A somewhat expanded version of this essay will be published
in "The Dark Side of the Street", edited by Joan Copjec and
Mike Davis (New York and London: Verso, forthcoming).
Thanks to Ann Augustine, Gray Cassiday, Michael Sprinker,
and Ted Swedenburg for their suggestions, assistance and
support, and to the editors of "Postmodern Culture" for
their smart editing; and special thanks to the Center for
the Humanities at Oregon State University for the
fellowship that enabled me finally to get this piece done.
1 Gledhill's argument for the subversiveness of the
films noir of the forties and fifties may be found in
""Klute" I: A Contemporary Film Noir and Feminist
Criticism," in Kaplan's "Women in Film Noir", 6-21.
2 Here I feel bound to note that my argument
regarding these "neo-%noirs%" converges on that of Fredric
Jameson's concerning what he calls "nostalgia" films of the
'70s and '80s, but with a difference: I am less concerned to
relate their hollowed-out aesthetic of "pastiche" to any
larger and more global "cultural logic of Late Capital" than
to place that aesthetic within the particular commercial and
institutional context in which it makes its initial sense.
Cf. Jameson, "Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism", 19-20 and 279-96.
3 See Gitlin's account of the rise and fall of "Hill
Street Blues", and his argument that the "recombinant
aesthetics" of television production are the quintessence of
late capitalist cultural production, in "Inside Prime Time",
273-324 and 76-80 respectively.
4 "A Small Boy and Others: Sexual Disorientation in
Henry James, Kenneth Anger, and David Lynch," in Spillers,
ed., "Comparative American Identities", 142. This is the
place, moreover, to declare the general debt my reading of
"Blue Velvet" owes to Moon's insistent exploration of the
film's sexual-discursive "underside."
5 "Take something comforting, familiar, essentially
American," she writes, "and turn up the controls, the visual
volume. It's overheated technicolor . . . [e]very detail is
picture-perfect and it reeks of danger and failure." Quoted
from the anthology of responses compiled in "Parkett" 28
(1991), "(Why) Is David Lynch Important?", 154.
6 Mannoni's widely-cited formula first appears in his
"Clefs pour l'Imaginaire, ou L'Autre Scene" (Paris: Editions
du Seuil, 1969). For another recent consideration of
relationship of the circuitry of disavowal and enjoyment it
describes to postmodernist culture, see Jim Collins,
"Uncommon Cultures: popular culture and postmodernism" (New
York: Routledge, 1989), 110 ff..
7 The full sentence from which this quoted material
comes is worth quoting in full for the linkage Moon makes,
and claims the film makes, between the film's
sadomasochistic homoerotics and the mobile discursivity of
the desires it displays:
When Lynch has Frank mouth the words of the song a
second time [Ben having done so, to Frank's anguished
pleasure, back at the whorehouse a short time before],
this time directly to a Jeffrey whom he has ritually
prepared for a beating by 'kissing' lipstick onto his
mouth and wiping it off with a piece of blue velvet, it
is as though Lynch is both daring the viewer to
recognize the two men's desire for each other that the
newly discovered sadomasochistic bond induces them to
feel *and* at the same time to recognize the perhaps
more fearful knowledge that what most of us consider
our deepest and strongest desires are not our own, that
our dreams and fantasies are only copies, audio- and
videotapes, of the desires of others and our utterances
of them lip-synchings of these circulating, endlessly
reproduced and reproducible desires. (146)
8 Buttoning or quilting points: borrowed here from
Lacan through Zizek, who lifts the concept far enough out of
the bottomless and hopelessly occluded waters of Lacan's
narcissistic language-game to allow me to transliterate and
socialize it that much more towards a strictly ideological
sense. See especially Zizek's alternately insightful and
hilariously obscurantist essay "'Che vuoi?'," in "The
Sublime Object of Ideology", 87-129.
9 Not to mention noirish melodramas of the same
moment: see Mary Ann Doane's illuminating discussion of
these issues in "The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of
the 1940s" (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).
10 See the opening pages of his fine discussion of
"classical" film genres in "The World in a Frame", 104-24.
11 The hysterical panic provoked in (some) male
quarters by the appearance of Linda Hamilton's ninja warrior
in "T2" and Sarandon and Davis's incarnation as vengeful
bandidas in "Thelma and Louise" in the same summer of 1991
is a topic worthy of investigation in itself. For a sample,
see Joe Urschel's "USA Today" editorial, "Real men forced
into the woods," July 26-28, 1991, which argues, as far as I
can tell, half-seriously, that the powerful women and male-
bashing plots of movies the two aforementioned movies leave
men no choice but to join Robert Bly's mythopoetic "men's
movement" and return to nature! I am grateful to my friend
Gray Cassiday for bringing this phenomenon to my attention.
12 Here the comparative term might be Jennifer
O'Neal's fatal paralysis at the sight of her cloned self at
the climax of "The Stepford Wives" (1975).
13 Quoted, from the notes for the uncompleted
"Passagen-Werk", in Susan Buck-Morss, "The Dialectics of
Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project" (Cambridge,
MA: MIT, 1989), 375.
14 See the concluding section of "From Pillar to
Postmodern: Race, Class and Gender in the Male Rampage
Film," in "Socialist Review" and in "White Guys: Studies in
Postmodern Power, Choice, and Change" (forthcoming from
15 See "Plot and Patriarchy in the Age of Reagan:
Reading "Back to the Future" and "Brazil"," in my "Another
Tale to Tell: Politics and Narrative in Postmodern Culture"
(Verso, 1990), especially 235-36.
16 For a prescient early warning of this phenomenon,
first spotted in the high-cult realm of the visual arts, see
Lucy Lippard, "Rejecting Retrochic," in "Get the Message? A
Decade of Art for Social Change" (New York: E. Dutton,
1984), 173-78; and for a recent assessment of its presence
and effects in contemporary American popular culture, see
Suzanna Danuta Walters, "Premature Postmortems:
'Postfeminism' and Popular Culture," in "New Politics", 3.2
17 The distinction between the "classical" and the
"grotesque" body is drawn from Bakhtin and elaborated
brilliantly by Peter Stallybrass and Allon White in "The
Politics and Poetics of Transgression". What seems worth
noting here now, however, about the figure of "our Arnold"
and perhaps about other contemporary ideal-images of
contemporary white straight masculinity, is the degree to
which the "classical" and "grotesque" seem to be mutually
contained and containing within such figures, in a way that
seems connected to the broader thematic and political
argument I am making here.