Archive for Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan – The Symbolic – The Imaginary – The Real

Posted in Parallel theory, Psychoanalysis, Reading notes with tags , on October 9, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

I read a Lacanian analysis of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, so decided to investigate this further. However I must admit that this strand of my research is rather unsuccessful. I had investigated Lacan earlier but could not make any sense of his 3 orders: the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real, so I had left the whole thing aside.

Reading this David Lynch critique, I thought I had understood the 3 orders “from example”. The author wrote that the first half of the film where Fred Madison kills his wife but represses just the murder itself out of guilt was set in “The Symbolic”, the second half of the film where Fred escapes into a psychogenic fugue to imagine a better life was set in “the Imaginary”. And the Mystery Man, a character (probably part of Fred’s own mind) who pursues him (both as Fred and as Pete, his idealised imaginary self) to force him to remember the murder was part of “the Real”.

So I had interpreted the 3 orders as:
-the Symbolic: external reality or all the information coming from outside that ourself has to process
-the Imaginary: our Ego or the way we like to imagine ourselves (minus the repressed content we find unacceptable about ourselves)
-the Real: the repressed content coming back to haunt us as symptoms that tear the fabric of the Imaginary.

However I am re-reading about Lacan with this example in mind, and still cannot make much sense of it. Below are some note taking from internet sources about the 3 orders. It seems my difficulty to understand comes from the fact that, contrary to Freud, Lacan does not study/write about phenomenon/events themselves but about the way they are coded/perceived into Signs: mostly language but also images (for the Imaginary). It seems Lacan considers one is unable to study things themselves, only their representation via signs. His thinking is influenced by the Structuralists. I purposefully leave this as notes organised “per source” because I am not clear enough yet on Lacan’s thought to be able to synthesize my own vision, so I’d rather keep different people’s interpretations of it neatly separated.

Media Study Interpretation:

The Imaginary: the imaginary becomes the internalized image of this ideal, whole, self and is situated around the notion of coherence rather than fragmentation. The imaginary can roughly be aligned with the formation of the ego which serves as the mediator (as in Freud) between the internal and the external world (Vogler, 2). It becomes, in Lacan, the space in which the relation “between the ego and its images” (Miller, 280) is developed.

The Symbolic: in contrast to the imaginary, the symbolic involves the formation of signifiers and language and is considered to be the “determining order of the subject” (Miller, 279). Seeing the entire system of the unconscious/conscious as manifesting in an endless web of signifiers/ieds and associations, Lacan claims that, “Symbols in fact envelop the life of man in a network so total that they join together, before he comes into the world, those who are going to engender him…” (Language, 42). And, “Man speaks therefore, but it is because the symbol has made him man” (39). The Symbolic Order functions as the way in which the subject is organized and, to a certain extent, how the psyche becomes accessible. It is associated with language, with words, with writing and can be aligned with Peirce’s “symbol” and Saussure’s “signifier.”

The Real: very unlike our conventional conception of objective/collective experience, in Lacanian theory the real becomes that which resists representation, what is pre-mirror, pre-imaginary, pre-symbolic – what cannot be symbolized – what loses it’s “reality” once it is symbolized (made conscious) through language. It is “the aspect where words fail” (Vogler, 2), what Miller describes as, “the ineliminable residue of all articulation, the foreclosed element, which may be approached, but never grasped: the umbilical cord of the symbolic” (280). This is perhaps the source of the most contention within theories of media in that media itself can only point at the real but never embody it, never be it. For Peirce, this can be described as the “index” – the “real” traces left behind; […] In a sense, the real is everything that is not media, but that informs all media.

The imaginary: pre-language development state where the Ego is developed. Realm of images?

The Symbolic: realm of language and narratives.
“The signs mediate a reference to a reality, but this reality is not present in the Symbolisation, but is re-presented. So the immediacy is lost. The price that is paid for the Symbolisation is thus the loss of the primordial object, the object a, the object of desire. What remains is an emptiness, a trace, something reminding of a fullness. We will say more about this when we discuss ‘the Real’.”
“For Lacan, the unconscious has the same structure as language, and is also constituted of a chain of signifiers.” signifiers such as dreams or symptoms
Therefore Lacan calls both the Symbolic and the Unconscious “the Other”(Capital O is important, “the other” is something else )
The symbolic/language/order is imposed from outside on the child who then becomes a “subject”. But by submitting to language, the subject looses his immediacy with reality.

The Real:
“This is the most difficult Order to talk about, exactly because it is the Order which cannot be expressed in language. As we have seen, language introduces differences and thus creates order. A striking example of this is the difference between man and woman. In social and emotional, sometimes even physical reality, there are no clear-cut characteristics that would differentiate a man from a woman. A certain man can have more female characteristics than a specific woman. The only thing on which the difference is based is a meaningless sign, the phallus. Another metaphor for this is the creatio ex nihilo: God created order by His Word, the order was not inherent but imposed. This is exactly the way language works. What is thus lost is an immediate relation with reality. Culture is forever cut off from nature. There is a loss, a gap at the centre of the Symbolic Order: it is rooted in a difference that has no essential ‘meaning’. The Order which comes before every Symbolisation or Imagination is called the Order of the Real.” “The Real is barred from the Symbolic Order but it also makes the Symbolic Order possible as it calls for an endless flux of signifiers to generate meaning. The signifiers constantly try to signify the Real in the Symbolic Order. Paradoxically, it will never be possible to put it into words completely: a gap will remain. Therefore, exactly because communication is somehow doomed to fail (the gap cannot be expressed) we keep on speaking. With Lacan, we find a core that cannot be Symbolised.”

“the other” = “autre” = “a” = “object petit a” = it is the unattainable object of desire, unattainable because it is situated in the “Real Order” and as soon as we project it onto signifiers (i.e. in the Symbolic order), it is no longer our real desire anymore.
This reminds me of Tarkovsky’s Stalker = we do not know our innermost wish.

