Contamination (#99 balloons): David Lynch, Genre, HTML Giant

by on Jun.23, 2011

Over on HTML Giant, M Kitchell writes an excellent post about why he likes David Lynch:

5. David Lynch’s primary interest in genre tropes is what he can use them to achieve, i.e. he seems to float around the periphery of horror because of his interest in the intensity of affect. While he hovers around the periphery of genre archetypes & ideas, all of his work is always uniquely his, which is something entirely admirable.

6. David Lynch’s obsession with drones in virtually all of his films is amazing. There are always arguably diegetic sounds that haunt almost every scene; whether it be the waterfalls in Twin Peaks, the hum of an interior in Lost Highway or just the highway in Mulholland Drive.

I think the point about genre is very good. Horror is fascinating to me because it’s allowed to be so much more artistic than other genres of Hollywood movies, in part because it’s in the tradition of the gothic, which has always been highly stylized and considered low-culture. I would add that there tends to be several genres in Lynch’s work and that these genres to a large text seem to produce the sense of “excessive beauty” (see my previous post about this). For example, the droning music. Or the angelic music. Or the fact that who Laura Palmer is keeps expanding and proliferating (she does coke, she does porn, she has many boyfriends, she hands out meals to disabled people etc, she even comes back as a ghost, as a twin, as a twin ghost etc), becoming not an absence but a site of excess (her corpse looks designed by Alexander McQueen, with its gothic pose, its beady water, its stylish plastic).

60 comments for this entry:
  1. Lara Glenum

    Johannka, Laura Palmer’s monstrous assemblage of an identity interests me, too. Her very mobility. That being said, I’ve always kind of thought of her as the stock beautiful dead girl/woman at the center of an art piece. No doubt Lynch trades in stock characters, kitschy affect, and cultural tropes. That being said, I’m not I get what’s so radical about his construction of Laura Palmer or his mobilization of this trope.

    As Elizabeth Bronfen notes in “Over Her Dead Body,” a ginormous chunk of Western male artists have been preoccupied with the trope of the dead girl. And the dead girl is *always* the site of the uncanny and the excessive. The multiple, the double. Exceedingly “other.” Hello, House of Usher. Poe, too, asserted, that there is no more poetical topic than a beautiful dead girl.

    Bronfen argues that culture uses art to fantasize about killing beautiful women. That it’s a deep kind of mysongyny. And while Lynch is campy, and it’s true that the relationship of the gothic to kitsch has always been quite pronounced, I’m not sure sheer love of artifice necessarily subverts gender politics. If there’s one thing I love about the gothic, it’s that the gothic seems to assert that gender is a mess that can’t be cleaned up.

    My question is: how is Lynch deploying/activating something new in his construction of Laura Palmer, other than the stock fantasy of an all-powerful other who proliferates, mesmerizes, and repulses? Or the beautiful dead girl who’s death is the occasion for our excessive sentimentality and mourning and sulky, self-indulgent behavior (even if she was actually a bore while alive)?

    How is she something other than a proliferating image, a site, an occasion? And why do beautiful men never get to occupy this position?

    Porn is maybe full of beautiful dead girls. LIVE GIRLS LIVE GIRLS LIVE GIRLS really means DEAD GIRLS DEAD GIRLS DEAD GIRLS. I think that’s the real attraction.

    I can see how something like The Ring really upends the trope of the dead girl because that terrifying little girl is pre-sexual, not eroticized, hyper-mobile, and melts the face off of everyone. There’s no escaping her unless you hand her off to someone else to feed on.

    But Laura Palmer. I dunnno. Somehow seems a less radical gesture. I’m curious what you think. Danielle, you, too.

  2. Johannes

    I think my argument is precisely that it makes the female figure a “mess that can’t be cleaned up,” and that’s interesting. I don’t want to make it into a gender “critique.” I tend not to like those artworks. Laura Palmer is artifice, she’s vampire, she doubles, triples etc. Like a lot of Poe stories (which I also think are great, I’m thinking of Ligeia or that one where the mom dies and then the daughter grows up superquick and becomes the mom, fucking fantastic, I think that’s Beatrice). Laura Palmer is Art, with all of its horrible and beautiful special effects. It’s much more intensive, much more mobile than a “critique.” //Johannes

  3. Lara Glenum

    Yes, I just want male gender to be treated in the same way, too. I want men to be art. I want them to be a mess that can’t be cleaned up.

  4. Lara Glenum

    I get tired of women being the focus of all the gender performance work, while masculinity remains an unmarked category.

  5. Johannes

    See Johnny Woods’ portrait of me at the bottom of the kitsch post.


  6. Tim Jones-Yelvington

    And I think I would argue that Laura Palmer’s proliferation, in addition to being an example of this “several genre” thing you’re remarking upon, is also characteristic of one of the particular genres whose tropes Lynch played with most heavily in Twin Peaks, that of the soap opera.

