Dennis Lim’s new critical biography of David Lynch, The Man from Another Place, deftly conveys the meaning of the adjective lynchian by presenting a brief chronological account of the director’s work and its attendant criticism. Rather than attempting to eagerly proffer interpretations of Lynch’s films, Lim instead offers a steady gaze at Lynch’s growth as an artist of all manners who is captivated by beauty, horror, texture, and dream logic.
Lim frequently mines details from Lynch’s life that illuminate his films. For example, Lynch’s father’s job treating diseased trees and insect infestations provides an origin for the trees and teeming insects of Blue Velvet and an in-joke from the set of Eraserhead provides an origin for Twin Peaks’ Log Lady. However, Lim doesn’t spend too much time concentrating on these details, instead letting them become a part of the larger mythology surround Lynch rather than a simplistic explanation of his work.
What Lim does that is so much more interesting is reveal the ways that the culture’s understanding of Lynch springs largely from individual engagements with his seminal works. Lim treats neither Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, nor Mulholland Drive as definitive works, but instead reveals the ways that cultural and industrial conceptions of those works and others allow in-roads into new projects that frequently befuddle the world at large until a critical re-examination can spring up years later and a new definition of the term lynchian can arrive. That ABC throws money at a Lynch television series not once, not twice, but three times (Twin Peaks, On the Air, Mulholland Drive) only be to progressively dismayed and confused when each product fails to meet its conception of a David Lynch TV series is but one of the many moments that Lim’s book draws attention to.
As a critic myself, I must admit that my own initial engagement with Lynch was through his 2001 film Mulholland Drive, a film I checked out unwittingly from a local library. As a result, my conception of the term lynchian involves puzzles, dreams, old Hollywood, and the rupture of the seam connecting the audible and the visual. But re-watching Eraserhead this week revealed to me the poverty of this focus – an understanding that misses Lynch’s fascination with the bleak and bizzare and his films’ surreal emotional logic, that is less of a puzzle to be solved and more of an alternate world to enter, an important part of the term lynchian that Lim observantly notes.
That so many of us know Lynch, only to be befuddled by engaging with a different part of his corpus, suggests much of what makes his continual resurfacing such an intriguing part of culture. With the impending arrival of new episodes of Twin Peaks, I find myself less excited about returning to the land of damn good coffee and more intrigued by what new world he will conjure for us.