Fire Walk with Me: Trauma, Catharsis and the Fantasy of Fantastical Kinship

This post was contributed by Louise Smith, a student on Birkbeck’s MA Creative Writing.

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Andrew Asibong and Hannah Eaton outside 43 Gordon Square during the fire alarm.

In a coincidence David Lynch would appreciate, Andrew Asibong and Hannah Eaton’s screening of the director’s seminal 1992 film Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me, was interrupted by a fire alarm at 43 Gordon Square. It was an amusing and unpredictable start to a Q and A, which focused on Lynch’s groundbreaking treatment of incest trauma and the influence he’s had on their own creative work.

Eaton’s graphic novel, Naming Monsters, was inspired by Lynch’s feminist treatment of the female body. Victim, Laura Palmer’s subjectivity, is central to the film’s power, creating a narrative that rejects judgment in favor of an empathy for the incest survivor’s quest; the battle to reform an identity obliterated by abuse trauma. Asibong said his novel, Mameluke Bath, was influenced by the film’s supernatural elements because, “Evil can only be represented in fantasy, the only form that’s possible is quite ridiculous.”

These feminist and genre-bending elements probably account for the film’s hostile reception at Cannes. Audiences booed and American critics were scathing, although The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley, whilst missing the point that artistic truth requires aesthetic vision at least acknowledged the film’s power, describing it as, “a perversely moving, profoundly self-indulgent prequel.”

But the cliché’ that time heals all wounds must ring true for Lynch since his savaging twenty years ago. Fire Walk With Me has a unique surreal vision that portrays the lonely nightmare of incest by merging fantasy and reality, relocating the monsters in the mind to the world outside. His aesthetic which mixes comedy, teen pop-culture and small town American Gothic not only influenced Eaton and Asibong but a whole generation of TV and film makers, from the producers of Northern Exposure and Six Feet Under to the Cohen Brothers.

Lynchian tropes that were considered self-indulgent are now the aesthetic mainstream. However, his many imitators have not achieved the mystical power of Fire Walk With Me, or replayed it’s central disturbing message, that the journey towards truth is a paradox, a horrifying ride where salvation can become merely the epilogue to destruction. As Alfred Hitchcock another genius auteur once said, “Reality is something that none of us can really stand.” Those who care to look can anticipate the re-release on DVD of Fire Walk With Me (with previously deleted footage) later this summer.

A podcast of the event is now available.

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TRANSITIONS 4 COMICA SYMPOSIUM

Saturday October 26 saw the return of the annual Transitions Comica Symposium to Birkbeck.  The symposium provides a space to promote emerging multi-disciplinary research in the field of comics studies, whether defined as comics, comix, graphic novels, manga, bande dessinée, or any other form of sequential art.  This is the fourth time the College has hosted the event, which has rapidly become a major event in the burgeoning field of comics studies.  The symposium is run in conjunction with Comica, the London International Comics Festival, organised by the inestimable Paul Gravett.  Transitions 4 was organised by me (Tony Venezia), Hallvard Haug (Birkbeck), and Nina Mickwitz (UEA), with the support of Birkbeck’s Centre for Contemporary Literature.  This year we had two informative keynote speeches; from Dr. Ann Miller (Leicester), on issues of translating French comics criticism and theory, and Dr. Paul Williams (Exeter), on the possible applications of Franco Moretti’s ‘distant reading’ for comics studies.

We ran parallel sessions throughout the day, with presentations from PhD students, early career lecturers, and graphic artists.  This was the largest Transitions yet, with nearly one hundred delegates and speakers in attendance from around the country and abroad, including a special deputation from Singapore.  This gave the conference a pleasing international flavour.

Special thanks to Joe Brooker, Carol Watts, Catherine Catrix, Roger Sabin, Ernesto Priego and everyone at The Comics Grid, and John Miers.

With the continuing support of the Centre for Contemporary Literature and Dr. Roger Sabin we hope to stage Transitions 5 next year.  Watch this space…

 Below are some comments from this year’s participants which sum up what a great day it was.

Tony Venezia

 

‘Transitions 4 was the biggest and most well-attended yet, with a refreshingly international feel. It was good to see bandes desinées, manga, and Singaporean manhwa all discussed in the same place, when the tendency is for these traditions to be dealt with in discrete conferences. The keynotes from Ann Miller and Paul Williams were of a very high quality, and, as ever, the audience discussion at the end was lively and thought-provoking, especially on the issue of how academic disciplines find it hard to deal with the topic of narrative drawing. Despite the challenging economic climate for the Humanities, comics scholarship is in a very healthy place – and Transitions is the proof. ‘

(Dr. Roger Sabin, Reader in Popular Culture at Central Saint Martins.  Respondent for all of the Transitions symposia.)

‘It was a pleasure to present at Transitions this year and to be a part of the growing research interests in domestic and international comics.  The symposium really highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary approaches, which was also represented by the wonderful diversity of presenters and delegates who attended.’

(Tara-Monique Etherington, PhD. Student, University of Exeter.  First-time speaker.)

‘I’ve never been to transitions before – it was interesting to go to conference outside my usual field and community of practice. The best part of it was talking to others working on similar projects.’

(Muna Al-Jawad, consultant Geriatrician at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, and practice-based doctoral researcher in Medical Humanities at Birkbeck.  First-time speaker.)

‘Transitions proved to be an engaging forum for learning about a diverse range of comics, as well as offering the chance to reflect on the place of comics in academic culture.  Though I’ve been writing on the Gothic for some years, comics studies is still fairly new to me and this was a really stimulating and supportive environment in which to give a paper. It was a great day – very well-attended – with a really fascinating diversity of presentations.’

(Rebecca Janicker, PhD. Student, University of Portsmouth.  First-time speaker at Transitions)

‘There was so much going on in terms of stimulating papers and discussion, not to mention the informal meeting of new people from what seems to be a very friendly and supportive comics studies community.’

(Michael Connerty, teaches courses on animation history and comics at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin.  First-time speaker)

‘This was my first time attending a conference as a speaker, and was truly a boost of inspiration – I gained new insights in the field as well as made new acquaintances with a shared interest in political cartoons that I will stay in touch with and discuss further research.’

(Rebecka Klette, studying BA History of Ideas at the University of Lund.  Coming to Birkbeck to study for a MA in the subject in 2014.  First-time speaker.)

‘A truly international symposium. I have learned much from the debates and exchanges at Transitions 4.’

(Lim Cheng Tju, Singapore editor for the International Journal of Comic Art and co-editor of Liquid City Volume 2 (Image Comics, 2010); postgraduate student at Institute of Education, University of London, 2013-14.  First-time speaker.)

‘I have enjoyed experiencing the development of Transitions from a modest platform for UK-based emerging comics scholars to a busy annual gathering of a diverse range of inter-disciplinary academics and practitioners linked by comics.’

(Nicola Streeten, graphic artist and PhD student at University of Brighton. Nicola presented at the first Transitions and has chaired panels at the last two.)

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