  7. Johannes

    Right on.

  8. M Kitchell

    For what it’s worth, virtually all of my fictional work deals with a “beautiful dead man” at its center, and this is a subversion I’ve adapted specifically out of a response to being so enmeshed within (mostly European) genre film throughout my life.

  9. Josef Horáček

    Also see Jesus.

    But yes, his masculinity is unmarked.

    The image of the dead Jesus is so prevalent in Western society that we don’t even consider it as such. If we notice at all, we immediately go beyond the literal image to ponder the symbolism. Coincidentally, Bronfen says the same about images of dead women in art. Could it be that we just don’t see all the dead men? They obviously fulfill different roles (corpses on the battlefield, etc.).

    Also, Lara, I think you’re misreading Bronfen. She explicitly dismisses the argument that the aestheticized dead female body is an expression of misogyny. Her reading is much more nuanced.

  10. Johannes


    What do you take from Bronfen?


  11. Lara Glenum

    Tim, I recognize the appropriations. I’m just asking what Lynch is doing with them.

    Johannka, I didn’t ask for a “critique.” I asked what you thought Lynch was doing by appropriating the trope of the dead girl.

    Framing women as art, collapsing the categories of art and beautiful (dead) women is nothing new. What’s maybe newish is your/Lynch’s take on what art is: the beautiful woman is not a static, well-defined, authentic object; she’s a site, an aperture, a collapse, inauthentic, something entirely plural and mobile. But then again, the gothic has been positioning art in exactly this way for some time.

    I’m very attracted to this model of art, only I’d like it not to be perpetually threaded through the lens of the female body. I’d like to switch up subject positions. That’d be really and actually messy. That would be a mess we couldn’t clean up.

    All the messiness you’re celebrating falls kind of flat when the gender/sex dynamics are so fixed and static.

    M Kitchell, hooray for your army of beautiful dead men! Please point me to where they live so I can eat.

  12. Danielle Pafunda

    In Lynch, I think it’s an obsession with the liminality/flexibility of the dead girl trope–she can go in this very classic direction (well-traced by Bronfen) or she can go in a dissembling, mess–a heap of feminine contradiction–the kind of heap that Jameson shies away from. You learn a lot about the characters by who reads her as which type, you have to do active uncomfortable work as a viewer because Lynch isn’t handing you one distinct lexicon to work in.

    Lynch’s projects cue us with convention, and then deploy the uncanny. In fact, the projects wouldn’t be so uncanny if he were messing more with gender from the get-go–they’d be more solidly grotesque. He starts in an ultra-familiar, nauseatingly familiar place, and creeps or spazzes out from there. His is often a descriptive project, and it’s probably important to remember that Twin Peaks was made for television twenty years ago. It was supposed to (as Tim reminds us!) take all of our soap opera tropes and twist them, but not twist them into unrecognizable–twist them enough to keep the audience off balance, but not tip the audience over into sublime, or shut-down. For such a pungent show, it’s actually a kinda subtle project.

    If you ever watched a soap opera with great devotion (um, me, All My Children and As the World Turns, and the time I at 3-yrs-old explained my very Catholic grandmother that Luke had raped Laura, ay yi yi the family drama), Twin Peaks becomes a real homage/critique/revisioning. I think its reception has a lot in common with Black Swan’s reception–especially the way that no one remembers how hilarious it is. I was, like, 13 when Twin Peaks came out? I watched it devotedly and it helped me bridge from those soap operas I adored to the art I wanted to make. It made girls central to the narrative, and Laura Palmer, I mean, she’s not really dead. She won’t stay dead. She’s there in that crazy lodge talking backward–plus all the pseudo-Native American spirit business. You’re not supposed to read her as a confirmed kill. You can never be comfortably assured of her death, of her object status.

    But sure, Lara, I would also like to see men/male bodies treated such; in fact, reminds me of my Montevidayo post on Sex, Slashers, & the Death of a Beautiful Man: Poe’s talking about beautiful dead women, but also about the death of the coveted/beloved object-verging-on-subject. M Kitchell–sounds like rad stuff!

  13. Lara Glenum

    Yes, Josef you’re right about bronfen and misogyny. That’s not where she takes it. I don’t think that invalidates my questions/concerns.

  14. M Kitchell

    some stuff online:
    Tim published one at Pank (
    And I self-published one that’s some-what of a lesser example on LIES/ISLE (

  15. Tim Jones-Yelvington

    Hi Lara, I posted my comment strictly in response to the post, before reading the rest of the thread. I pretty much dig your comments, I love Twin Peaks but I think I too generally experience Lynch more as reveling in/fetishizing certain well-worn tropes of femininity more than interrogating or complicating them. I mean I think about all the swapping of femme fatale and ingenue in Mulholland Drive — does it subvert that dichotomy or just reinforce it? It’s sort of a hard call for me tho, because most of the feminist criticism I was schooled in as an undergrad Women’s & Gender Studies major teach me to look for subjectivity as a sign that the trope is being “complicated,” and Lynch characters are deliberately not abt subjectivity. Y’all are much better equipped to speak to all this, in terms of the critical vocabulary at your disposal.

