Last night my father and I watched Mulholland Drive together. Afterwards, standing at opposing ends of the kitchen, we fell into a conversation regarding the extent of interpretation one can carry out in regards to the film; and later in the conversation, in regards to paintings and literature.
I’m not the biggest cheerleader for David Lynch’s films, but I certainly don’t disparage them. He introduced notions into films that will leave him remembered as much as Fellini in the film world. But that doesn’t mean I’ll pop in a David Lynch film on my day off and enjoy myself. It’s like noticing an aesthetically pleasing woman on the subway; I won’t deny that she is beautiful, but I don’t want to take her home and show her my books. That being said, I admire his work, but the slightly formulaic (a particular formula he devised, of course) nature of his films tires me during the act of watching.
He suggested that the first part of the movie was the ‘dream sequence’, while the second was the ‘reality’, to which I responded that the same can be said of the reverse, and if anything it seemed as though the movie attempted to expand on a non-linear notion. Breaking the audience away from the need of a one-way arrow narration and diegesis. I wasn’t trying to imply that this was necessarily the intention of the movie, but this was the sense I got from it.
After each comment I made, his response would unfailingly be “I understand that and I agree with that, but…”, attempting to justify his linear understanding of the film despite my comment that perhaps Lynch is attempting to steer the audience away from the need of linearity. It was just a very back and forth conversation, hinging on argument, just because of the haze of justification that seemed to permeate through the kitchen.
Then the conversation tumbled down a few stairs and landed upon the subject of participation in the act of watching a film versus that of reading a text. I offered the opinion that the act of reading a text requires more participation and activity than that of watching a film, at the very least due to the constructed nature of the film; it’s ready-made.
When I tried to put it simply as “the text doesn’t really exist without the reader”, he understood it as an elementary aphorism, akin to “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
I just began reading a text that outlines reader-response criticism, and the last line of the first paragraph of the introduction went like so; “Its [a poems] ‘effects,’ psychological and otherwise, are essential to any accurate description of its meaning, since that meaning has no effective existence outside of its realization in the mind of the reader.”
Now, the essentiality of the effect is a strange thing to consider, because how would one measure the effect of a text on a reader? Do different readings imply paradoxical meanings, or a methodological text?
It does stand, in my opinion, that a text beckons the participation of a reader. A participation that involves a great deal more ‘giving-up’, so to speak, than one is often accustomed in current times. A book fools you because while you may hold the entire thing in your hands, turning it round and round, flipping through the pages, feeling the veil of raised text on paper, despite any immediacy the book may present for itself, there’s an unspoken amount of time that must be devoted to this book for one to truly ‘have it’.
 Reader Response Criticism; From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, edited by Jane P. Tompkins