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

Grand Cycles of the West

It is perhaps fitting that postmodern epistemologies that adopt cyclical versus linear notions of time can also be seen as part of a critique which in itself follows a cyclical course. The writings of Nietzsche and Heidegger [15] both pose a challenge to the grand linear narrative of Western culture and do so by turning back (*reflectere*) to the presocratic Greek thinkers to uncover a conception of being and time prior to the emergence of Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics. Heidegger questions a subject-centered tradition that has forgotten Being by replacing it with the beings of being. He strives to reassert Being *as* Time, rather than as subject or thing that merely moves *through* time. Nietzsche, on the other hand, critiques those reactive forces which work to deny and steady the flowing Dionysian world of Becoming. [16] Broadly speaking the critique of metaphysics understood within the context of narrative takes place within a Western culture constituted as the entwined parallel journey of two dominant linear narratives -- the biblical text and metaphysics. On one hand, the Judeo-Christian biblical narrative precedes and writes history as the Word of God. It is a linear narrative beginning with Genesis and culminating in the Last Judgement. As such the temporal world is a broken world, condemned to sin and desire, finding redemption only in a turn away from flesh to the spirit. This visual narrative dominates the history of painting and images up to modernity. Philosophy as metaphysics breaks from the Greek pre-archaic sense of cyclical time and enacts a secular version of the same impulse to work within a linear path moving from origin to *telos*, where the transcendent unified principle serves as cause, origin and foundation of the world of multiplicity. [17] Heidegger calls this metaphysics an onto-theology. What begins in the writings of Plato and Aristotle reaches its climax in the dialectical journey of the Hegelian Absolute Spirit, which though circular culminates in a closed system. And yet the return to presocratic conceptions of being and time can never be a return to origin, it is a new place one arrives at, one in which words like 'Socrates' and 'metaphysics' bear a meaning that they didn't have on the last turn. Similarly, at the conclusion of _Lost Highway_, when Fred returns to his home to deliver the message that will set the whole narrative in motion again, a new element has entered the script that was not there the first time around in the form of the cop cars waiting outside the home. This illustrates well that repetition is never identical, and that at the core of sameness is difference.

While Nietzsche and Heidegger did not use the term 'narrative,' their emphasis on reestablishing temporality into ontology and epistemology also entails certain upsets to the traditional notion of narrative as a stable structure, as a vessel which *contains* time. Despite the emergence in this century of several critiques of metaphysics, two major modern, formalist notions of narrative became dominant in the study of the creative one, the emergence of narrative as a central category in structuralist poetics as narratology, and two, the anti-narrative political discourse that emerged in film studies in the 1970s around the critique of classic Hollywood narrative cinema. While this paradigm has not gone without challenge in film theory, [18] it still remains dominant. It will be useful here to consider it briefly.

While several divergent positions on narrative emerge in the 1970s concerning film, including important contributions from Laura Mulvey, Colin MacCabe, Peter Wollen and Peter Gidal, they share a common political and formalist Althusserian *telos* and an attempt to situate alternative cinemas in the avant-garde. Stephen Heath's essay 'Narrative Space' [19] was representative of the _Screen_ position and is interesting for the manner in which it calls into question not only narrative but the development of codes of vision and figuration inherited from Quattrocento perspective, the visual techniques developed in the fifteenth century Italian painting for creating the illusion of three-dimensional reality. Heath argues that the camera has followed this tradition in positing a view from a central perspective and that spectatorship has been trained to understand representation in these terms. Film narrative in this scenario, he argues, developed as a response to the constant threat introduced within the frame by movement. Whereas in classical painting the composition is organized along dominant lines of force, in cinema this centering must be achieved by the action within the frame, that is, by the logic of the narrative. Heath argues that the movement of classical cinema is always made in the interest of forming coherence in the face of disruption, in order to center a subject under siege. For instance he uses the psychoanalytic concept of 'suture' to describe the ongoing dialogue between lack and fulfillment that transpires both within shots and from shot to shot. This dialogue is foremost for Heath an ideological one, constituting a subject in the form of dominant ideologies.