  16. Lara Glenum

    Danielle, thanks for this. This is exactly what I was asking for, as someone who never really got hooked on Twin Peaks. So many people I’m close to absolutely love Lynch, and I’ve never felt much interested. Not in any way offended, just not so interested. A blind spot, I guess.

    Your point that it made girls central to the narrative at a particular historical moment seems key, as does the fact that, “You’re not supposed to read her as a confirmed kill. You can never be comfortably assured of her death, of her object status.” A heavy degree of discomfort always makes me feel a lot better.

    I also really like the distintion you’re making between the uncanny and the grotesque.

    Josef, I do see the dead women. I think a lot of us do.

    And I dunno about Jesus. He is being deployed as a form of spectacle/surveillance in much the way that beautiful (dead) women are, that’s true. I’ll think more on it.

    Vampires are a plentiful source of hot dead men, obviously. True Blood is a striking example of a pile-up of exposed, (un)dead male bodies. Also Robert Pattinson & Co.

    War footage is full of dead male bodies in heaps, but it’s a fairly occluded/shaped narrative because we rarely see footage of all the women and children who die in war as well. We just glimpse the folks in uniforms or with artillery in their hands. And these heaps of dead male bodies don’t undo the grand narrative. They are the grand narrative.

  17. Lucas de Lima

    “I kick him in the nuts so hard they go crawling up his brain for refuge. He goes down like a two dollar whore.” – Laura Dern in Inland Empire (

    Tim, I don’t get your comment about Lynch’s characters being deliberately not about subjectivity. If you just mean that his films are not your typical character-driven narrative, I agree, but I think Mulholland Drive is a brilliant exploration of queer subjectivity. All that thwarted love and psychic/physical violence only deepens the treatment of gender.

    If the film starts off with gendered cliches, to me they unravel with the narrative, which becomes more fragmentary, nonlinear, and dreamlike… like the film couldn’t contain or sustain the conventions with which it starts.

  18. Lara Glenum

    Tim, I’m really interested in what you’re saying here about the lack of interiority/subjectivity, which is clearly one of Lynch’s most eerie and recognizable hallmarks.

    As to your questions about Mulholland Dr., I think it’s often a very personal call as to whether something’s being fetishized or subverted. And maybe the blurriness/shiftiness of that boundary is what attracts/preoccupies us? The strange fact/sensation that maybe there actually is no boundary? It gives us all vertigo, and we fall right in.

    It’s only that when I sense too much fetishization of female beauty/women as other, I don’t fall. I don’t swoon. I don’t get off. I feel skeptical and disinterested. And very hungry.

    Probably this is just my own limitation. I know I’m suposed to identify with the woman being fetishized/eroticized, to take her hotness as my own hotness (some kind of totemic power thing), but I don’t.

  19. Lara Glenum

    I can’t manage to see/experience myself as art, which is maybe some kind of failure? I don’t know.

  20. Johannes

    I don’t think just because you look at something it you have to identify with it? You don’t even have to come up with a moral reading of the artwork in order to take pleasure in it. I hope.


  21. adam strauss

    I love this: “I’m very attracted to this model of art, only I’d like it not to be perpetually threaded through the lens of the female body. I’d like to switch up subject positions. That’d be really and actually messy. That would be a mess we couldn’t clean up.

    All the messiness you’re celebrating falls kind of flat when the gender/sex dynamics are so fixed and static.

    M Kitchell, hooray for your army of beautiful dead men! Please point me to where they live so I can eat.”

    This quotation wonderfully gets at why I have issues with the concept of queering heterosexuality. Without a lot of foundation-cracking, this move, for me, tends to highlight heterosexual mobility (and (unforced) mobility I’d argue is a key facet of privilege). And as Lara in a different comment has posted, transgression may not make for exact reciprocations/alterations. A Strayt man going gay is very likely to not be the inverse of a gay man going straight: this, after all, is oftentimes the closet. And ultimately I vote for “forget” gay men: much better to think about lesbians!

    “Please point me to where they live so I can eat.” This seems, to me, to perhaps be deliciously signifying on George Herbert’s Love III!

  22. Johannes

    But they’re totally not static! That’s my point. Have you watched a David Lynch movie?


  23. Lara Glenum

    Well, maybe not static but somehow not quite mobile enough. And of course, people don’t have to identify with what they look at! I’m simply saying that categorically collapsing beautiful women and art into each other is potentially problematic. Maybe very problematic for some of us.

    You know, Johannes, you and I have such absurdly similar taste and Lynch is one area we diverge. So I wanted to hear you talk about the questions I raised. I’ve wondered about these things for a long time. I’ve wondered about my own resistance.

    Adam, I’m really interested in the way you’re equating mobility and straightness.

    Lucas, I’m very interested in what you’re saying about Mulholland Drive. I hope you’ll say more when you get a chance.

  24. Johannes

    I’ll try, Lara.


  25. James Pate

    Hi all,

    For me, Lynch about the inhuman…Zizek has written beautifully about how, in Lost Highway for example, the characters are not only genre-figures (a la Jameson) but also terrifying in their emptiness (as in Hegel’s line that to look in a person’s eyes is to look into the night of the world)…

    To paraphrase Zizek: I think Lynch is a parodist that we should take absolutely seriously, his genre-play dancing right at the edge of some of our most basic (and, paradoxically, contemporary) fears, desires, etc…

    I also have to admit, I think too much is being made of Laura Palmer’s dead body…Lynch is an incredibly complicated film-maker (there’s a reason why writers as diverse as Pauline Kael and David Foster Wallace have been so drawn to him) and to reduce his work to the question of Laura Palmer’s dead body seems reductive….

    I find the corpse sculpture in Blue Velvet (which is rarely discussed in film studies) more interesting than the dead Palmer opening of Twin Peaks. Why are these dead bodies arranged in a “live” manner? And in a moment of such horrific torture and death? Who is the audience? Us? Jeffrey? No One?

    And in terms of gender politics: why does Frank put on lipstick before he beats up Jeffrey in Blue Velvet? Or what about the barking jocks in prison in Twin Peaks (one of the most brilliant moments in that first two hour film)? He is not simply showing us image after image of dead women…

    Zizek even argues in his book on Lost Highway (in a very unconventional manner of course) that Lynch is a very much a feminist filmmaker, with his Superego-characters (Frank, and that nasty thug in Wild at Heart, among others) being brutal, idiotic, and frequently insect-like…


  26. Johannes

    I think Lara Palmer’s dead body is related to both the corpse sculpture in Blue Velvet and Frank’s lipstick: the iconicity, the artifice coupled with violence and death.


  27. Lara Glenum

    James, thanks for this very thoughtful and useful post. I’m not so interested in whether or not Lynch is a feminist but in how we read/receive his work and very much appreciate your take. Lynch is parodic, no doubt, but I wonder about the ways in which parody reinscribes norms even as it interrogates them, undoes them.

    I have this question about all kinds of representation. It’s an unsettled question for me.

    Johannka, I hear you about iconicity and artifice. It’s a troubled and vexed terrain (our relationship to it, I mean).

  28. Danielle Pafunda

    I think it would be interesting to read her corpse & other Lynch corpses, other excessively beautiful corpses (help me think of some!) against the CSI/Bones style forensic realist corpses that populate the TV now. I l-o-v-e Bones, particularly the middle seasons with the gravedigger (buried alive forensic scientists!), and I’m fascinated by their vivid corpse-art, but ain’t nothing in there made by McQueen. Oh, well maybe the one episode with the devil-body-corpse.

    I dunno that I’m ready to receive Lynch as feminist, though I see something compelling in James’s nod to Zizek’s argument. I do think Lynch is fascinating for me as a feminist because he makes such a mess of our impulses toward bodies & the ways bodies read–his power structures get all wonky. I can’t quite tell when he’s being feminist, when he’s being misogynist, when he’s playing with fears of emasculation, etc. I never know who, let’s say, wins. I don’t know what to make of the fact that the bodies are mostly (all?) white, but they’re multiply classed, often bear disabilities, come in male, female, and intersexed varieties (or we’re supposed to read some of them as trans/intersex).

    Lynch also makes me consider/experience myself as a good recipient of the narrative/image. I do what the film asks–get repulsed/compelled by the beautiful dead girl, get scared/excited by the violence, get surprised by each twist. I like looking at those things. Sometimes because they validate my understanding of the world as gruesome, violent, unbearable, sentimental treasure trove. They help me illustrate the bad power dynamics. Other times because I am very much a product of my culture and am cued to open my eyes wider when I see a debased (often female) form. Then I enjoy when that debased form comes to punish me for consuming so readily its debasement. I like the bad feelings Lynch invites me to revel in.

    Remember that scene in Fire Walk With Me when they FBI guys are supposed to decode Lil’s facial expressions, dance, and outfit to understand what sort of case they’re dealing with. “The tailored dress” = drugs. But they won’t tell us what the blue rose means.

  29. Johannes

    The Blue Rose is actually the most pervasive emblem of Romantic Poetry as kitsch. Which is of course what Lynch is totally interested in (the saturated colors, the dead girls, the grotesque, the love, the music, Ah!).


  30. James Pate

    Good point, Johannes…Mainly my argument above is that I by no means see Lynch as an simply an artist of the dead female body, as has been implied, I think, by some of the comments…to lock into only one image boils his incredibly varying work to a static concept…

    You bring up Lynch and Poe: maybe it’s because I’m reading Antwerp, but I can’t help but see a lot of Lynch in Bolano too. The self-conscious noir elements, the continual sense of unease, the emptiness of the characters…the murder exhibit in Distant Star reminds me of the corpse sculpture in Blue Velvet…

    Also: both Lynch and Bolano are “decadent” by Havelock Ellis’ definition of that term, more interested in the scene, the episode, instead of the narrative whole, a decadence that leads to monstrous texts/films…what we remember from both, I would argue, are odd moments, scenes adrift, gestures and words that don’t quite fit, and not a sweeping symphonic movement…

  31. James Pate


    Great take on Lynch (I’ve been rereading some of the threads)…I would only add that I think Lynch makes the conventional uncanny from the start, but then makes it even more so…

    I’m thinking of the opening of Blue Velvet especially, where the blue sky and white fence and the waving fireman are “off,” are too nice and too clean, like scenes from a world exactly like our own except for one degree of difference…

    To me, Lynch’s “inhuman” aesthetic is all about undermining the supposedly real with hallucination, the true with the scripted (carried to the extreme in Inland Empire where the frame of the film is constantly shifting)…

    And the comparison to Black Swan is great! I hadn’t thought of that film in regards to Lynch, but now I can see all sorts of connections…


  32. Lara Glenum

    So then would it be parody of the gothic (among other things)?

  33. Lara Glenum

    James, it’s interesting that you bring up Bolano with respect to Lynch. One of the reasons I love Bolano is his total exhaustion with gender and his totalizing account of damage. 2666 becomes a massive, agglomerated pile of dead female bodies, and he does nothing to mediate, romanticize, eroticize, fetishize it. The text collapses into a total exhaustion. I love this.

    I also love that in Distant Star what’s in the inner sanctum of the fascist’s private art exhibit is documentary evidence of mutilated female bodies, photographs of actual murder victims. It’s as if to say that the core of Western art is the disarticulated female form, a monstrous knot of butchery, snuff porn (and that realism and fascism are often deftly aligned).

    I don’t get as much from Lynch, but I’m glad you do, and I really enjoy hearing you talk about his work. It makes me want to revisit the moments you’re describing, which I think is great.

    I have no desire to reduce Lynch to Laura Palmer, but Johannes’ mention/photo of her is what started this thread (and my balking at the construction of eliding beautiful women and art, women as art, the fetish of the beautiful dead woman, etc).

  34. Danielle Pafunda

    James, I’m really digging how you read Lynch! I have to admit, it’s been over a decade since I saw Blue Velvet, and am now eager to return to it with these thoughts in mind. I wish y’all were here to watch it with me in my house so 1. I wouldn’t get the heebie jeebies from the face mask scenes, and 2. we could eat popcorn & exclaim.

    In Black Swan, when the bad swan prince walks by backstage fully costumed and says in a very normal street voice something like “hey, how’s it going.” So hilarious! The layers of artifice, the joke everyone (director, actors, production crew) has on and with the audience–it’s such a Lynchy moment for me. Like a donut moment from Twin Peaks. Somehow, in viewing BlSw worked like a key for me, or a rent through which I could enter the fabric of the film.

    And, Johannes, yes! yes! all good things to know & remember about the blue rose–Laura Palmer’s corpse looks exactly like a blue rose, the petals of her plastic shroud, to return to harping on that image ;).

  35. adam strauss

    Lara, I like what you say about parody–I think parody can easily become a sanitary space, one which makes for comfy viewing zones: people who laugh on one side, the problematic on the other, and the laughers getting to believe that there’s no way they are pistons powering the problem. Laugh may be the wrong word: knowingly smile/smirk perhaps.

    I did once at a museum in cincinatti see a photo of a bullet wound but the way it was framed it looked other than what it was; has any artist really explored reframing wounded flesh: so long as one cuts most everything else out, horrific injuries could be colossally gorgeous: ripped flesh, bruised flesh, jags of bone protruding, blood eddying round clumps of dust etc–this could all get really Rennaisance masters really quick. This, of course, would only make sense to be critiqued: talk about sanitation!

