“Turning into Another Thing” in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man



David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980), like American Beauty and The Ring, demonstrates that critical consideration of the call for sustaining the play of Otherness in psychic life cannot be thought apart from conceptions of art/technology. Yet Lynch’s critique of denials of Symbolic mediation as they emerge in specious disciplinary genealogies remains distinctively thoroughgoing. Although, like American Beauty and The Ring, The Elephant Man challenges dismissals of visual arts/technologies as inherently deadening, Lynch’s film contests the coterminous idealizations of arts/technologies discernible in Mendes’s and Verbinski’s films, in effect deeming these moves equally static efforts to arrest the vitalizing transfer of drives to meaning. Lynch’s film also expands analyses of cinema’s history to include its relation to clinical and scientific arts/technologies and emphasizes how these cannot be removed from the exigencies of desire or from popular and subcultural knowledges of the body (STB, 3–4). And while The Elephant Man, like American Beauty and conventional accounts of cinema’s origin and its relation to other technologies of visibility, directly engages Eadweard Muybridge’s observable animal locomotion studies, Lynch’s film also considers the physiological studies of interior body movement that principally occupy The Ring.


Maternal Origin Psychic Life Film Camera Radical Ambiguity Final Scene 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Frederick Treves, “The Elephant Man” in Ashley Montagu, The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity (New York: Dutton, 1971), 13 (hereafter cited as TEM).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Peter W. Graham and Fritz Oehlschlaeger, Articulating the Elephant Man: Joseph Merrick and His Interpreters (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 25–26.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    FWilliam E. Holladay and Stephen Watt’s “Viewing the Elephant Man,” PMLA 104, no. 5 (1989): 868–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    Joseph Carey Merrick, “The Autobiography of Joseph Carey Merrick,” reprinted in Michael Howell and Peter Ford, The True History of the Elephant Man (London and New York: Alison and Busby, 1980): 168–69.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 108–09; hereafter cited as OL.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Constance Penley, The Future of an Illusion: Film, Feminism, and Psychoanalysis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 65.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Joel Pfister, The Production of Personal Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 118.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Tom Gunning, “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde,” Wide Angle 8, no. 3–4 (1986): 63–70.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Nicholas Daly, Literature, Technology, and Modernity (1860–2000) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Jean Laplanche and J.-B Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: WW Norton, 1973), 335–36.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    Tom Conley, Film Hieroglyphics: Ruptures in Classical Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Vincent J. Hausmann 2011

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations