Some notes on Surrealism and David Lynch

July 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Senses of Cinema article: In Dreams and Imagination: Surrealist Values in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire

This article makes a differentiation between Surrealism and Post-modern aesthetic tendencies in the context of the films in the title. It also mentions a post-surrealist cinema. The term post-surrealist in my mind is limiting as in my view what we see in Mulholland Drive especially is an aesthetic that incorporates both post-modernism and surrealist aesthetic values.

The article thrusts upon Lynch’s work an activist agenda:

The future of this aesthetic, I argue, is determined by a work’s relationship to material reality, in line with André Breton’s 1935 paraphrasing and reiteration of Marx, namely that “the activity of interpreting the world must continue to be linked with the activity of changing the world.” (3) This contributes two appraisals: of the extent to which Lynch employs Surrealism and, therefore, of the extent to which his work might embody a political resistance to dominant filmic conventions.

Whilst there is something to be said for the counter-cinema and counter-industry position of Lynch and his films, when reading the text and engaging Lynch’s art as a whole (imagination, spiritualism, sensory experiences; fear, humour, horror, love) the politicised dimension is far less in proportion to the romantic dimension. By romantic I mean the alienation and subsequent connection of the individual with the wider environment (nature and self), the existential dilemma of waking up in a world without certainty and the subsequent appraisal of values and morals, and the impulse to move against the zeitgeist. This last point is however not to be confused with the status quo political activism of the second half of the 20th century (think of this brand of activism and intellectualism itself as the zeitgeist).

Surrealism has an uncanny relationship to the philosophy of Plato:

Surrealism is essentially a cerebral retreat of survivors who do not want to look back. The Surrealist poets, writers, and visual artists stage an psychological retreat from reality, either past or present, and seek what the late poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, called “sur-reality,” or a realism outside and beyond perceived reality. The regressive nature of Surrealism could be understood as healing and reconstructive, replacing an aggressive and public voice with a private exploration into the recesses of the unconscious. Dada was inherently reality-based and overtly political. Surrealism, on the other hand, shifted away from an oppositional stance towards a more theoretical position.

Just as Plato seeks truth through the Socratic dialogues (which essentially means an epistemological truth; truth lies in the foundations of our ability to reason, in the recesses of consciousness) Surrealism retreats inwardly. The antithesis of this would be an empirical outlook such as that of Aristotle (think European rationalism vs. British empiricism) which holds a similarly uncanny parallel with the Dada movement; anti-art that seeks to engage the world as it is, not through any artistic notion of realism but through activism and non-authoritarianism.


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