  36. megan milks

    as always, it seems, i’m getting to this discussion late – and as always, wow, so much to think about.

    johannes, the way you describe laura palmer as excess in your original post strikes me as very similar to the way the figure of George Miles permeates and proliferates in Dennis Cooper’s George Miles cycle – (mike and/or tim, i imagine you have a lot to say about this) – or the figure of brad/thad (there’s a brad, and later a thad impersonating this brad) in cooper’s The Sluts: subjectivity evacuated of all content but an author-narrator’s (in the George Miles cycle) or community’s fantasies (in The Sluts). cooper’s “dead girls” are all abject, effeminate, and very young men, mere surfaces and orifices for fantasies to flood – the primary fantasy being to snuff them out.

    at one point in The Sluts, brad/thad’s manager-pimp (himself a copy of another character), invites brad’s “fans” to make appointments to reserve various of brad’s body parts for abuse prior to his death – the logical conclusion, perhaps, for a body so endlessly compelling. here a community’s complicity (as well as the reader’s, and the author’s) in the dead-girl figure’s demise becomes the point – an arch point given cooper’s latent irony. this complicity is definitely present in twin peaks but, i agree, lara, lynch participates in that complicity in a way that has always struck me as gross — maybe it’s just that awful music — and i know, i know, it’s melodrama, it’s parody, it’s camp, it’s unstable, as you all point out so persuasively – but i’m with lara in balking at any elision of art and (dead) women.

    speaking of, has anyone seen that awful 2008 horror film DEADGIRL? not recommended.

  37. Violent Accessories, Counterfeit Lineages and “Occult Glamour” - Montevidayo

    […] gothic (Alexander McQueen, Rodarte) and why fashion shoots so often invokes the gothic conventions (See Laura Palmer discussion). Only in high fashion often explores motifs that would be considered “kitschy” or […]

  38. Johannes


    I’ll have to check out those Cooper novels. Sounds fascinating. I’ve only read a couple of his books.

    I think what you call “complicity” in the art is part of Lynch’s greatness – we’re not given a safe spot through which to view it all.


  39. Lara Glenum

    I don’t want a safe space in art. Ever.

  40. megan milks

    hmm – maybe i am more of a moralist than i’d like to be. i’m sitting here with a jpg of sue de beer’s “two girls” sprawled across my desktop, working on a review of The Sluts, and wondering if i’m too conservative. it’s a good spot to be in, i think.

    i appreciate the radicality of a position that rejects safe spaces in art – i guess i have to face up to my more moderate position (blargh). i’m thinking about the rhetoric of “safe space” within wellness and anti-violence communities/activism and i guess i do think it is valuable to carve out safe space in art as well. (i’m *not* making a claim here about all art, just to clarify.) of course, we are maybe talking about different kinds of safety. or maybe we aren’t. maybe this is worth another post – i don’t mean to drag this convo on (though it’s endlessly fascinating).

  41. Johannes

    Megan and lara
    i didnt mean to say either of you are prim moralists though i can see how itcame outthat way. Just to question the idea of complicity.


  42. Lara Glenum

    I don’t feel complicit enough in Lynch, Johannka. That’s part of my problem.

    And I hear what yr saying, Meghan. Getting raped, for example, is not performance art. Abramovic’s Rythm 0 makes us endlessly attentive to and complicit in this rather diseased border: “she’s asking for it, etc.”

    Johannka, I’m not suggesting you would ever collapse rape and performance art. I’m just thinking about Abramovic and Meghan’s concerns over real-world violence, her refusal to unlink culture’s use of art as an organ of fantasy and what happens to people in the world. I don’t think this should be framed as a conservative position. That seems unfair. I often hear women voicing these concerns and men telling them they’re oversimplifying or missing the “grand narrative.” Something is off in all this.

    As you yourself have pointed out, women’s bodies are a highly mobile form of cultural currency, and currency can of course be devalued, absudly inflated, etc. I don’t feel complicit in this spectacle. I feel kind of horrified by it. I feel afraid. I try hard to see at all as some kind of monstrous, glamorous decadence, a spectacle to revel in (and in which i can somehow locate my own agency), but I have a hard time maintaining this position. I can’t watch Americas Next Top Model or follow fashion too closely. It makes me feel positively ill. It’s not a moral reaction, it’s a species of physical revulsion and fear.

    I wish I weren’t like this. So laced into my worries and apprehension. So totally abject.

    Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if 14 school girls werent allowed to be burned alive in a tent the other day (they weren’t allowed to leave because they didn’t have their headscarves on). Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if I weren’t so freaking hungry for representation of men as erotic objects, supernatural portals, etc.

  43. Lara Glenum

    Johannka, I want to be clear that all of the above is a general concern of mine. My own choking. I do not intend to land it all on your dear head. I very much feel you are trying to leverage art into a different frame, which I so appreciate.

  44. Johannes

    No, I don’t think we should disconnect the violence from art. That is my point. That is, art is complicit in the violence of the world. And I do see how that’s an uncomfortable idea, but I think art has to be complicit, it is part of the same world. Now, we may not like that because the world is a pretty horrific place, but art is there whether we like it or not.

