Ringing Psychic Cherries In The Communicatee

David Foster Wallace wrote a magazine profile in the 90s about David Lynch that is included in the book "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."  What he says about David Lynch the person doesn't interest me much.  But there are three paragraphs that I love where he speaks about his experience watching the film "Blue Velvet" in the theater in 1986 for the first time.  It's among the many thing that I revisit when I am feeling lost in my working process.  It reminds me of what I am reaching for and I thought I would share it here.  - Maria Dyer

Our Graduate MFA Program had been pretty much of a downer so far: most of us wanted to see ourselves as avant-garde writers, and our professors were all traditional commercial Realists of the New Yorker school, and while we loathed these teachers and resented the chilly reception our “experimental” writing received from them, we were also starting to recognize that most of our own avant-garde stuff really was solipsistic and pretentious and self-conscious and masturbatory and bad, and so that year we went around hating ourselves and everyone else and with no clue about how to get experimentally better without caving in to loathsome commercial-Realistic pressure, etc. This was the context in which Blue Velvet made such an impression on us. The movie’s obvious “themes”—the evil flip side to picket-fence respectability, the conjunctions of sadism and sexuality and parental authority and voyeurism and cheesy ’50s pop and Coming of Age, etc.—were for us less revelatory than the way the movie’s surrealism and dream-logic felt: they felt true, real.

And the couple things just slightly but marvelously off in every shot—the Yellow Man literally dead on his feet, Frank’s unexplained gas mask, the eerie industrial thrum on the stairway outside Dorothy’s apartment, the weird dentate-vagina sculpture hanging on an otherwise bare wall over Jeffrey’s bed at home, the dog drinking from the hose in the stricken dad’s hand—it wasn’t just that these touches seemed eccentrically cool or experimental or arty, but that they communicated things that felt true. Blue Velvet captured something crucial about the way the U.S. present acted on our nerve endings, something crucial that couldn’t be analyzed or reduced to a system of codes or aesthetic principles or workshop techniques. This was what was epiphanic for us about Blue Velvet in grad school, when we saw it: the movie helped us realize that first-rate experimentalism was a way not to “transcend” or “rebel against” the truth but actually to honor it. It brought home to us—via images, the medium we were suckled on and most credulous of—that the very most important artistic communications took place at a level that not only wasn’t intellectual but wasn’t even fully conscious, that the unconscious’s true medium wasn’t verbal but imagistic, and that whether the images were Realistic or Postmodern or Expressionistic or Surreal or what-the-hell-ever was less important than whether they felt true, whether they rang psychic cherries in the communicatee.

I don’t know whether any of this makes sense. But it’s basically why David Lynch the filmmaker is important to me. I felt like he showed me something genuine and important on 3/30/86. And he couldn’t have done it if he hadn’t been thoroughly, nakedly, unpretentiously, unsophisticatedly himself, a self that communicates primarily itself—an Expressionist. Whether he is an Expressionist naively or pathologically or ultra-pomo-sophisticatedly is of little importance to me. What is important is that Blue Velvet rang cherries, and it remains for me an example of contemporary artistic heroism.
— David Foster Wallace, Premiere Magazine, Sept. 1996