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February 27, 2009

David Lynch et al.

I can't seem to write a comment connected to Sara's question, so I'll just write another note here that's a response to the gist (I hope) of her inquiry.
There's a certain kind of story that plunges us into a set of mysteries and then does its best to explain those mysteries--Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux" is an example of that, as is Poe's "The Purloined Letter." Modern or contemporary examples might include Richard Bausch's "What Looks Like the World" or Grace Paley's "The Little Girl." The mystery I'm talking about is purely plot-related, i.e., what actually happened? Other kinds of mysteriousness need not be explained away: why does Greta Conroy go on loving Michael Furey long after he's dead in James Joyce's "The Dead"? This is the mystery of human emotions, which need not be explained.
But David Lynch does something else: he presents a milieu much of the time that seems familiar--Twin Peaks, Idaho, or Los Angeles, and then he proceeds to create situational peculiarities that seem to require some sort of explanation. How did the surveillance camera get in the house? Where is it? Why is the little dancing dwarf uttering prophecy? Most of the time, Lynch does not actually give you much or any explanation. The result--the switch from realism to quasi-fantasy--for me is often not mysterious, but mystifying. And I guess I'd argue that mystery is fine, but mystification (the apparent promise that a solution will be offered followed by no explanation at all) is ultimately frustrating and aesthetically unsatisfying. Sometimes it feels like cheating. If I sound like Uncle Grumpy again, it's because Lynch's films are often mind-haunting but finally achieve their effects through narrative short-cuts. _Inland Empire_ just comes across as a series of unconnected vignettes, brilliant though they are.
So I'm arguing for mystery but not mystification. There you go.

February 25, 2009

Hi all--the computer ate my first version of this question, so now I just sort of want to ask "What's up with David Lynch?" and call it a day.

More precisely, what's up with Lynchian narratives (like Josh's story) that seem to operate on bending/breaking the rules under which the reader assumes the story is operating? This move seems "allowed" in the same way we allow characters to turn into crabs in magical realism, or characters to hallucinate major plot events (Thompson, since Charlie brought him up), but it feels to me like a different sort of strategy. Aside from Josh's piece, and David Lynch, fiction with intentional (uncommented-on) anachronisms also strikes me as being in this category, just to list another example. At least to me, it seems that these pieces tend to hew much closer to strict realism than someone like Marquez.

So, question: how do these succeed (which involves, I think, the reader's acceptance of the rule-breaking), and what are the effects of this strategy in the first place? I'm drawn to fiction like this and find it interesting, but I'm sort of unable to articulate why or how it's working.

February 13, 2009

More Nightwood

It had never occurred to me to think of _Nightwood_ and _Fear and Loathing_ together, but they're both about characters who are spellbound, and the language is outsized in both cases. Fear and Loathing has this apocalyptic view of American obsessions with success and money, whereas _Nightwood_ couldn't care less about money, except as a kind of given, but both novels are really serious about creating character grotesques.

February 7, 2009

Any reactions to Nightwood?

Just curious whether anybody wants to vent about the book before we talk about it on Tuesday.

February 4, 2009

Hawthorne vs. Poe

Edward directed us yesterday to Poe's sometimes harsh judgments concerning Hawthorne's stories. Poe didn't think that stories should have an ambiguous or vague or undecidable effect: every element in the story should be aimed toward a particular emotional result in the reader, who should be able to get it all at once. Poe's views on this can be found in the notorious essay "The Philosophy of Composition," a probably bogus explanation of how he came to write "The Raven," using almost mechanical principles that Poe had cobbled together out of Aristotle. But the point is that he felt that the effect of the work is of paramount importance, and in that sense, Poe views art largely as the manipulation of the emotions of the audience, since the effect should usually be singular. This is why Poe's stories are appealing to high school students but usually can't engage an adult mind for very long. Hawthorne's can.