“the Real is that which comes before Symbolisation, and which provokes desire. When it is approached too closely, it is a horrifying reality, but it also makes Symbolisation possible.”

A Psychotic cannot reconcile with the fact that the Symbolic order does not fully represent reality.

Slavoj Zizek on Wikipedia

Slavoj ZiZek defines the real as the difference/the gap between reality and an individual’s subjective interpretation of it (in the Symbolic Order)

In the Cartesian maxim “I think therefore I am”, “I think” takes place in the Symbolic order (the Symbolic subject) whereas “I am” takes place in the Real order (the Real subject).

“There are also three modalities of the real:
-The “symbolic real”: the signifier reduced to a meaningless formula
-The “real real”: a horrific thing, that which conveys the sense of horror in horror films
-The “imaginary real”: an unfathomable something that permeates things as a trace of the sublime. This form of the real becomes perceptible in the film The Full Monty, for instance, in the fact that in disrobing the unemployed protagonists completely; in other words, through this extra gesture of “voluntary” degradation, something else, of the order of the sublime, becomes visible.”

The Symbolic is not the realm of language per se, but of the signifiers.

The Imaginary is the realm of the signified (which, when attached to signifiers, form the language). The Child enters the realm of the Imaginary when he sees his image in the mirror (Lacan’s “Mirror Stage”). The Imaginary is closely linked to Narcissism, the Ego and images.

There are no fixed relations between signifiers and signified (i.e. the Symbolic and the Imaginary)

Artificial opposition such a presence/absence only exist in the Symbolic order, not in the Real. Such artificial opposition points out that something is missing in the Symbolic. The Symbolic introduces “a cut in the Real”.
“there is no absence in the Real.”
Lacan, J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954–1955 (W. W. Norton & Company, 1991)
“the Real is always in its place”
Lacan, J. Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.

found a formal definition of “latent” from a dubious source but it fits what I compiled from Freud’s ‘The Unconscious’ essays, so makes sense:
“Psychology. Present and accessible in the unconscious mind but not consciously expressed.”

An overview of the Seminars of Lacan

Seminar 1:
“To this reshaping of the Imaginary by the Symbolic [the goal of analysis], he opposes the intersection of the Symbolic and the Real without mediation of the Imaginary, which would be the characteristic of psychosis.”

Seminar 13:
apparently Lacan saw a lecture by Foucault about Velasquez’s Las Meninas and commented on it. Could be the inspiration for the Ukrainian film “Las Meninas” about a really weird dysfunctional family?
Zizek brings out Psycho, where Norman Bates’ house is rendered uncanny because Hitchcok’s viewpoint switches from the house coming closer (as seen by the approaching woman) to the same woman coming closer (as seen from the house), giving the anxious impression that the house is gazing at her

Lacan’s Seminar VII is the one from which Zizek seems to draw most of his material (about Sade, the sublime, the Real and the second death) → check!

To reward those of you who read this far: some Lacanian jokes!

Critical essays on David Lynch’s movies

Posted in Cinema, Reading notes with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

This post reviews of lots of critical essays on David Lynch’s movies. David Lynch is one my key influences, I love the look and ambiguous atmosphere of his films, and share his concern with producing work that does not come with a ready-made explanation, that requires the audience to come up with their own explanation.

WARNING !!! THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS TO Lost Highway/Mulholland Drive/Inland Empire/Blue Velvet/TwinPeaks !!!

The Heart of The Cavern, Sean French, 1987

Sean French on the films of David Lynch
Sight and Sound, Spring 1987

‘To me a mystery is like a magnet. Whenever there is something that’s unknown, it has a pull to it. For instance, if you were in a room and there was a doorway open and stairs going down and the light just fell away, you didn’t even see the bottom, where the stairs ended; you’d be very much tempted to go down there.’ David Lynch, on Blue Velvet

Denis Diderot about 18th century novelist Samuel: ‘He carries the torch right into the heart of the cavern; he teaches us to recognise the subtle, twisted motives which disguise themselves with motives that are more respectable. He blows away the gentle spirit who appears at the cavern entrance and reveals the dreadful monster behind.’

Good to know for later: “scripts usually work out at about a page per minute”

“David Lynch has adapted Shelley’s injunction to make the familiar unfamiliar into a vision that makes the familiar weird”

The Lynch Film, Rebecca Paiva,1997

“Bizarre camera angles are a favorite of Lynch. He will position the camera in a far, overhead corner of the room; shoot the scene from under a table; or even through a crystal ball (as in Wild at Heart.)”

“Fadeouts and slow motion are also prevalent; they both contribute to the abstract, under-the-surface mood Lynch strives for […]There are many more slow motion sequences, too numerous to mention, that create similar moods of dreamlike confusion, horror, or primal drives. “

“Lighting techniques are also very similar in Lynch’s films; he has an affinity for dark vs. light settings. Sometimes, this can resemble film noir techniques (as in Blue Velvet and Lost Highway), or it can suggest an unyielding world of darkness and confusion (Eraserhead, Industrial Symphony #1, Wild at Heart), or it can even hint at a dark underbelly of an idyllic setting (Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me, Blue Velvet.) But whatever the metaphor behind the lights, a Lynch buff quickly gets accustomed to oddly-shaped shadows, dark rooms, slats of sunshine, and strobe lights. “

Useless for essay but cool to know: “In the film Fire Walk With Me, the letters “IS 432” appear on a license plate; this is a reference to Isaiah 43:2, which reads:

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And through the rivers,
They shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire,
You shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”
“In Hollywood … they’re making … stories that are understood by people … and they become worried if even for one small moment something happens that is not understood by everyone. But what’s so fantastic is to get down into areas where things are abstract and where things are felt, or understood in an intuitive way, that you can’t put a microphone to somebody at the theatre and say “Did you understand that?” but they come out with a strange fantastic feeling … “(Lynch)


An examination of the contemporary noir phenomenon and its wider cultural significance
Simon McKenzie, 2003

“Let’s say you don’t want to be yourself anymore. Something happens to you, and you just show up in Seattle, living under the name Joe Smith, with a whole different reality. It means that you’re trying to escape something, and that’s basically what Fred Madison does. He gets into a fugue state, which in this case means that he can’t go anywhere – he’s in a prison cell, so it’s happening internally, within his own mind. But things don’t work out any better in the fugue state than they do in real life. He can’t control the woman any more than he could in real life. You might say this is an explanation for what happens. However, this is not a complete explanation for the film. Things happen in this film that are not – and should not be – easily explained.”
– (Gifford B 1997a in Rolling Stone, March 6, 1997)

“What is happening to Fred seems closely related to the psychological dynamics Freud (cited by Cowie 1993, p123) describes in the behaviour and suffering of both psychotics and neurotics:

“whereas the new, imaginary external world of psychosis attempts to put itself in the place of external reality that of neurosis, on the contrary, is apt, like the play of children, to attach itself to a piece of reality – a different piece from the one against which it has to defend itself”
-(Freud S, cited in Cowie 1993, p 123)
Cowie E 1993, ‘Film Noir and Women’, in Copjek, J., (ed), Shades of Noir: a reader, Verso, London.

The universe of Lost Highway can be seen to exist as a space whereby this psychosis and neurosis (both are present) play themselves out.”

“The repressed will return to haunt Fred in a number of ways (like videotape of the murder being dropped off on his doorstep, to give an example).”

“It doesn’t do any good to say, ‘This is what it means.’ When you are spoon fed a film, people instantly know what it is. I like films that leave room to dream.”
– (Lynch 1997, in Cinefantastique, April 1997)

“Barry may have his idea of what the film means, and I may have my idea, and they may be two different things. The beauty of an abstract film is it’s open to interpretation.”
– Lynch in Cinefantastique, April 1997

As a final note on narrative structure, it is useful to consider Barry Gifford’s allusion to his Lost Highway as a moebius strip in Film Threat magazine:

“We realized we didn’t want to make something that was linear, and that’s why the Moebius strip [as the film’s structure]. A Moebius strip is a long strip of paper curved initially into a circle, but with one end flipped over. The strip now has only one side that flips both inside and outside the shape. It made it easier to explain things to ourselves and keeping it straightforward. The story folds back underneath itself and continues.”
–(Gifford 1997b, interviewed in Film Threat, 1997)

Moebius strip image comes from Lacan:

“Lacan’s use of the moebius strip as a way to illustrate his conceptualization of the return of the repressed. This geometric form can be described as a two sided strip (say of paper) that is given one half twist along its length and then sutured together to create a loop which appears to be two sided on first examination but proves to now only have one (Herzogenrath, 1997 pp5-6). If Fred has repressed the murder of his wife, and gone into a fugue state creating alternate realities, he is doomed to circle around on a moebius strip of illusory reality.”
Herzogenrath B 1999, “On the Lost Highway: Lynch and Lacan, Cinema and Cultural Pathology”, in Other Voices the (e)journal of Cultural Criticism, v.1, n.3 (January 1999), University of Pennsylvania, web site, viewed 08 August 1999,

Naremore cites an exchange between Andre Bazin and Roger Leenhardt where it is described as film noir’s “vocation” to reverse the conventional norms which creates a “specific tension which results from the disruption of order and “the disappearance of psychological bearings or guideposts”” (Naremore, 1995, p19).
Naremore J 1995, ‘American Film Noir: The History of an Idea’, Film Quarterly, 49(2), Berkely, CA.

Borde and Chaumerton show their influence here, having stated in their seminal Panorama du Film Noir Americain that the removal of these psychological reference holds the key to the aim of film noir, again to create “a specific alienation.” (Borde & Chaumerton 1955, p25).
Borde R & Chaumeton E 1955, ‘Towards a definition of film noir’, trans. A. Silver in Silver A & Ursini J (eds), 1996, Film noir reader, Limelight Editions, New York.

Kaplan’s description of film noir as something that offers the space for the playing out of identity struggles (Kaplan, p.9).

“The main difference between Lost Highway and Double Indemnity, Out of The Past, The Killers is not due to any lack in noir sensibility, nor a lack of desire on behalf of the film-maker to create this sensibility but in the lack of desire in the audience. I am here talking of popularity of 1940s noir versus the relative obscurity those rare examples of a true film noir sensibility remain locked in now. A personal rip in the fabric of identity does not generate a widespread yearning to share what Sharrett refers to as a desire to share in fears for the future (Sharrett, 1998, p4). Pre-millennium angst did not disrupt all segments of the community, World War II did. Add to this the fact that the film-going public also has greater choice, and if ticket sales for Pulp Fiction (1994) are anything to go by, they prefer to spend their dollars on fare that speaks to their post modern malaise not by reminding them of their alienation but glossing over it and enjoying the surprises it may bring.”

I really like this conclusion. Most people today are scared of their own social alienation, and find it something shameful that should be repressed. I wonder whether this is due to post 1989, where there is only one social model left, the “end of history”. Therefore individuals today feel that their own alienation is their own fault, some kind of mental illness that must be hidden in order to survive in the outside world. Because the outside world today is perceived as omnipotent and unchangeable, contrary to the 40’s/50’s where alternatives, however flawed, were still available, the individual today considers that he is the one that needs to adapt to the outside world.

On the Lost Highway: Lynch and Lacan, Cinema and Cultural Pathology

Bernd Herzogenrath, 1999
Other Voices, v.1, n.3 (January 1999)

“the beauty of a film that is more abstract is everybody has a different take. … When you are spoon-fed a film, people instantly know what it is … I love things that leave room to dream …”

Christian Metz, in The Imaginary Signifier (9):
in the cinema, the spectator and the spectacle do not share the same space, since not only the diegetic reality of film is an illusion, “the unfolding itself is fictive: the actor, the ‘décor,’ the words one hears are all absent, everything is recorded” (The Imaginary Signifier 43). Thus, “[t]he unique position of the cinema lies in this dual character of its signifier: unaccustomed perceptual wealth, but at the same time stamped with unreality to an unusual degree … it drums up all perception, but to switch it immediately over into its own absence, which is nonetheless the only signifier present” (The Imaginary Signifier 45).
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).

