Summer Intensive Workshop
“David Lynch and the Critique of Domination”
La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology
22500 Rue La Terre Road, Kiln, MS 39556
August 24-25, 2018

Description: This is an intensive weekend workshop based one version of the semester-long film analysis course, “Imaginary Voyages: Fantasy & Reality in Philosophy & Film.” The group will spend a three-day weekend viewing and undertaking an intensive analysis of the six films by David Lynch listed below. We will analyze the films using the theoretical framework, critique of domination, and interpretive guidelines described below. Participants are not expected to hold that this approach is the single best mode of film analysis, but they should be interested in experimenting with this mode and curious about the results that follow from it. We will meet from 9:30 AM Friday until 9:30 PM Sunday. Participants should be committed to active engagement in the process from the beginning to the end. Based on previous experience, it is expected that they will find it illuminating and gratifying. We will meet at La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology, which is located on 87 acres of forested land on Bayou La Terre, a small creek near Dedeaux, Mississippi, about 65 miles from New Orleans. The workshop will be facilitated by John Clark. For further information about registration, please contact

Theoretical Framework: In this intensive film analysis workshop, we will investigate the ways in which philosophy and film explore the interrelationship between fantasy and reality. More specifically, we will study the ways in which the Hegelian-Marxist critical-dialectical tradition and the Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalytic tradition shed light on this question. The course will focus on such topics as: fantasy and the fundamental fantasy; dreams and the dream work; ideology and the critique of ideology; fetishism and the fetishism of commodities; the spectacle; the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. We will explore the nature of the self (subject, ego) and the processes of generation of selfhood, the nature of the other (the objet petit a and the Big Other) and the processes of generation of otherness, and the dialectical interrelationship between self and other, subject and object. The main texts for the course include extensive discussion of these topics. It is highly recommended that students consult No Subject: An Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis at for further clarification of major concepts in Lacanian psychoanalysis.

The Critique of Domination: In the course of our inquiry, we will find a great many things in Lynch’s films, including many things that we were not looking for, or perhaps did not even want to find. However, our investigation will also involve a focused search. This search will relate in part to the questions of how the application of dialectical and psychoanalytic theory to the films reveals truths and realities, and how it also subverts conventional concepts of truth and reality. In addition, we will focus on one particular theme: the ways in which the films contribute to the critique of domination. The assumption behind this project is that fundamental to the history of civilization are certain forms of domination, including patriarchy, the state, nationalism, capitalism, racism, technological domination (including both the Megamachine and the Spectacle), and the domination of nature. Underlying Lynch’s depiction of the world is his belief that each person contains (as he expresses it) “a treasury, an ocean of pure bliss, consciousness, intelligence, creativity, love, happiness, energy, and peace.” Lynch’s films depict the ways in which forms of domination create a domineering ego that plunders this “treasury” and inflicts untold suffering on both self and others. Lynch’s story of domination is often difficult to endure. It is a “cinema of cruelty” in which the harsh and ruthless critique of domination is an essential moment. But it is, in the end, a cinema of cruelty at the service of compassion.

Logoanalysis: David Lynch was once asked in an interview whether his films really have meaning. His answer was that: 1) Yes, the films have meaning; 2) You already know what they mean; 3) People are intelligent; and 4) People like puzzles. This response will guide our analysis of the films. Our methodological assumption is that everything in the film has meaning. This includes every image, color, shape, sound, word, phrase, character, object, event, and movement, in addition to the interrelations between any of these. We will assume that not only do these elements have meaning, but they have coherent meaning that connects each with the larger system of meanings that constitutes the logostructure of the film. We will also assume that no meaning that is identified ever exhausts the full meaning of any element. To use Kantian language (without becoming Kantian), these assumptions are “regulative principles” that guide our interpretive action. However, our interpretations are in no way arbitrary and are subject, ideally, to rigorous verification, or, minimally, to well-supported justification. We will seek a consistency between the logic of the part and the logic of the whole. Thus, we assume, with Heraclitus, that there is a “common logos.” Based on this methodology, we will view and analyze six films by David Lynch: Eraserhead; The Elephant Man; Blue Velvet; Lost Highway; Mulholland Drive; and Inland Empire.

Recommended Reading:
John Clark, “It is What It Isn’t! A Defense of Dialectic” (from Review 31)
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (excerpt)
Terry Eagleton, “Psychoanalysis” (from Literary Theory: An Introduction)
Darien Leader and Judy Groves, Introducing Lacan
Bertell Ollman, “The Fetishism of Commodities” (from Alienation)
Matthew Sharpe, “Jacques Lacan” (from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Allen W. Wood, “The Master-Slave Dialectic” (from Hegel’s Ethical Thought)

Films for Analysis:
Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977, 89 min.)
The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980, 124 min.)
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986, 120 min.)
Lost Highway, (David Lynch, 1997, 135 min.)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001, 147 min.)
Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006, 180 min.)

Recommended Reference Source:
No Subject: An Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (

Some Recommended Films:
An Andalusian Dog (Luis Buñuel and Salvadore Dali, 1928, 21 min.)
Decasia (Bill Morrison, 2003, 70 min.)
La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962, 27 min.)
Promising Actress (John Vanderslice & Magik Magik Orchestra, 2004, 4 min., on YouTube)
School of Rock (Richard Linklater, 2003, 109 min.)
The Seashell and the Clergyman (Germaine Dulac, 1926, 32 min.)
Street of Crocodiles (The Quay Brothers, 1986, 21 min.)
The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999, 112 min.)
Swimming Pool (François Ozon, 2003, 103 min.)
Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990, 124 min.)
The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming et al., 1939, 101 min.)



9:30 Arrival and (dis)orientation
10:30 Discussion of critical and dialectical theory
12:30 Lunch
1:15 Discussion of psychoanalytic theory
3:15 Break
3:30 Viewing of Eraserhead
5:30 Analysis of Eraserhead
7:30 Dinner
8:15 Viewing of The Elephant Man
10:30 Closing reflections


7:30 Breakfast
8:15 Analysis of The Elephant Man
10:30 Break
10:45 Viewing of Blue Velvet
1:00 Lunch
1:45 Analysis of Blue Velvet
4:00 Break
4:15 Viewing of Lost Highway
6:45 Dinner
7:30 Analysis of Lost Highway
11:00 Closing Reflections


7:30 Breakfast
8:15 Viewing of Mulholland Drive
10:45 Break
11:00 Analysis of Mulholland Drive
1:30 Lunch
2:15 Viewing of Inland Empire
5:15 Break
5:30 Analysis of Inland Empire
8:30 Dinner and Final Reflections
9:30 End of workshop