On Arbitrary Law


It may come as no large surprise to you that I admire the work of David Lynch.  I love “Twin Peaks” – its cherry pie, yes, but also its mysterious hyper-saturated stoplights, its red curtained dreamscapes, its phantasmagoric pale horses, and its little kids with handfuls of creamed corn.  Beyond Peaks’ borders, I also love “Mulholland Drive” and “Lost Highway” – two long, dark roads circling endlessly on themselves – and “Blue Velvet,” “Eraserhead,” and “Wild At Heart.”  These are fascinating, difficult works of art that above all else strike me as deeply felt.  Beneath their repeated themes and occasionally glib affectations (e.g. the satirical Lumberton backdrop to “Blue Velvet”), Lynch’s films are direct expressions of what he finds meaningful and beautiful.  His fans connect to them on a primal level because that seems to be the level on which they emerge from their creator.

High-falutin’ fancy talk, I realize, but we’re going somewhere with this.  Last night the missus and I (sorry, Diane – it’s true) watched two more episodes of Peaks season 2, concluding with the installment where Laura’s killer is brought to justice.  There’s a scene in that episode that I would describe as modestly rational but completely beautiful, which may as well serve as a good description of the entire series.  In the scene, Agent Coop… uh, I determine who killed Laura by gathering some key suspects in a room and having a vision. 

This might be labelled a cop-out of sorts, and in fact that is the term Nancee used for it.  She’s enjoyed the show quite a bit, but is becoming frustrated (as she often does) with the occasional bits of sideways (and non-) logic.  When the credits are about to roll, she would prefer for everything to have been neatly tied together – for every detail in all their variances to have served some great, single purpose.  She would like it if every scalar added up to one clear vector pointing north.

I fear her impending dissatisfaction (particularly once we reach the conclusion of the show, in which a lot of little scalars are mercilessly laid to waste, or left standing off to one side in eternal stasis, quite apart from the final thrust of the show and the kinda-sorta “resolution” to the main plotline).  I fear that I won’t be able to convince her that in a Lynchian universe, this is art, and this constitutes a reasonable fate.  I am apprehensive that she will react to it much the same way she reacted to “Mulholland Drive,” which could be paraphrased as “I liked it, but at the same time, I kind of hated it.”

I do admire the conventional plot (in fiction and in cinema), in which it is held as an ideal that all parts should contribute to a single idea or purpose.  Unnecessary characters and plot threads are trimmed prior to publishing; wasted words are jettisoned in favor of clearer sentences, more topical paragraphs.  Nothing goes unused.  Nothing is without a role in the Grand Design.

If I might work in a plug for something you can’t buy, the book I recently finished writing is a product of this school of thought.  I trimmed my characters and plot threads neatly and carefully.  The story is an engine, motivating the reader from here to there, and, hopefully, arriving in the end at a destination with the feel of inevitability to it.  I want the (hypothetical, perhaps imaginary) reader of my book to flip over the last page and ruminate to himself: “Yep, you can see how that was all set up from the beginning.”  I don’t want them to think, “Man, you could cut 50 pages out of that and have the exact same story.”

But my goals for my own artwork aren’t a philosophical mandate for the other me, the reader/viewer/listener.  And frankly, what Lynch does is something I dare not attempt – at least at this point in my life.  Nancee commented (and correctly so) that many directors who Lynch influenced pump out disconnected images – weirdness for its own sake.  If I were to try operating in that mode, I would probably end up creating the same dreck.  What Lynch does is much more significant.  At their best, his movies seem to be created directly from his subconscious mind.  They manifest the dream-state on to film.  They have meaning and beauty, but not the careful, logical meaning of a Kant treatise, and not the sturdy beauty of a well-crafted chair.  Lynch films do not make arguments and are not there for you to sit on.  They are firing shots across the bow of your rationality.  You can either take up the fight, or sit back and admire the fireworks.

And Diane, you know I’ve always been partial to a nice fireworks display.

One last (and appropriately disconnected) thought: there are few things as strangely beautiful and irrationally reasonable to me as the idea that the Man From Another Place (a.k.a. the dancing little person) in “Twin Peaks” is actually the severed arm of the One-Armed Man (a.k.a. Mike).  It takes a David Lynch to dream up a concept like that. 


One Response to On Arbitrary Law

  1. ginrickey says:

    Diane is bored moved on to Ingmar Bergman.

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