“With Lacan, the term suture denotes the “conjunction of the imaginary and the symbolic.” (14) With respect to the Lacanian registers of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real, suture thus refers to the stitching of the representational registers, with the seam closing off the real from reality, closing off the unconscious from conscious discourse. Suture thus prevents the subject from losing its status as a subject, prevents it from falling into the void of the real, from falling into psychosis. Thus, the subject’s identification with the movie fundamentally relies on this “conjunction of the imaginary and the symbolic” levels within the cinematic discourse itself.”
14 Jacques Lacan. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. A. Sheridan. New York, London, 1978, 118. Subsequently quoted as (Fundamental Concepts).

“Fred meets the Mystery Man for the first time. In fact, the Mystery Man – simultaneously being inside and outside – can be read at the place where these (and in fact: all) opposites meet, he is – so to speak – the twist in the Moebius strip. In Lacan’s use of the Moebius Strip, the place denoting the suture of the imaginary and symbolic in a way “hides” the primordial cut that instigated this topological figure in the first place, the cut that is the unconscious (or, in Lacanian terminology: the real). It is by suturing off the real that reality for the subject remains a coherent illusion, that prevents the subject from falling prey to the real, that is, falling into psychosis. It is no wonder, then, that the Mystery Man always appears when a change in personality is close. “

The movie has been dubbed by Lynch and Gifford (e.g., in the published version of the screenplay) as “A 21st Century Noir Horror Film. A graphic investigation into parallel identity crises. A world where time is dangerously out of control. A terrifying ride down the lost highway.”

Lost Highway Sound design:
The first part of Lost Highway presents a marital scenario of uncertainty, anxiety, and unspoken suspicion. It takes place in a house which more resembles a fortress than a cosy home. From the film’s beginning, we have the feeling of tension and fear: home, the family unit is the place of trouble and terror. This feeling is emphasized by Lynch’s masterly employment of the soundtrack. For Lynch, “[h]alf of [a] film is picture … the other half is sound. They’ve got to work together” (Press Kit). So, in Lynch’s work, the soundtrack is a most important factor to enhance the mood of a scene. For example, during the dialogues between Fred and Renee there is no resonance to their voices. It is as if the works are spoken in a sound-absorbing environment, the whole spectrum of overtones, all those features that make a human voice seem alive, seems to have been cut. In its dryness, the voices of Renee and Fred almost seem to enact an absence of sound, or better – an absence of room, of the acoustics of space: it’s as if they are living in a recording studio covered in acoustic tile.

“the general feeling of being observed, a feeling that takes shape in the fact that they live close to the “observatory.” The outside literally starts to intrude the inside, and the threat is emphasized by the deep droning sounds (in a cinema with a good sound system, the spectators actually can feel this threat as a uncomfortable feeling in their stomachs …”

Confusing terminology of schizophrenia/multiple personalities and such:
“It is the phrase parallel identity crises that interests me the most here. It is usually read in terms of ‘double identity,’ mostly using the term schizophrenia. There has been quite some misunderstanding about this very term. In 1911, the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler replaced Kraepelin’s term for a group of psychoses, dementia praecox, with the term schizophrenia. Dementia praecox meant a psychosis of early onset, which Bleuler wanted to capture with the term schizophrenia, meaning literally “split mind,” since he thought the splitting of psychic functions to be the structuring element of these psychoses. Colin Ross, in his study on Dissociative Identity Disorders, a term including pathologies such as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) and the Borderline Syndrome, states that, “dementia praecox is actually a better name for this group of disorders [described by Kraeplin] than schizophrenia, while schizophrenia is a better name for [Dissociative Identity Disorder] than multiple persona disorder.” (31) Hence the popular notion of schizophrenia as “split personality,” a misconception that does not account for the fact that schizophrenia is an organic disorder of the brain, and not actually a personality disorder.”

Apart from the Mystery Man, scenes that link the 2 sides of the Moebius strip:
“These two scenes of Fred in the dark hallway (Renee calling “Fred!”) and Pete in front of his parents’ house (Sheila calling “Pete!”), viewed in parallel, function like a kind of worm-hole which traverses the different event-levels of the movie”
+ the transformation of Fred into Pete in the prison cell

“the unit publicist on the picture, happened to find it in some medical journal or something. She showed it to us, and it was like Lost Highway. Not literally, but an interior thing can happen that’s very similar. A certain mental disturbance. But it sounds like such a beautiful thing – ‘psychogenic fugue.’ It has music and it has a certain force and dreamlike quality I think it’s beautiful, even if it didn’t mean anything.” (Lynch on Lynch 239)

Image of the Highway for Lacan:
“In his seminar on the psychoses, Lacan explores the factors that trigger off a psychosis. And again, he takes recourse to the metaphor of the road. In a chapter appropriately named “The highway and the signifier ‘being a father,'” he writes:

a succession of minor roads and a highway are not at all the same thing. … The highway isn’t something that extends from one road to another, it’s a dimension spread out in space, the presencing of an original reality. If I take the highway as an example, it’s because … it’s a path of communication. … the highway is an undeniable signifier in human experience. (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).

What Lacan is alluding here to is his notion of the point de capiton, the quilting point, which is that point which makes sure that some temporary notion of meaning can be created in language. […]So a point de capiton is a place where signified and signifier are literally stitched together – this is suture in the register of the symbolic. Like a highway with respect to a system of smaller streets, the quilting point holds that system of discourse together, and a minimal number of these points are “necessary for a human being to be called normal, and which, when they are not established, or when they give way, make a psychotic” (Seminar III 268-9)”

Lacanian interpretation of Fred turning into Pete:
Fred Madison tries to escape the threat of castration, but he experiences a “return of the repressed” in the real instead of in the symbolic, in his hallucinations (that is, in his second identity as Pete), because he does not accept the name of the father, the agency that might disturb his symbiotic relationship with Renee and/or Alice: Dick Laurent is dead! So, the “Highway” of the title is exactly this quilting point, this suture, that would be necessary for the subject to be inscribed into “reality,” into a state of “normality.” Once this point is lost, once this seam is undone, the subject falls prey to the real, becomes psychotic.”