    But as Lucas pointed out in his comments, in the end it’s hard for me NOT to see Lynch as a “queering” force in this image lanscape of burning tents and bodies wrapped in plastic. It’s art precisely about the intersection of artifice and violence.

    (Not to mention that in fact in Twin Peaks, it is ultimately the Dad who’s the killer, an oddly shocking piece of “realism” in that despite the fact that it’s the most likely culprit, dad is seldom the actual killer in the movies.)

    I think Twin Peaks is great b/c the father is not driven to kill by some kind of Freudian bullshit, instead he seems to “catch” violence (from demons no less), a contagion that denies all kind of fantasies about deep psychology and such. Rather it seems it’s at least in part about – art.

    But most of all I think Twin Peaks is great because it’s beautiful, entrancing, saturating, mysterious, intriguing, goofy, funny, spectacular, strange.


  45. Johannes

    I feel that maybe since this post is so “old” we should maybe reframe the discussion in some way in a new post and maybe work it out with some new framework? Maybe invite others to weigh in on the topic?

    Maybe Megan could write somethign about The Sluts (which I’m heading over to the library to pick up right now.)


  46. Lara Glenum

    Yes, Johannka, I agree with everything you’re saying about violence and art. But I’m not interested in art that simply replicates the violence of the world, that reiterates its terms and structures. I want, as someone said, some serious foundation cracking. I like very much the reading of Lynch you and Lucas are offering, which goes more in the foundation cracking direction. Thanks for it.

  47. Lara Glenum

    Also I think art’s complicity in the violence of the world is exactly what Meghan’s worried about. A concern that lots of art encourages specific systems of looking and abuse without doing much else, which makes the art, at best, a bit boring and, at worst, pretty frightening for those who are (potentially) subject to abuse.

    I’m not in any way advocating for art as moral activism. There is, though, a prevalent sense among lots of women that various male artists are getting off on the violence against women represented in their work. This does not seem like foundation cracking. It seems painful and humiliating.

    A lot of people (men and women) have felt this way, for example, about Lars Von Trier’s work. Lots of accusations of misogyny and torture porn. I happen to love his work. But I totally understand why people would feel this.

  48. Danielle Pafunda

    Hey all,

    It’s true, this post is totally old! But if anyone’s still hanging out reading, I wanted to say thanks to Johannes for pointing out how Twin Peaks rejects that bullshit Freudian narrative. I love that, what a freaking relief. And love the show for all the reasons Johannes does. I think that show was my first boyfriend.

    Also, want to harp on this 😉 : As someone who agrees emphatically that a lot of the violence-against-women art out there is just reproducing, not cracking foundations, I do not think Lynch “replicates” the world’s violence, or engages in a legible complicity. I think he mangles, upends, twists, critiques, and yes sometimes despicably indulges in explorations of violence against women *and* men. Unlike any number of blah blah slasher films, Lynch refuses to let the viewer separate the threads so that s/he can just “get off” (seriously, hard to get off on a Lynch film–he always intervenes in your off-getting!). Maybe, at risk of straying into the anecdotal, my read is informed by first watching Lynch’s films almost 20 years ago with a useful focus group–my band of horny not-gender-savvy artsy teenage friends, mostly hetero guys (when I too was teenaged subject to hormones & stupid)? Lynch wasn’t easy for them–it wasn’t readily hot for them, or readily digestible. Or so I recall–maybe that’s wishful remembering.

    Plus, Lynch really does exploit the male form–male corpses galore, and Kyle Maclachlan full frontal even (Lara, I’ll cue up the scene in Blue Velvet for you so you don’t have to watch the rest!), and his men are far more permeable than women when it comes to demons & naivety. I won’t call him a feminist, but I think he’s a really valuable feminist tool.

    I think, too, that there are a lot of feminists who enjoy fashion, objectification of the female form, etc. just as we were culturally trained to do. There’s often quite a schism between feminists who experientially/viscerally reject visual exploitation of the female form, and feminists who experience a more conflicted response to those images. I think that schism often masquerades as “sex-positive feminism” vs. feminism that critiques the hetero standard, but it’s really far more complicated than that.

    Anyhow, I LURVE a lot of nefarious things–images, fashions, etc. I get a buzzy high feeling off a lot of them. I don’t know what to do with that, but unpack unpack unpack it! So, as someone who has always loved and been subject to some of patriarchy’s worst visuals and who has a high tolerance for visual violence, I’d add that Lynch doesn’t have the same effect on me as many of those. Say, an image of an emaciated model in corpse pose in a scuzzy bathtub wearing a shred of couture, or a standard slasher porntorture scene. So, thanks for the convo that helps me unpack!


  49. James Pate

    There’s 48 comments to this post and counting!