While these critiques mirror the larger critique of metaphysics in their emphasis on disrupting a movement toward stability and wholeness and closure, they differ in an important respect. By working within the framework of ideology these theories place an impossible burden on alternative cinema *as* form. The avant garde film is given the task of speaking for truth, while classic narrative is delegated to myth, ideology, and abuse. As such these theories simply take a longer and seemingly more critical road back to the same metaphysics of identity based on a conception of truth as correctness or correspondence. Rather I am understanding narrative not simply as structural form or story or ideology, but as an unfolding, an unconcealing, in the Heideggerean sense of truth as unconcealment,

...this is never a merely existent state, but a happening. Unconcealedness (truth) is neither an attribute of factual things...nor one of its propositions... That which is, is familiar, reliable, ordinary. Nevertheless, the clearing is pervaded by a constant concealment in the double form of refusal and dissembling. At bottom the ordinary is not ordinary; it is extra-ordinary, uncanny. The nature of truth, that is, of Unconcealedness, is dominated throughout by a denial. *This denial, in the form of a double concealment, belongs to the nature of truth as unconcealedness.* Truth in its nature is untruth... [this] is not, however, intended to state that truth is at bottom falsehood. Nor does it mean that truth is never itself but, viewed dialectically, is always also its opposite... What is truth, that it can happen as, or even must happen as, art? [20]

This epistemology, developed in Hermeneutics and Deconstruction, foregrounds interpretation and turns narrative into a process of disclosure. As such is it neither good nor evil, but both. This epistemology also significantly upsets the solidified base from which political and ideological positions have traditionally been voiced. To invoke the presence of time in the epistemological and the ontological necessarily destabilizes the fixed ground of the ethical as well. The real challenge of contemporary political and moral thought is to theorize a post-metaphysical ethics, a non-static conception of justice. [21] Critiques which read texts in order to delineate the politically 'progressive' from the 'regressive' remain ensconced in the stability of metaphysics, fixed in a modern conception of static justice. Lynch's cinema has never fallen under the good graces of such readings. His vision of America has been neither condemning nor embracing, and his pastiche never simply playful nor nihilistic. Ultimately Lynch's primary interest has been in dissecting the cat, following along its strange corridors, peering into its pink folds and red tunnels. [22] If we come closer, the inner organs begin to emerge. Lynch is interested in coming closer. Exaggeration, the seeing 'too much' of obscenity, has always been an important part of Lynch's language. Even a florescent diner sign can be obscene if we look at it long enough; and especially if we listen to it. Such visions unconceal something beneath form, something naked in its neutrality, the horrible thing that Emmanuel Levinas called the 'there is' and described as

...something resembling what one hears when one puts an empty shell close to the ear, as if the emptiness were full, as if the silence were a noise. It is something one can also feel when one thinks that even if there were nothing, the fact that 'there is' is undeniable. Not that there is this or that; but the very scene of being is open: there is.' [23]

The pilot for _Twin Peaks_ ends with a terrifying image of a hand, a part of some unknown whole, reaching toward the dark soil and turning over a rock beneath which a precious clue lay hidden. We never see the broken gold heart that waits there in the dark, just the sudden gesture of the hand turning the stone followed by an image of the terror ridden mother of the late Laura Palmer waking with a jolt from her disturbing vision. It is this shock of waking, placed at the very end of the pilot, that signals the beginning of a 29 episode dream of American life. The unwinding of narrative, becoming, and interpretation are given *appearance* here. They are a reaching hand, a rock being overturned, a scream in the night bed. Paradoxically, word, image, and sound unite in cinema in order to reveal the fragmentation of meaning, and more precisely the point where meaning explodes and implodes in upon itself perpetually.

In its cyclical portrayal of meaning _Lost Highway_'s narrative 'unconceals' what narrative strives to conceal about itself. The cycle is not simply a set track, on which a determined course of events will forever circle like a broken record. This is apparent in the film's conclusion when new elements emerge, such as developing police knowledge, that were not in the cycle's past, now configured as its future. Similarly, certain nagging and unresolvable problems emerge within the narrative, strains that cannot be bound and that escape interpretation. For instance, the spatiality of the temporality is unresolvable, as is the question of continuity of consciousness in peripheral characters. It is not clear whether these parallel realities are happening simultaneously or what space the receding double occupies. _Lost Highway_ is a film that resists closure hermeneutically as well as structurally because like organic forms it forever defies the laws of a logic that could stabilize it, and yet paradoxically must appear in form, as a structure. Likewise narrative circulates simultaneously as limit or law and as its undoing. I am not suggesting that _Lost Highway_, by virtue of its untraditional form, breaks free from dominant ideology, achieving a privileged epistemological status. Rather I am arguing that _Lost Highway_ is a work that discloses the radical alterity and aporetic complexity of narrative and meaning. As such any disclosure also conceals, and should not be understood to assert a formalism or a principle. Cinema is being described here not only as something moving, but as something organic. Spectatorship and interpretation are the link, the collision at the intersection of two lost highways.

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