Lacan and drone sound in sound design:
“With respect to the delusional aspects of psychosis, Lacan comments on “this buzzing that people who are hallucinating so often depict … this continuous murmur … is nothing other than the infinity of these minor paths” (Seminar III 294), these minor paths that have lost their central highway. What is the deep droning sound underlying most of the movie but this “continuous murmur?””

The policeman investigating the videotapes asks Fred if he makes video/photographs himself and he says no and explains why;
“I like to remember things my own way. … How I remember them, not necessarily the way they happened.”

“Seen in this light, the videos might represent the truth “the way it happened,” that is: the repressed truth of Fred”

Definition of “psychogenic fugue:
“involves a sudden, unexpected travel away from one’s home or customary place of work, with an inability to recall the past, that occurs in the absence of an organic mental disorder … There is often the assumption of a new identity. … Typically, individuals in a fugue state have no memory of their primary identity. When they recover their primary identity, they often have a reciprocal amnesia for the events of the fugue state. (39) “
Frank W. Putnam. Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Persona Disorder. New York, 1989. 13-4. Subsequently quoted as (Putnam).

Fred’s murder of his wife Renee is referred throughout the film by the euphemism “that night”.

The article states that multiple personality disorder (MPD) is almost exclusively American, and suggests links to playing social roles for success, the Hollywood system, the culture of sitcom, zapping and characterisation of typical consumer profiles. It is unclear how much of this is theoretical hypothesis from media studies, and how is from actual psychological surveys … Also, creating a second personality to escape a traumatic event is linked to USA ideals of limitless possibilities/ myth of the endless road.

“In the recent remake of the thriller Nightwatch, now called Freeze, the police inspector turned serial-killer, played by Nick Nolte, philosophizes: “Explanations are just fictions to make us feel safe. Otherwise, we would have to admit the unexplained, and that would leave us prey to the chaos around us. Which is exactly what it is.””

Lost in Darkness and Confusion: Lost Highway, Lacan, and film noir

Thomas Caldwell, 1997
Originally appeared Apocalypse Whenever (The University of Melbourne, 1997) and was later published in Metro Magazine, No. 118, 1999

Lacan’s 3 orders (however the exact identification in LH seems dubious to me):
“To understand Fred’s condition, and the complex non-lineal narrative of Lost Highway, Lynch’s film can be de-coded by using the psychoanalytic methods developed by Jacques Lacan. Lacan’s mirror stage theory developed the idea of three distinct but overlapping orders of human identity – the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. They influence each other and work together simultaneously to give most individuals a stable relationship with reality. However Fred Madison has come unstuck and the three orders have become quite distinctly separate, leading to the creation of three versions of the same story with Fred represented by three different persona. The start of the film features Fred in the symbolic order, the middle part of the film has Fred transformed into Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) during the imaginary order, and the final part of the film has Fred possessed by the Mystery Man (Robert Blake), representing the real order.”

“Lacan’s notion of the three orders of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real are a development of his mirror phase theory. None of the three orders are necessarily more true than the other, but they need to be properly aligned in order for the individual to be present in the stable human world (Bowie 1991: 111-112). The imaginary is the order of mirror-images. It is the dimension of experience where the individual seeks to dissolve their otherness by becoming their counterpart. Through the imaginary, the individual repeats their relationships with the external world of people and things, to desperately create an imaginary ideal self, what Freud called the ego. The imaginary links inner and outer mental acts, having the effect of resisting the development of the self (Bowie 1991: 92). The middle section of Lost Highway exists in the imaginary order, where Fred relives his life through the ideal identity of Pete Dayton.
The symbolic order is where the subject, distinct from the ego, comes into being. The symbolic exists in the realm of language, the unconscious and an otherness that remains other. Their is no concrete existence in the symbolic order, since it is constantly moving and gives meaning that is inter-subjective and social. The symbolic order does not allow the subject to keep to themselves since everything depends on the subject finding meaning in what is around them (Bowie 1991: 92-93). The first part of Lost Highway takes place with Fred still in the symbolic order, since he appears to interpret the world around him with more cohesion than later in the film.
The order of the real is a constant threat during both the symbolic and imaginary sections of Lost Highway and comes into full effect during the final section of the film when Pete has transformed back to Fred, but now aligned with the Mystery Man. The real lies outside the symbolic process and can be found in the mental and material world. The real is that which cannot fall into the signifying dimension (Bowie 1991: 94). The real presents itself as that which does not cohere to the symbolic order. It manifests in the form of the trauma and determines all that follows despite appearing to be accidental (Lacan1977b: 55). The real is what seems impossible to the individual. The real cannot be coded and hence fall in the symbolic, and therefore it cannot be mirrored to fall into the imaginary.
Lacan, Jacques, 1977, “Tuche And Automaton” The Four Fundamental Concepts Of Psycho-Analysis, The Hogarth Press, London, pp53-64

[…]Although the symbolic has priority over the imaginary, the imaginary does aid the symbolic in its process of understanding the external world (Bowie 1991: 99). However in Fred’s case the imaginary has taken over the real to such a dangerous extent that he imagines himself to literally be another person. This collapse of identity is due to the intrusion of the real. In the real, “the network of signifiers, that our being exists in, is not all that there is, and the rest of what is may chance to break in upon us at any moment” (Bowie 1991: 103).
Bowie, Malcolm, 1991, “Symbolic, Imaginary, Real …and True”, Lacan, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp88-121
[…]The real in Lost Highway is represented by the Mystery Man who is an “essential object which isn’t an object any longer, but this something faced with which all words cease and all categories fail, the object of anxiety par excellence“(Lacan 1988: 164). When Pete is making love to Alice and she says to him “You’ll never have me”, the imaginary world of him possessing her and Fred is thrust back into the symbolic. The imaginary has been torn away, exposing Fred in his isolation to the rest of the world, exposed the world as something “originally, inaugurally, profoundly wounded” (Lacan 1988: 167). Fred is left in the real order that falls outside of the imaginary, but cannot be labelled or nominated either and therefore falls outside the symbolic order.
The Mystery Man represents the real because he is the violence and inspiration for the murders that Fred will commit.”