    Danielle, a really really lovely take on Lynch here.

    I agree with basically 100% of what you say, and your comments remind me of why I like Lynch’s work so much myself…

    Have you ever read Zizek’s book on Lost Highway? Just curious on what your take is, if you have…


  50. Lara Glenum

    D, I wasn’t claiming Lynch merely replicates violence, just responding to one of Johannka’s posts. I’m certainly not interested in making a case against Lynch. I’ve felt ambivalent about his work for a long time and have very much enjoyed what folks have been saying here. Gives me a new lens. I like new lenses.

    As to the great feminist divide you reference, there are folks who are definitely further out than having conflicted responses to exploitative images of women. There are folks who are hardcore opposed to them, not just conflicted. As with everything, there seems to be a spectrum of response.

    I am conflicted. I have incredibly ambiguous feelings about pretty much all representations of gender, body, sexuality. I am terminally and relentlessly conflicted. I’m probably not ever gonna reach a comfortable space with any of this. And maybe that’s ok. I’ll remain a spooked and haunted thing.

  51. Danielle Pafunda

    Yep, Lara, I know. But it was Johannes’s post on Lynch, and I want to direct us back around to considering how he’s different than many of the dead-girl artists. I feel like harping on him!

    & I’m not suggesting this is a theoretical divide or divided camps of feminism. I’m really sure how to read your response there, but for what it’s worth I’m suggesting it’s an interesting schism/gap between actual individual feminists because we have different visceral registers (as you say, a spectrum) that whether we want them to or not inform our politics–and thus it’s often misinterpreted as a theoretical divide, when it’s probably a fascinating spectrum of theoretical approaches to art & pop culture. Or, I’m clumsily getting at something like that 🙂 . It’s also about my own interest in my own attraction to images that I simultaneously find misogynist or a-feminist. And about my anecdotal experience of this gap in the discipline. It leads to a lot of miscommunications and weird frictions that I imagine might be really valuable if unpacked and delved into. Actually, I should get Kate Durbin’s take on this, since she’s better schooled in fashion than I!

    James, no, I haven’t read the Zizek. I should! I’m so happy to be having this Lynch renaissance; it’s recalling a certain tender part of my aesthetic that I wasn’t sure I still had access to.

  52. Danielle Pafunda

    Oops, meant “not really sure how to read…”

  53. Twin Peaks Was My First Boyfriend - Montevidayo

    […] Uncategorized There’s still a churning fantastic discussion going on at Johannes’s post Contamination (#99 balloons): David Lynch, Genre, HTML Giant, so I thought I’d take some of it topside, spin it out a bit–a little off the top of my […]

  54. Danielle Pafunda

    Okay, have clarified my comments a bit and turned them into a new post, which is not to hijack this thread, but to follow Johannes’s suggestion that maybe we build some of these out into new posts with new frameworks? Also wherein I ask Lara for a Lars Von Trier post & Megan to make sure she tells us where her review of The Sluts ends up, yum!

    Ya’ll are fab.

    Here if anyone’s game for my frame:


  55. The Sluts &/vs Twin Peaks (briefly) - Montevidayo

    […] Cooper’s The Sluts, and the connections between Cooper’s work and recent discussions about Twin Peaks, violence, and complicity are compelling. I’m thinking mainly, of course, of the George Miles […]

  56. Like I’m the only one who’s in command: Xiu Xiu/Rihanna, “Daphny,” & The Path - Montevidayo

    […] on Jul.08, 2011, under Uncategorized I’m still thinking through many of the points raised in recent discussions of violence in art on the blog, especially about complicity and the notion of safe […]

  57. Angela G.

    VERY very late to this party, but I have to make a few points: Lynch is such a superb auteur/artist that any discussion of his work cannot be boiled down to “Is he a feminist or not?” or “Is he a misogynist or not?” or “Is it a parody?” Nothing in Lynch’s world can be reduced to such simplistic terms. I cannot address all of the previous comments without writing a paper! Books could be, and have been, written about this. I esp. recommend Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, ed. by David Lavery; and The Film Paintings of David Lynch: Challenging Film Theory by Allister Mactaggart

  58. Angela G.

    For the feminist/misognist discussion/argument, of special interest in “Full of Secrets” is the essay “Lynching Women: A Feminist Reading of Twin Peaks,” by Diana Hume George. Also, I would reiterate what M. Kitchell makes as his last and final point: “David Lynch resists interpretation.” As MacTaggart writes, (quoting Freud’s (!) introduction to the Wolf Man case, a quote used by Major Briggs in Twin Peaks) “So that there was nothing left for me but to remember the wise saying that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.”

  59. Johannes

    I would say this little post suggests that Lynch if anything generates interpretations. Don’t be scared of interpretation. They’re just ways of talking about art./Johannes