The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
On the Lost Highway: Lynch and Lacan, Cinema and Cultural Pathology


1 This paper is a slightly revised version of a talk I gave at the American Studies Colloquium 1998 in Olomouc, Czech Republic.

2 Jonathan Culler. On Deconstruction. Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. Ithaka, New York, 1982, 10.

3 Jacques Lacan. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-55. Trans. S. Tomaselli. Cambridge, 1988, 222. Subsequently quoted as (Seminar II).

4 David Foster Wallace. Article on Lost Highway in Premiere, Sept. 1996. http://www.m Subsequently quoted as (Wallace).

5 Mikal Gilmore. Article on Lost Highway and Interview with David Lynch. Rolling Stone, March 6, 1997. http://www.mikedu

6 Richard Corliss. 'Mild at Heart.' TIME, April 7, 1997, 77.

7 Peter Wollen. Readings and Writings: Semiotic Counter-Strategies. London, 1982, 2.

8 Frederick Szebin and Steve Biodrowski. 'A surreal meditation on love, jealousy, identity and reality.' Cinefantastique, April 1997. http://www.miked Subsequently quoted as (Cinefantastique).

9 Christian Metz. The Imaginary Signifier. Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Trans. C. Britton, A. Williams, B. Brewster and A Guzzetti. Bloomington, 1982. Subsequently quoted as (The Imaginary Signifier).

10 Jacques Lacan. Écrits. French Edition. Paris, 1966, 774. Subsequently quoted as (Écrits), referring to the English translation Écrits. A Selection, by A. Sheridan, New York 1977.

11 Cp. Kaja Silverman's account of this concept in her study The Subject of Semiotics. New York, 1983, 194-236, subsequently quoted as (Subject of Semiotics).

12 Jacques-Alain Miller. 'Suture (elements of the logic of the signifier).' Screen 18:4, (1977/78), 24- 34, 25-6.

13 Cp. Stephen Heath. Questions of Cinema. Bloomington, 1981, 'On Suture,' 76-112, 100-1. Cp. also the chapter entitled 'On Screen, in Frame: Film and Ideology' (1-18).

14 Jacques Lacan. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. A. Sheridan. New York, London, 1978, 118. Subsequently quoted as (Fundamental Concepts).

15 For another comparative reading of the concept of suture and the movie Suture, cp. Hanjo Berressem. Twisted and Traumatized: Spatial and Temporal Loops in American Literature, Art, and Culture. Habilitationsschrift, Aachen 1997.

16 Another short reference to yet another movie: John Woo's Face/Off. In this movie, two men exchange identities; that is, they change faces. Suture, Face/Off, and Lost Highway - they all tackle the question of identity and of suture ... in a way, all three movies are "about" identity and its vicissitudes, about the construction of both the subject in the diegetic reality of the movie, and of the spectator. Suture thematizes the concept of identity as an effect of (illusory) identification, and ultimately withholds the comfort of suture, of a stable position both within diegetic reality and off-screen. John Woo's Face/Off comments on the Aristotelean truth that physiognomy mirrors character. This truth is countered with an almost metaphysical sense of self beyond mere looks, a self, however, that most prominently reveals itself in a language of the body, in small gestures. The suture that holds the movie together is quite literally the seam which stitches Nicholas Cage's face onto John Travolta's head (and vice versa) and 'functions' in fact only if the spectator is willing to accept this improbability. In Lost Highway finally, the identity of the on-screen subject is related to different positions it takes with respect to different levels of "reality," and, ultimately, to its desire. Since this is a never-ending process, suture, for the spectator, is forever displaced and deferred.

17 Reni Celeste. 'Lost Highway: Unveiling Cinema's Yellow Brick Road.' Cineaction 43 (Summer 1997). /film-philosophy/files/paper.celeste.html. Subsequently quoted as (Celeste).

18 see e.g. Lynch in the Official Press Kit for Lost Highway, http://www.mike, subsequently quoted as (Press Kit), and Gifford in his interview for Film Threat, http://www.mi

19 Cp. e.g. Lacan's discussion of the figure of the "interior eight" in his article on 'Science et Verité' (Écrits, French edition, 855-77), or his 1966 lecture 'Of Structure as an Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever,' published in: The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man. Ed. R. Macksey and E. Donato. Baltimore, 1970, 186-200. The illustration was taken from this article.

20 Chris Rodley (ed.). Lynch on Lynch. London, Boston, 1997, 231. Subsequently quoted as (Lynch on Lynch).

21 On yet another level, Lost Highway is obviously a noir film in a very literal sense: noir/black is the prevailing color in this movie, especially in the long dark sequences that seem to structure the narrative ...

22 '10 Shades of Noir. Film Noir: An Introduction.' Image e-zine,

23 Slavoj ZiZek. Tarrying with the Negative. Durham 1993, 9-10.

24 Georg Seeßlen has made similar observation, but has related this observation in his conclusions to the concept of self-reflexivity in Lynch's filmic language. See Georg Seeßlen. David Lynch und seine Filme. Marburg und Berlin, 3. erw. Auflage 1997, 187.

25 Steven Shaviro. Stranded in the Jungle. (forthcoming book; excerpts can already be found on Steven Shaviro's homepage; see his chapter 'Intrusion' on Lost Highway:

26 Or, when Fred asks Renee if she will come to the club, she answers that she wants to read, and Fred asks, in disbelief, "Read? Read what?" Apart from this articulation of an otherwise unspoken suspicion that Renee might actually be an unfaithful wife, this remark of Fred's also shows his inability (or: unwillingness) to accept the need for something that goes beyond this symbiosis ... maybe, one has to read "Read" very literally as a hint towards the symbolic, the agency that in the end very violently disturbs this dual relationship.

27 Michael Chion has already noted in his seminal study Audio-Vision. Sound on Screen. Trans. Claudia Gorbman. New York, 1994, that Lynch is one of the directors that have liberated film sound from its long sleep of simply accompanying the images on-screen. Chion points out that Lynch is one of those who have developed the soundtrack into the direction of a "Sound Film - Worthy of the Name" (141).

28 Jacques Lacan. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book I: Freud's Paper on Technique 1953-54. Transl. by J. Forrester. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, 102.

29 see Slavoj Zizek. The Plague of Fantasies. New York, London, 1997.

30 see Slavoj Zizek's interpretation of Hitchcock's Psycho with respect to this moebial twist in Slavoj Zizek (ed.). Everything you always wanted to know about Lacan (but were afraid to ask Hitchcock). New York, London, 1992.

31 Colin Ross. Dissociative Identity Disorder. Diagnosis, Clinical Features, and Treatment of Multiple Personality. New York, 1997.

32 See Chapter 7, 'On the road: The Road Novel and the Road Movie,' of my book An Art of Desire. Reading Paul Auster. Amsterdam and Atlanta, 1999, 159-72.

33 Cp. Jacques Lacan. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-55. Trans. S. Tomaselli. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, where he comments on the "roads of life" (81) and describes life as a "dogged detour" (232) towards death.

34 Jacques Lacan. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book III: The Psychoses, 1955-56. Transl. by R. Grigg. New York, 1993, 290-1. Subsequently quoted as (Seminar III). An example might clarify what is at stake here. Kafka, in his Letter to the Father, takes recourse to another topographical metaphor, referring to his father in terms of a dimension spread out in space: "Sometimes I imagine the map of the world spread out and you stretched diagonally across it." Franz Kafka. Letter to the Father. Prague, 1998, 65.

35 Malcolm Bowie. Lacan. London, 1991, 74.

36 This term is Anne Jerslev's. See her study David Lynch i vore řjne. Copenhagen, 1991.

37 Thus, the whole second part of the movie (Pete's story), can be read as Fred's attempt to "remember things" his own way, even to re-member, in the literal sense of the word, both his fragmented sense of self and Renee's dis-membered body ...

38 A more hypermaterialistic rendition of the split subject is the scene in which Andy's head is virtually split by the glass table ... it's as "literal" as you can get.

39 Frank W. Putnam. Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Persona Disorder. New York, 1989. 13-4. Subsequently quoted as (Putnam).

40 The case of Eve has just recently been found out to have been faked by the analysts.

41 Clary, W.F., Burstin, K.J., & Carpenter, J.S. 'Multiple personality and borderline personality disorder.' Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 7 (1984), 89-100.

42 American Psychiatric Association. DSM-III-R. Washington, 1987, 106.

43 Ray Aldridge-Morris. Multiple Personality. An Exercise in Deception. Hove, 1989, 107. Subsequently quoted as (Aldridge- Morris).

44 Varma, V.K., Bouri, M., & Wig, N.N. 'Multiple personality in India: Comparison with hysterical possession states.' American Journal of Psychotherapy 35 (1981), 1.

45 Ian Hacking. 'Multiple Personality Disorder and Its Hosts.' History of the Human Sciences 5.2 (1992), 3-31, 11.

46 Hanjo Berressem. 'Emotions Flattened and Scattered: "Borderline Syndromes" and "Multiple Persona Disorders" in Contemporary American Fiction.' in: G. Hoffmann, A. Hornung (ed.). Emotion in Postmodernism. Heidelberg, 1997, 271-307, 293.

47 John T. Irwin. American Hieroglyphics. The Symbol of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the American Renaissance. New Haven and London, 1980, 112.

48 Sherry Turkle. Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality. Quoted in Allucquere Rosanne Stone. 'Identity in Oshkosh.' J. Halberstam, I. Livingston (ed.). Posthuman Bodies. Bloomington, 1995, 23-37, 34.

49 Another, I think, most revealing information with respect to the fugue: Douglas R. Hofstadter, in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, comments on the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, which, in his time, were judged as quite notorious. Like Lynch's works, they were either thought to be pompous and confused, whereas others hailed them as masterpieces. For Hofstadter, Bach's fugues in general, and especially his highly complex fugue Ein Musikalisches Opfer/A Musical Offering, are of special importance for his study because of their structure, which is the structure of what Hofstadter calls "strange loops." A most prominent example of such a strange loop is ... yes, it's the Moebius Strip again. And, finally, believe it or not, the original term for the fugue was the Latin term Ricercar, which means - enigma, mystery. Cp. Douglas R. Hofstadter. Gödel, Escher Bach. An Eternal Golden Braid. New York, 1979.

50 Jacques Lacan. 'Vorwort zur dt. Ausgabe meiner Schriften.' in: Schriften II. Weinheim, 1991, 7.

51 Only after I finished this article (and the talk on which this article is based), Troels Degn Johansson, Department of Film & Media Studies of the University of Copenhagen, pointed out an article to me in cinetext by Robert Blanchet: 'Circulus Vitiosus: Spurensuche auf David Lynchs Lost Highway mit Slavoj ?i?ek.' This article only mentions in passim some of the aspects I have tried to discuss in more detail in this paper, so, both articles somehow respond to each other like the "two sides" of a Moebius Strip as well ... cp.

52 Le Séminaire Livre XX: Encore. Paris, 1975, 10. My translation.

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