Irony: “The things that Fred suspected Renee of are actually done by Alice.”
“In the scene preceding the discovery of her [Rene’s] death, Fred disappears into the darkness of their house, but emerges as two shadows that move towards her bedroom, one shadow belonging to Fred, the other belonging to the Mystery Man as the embodiment of Fred’s violence.”

Funny How Secrets Travel: David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Alanna Thain, 2004

The present is the actual image, and its contemporaneous past is the virtual image, the image in a mirror. According to [Henri] Bergson, paramnesia (the illusion of déjà vu or already having been there) simply makes this obvious point perceptible: there is a
recollection of the present, contemporaneous with the present itself, as closely coupled as a role to an actor. .Our actual existence, then whilst it is unrolled in time,
duplicates itself alongside a virtual existence, a mirror image.
Deleuze, Cinema 2, 79

Hitchcock had begun the inversion of this point of view by including the viewer in the film. But it is now that the identification is actually inverted: the character has
become a kind of viewer. He shifts, runs and becomes animated in vain, the situation he is in outstrips his motor capacities on all sides, and makes him see and hear
what is no longer subject to the rules of a response or action. He records rather than reacts. He is prey to a vision, pursued by it or pursuing it, rather than engaged in an action.
Deleuze, Cinema 2, 3

In the Madison home, the space is unremarkable, rooms are quite barren, there is no obvious visual sense of things being hidden or concealed, but the very familiarity and exposure itself becomes uncanny through compression and repetition. The spaces
are all decorated in earth tones, and are shot in such a way that they are overly intimate.hallways seem to lead nowhere, entrances are compressed into the space, the geography of the house is uncertain, the lack of doors makes it all the more claustrophobic. Hallways are treated as either dead spaces, lit so that they are merely black gaps between rooms, with no sense of transition, or singular spaces that are unconnected from the rest of the house.

Chris Rodley describes Patricia Arquette.s understanding of the film:
Arquette.s own rationale for Lost Highway goes something like this: a man murders his wife because he thinks she.s being unfaithful. He can.t deal with the consequences of his actions and has a kind of breakdown. In this breakdown he tries to imagine a
better life for himself, but he.s so fucked up that even this imaginary life goes wrong. The mistrust and madness in him are so deep that even his fantasies end in a nightmare.
Lynch on Lynch 232

David Lynch Keeps His Head, David Foster Wallace, 1996

US Premiere magazine, September 1996.

AN ACADEMIC DEFINITION of Lynchian might be that the term “refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.”

City of Quartz (anonymous comment from crew) check this

British critic Paul Taylor says that Lynch’s movies are “to be experienced rather than explained.”

This is one of the unsettling things about a Lynch movie: You don’t feel like you’re entering into any of the standard unspoken and/or unconscious contracts you normally enter into with other kinds of movies. This is unsettling because in the absence of such an unconscious contract we lose some of the psychic protections we normally (and necessarily) bring to bear on a medium as powerful as film. That is, if we know on some level what a movie wants from us, we can erect certain internal defenses that let us choose how much of ourselves we give away to it. The absence of point or recognizable agenda in Lynch’s films, though, strips these subliminal defenses and lets Lynch get inside your head in a way movies normally don’t. This is why his best films’ effects are often so emotional and nightmarish. (We’re defenseless in our dreams too.)
This may in fact be Lynch’s true and only agenda – just to get inside your head. He seems to care more about penetrating your head than about what he does once he’s in there. Is this good art? It’s hard to say. It seems – once again – either ingenuous or psychopathic. It sure is different, anyway.

The Making of “Lost Highway” , Steve Biodrowski • April 1, 1997

“There is a key in the film as to its meaning,” Lynch continued, “but keys are weird. There are surface keys, and there are deeper keys. Intellectual thinking leaves you high and dry sometimes. Intuitive thinking where you get a marriage of feelings and intellect lets you feel the answers where you may not be able to articulate them. Those kinds of things are used in life a lot, but we don’t use them too much in cinema. There are films that stay more on the surface, and there’s no problem interpreting their meaning.”

To realize his noirish world, Lynch let Deming shoot LOST HIGHWAY in varying levels of darkness. The film is a little creepier than something that has contrast, with few exteriors or daylight scenes. Whenever he could, Deming consciously used hardly any light at all to keep contrast down. “There are many places in the movie where I would normally use a back light, but didn’t,” Deming laughed. “So you have people kind of melding into the background. It’s kind of an extension of when Fred walks down the hallway and disappears; it’s keeping that feeling through the rest of the movie. In another film, a director would say, `What about a back light?’ and 90-percent of the time I’d put it there, but not for this movie.
Cinematographer Deming about using underexposure:
“The thing I wanted to achieve was giving the feeling that anything could come out of the background, and to leave a certain question about what you’re looking at. The film is working under the surface while you’re watching it.”


