The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
Lost Highway: Unveiling Cinema's Yellow Brick Road

The Mirror Dentata

In the lonely bathrooms of _Lost Highway_ the mirrors have teeth and whoever stands too close will be devoured -- their hell will not be death but yet another life, a parallel life, on the other side of the looking glass. The mirror has been a source of mystical transversion and a point of passage in narratives for so long as to have become cliche. It has signaled the divided self, the marker between dream and waking, fantasy and reality. In the mirror we are inaugurated into a labyrinth of terror and infinite ontological reflexivity we can scarcely fathom, and as such the notion of the reflected image and the double has played a dominant role in the genres of horror and fantasy in both literary and film narrative. While terror, which has always spoken of the borders of reason, has had a very low profile in the philosophy canon, and reflexivity and duality have for the most part been theorized in absence from visceral experience, the threat invoked by the reflexive act is made explicit in the determination of Western philosophy to suture the abyss of the mirror.

The notion of reflection, a founding principle of philosophy, becomes a central, systematic notion in modern philosophy with the writings of Descartes. Rodolphe Gasche defines this philosophical conception of reflection as the moment of separation where the mind turns itself outward toward an object, but also more explicitly as the moment where this activity itself becomes the object of reflection. This brings the subject into the foreground in modern philosophy as a center and origin of meaning. As Gasche writes,

With such a bending back upon the modalities of object perception, reflection shows itself to mean primarily self-reflection, self-relation, self-mirroring... self-reflection marks the human being's rise to the rank of a subject. It makes the human being a subjectivity that has a center in itself, a self-consciousness certain of itself. [10]

Gasche also points out that the term reflection or *reflectere* means literally 'to bend' or 'to turn back or backward,' as well as 'to bring back' and that the many conceptions of reflection share the optic metaphor of throwing back light in the form of images. So the mind's grasp of itself grasping itself 'becomes analogous to the process whereby physical light is thrown back on a reflecting surface.' [11]

_Lost Highway_ enacts the fissure between knowledge and reflexivity. This fissure is in the doubles and parallel worlds, as well as in cinema and spectatorship itself. It is in the Nameless who wields a camcorder, making autonomous images that perpetually separate and suspend in doubt. But the image of reflexivity and doubling that emerges in this film departs significantly from the classic double of modern literature and the Descartian subjectivity of modern philosophy. Lynch's doubles are neither discrete nor antagonistic warring forces of contradiction. The treatment in Lynch's film of the American binaries pushes the limits between brunette and blond, innocence and criminality, blue and red, sex and death, surface and subterranean, to the point where they implicate one another. They are not unified, synthesized, neutralized nor overcome in this commingling. Rather they illustrate the perpetually divided 'origin' of reflexivity. Derrida describes the problem well in _On Grammatology_,

There are things like reflecting pools, and images, an infinite reference from one to the other, but no longer a source, a spring. There is no longer a simple origin. For what is reflected is split *in itself* and not only as an addition to itself of its image. The reflection, the image, the double, splits what it doubles. The origin of the speculation becomes a difference. What can look at itself is not one; and the law of the addition of the origin to its representation, of the thing to its image, is that one plus one makes at least three. [12]

Similarly Nietzsche in _Ecce Homo_ will joyously declare himself a doppelganger: 'I have a 'second' face in addition to the first. *And* perhaps also a third.' [13] In this depiction of meaning the very act of reflection creates not simply a double, but doubles back, splitting the 'source.' The third face is just the beginning.

Implicit in the notion of reflexivity, doubles, and representation is the notion of passage and link. The double is that which is both divided and joined. The link, the passageway, becomes the place where one is both and neither. The road is such a link, functioning as both ground and link. The image of the severed link reoccurs throughout the films of Lynch; it is in the log carried by the Log Lady in _Twin Peaks_ (1989), the umbilical cords which surround the dancing feet of the Radiator Lady in _Eraserhead_ (1976), and in _Lost Highway_ it is in the broken, dotted line that makes up that larger link between two points, which is the road. [14]

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