The Organ with No Body: Towards Virtual Worlds – Part 2

Part 2: The Organ with No Body

“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.” – (Jackson Pollock)

In his book, Understanding Media, McLuhan argues that our concentration on images and sounds, which has been intensified by TV, radio and cinema, leads to a reorganization of our sense ratios, mixing and mingling our sensual inputs within the whole nervous system more generally:

“For good or ill, the TV image has exerted a unifying synesthetic force on the sense-life of these intensely literate populations, such as they have lacked for centuries. It is wise to withhold all value judgements when studying these media matters, since their effects are not capable of being isolated.” (McLuhan, Understanding Media,pg. 420)

Over time, we may speculate a gradual subsidence in the emphasis of the separate sense organs, at least at the conceptual level, and instead a greater emphasis on the complete nervous experience. Experience in this respect should not be understood as a mingling of the 5 isolated sensual inputs – eye, ear, taste etc. – but instead as something closer to a pattern or an image itself – a neurological image perhaps of those brain circuits that light under given conditions. Moving from a concept of external bodily inputs, we shift conceptual focus to a neurological or nervous pattern, an organ with no body, an investigation into how the internal patterns and circuits are themselves sensual at the level of experience and in what ways these internal circuits may be ‘synesthetically’ blended. This recoil into the nervous pattern as a sensing agent is a recoil into the inner-world of dreams; it is not a matter of experiencing being touched, but rather to what extent an experience of touch can occur without being touched at all; to what extent experience may take place in the imagination alone.

David Lynch famously begins his film Blue Velvet,with Kyle MacLachlan’s character discovering a severed ear. Asked about the ear, Lynch says:

“It had to be an ear because it’s an opening. An ear is wide and as it narrows, you can go down into it. And it goes somewhere vast.” (Chris Rodley(ed), Lynch on Lynch,pg. 136)

The first important thing to notice about this description is that there is an actual severed sense organ – the ear. The ear is a point of access to the nervous system and brain – the world of dreams and images – and this is the ‘somewhere vast’ Lynch speaks of. Secondly, the way Lynch describes this ear, at the imaginary level, forces it to disappear in the same way it does at the visual level when the camera approaches and enters it. ‘An ear is wide and narrow’ – at the imaginary level it becomes an evocative and sensual tunnel before expanding out and vanishing into the nervous system. Everything that follows is all dream and image – a logic of patterns, textures and experience. The above description and the severance of the ear gives the internal, imaginary impression that the sensing organ has disappeared and that the obscure inter-relations of the dreaming mind have replaced it entirely.

This tendency is one that would be continued in Lynch’s later films and is true in particular of Lost Highway,. Here, pretty much everything takes place inside the mind of a man condemned to death. In this film, there is no real mention of any external world except for its symbolic interpretation and reinterpretation through the condemned man’s psychic faculties. The film is essentially about a man trying desperately to escape reality by reinventing it and failing. Lynch looks inward at the strategies of the unconscious for his drama, placing the viewer too in the inner workings of the unconscious as he looks out in an attempt to derive the tragic details of the protagonist’s life and his hopeless endeavour to repair them. We look outward from the imaginary and the experiencing nervous system, into a barely visible external real.

The logic of images then, encourages us to forget the body; the nervous system becomes the centre of sensation and shifts our emphasis from the objective analysis of the real to a subjective, mysterious and complex experience. Isabella Rossellini describes Lynch’s work:

“David’s films are more of a sensation than a story. They’re not anthropological or psychological researches into character. ” (Chris Rodley(ed), Lynch on Lynch,pg. 126)

With images, there is a disavowal or subjugation of the world of words (as Lynch is fond of saying ‘words get in the way’) and a related degradation of the analytical gaze. With this, we can also explain Lynch’s love of mystery, his association of ‘darkness’ with the dream and his tendency towards local settings and interiors:

“Some people, just by their nature, think … over thousands of miles, big problems and big situations. That just completely leaves me cold … I like to think about a neighbourhood – like a fence, like a ditch, and somebody digging a hole. ” (Chris Rodley(ed), Lynch on Lynch,pg.10)

The logic of images contains within its nature a tendency towards implosion, a retreat into the internal and the revelation of illogical, irrational, sensual truth. With this, meaning becomes experiential and not lineal. Purpose and the isolated senses flatten out into an overall nervous sensation whose conceptual topography is better conceived as a complex pattern of variant elements, not a straight line of intent [1]. As Lynch describes it:

“There’s always the surface of something and something altogether different going on beneath the surface. Just like electrons busily moving about, but we can’t see them. That’s one of the things films do, is show you that conflict.” (The City of Absurdity)

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[1] – There may be an explanation here for Lynch’s Straight Story: an old man travelling from point A to point B, full up with bloody minded purpose and intent. An experiment in blending abstraction with the traditional form of the conventional straight story.

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