The Gothic in David Lynch: phantasmagoria and abjection

Barr, Rebecca Anne
Barr, Rebecca Anne (2010) 'The Gothic in David Lynch: phantasmagoria and abjection' in Gleyzon, Francois-Xavier 'David Lynch in Theory' pp 132-146.
David Lynch has long been identified with 'New American Gothic', a late capitalist cinematography that disrupts the glossy normalcy of the American dream with visions of violent menace, and physical and sexual aberrancy. From the 'Television Gothic' of Twin Peaks (1990-1) to Mulholland Drive (2001), Lynch's work has violated narrative coherence and juxtaposed the saccharine technicolour of white, Middle America with anarchic brutality. Lynch's Gothic aesthetic is one in which 'the worlds portrayed are ones infested with psychic and social decay, and coloured with the heightened hues of putrescence. Violence, rape and breakdown are the key motifs.' (Punter, 1980, 3) Following this catgeorization, readings of Lynch's films have often focussed on the dark, predatory forms of his Gothic; the sadomasochistic impulses of Blue Velvet proving paradigmatic in critical conceptions of his work. This paper will trace Lynchian Gothic from Blue Velvet (1986) to Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire (2006) to argue for a development of pleasurable, eroticised gothic abjection in his work. Using a specifically Gothic framework grants coherence to Lynch's work, given the genre's own mutability and its investment in disorderly rupture of systems of knowledge by unreason, the repressed, the abjected. Moving from the representation of Dorothy Vallens to his later heroines, Lynch uses the fluid boundaries of a specifically female abjection to salvage and even redeem damaged post-Reaganite society. This shift toward feminocentric narrative creates what can be seen as a cinema of excess, of repetition and instability. Identity - class, sexual, and national - is subjected to this defamiliarising form. These latter films see Lynch colonise what has been called 'Female Gothic': a form that depends equally on longing and desire as fear and terror to motivate its play of meanings. The dreamlike sequencing and illogic of these films creates a phantasmagoric confusion of cinematic representations and subjective hallucinations: mental phantasms as entertainment, and vice versa. These films enable cinematic fantasies which fuse the two contraries of Lynchian aesthetics - the mawkishness of sentimentality and the terror of the gothic - united in the liminal and vulnerable women celebrated as erotic phantasmagoria.
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland