David Lynch’s Elusive Language

Lim-DavidLynchsElusiveLanguage1-690Dennis Lim at The New Yorker:

Lynch’s films abound with gnomic pronouncements and incantations. “Now it’s dark,” the maniacal Frank Booth hisses in “Blue Velvet.” “This is the girl,” the mobster financiers keep insisting in “Mulholland Drive.” (The key to Transcendental Meditation, which Lynch has practiced for more than four decades, is the repetition of a personal mantra.) Lynch’s mistrust of words means that his films often resist the expository function and realist tenor of dialogue, relying instead on intricate sound design to evoke what lies beyond language. Conversely, his studio art is notable for a perverse preponderance of text. Many of Lynch’s large, tactile art-brut canvases feature variously cryptic, comic, and ominous inscriptions (“Suddenly My House Became a Tree of Sores,” “There Is Nothing Here, Please Go Away”). Especially in his recent series of smudgy black-and-white lithographs, the verbiage comes to seem obsessive: a compulsion to name, label, and caption which, in heightening the absurdity of words, strips them of their power.

In Lynch’s own speech and in the speech patterns of his films, the impression is of language used less for meaning than for sound. To savor the thingness of words is to move away from their imprisoning nature. Lynch has said, more than once, that he had to “learn to talk,” and his very particular, somewhat limited vocabulary seems in many ways an outgrowth of his aesthetic.

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