Walter Benjamin and David Lynch: An Inquiry

In the course of recent conversations about the distinctiveness of David Lynch’s films, I found myself drawn to the vocabulary of Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art &c.” Once made, the connection between Lynch’s techniques and Benjamin’s theory of film seemed to be overwhelmingly obvious, so I assumed that there must have been many articles written on the subject. My initial search, however, has turned up nothing. If anyone with superior research skills or with preexisting knowledge of an article along these lines could help me, that would be great.

12 thoughts on “Walter Benjamin and David Lynch: An Inquiry

  1. Hi Adam, while i can’t think of any articles off hand that use Benjamin to discuss Lynch, I was wondering if perhaps you could elaborate a little more on how you would apply the former thinker to the latter artist. The connection between the two doesn’t strike me as obvious. It does sound like an interesting idea though!


  2. I was thinking that many of Lynch’s signature moves — freaky close-ups, etc. — cohere well with what Benjamin likes most about film, namely, the way it cuts things apart with the “dynamite of a 100th of a second,” the way it denaturalizes everything. I’d argue that Lynch manages to do this also with sound, when he focusses on a background noise until it becomes menacing.

    In spirit, too, Lynch seems to fit well with Benjamin because Benjamin focusses only on the negative moment of dissolution and doesn’t say that we should put things back together in a more pro-Marxist way or something — just as Lynch’s “denaturalization” of suburban life, or Hollywood, or whatever, doesn’t directly issue in some kind of positive alternative.

    I’d say that particularly in Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Dr., what Lynch is doing is quite simply film as such and nothing but film, according to Benjamin’s definition of film.

  3. An interesting thought, Adam. I’m wondering though: the close ups you mentioned strike me as having the effect that Benjamin would describe as an aura, no (I’m thinking in particular about Eraserhead)? Now, it’s true that Benjamin’s notion of ‘aura’ is hardly stable (the one he puts forward in his _little History of Photography_ is different form the one of the artwork essay), but one of the reasons Benjamin liked Montage (the dynamite of a 100th of second) is that it disrupts anything like an aura. and this seems hard to reconcile with the close-up.

    This said, I think you’re right about the notion of shock in Lynch’s films, and his constant denaturalization of the everyday. but can a benjaminian notion of shock be applied to something that never really lets anyone be at ease?

    Just a thought

  4. For the close-ups, I’m thinking in terms of his analogy with the surgeon…. I have an essay on Benjamin that is unpublishable — maybe I should just post it here.

  5. don’t know about Benjamin but I can suggest getting into Deleuze and his take on cinema. Especially recommended is Deleuze, Altered States and Film by Anna Powell.

  6. I was thinking about how their might be a connection between David Lynch and a particular essay by Walter Benjamin. Dream Kitsch: Gloss on surrealism.

    The essay connects the ideas of surrealism, nostalgia, film and even intriguingly a mention of the metaphor of a blue rose. Those ideas could describe a number of Lynch’s works. Also David Lynch’s films have a “glossy” quality at least on first viewing.

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