

  1. Interview with Geoff Andrew, originally published in Time Out London, November 18, 1992. Barney, Richard A. (ed.): David Lynch. Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2009, p. 148
  2. Kristeva, Julia: Pouvoirs de l’horreur, Paris: Seuil, 1998, p. 20.: „L’abject serait donc l‘ „object“ du refoulement originaire.“ (Translation W.B.)
  3.  Kristeva, Pouvoirs, p. 16: „[…] un égaré. Un voyageur dans une nuit à bout fuyant.“ (Translation W.B.)
  4.  Kristeva, Pouvoirs, p. 16: „terre d’oubli”. (Translation W.B.)
  5.  Kristeva, Pouvoirs, p. 15. (Translation W.B.)
  6.  Kristeva, Pouvoirs, p. 24. (Translation W.B.)
  7.  Bergande, Wolfram: “Der Familienmythos und seine Komplizinnen in David Lynchs INLAND EMPIRE“ in RISS 72/73, 2009.
  8. Kristeva, Pouvoirs, p. 22.
  9. Rosen, Elisheva: ‚Grotesk’, in: Barck (et al.; edtrs.): Ästhetische Grundbegriffe. Band 2: Dekadent bis Grotesk, Stuttgart/ Weimar: Metzler, 2001, pp. 876-900, here: pp. 892f., 896. (Translation W.B.)
  10. Ibid.
  11.  Hegel, G.W.F.: Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art Vol. 2 . Reprint. Translated by T.M. Knox, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2010.
  12. Freud, Sigmund: Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten. Gesammelte Werke VI, Frankfurt/ Main: Fischer, 1999, p. 260f.
  13. Freud, Sigmund: Der Humor. Gesammelte Werke XIV, Frankfurt/ Main: Fischer, 1999, pp. 381-389.
  14.  Kristeva, Julia: Revolution in poetic language, NYC: Columbia University Press, 1984.
  15.  Hegel, Aesthetics, Vol. 2, p. 1220.
  16.  Hegel, G.W.F.: Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art Vol. 1 . Reprint. Translated by T.M. Knox, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2010, p. 595.
  17.  Hegel, Aesthetics, Vol. 1, p. 602.
  18.  Hegel, Aesthetics, Vol. 1, p. 609.
  19.  Ritter, J. (et al.): Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 1971-2007, entry: “Humor”.
  20.  Cf. Lacan, Jacques: Le Séminaire livre XIV: La logique du phantasme (1966-67). Bregenz: Lacan-Archive, without year, p. 289: “[…] ce pur sujet se situe au joint ou pour mieux dire au disjoint du corps et de la jouissance”.
  21.  Cf. Lacan, Jacques: Le Séminaire XVII: L’envers de la psychanalyse (1969-70). Paris: Seuil 1991, p. 206. Lacan speaks of “[…] la séparation de la jouissance et du corps désormais mortifié, […]” in the following context: „La jouissance est très exactement corrélative à la forme première de l’entrée en jeu de ce qu j’appelle la marque, le trait unaire, qui est marque pour la mort, si vous voulez lui donner son sens. Observez bien que rien ne prend de sens que quand entre en jeu la mort.”
  22.  Translation W.B. Lacan, Séminaire XIV, p. 290: “Hegel tout de même n’oublie pas que ce n’est qu’une métaphore, c’est-à-dire que si Maître je suis, ma jouissance est déjà déplacèe, qu’elle dépend de la métaphore du serf et qu’il reste que pour lui comme pour ce que j’interroge dans l’acte sexuel, il y a une autre jouissance qui est à la derive.” Cf. Gorsen, Peter: “Der ‘kritische Paranoiker’, Kommentar und Rückblick”, in: Dalí, Salvador; Matthes, Axel (et al.): Unabhängigkeitserklärung der Phantasie und Erklärung der Rechte des Menschen auf seine Verrücktheit. München: Rogner und  Bernhard, 1974, p. 401-518, here 500f., on the “zerlegbare[n] Körper (corps démontable)” [dismountable body] (ibid. 501) of woman as a male wishful phantasy and allegedly as consummation of female exhibitionism.
  23.  Lacan, Séminaire XIV, p. 322. (Translation W.B.)
  24.  Translation W.B. Lacan, Séminaire XVII, p. 123: The lord renounces the “jouissance” of the body and thus gains the “plus-de-jouir”.
  25.  Translation W.B. Lacan, Séminaire XIV, p. 290: “[La] jouissance […] fait question […] au niveau de la femme”.
  26.  And like the candidates in the Eleusinian Mysteries, Nikki is subject to a symbolic form of retaliation. Cf. Kelsen, Hans: Vergeltung und Kausalität, Wien: Boehlau, 1982, p. 230.

Figures

1: Screenshot from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment

2: Screenshot from David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE, 2006, Concorde Home Entertainment

3 to 32: Screenshots from David Lynch, Twin Peaks, 2009, Paramount Pictures

33 to 38: Screenshots from David Lynch, Lost Highway, 2002 Universum Film GmbH

39 to 46: Screenshots from David Lynch, Mulholland Drive, 2002, Concorde Home Entertainment

47 to 53: Screenshots from David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE, 2006, Concorde Home Entertainment