abstracts

The following are three academic abstracts for a course of mine. These three items were chosen on the topic of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Hopefully, they will come in handy for a paper in the near future.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities Series. Seattle: University of Washington, 2000.

1. In two or three sentences, what is the central thesis of the work, or what is the major problem it is addressing? Essentially, Žižek is analyzing the film Lost Highway from a psychoanalytic perspective. Most scholars have studied Lynch’s work from a very strict, conservative position, so Žižek is criticizing their closed-minded interpretation. Instead, he is studying Lost Highway from a more flexible perspective, taking into account the important histories of psychoanalysis, film noir, and Lacan.
2. In two or three sentences, on what assumptions or points is the thesis of the work built, in logical order? Very early on, Žižek takes the position that films can have simultaneous opposite interpretations that still make sense; the focus of the film is not the exact series of events, but rather, how the audience (and the characters) understand the events. Žižek also makes the argument for psychoanalysis: “We can locate the need for psychoanalysis at a very precise point: what we are not aware of is not some deeply repressed secret content but the essential character of the appearance itself [sic]. Appearances DO matter” (page 6).
3. What are the major terms and concepts central to this work, and how does the writer define these terms? Žižek defines post-theory (and Lacan’s interpretation) through an anecdote about Casablanca, agreeing with scholar Richard Maltby’s conclusion that Casablanca (and film) “’deliberately constructs itself in such a way as to offer distinct and alternative sources of pleasure to two people sitting next to each other in the same cinema,’ […] Our only correction to Maltby would be that we do not need two spectators sitting next to each other: one and the same spectator, split in itself, is sufficient” (5).
4. What are the methods of research and argumentation and kinds of evidence used to develop and support the thesis of the work? Žižek provides a great deal of contextualization by referencing similar films, quoting (and summarizing) scholarly materials on film noir and Lynch, and thoroughly explaining his Lacanian analysis.
5.In your judgment, what are the limitations, shortcomings, errors, or weaknesses in the work? While Žižek provides many great examples to clarify his writing, these extraneous ideas can cause him to stray too far from his argument. Because psychoanalysis is such a common tool for film analysis, I wish that Žižek would have been explicit about how Lacanian interpretation is superior to typical Freudian readings; I think that the answer to this is implicit in Žižek’s work, but it could have been made more obvious. The book could also stand to be longer, as it seems that Žižek has much more he could say about Lost Highway and Lacan.
6. In your judgment, what are the major contributions of this work to your understanding of the field? Most critical work on Lynch is, frankly, incredibly closed-minded and judgmental. These critics spend far more time trying to understand the exact events of the film than the film itself. By breaking out of the cycle of the “what” and focusing on the “how”, Žižek is able to analyze Lost Highway much more thoroughly than most other scholars. After all, nontraditional films, like those of Lynch, beckon to be analyzed by nontraditional scholarly means. It seems to me that Žižek is one of the few people up to the challenge. Best of all, Žižek is able to tackle this difficult academic task while keeping his paper relatively straightforward and easy to read.

Rhodes, Eric Bryant. “[untitled review of Lost Highway.]” Film Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Spring 1999): pp. 57-61. JSTOR. 25 October 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1213603&gt;.

1.In two or three sentences, what is the central thesis of the work, or what is the major problem it is addressing? Rhodes is defending Lost Highway against the numerous film critics who dismissed it as impenetrable.
2.In two or three sentences, on what assumptions or points is the thesis of the work built, in logical order? Like Žižek, Rhodes asserts that films can have simultaneous opposite interpretations: “[Lynch] has designed a film with an open architecture in which equally plausible interpretations of the film can be constructed, and which enables the audience to use its imagination to fill in the blanks” (57).
3.What are the major terms and concepts central to this work, and how does the writer define these terms? Rhodes compares the cyclic structure of the film to the Möbius strip, which he defines as “a strip twisted 180 degrees and then looped by connecting the opposite ends” (59).
4.What are the methods of research and argumentation and kinds of evidence used to develop and support the thesis of the work? Rhodes uses specific examples from the film to support his reading. He also uses other scholars’ work to show the arguments he is refuting.
5.In your judgment, what are the limitations, shortcomings, errors, or weaknesses in the work? All reviews are innately subjective, as they are the opinion of the author.
6.In your judgment, what are the major contributions of this work to your understanding of the field? Rhodes’s review goes against the popular opinion of most reviews. By publishing such a review, Rhodes is providing the field a variety of opinion.

McGowan, Todd. “Finding Ourselves on a Lost Highway.” The Impossible David Lynch. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

1.In two or three sentences, what is the central thesis of the work, or what is the major problem it is addressing? McGowan asserts that Lost Highway is not pointless. Rather, he believes that Lynch is setting up parallel universes of desire and fantasy (as opposed to reality and fantasy).
2.In two or three sentences, on what assumptions or points is the thesis of the work built, in logical order? Fantasy and desire are not the same. Fantasy constantly brings us back to reality because of its imperfection. Thus, the film is cyclic because reality must return.
3.What are the major terms and concepts central to this work, and how does the writer define these terms? McGowan’s major concept is fantasy, which he defines as“not an escape from an unsatisfying social reality but a way of repeating it” (155).
4.What are the methods of research and argumentation and kinds of evidence used to develop and support the thesis of the work? McGowan uses psychoanalytic theory, as well as drawing examples from his viewings of the film and other writers’ reviews.
5.In your judgment, what are the limitations, shortcomings, errors, or weaknesses in the work? As is the case with many theorists, McGowan relies too heavily on Freud’s theories – particularly of the superego and the phallus. He does cite psychoanalyst Lacan, but his primary judgments remain too based upon Freud.
6.In your judgment, what are the major contributions of this work to your understanding of the field? McGowan indirectly addresses the idea of enjoyability near the beginning of his article, raising the question of whether a film must be immediately understood and enjoyed to be “good” (McGowan would answer in the negative.)

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