“Making films is a subconscious thing. Words get in the way. Rational thinking gets in the way. It can really stop you cold. But when it comes out in a pure sort of stream, from some other place, film has a great way of giving shape to the subconscious. It’s just a great language for that.”
David Lynch in Lynch on Lynch (Rodley 1997, p.140)

“Commonplace objects or ideas can assume such powerful psychic significance in a dream that we may awake seriously disturbed, in spite of having dreamed of nothing worse than a locked room or a missed train” (Jung, published 1979, p.43)

“The double does not necessarily disappear with the passing of primary narcissism, for it can receive fresh meaning from the later stages of the ego’s development.” (Freud in The ‘Uncanny’ 1990, p.357).
Freud states that Otto Rank “has gone into connections which the ‘double’ has with reflections in mirrors, with shadows, with guardian spirits, with the belief in the soul and with the fear of death.” (Freud, The ‘Uncanny’ 1990, p.356).
“As a general rule, the unconscious aspect of any event is revealed to us in dreams, where it appears not as a rational thought but as a symbolic image.” (Jung, published 1979, p.23)
Jung, Carl G. (ed.) Man and His Symbols. London: Aldus Books Ltd. 1979

“there are innumerable things beyond the range of human understanding, we constantly use symbolic terms to represent concepts that we cannot define or fully understand.” (Jung, published 1964, p.21)

Sigmund Freud rejects the method of dream interpretation based on assigning particular and fixed meanings for specific dream images. He calls this the “decoding” method, which “treats dreams as a kind of cryptography in which each sign can be translated into another sign having a known meaning, in accordance with a fixed key.” (Ferguson 1996, p.77)

Ron Garcia, the director of photography on FWWM says in an interview that the camera angles carry a lot of meaning in the film as well. In the film, we have a consistent high camera angle. “The high-angled shots reflect an angelic presence that continues throughout the film, with an unseen angel looking down on the evil events below.” (Garcia 1992, p.60).

Ron Garcia argues that “David (Lynch) creates an emotion in everybody by tapping into the subconscious. From a Jungian perspective, the subconscious is real: you’re there until you wake up, and some people don’t wake up from those nightmares.” (Garcia 1992, p.62).

Reading Inland Empire: A Mental Toolbox for Interpreting a Lynch Film, Adam C. Walter

This is by far the most useful David Lynch essay I’ve ever read! Very insightful, yet concise, clear and free of jargon!
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, 1891, Ambrose Bierce (escape fantasy of a condemned man at the moment of his death)

“In the work of Jungian writer Marie-Louise von Franz, for example, one encounters the concept of the fairy tale as a single, sealed psyche in which every character, setting, and object corresponds to some aspect of the psyche’s function. If we interpret a particular Lynch film largely as a fantasy, then many of the events and characters can be viewed as aspects of a dream that is playing inside the “consciousness” that is the film—inside the psyche that is Fred Madison, Diane Selwyn, or Nikki Grace. Because of this, certain recognizable, and psychologically-significant, character types will be seen to intrude from time to time:”

1)“the liars/unreliable narrators”: try to escape their repressed content into an idealised version of self
2)“shadow selves and detectives”: In psychology, the shadow is the part of the unconscious that swallows threatening information and experiences that a conscious mind cannot hold onto and, at the same time, remain functional. However, a periodic confrontation with the shadow is necessary for a healthy psyche”: The shadow id Frank in Blue Velvet, Bob in Twin Peaks. The detective engineers the confrontation of the conscious with the shadow (the psychotic character with their repressed content). When this happen in Blue Velvet, Jeffrey incorporates a part of the shadow into himself. In Lost Highway, “the Mystery Man shadow-character has taken on the role of detective in rebellion against the controlling ego-character, Fred, who is in complete denial.” The Cowboy in Mullholand Drive = less aggressive detective.
3) “Oracles”: sometimes doubling as shadows and detective but often separate. Grace Zabriskie in Inland Empire, Dwarf/Giant/Log lady in Twin Peaks. The Old Woman and the little boy in twin peaks ?
4) “Openings, Corridors, and Taking Directions”: “In a Lynch film, it is worthwhile to note any talk of doors, openings, windows, alleys, or corridors—or even the physical representation of them onscreen. These motifs are often loaded with suggestion, symbolism, and double meaning. The same holds true for any directions that a character is given or any descriptions of a “path” to take.”

Lost Highway: Unveiling Cinema’s Yellow Brick Road, Reni Celeste, 1997

“And do you know what ‘the world’ is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end… enclosed by ‘nothingness’ as by a boundary… blessing itself as that which must return eternally, as a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness… this, my Dionysian world, the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying… without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal. “
Friedrich Nietzsche, “Will to Power”

Various philosophical interpretations of the Mystery Man:
“Three primary fissures are foregrounded in this film: that which exists between one discrete individual and another, that which exists between the individual and itself, and that which exists between the thing and its representation. […]This Nameless Man [Mystery Man] will play a leading role in the film as that which stands between doubles, between passages from one realm to the next, and between each individual and itself. He exceeds the constraints of temporality and spatiality, moving from past to present, from subject to subject, and occupying two spaces simultaneously. […]It is perhaps tempting to interpret him as the unconscious, especially in the light of Fred’s apparent forgetfulness of his wife’s murder. [5] One might also be inclined to understand him as the figure of death as symbol, like the ghoul who comes to call in Bergman’s _Seventh Seal_. But I will do neither. I also want to insist that I am not understanding this figure in terms of a Hegelian negativity that serves as a resource in the dialectical process. Rather I want to understand him in the Bataillian sense as that excess which undoes and exceeds *any* system of signification–a dark tear that is revealed through heterogenous matter, excess, obscenity, sacrifice, and eroticism. [6] This is also close to Derrida’s concept of Otherness, which he insists is not a lack or void but a ‘negativity without negativity.’ [7] This is not the reverse side of positivity, but rather something that transgresses signification. To even name this figure is problematic because he is precisely what is nameless. He both is and is not. He is the downfall of Aristotelian logic and Hegelian dialectics. He is what breaks apart all construction and yet serves as its groundless ground. He is beautiful and terrifying. He is in everything and yet he is nowhere and nothing. He is glimpsed at the threshold of the paradox, the aporia. And he is everyone’s double.”
6. Cf. Georges Bataille, Eroticism (San Francisco: City Lights, 1986).
7. Rodolphe Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror (Harvard University Press, 1986) p. 103, quoting Derrida from The Truth in Painting.

