On David Lynch, surrealism, and hating art that "makes you feel weird."
Thank you for these cogent thoughts. As you will not be at all surprised to hear, I'm completely with you on the weird horror connection. The emotionally and philosophically destabilizing effect of this kind of storytelling, and not just that, but the same effect arising in its accompanying sub-literature of weird philosophical and essayist rumination and speculation, is one of our most important ongoing literary-artistic connections to the numinous, to the primal reality behind rational, visible surface appearances, that both undercuts our attempts to build a hyper-rational human order of things and provides life-giving meaning to it. It's no accident that weird storytelling in both literature and film has become ascendant here in the early 21st century. The story of Jung's transformative flood of inner psychic imagery, which he later interpreted as a kind of psychological presaging of World War I, comes to mind. It's tempting to speculate that we are now experiencing a collective version of that, though exactly what it portends is unclear. All that's clear at present is that something deep has become unmoored. In such a circumstance, weird storytelling, including Lynch's brilliant brand of surrealism, becomes a major conduit for expressing our unease to each other.
This might be a good place to insert a more global perspective. Have you looked at the histories of surrealism in African literature? I think they show how some literary cultures have since abandoned the binaries of meaning imposed on the surreal. Nigerian writers Ben Okri and Amos Tutuola pull off some pretty fantastical things. There might even be connections made with the recent modes of speculative fiction from Afro-African American authors and these histories. I think my point is that some literary geographies work with the marvelous in ways that might benefit your argument.
You articulated really beautifully a lot of things that turn me on about work that resists interpretation (and turn me off about overly didactic approaches to interpretation), cheers.
I dug this, thanks!
Sometimes when I read your columns I feel like this xkcd comic: https://xkcd.com/2071/ Who are these people who would complain that surrealism is "failed worldbuilding"? If someone said something like that to me, I would be out the nearest door, fire exit or window.
Love this piece. I feel this is the area I've always worked, from being an art student to being a writer. This is my niche, my favourite place to play around. Thanks so much!
That list of Good vs. Bad art is ridiculous. Art can be all of those things or none of those things. And as you said, They’re all subjective. Too funny. I'm tempted to swap out Good and Bad for different words, but I prefer not to label and classify art.
Wonderful piece. I love David Lynch and saw his movies in theaters when they came out, which made a difference in terms of my experience. My favorite surrealist painter is Remedios Varo. It's liberating to be awash in images and symbols and ideas you don't fully understand and just dive into living dreams--like being inside the subconscious idea/thought/feeling itself. Oh how I hated theory classes when I was getting my MFA!
💯 on the weird horror observation.
"This is true even of people drawn to strange works. As I mentioned in my fabulist article, I’ve had many conversations with SFF authors and readers who deride the surreal and magical realism as “lacking rigor” or having “failed worldbuilding.” There’s a desire for systemized rules to contain the unreal. In the MFA/literary world, coherent and logical worldbuilding might not be a requirement but there is a desire for clear allegory and metaphor to contain the magic."
Those dull mo-fos have clearly never read, or if they did, didn't understand Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Samuel Delaney.
Great piece. I always loved Blue Velvet the most because surrealism is a great style in which to burst open the moral pretenses of the center...and it’s an indictment of what our obsession with domestic privacy has unleashed.
All AI art is surrealism.
I am the guy that both loves Lynch movies for being open to interpretation and will also write elaborate articles explaining what their narratives are really about.
I like what you’re saying 🤩
I was drawn in because I’ve always thought that David Lynch and Michael Mann play in the same sandbox but their final sandcastles just end up a little different.
Also, I like that you think dude’s art chart was probably click bait. Nice job thinking outside the (sand)box.
I had this same argument in the Twin Peaks subreddit a couple of days ago in a discussion with the usual "Twin Perfect" apologist who swears by that 4-hour monolith that "definitively explains" the series. It's saddening to see the resurgence of this critical style that had fallen by the wayside with the New Critics in other media (back in the 60's when Sontag wrote her essay), but has come back in full force on YouTube where high-school educated debate students push up their sleeves to take on the hard work of "excavating" an art object with sheer persistence and some amount of gatekeeping: "well if you think there's more than one interpretation, present your own iron-clad four hour video, and I'll listen!" There's certainly been pushback, but I also worry that this resurgence is kind of a symptom of educational systems veering more toward STEM and under-resourcing the humanities. This 50's era style of close reading really needs to fade out of high school curricula, but it seems like many English teachers keep picking it up as canon. So those who move on to higher ed to major in cost-efficient "practical" fields that are mostly STEM, or those who bounce off of higher ed in general, only get exposure to this Romper Room level of artistic analysis and carry it into whatever form they're enthusiastic about.