David Foster Wallace: On David Lynch

David Lynch’s face is the best thing about him, and I spend a lot of time staring at it from a variety of perspectives as he works the set. In photos of Lynch as a young man, he looks rather uncannily like James Spader, but he doesn’t look like James Spader anymore. His face is now full in the sort of way that makes certain people’s faces square, and it’s pale and soft-looking— the cheeks you can tell are close-shaved daily and then moisturized afterward— and his eyes, which never once do that grotesque looking-in-opposite-directions-at-once thing they were doing on the 1990 Time cover, are large and mild and kind. In case you’re one of the people who figure that Lynch must be as “sick” as his films, know that he doesn’t have the beady or glassy look one associates with degeneracy-grade mental trouble. His eyes are good eyes: he looks at his set with very intense interest, but it’s a warm and full-hearted interest, sort of the way you look when you’re watching somebody you love doing something you also love. He doesn’t fret or intrude on any of the technicians, though he will come over and confer when somebody needs to know what exactly he wants for the next set-up. He’s the sort who manages to appear restful even in activity; i.e. he looks both very alert and very calm. There might be something about his calm that’s a little creepy— one tends to think of really high-end maniacs being oddly calm, e.g. the way Hannibal Lecter’s pulse rate stays under 80 as he bites somebody’s tongue out.

– David Foster Wallace,   A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

Dark Comedy: The Irony of the Banal; or, The Metamorphoschizolibidinal Machine

I’ve noted since 1986 that a good 65% of the people in metropolitan bus terminals between the hours of midnight and 6: 00 A.M. tend to qualify as Lynchian figures— flamboyantly unattractive, enfeebled, grotesque, freighted with a woe out of all proportion to evident circumstances. Or we’ve all seen people assume sudden and grotesque facial expressions— e.g. like when receiving shocking news, or biting into something that turns out to be foul, or around small kids for no particular reason other than to be weird— but I’ve determined that a sudden grotesque facial expression won’t qualify as a really Lynchian facial expression unless the expression is held for several moments longer than the circumstances could even possibly warrant, is just held there, fixed and grotesque, until it starts to signify about seventeen different things at once.1

– David Foster Wallace, A Supposed Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

This remark by David Foster Wallace in an essay on the work of film tiger David Lynch typifies the dark comedy of our times. In a brutal world that condones the brutalization of children and adults alike one survives through humor, through the dark and bitter comedy that disturbs rather than puts us back to sleep. This is the biting humor that gets under us, that follows us in our nightmares and keeps us wondering who is the victim, who the perpetrator. If tragedy invites us to sympathizes and lament the fate of this brutal world we humans have invented for ourselves, then as Henri Bergson once recognized laughter disperses such illusions and becomes the ‘killer of emotions’, the divider, the slayer who stalks the night keeping the ghosts at bay. Violence lurks under the hood. Like an unbidden guest we find it everywhere. One only needs to open a magazine, a newspaper, turn on the TV, radio, or just take a drive along any freeway in our metalloid and artificial climes. One can opt for Lynch or Taratino: “Quentin Tarantino is interested in watching somebody’s ear getting cut off; David Lynch is interested in the ear” (166).

Love, lust, revulsion, and allure infect us like visitors from some surreal world of magical affects. At the borderlands of identity we discover life: oozy, slimy, viscous, teeming, messy, uncanny life. What does life want? Freud told us in simplistic terms that life wants to return to the inorganic slime pool from which it first arose: the reproduction of life tends ultimately by circuitous route toward that far country of death. For Freud it all came down to this: “What we are left with is the fact that the organism wishes to die only in its own fashion” (Beyond the Pleasure Principle). And what about the “man-omlette” (Ben Woodard) of Lacan? Bob Woodard tells us we shouldn’t over-idealize this Weissmanian germ, this festering  amoeba caught between the intensive pulses of entropy and negentropy, that instead we should go beyond even Zizek’s impervious reading in ‘Lacan as a reader of Alien’ – where the “face hugger functions as the lamella – sacrificing itself to impregnate a goo-trapped victim with a xenomorph” (56, Slime Dynamics). That this, too, is too much Idealism. That disgust is itself too aesthetic, a tribute to the mind – all too human; that beyond the human, or even the thought of the human, lies the organicity of existence itself without us. And, this is key: materialism, Woodard suggests, is too concerned with subjectivity and subjects, of humans as Subjects, and that is what separates materialism from realism (ibid. 57).

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David Foster Wallace: Waking to Darkness and Lightning

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition, that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a stale promontory, this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.

—SHAKESPEARE, Hamlet

Depression is no laughing matter, is it? It eats up life like a black hole that has no bounds. It sucks the life force out of even the happiest of beings. Someone once said that happiness is a state of mind. Milton said: “The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” How do we survive in a wasteland of our own making? Samuel Beckett once told us that “nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it’s the most  comical thing in the world (Endgame).”   Someone asked Ken Bruen, the Galwegian Crime Writer: “How do you define humor?” His response to this was: “It’s our way of getting even.” Maybe that’s the key. Maybe that’s the only way we can confront our despair of existence – the darkness within and without. Getting even. Laughing till the pain and bleakness disappear under the burden of darkness. As David Foster Wallace says it: “You are a trained observer and there is nothing to observe” (The Pale King). That’s DFW to a tee. A man all guzzied up ready to take on the whole world who realizes at the last moment that the world he’d take on resides in his own brain pan all curled up like the Cheshire cat winking back at him with the feint smile and gnomic wisdom of a Dostoevskian idiot. A gentle giant of a man whose compassion and passion gave us the Infinite Jest.

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