“The classic American road narrative actually leads not to California but to a shattering moment of consciousness somewhere across the barren desert of adversity and solitude where a terrible truth emerges: that this is the road to nowhere. What lies ahead is only more of the same, what lies behind is a receding history that cannot be regained, and destination is impossible. This double bind leaves only one exit to glory: temporal death, whereby one enters the American metaphysical kingdom like James Dean, by dying and becoming an absence that is present as an afterimage in the dreams of the surviving: to be an American myth. To pass this exit is to meet either failure or farce.”

“The mirror has been a source of mystical transversion and a point of passage in narratives for so long as to have become cliche. It has signaled the divided self, the marker between dream and waking, fantasy and reality.”

The mirror not as something that gives a sense of self, “reflection” not as something that encourages rational thinking. Derrida, “ On Grammatology”:
“There are things like reflecting pools, and images, an infinite reference from one to the other, but no longer a source, a spring. There is no longer a simple origin. For what is reflected is split *in itself* and not only as an addition to itself of its image. The reflection, the image, the double, splits what it doubles. The origin of the speculation becomes a difference. What can look at itself is not one; and the law of the addition of the origin to its representation, of the thing to its image, is that one plus one makes at least three.”
12. Jacques Derrida, On Grammatology, p. 36.

“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]
22. Chion, Michel. David Lynch. Translated by Robert Julian. London: British Film Institute, 1995.Michel Chion speaks of Lynch’s childhood fascination with dissecting and then rebuilding animals.
23. Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity, trans. Richard Cohen (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1985) p. 45. Also discussed in length in Existence and Existents.

Various Quotes

“It’s about a couple who feel that somewhere, just on the border of consciousness – or on the other side of that border – are bad, bad problems. But they can’t bring them into the real world and deal with them. So this bad feeling is just hovering there, and the problems abstract themselves and become other things. It just becomes like a bad dream. There are unfortunate things that happen to people, and this story is about that. It depicts an unfortunate occurrence, and gives you the feeling of a man in trouble. A thinking man in trouble.”
– Lynch on Lynch, Faber and Faber publishing.

“You can say that a lot of Lost Highway is internal. It’s Fred’s story. It’s not a dream: It’s realistic, though according to Fred’s logic. But I don’t want to say too much. The reason is: I love mysteries. To fall into a mystery and its danger … everything becomes so intense in those moments. When most mysteries are solved, I feel tremendously let down. So I want things to feel solved up to a point, but there’s got to be a certain percentage left over to keep the dream going.”
– Rolling Stone, March 6, 1997

Barry Gifford on Lost Highway:

“Let’s say you don’t want to be yourself anymore. Something happens to you, and you just show up in Seattle, living under the name Joe Smith, with a whole different reality. It means that you’re trying to escape something, and that’s basically what Fred Madison does. He gets into a fugue state, which in this case means that he can’t go anywhere – he’s in a prison cell, so it’s happening internally, within his own mind. But things don’t work out any better in the fugue state than they do in real life. He can’t control the woman any more than he could in real life. You might say this is an explanation for what happens. However, this is not a complete explanation for the film. Things happen in this film that are not – and should not be – easily explained.”
– Rolling Stone, March 6, 1997

“We realized we didn’t want to make something that was linear, and that’s why the Moebius strip [as the film’s structure]. A Moebius strip is a long strip of paper curved initially into a circle, but with one end flipped over. The strip now has only one side that flips both inside and outside the shape. It made it easier to explain things to ourselves and keeping it straightforward. The story folds back underneath itself and continues.”
-Film Threat, 1997


“Sometime during the shooting, the unit publicist was reading up on different types of mental illness, and she hit upon this thing called “psychogenic fugue.” The person suffering from it creates in their mind a completely new identity, new friends, new home, new everything – they forget their past identity. This has reverberations with Lost Highway, and it’s also a musical term. A fugue starts off one way, takes up on another direction, and then comes back to the original, so it [relates] to the form of the film.

“The unit publicist was reading up on certain mental disorders during production, and she came upon this true condition called ‘psychogenic fugue,’ which is where a person gives up himself, his world, his family – everything about himself – and takes on another identity. That’s Fred Madison completely. I love the term psychogenic fugue. In a way, the musical term fugue fits perfectly, because the film has one theme, and then another theme takes over. To me, jazz is the closest thing to insanity that there is in music.”

“There is a key in the film as to its meaning. But keys are weird. There are surface keys, and there are deeper keys. Intellectual thinking leaves you high and dry sometimes. Intuitive thinking where you get a marriage of feelings and intellect lets you feel the answers where you may not be able to articulate them. Those kinds of things are used in life a lot, but we don’t use them too much in cinema. There are films that stay more on the surface, and there’s no problem interpreting their meaning.”


“This story is really about a man who creates a situation, finds himself in a dire situation and has a kind of panic attack. And that he really has a difficult time in dealing with the consequences of his action. And this action fractures him, in a way.”

Lynch on Blue Velvet:
“A film that deals with things that are hidden within a small town called Lumberton and things that are hidden within people.”

“[the ear is] a ticket to another world.”

Lynch on various things:

“In my dream, I see these fantastic paintings that were done by somebody else. And I wish that I had painted them. And I wake up, and after a while the impression wears off. I say, wait a minute, those are my paintings. I dreamt them; they’re mine. Then I can’t remember what they were.”
I’ve had exactly the same frustrating dream!!!

“I like the feel of film noir a lot and it – to me it’s all about a mood that comes about when people’ s desires lead them into areas where they’re doing something against their conscience and, you know, then suffering the results. So it’s about fear, and it’s a nighttime feeling and that – that thing creeps into my work, you know, quite a bit.”

“It’s a simple thing he [Frank Daniel] taught me. If you want to make a feature film, you get ideas for 70 scenes. Put them on 3-by-5 cards. As soon as you have 70, you have a feature film.”

“Everything sort of follows my initial ideas. As soon as I get an idea, I get a picture and a feeling, and I can even hear sounds. The mood and the visuals are very strong. Every single idea I have comes with these things. One moment they’re outside of my consciousness, and the next moment they come in with all of this power.”