Music as sinthome: joy riding with Lacan, Lynch, and Beethoven beyond postmodernism



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The films of David Lynch are full of ambiguities that derive from his habitual distortion of time, inversion of characters, and creation of ironic, dreamlike worlds that are mired in crisis. While these ambiguities have been explored from numerous angles, scholars have only recently begun to closely examine music's role in Lynch's cinematic imagination. This dissertation explores the relationship between music and fantasy through the lens of Lacanian psychoanalysis where fantasy plays a crucial role in helping psychoanalytical subjects work through their psychical crises. In particular, I look at Blue Velvet (1986), Lost Highway (1996), and Mulholland Drive (2001), showing how Lynch employs music to manage and, in the case of Mulholland Drive, move beyond the particular crises of jouissance experienced by the Characters--and also the viewers. Before engaging in my analysis of Lynch's film music, however, I begin with an extended discussion of what Kevin Korsyn describes as the current crisis of music scholarship, examining how this crisis manifests itself in recent "postmodern" interpretations of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Few works are invested with as much cultural capital as this one and arguably the discourse around it exhibits the crisis more acutely than any other. Korsyn restricts his analysis to the fields of musicology and music theory, but I approach the crisis of music scholarship obliquely, through my Lacanian reading of Lynch's film music. This dissertation, then, has two goals. On one hand it attempts to examine music's role in Lynch's films, and on the other, it explores how Lynch's use of music might aid us in navigating and moving beyond the institutional crises of music scholarship. This Lynchian solution to our crisis provides a glimpse of what might lie beyond postmodernism, a new philosophical movement some are calling the "New Sincerity." This term covers several loosely related cultural or philosophical movements that have followed in the wake of postmodernism, the most notable being what Raoul Eshelman and Judith Butler refer to as "performatism." Finally, I return to Beethoven's Ninth to offer a second, performative reading, demonstrating how Lynch's use of music can be translated into current musical discourse.