TABLE OF CONTENTS

MILESTONES

1986: David Lynch’s Blue Velvet

WHEN I WAS ATTEMPTING to learn to think, the idea of “the figure in the carpet” was standard critical fare. In the Henry James story of that name, a novelist gaily disses a young critic’s review, then explains that critics have always “missed my little point . . . an idea in my work [that] stretches . . . from book to book, and everything else, comparatively, plays over the surface of it.” Fascinated by this (ultimately undiscoverable) “general intention,” the critic imagines it as “something like a complex figure in a Persian carpet”—a pattern so deeply embedded in the art’s fiber as to be invisible, but informing the whole thing.

David Lynch’s 1986 movie Blue Velvet quite trashes that model. Everything’s up on the surface; the figure in the carpet is so explicit that to decipher is redundant. In fact, Blue Velvet recalls what the theorist Dick Hebdige, extrapolating from ’80s thinkers

Sign-in to keep reading

Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.

Not registered for artforum.com? Register here.

SUBSCRIBE NOW for only $50 a year—65% off the newsstand price—and get the print magazine plus full online access to this issue and our archive.*

Order the PRINT EDITION of the April 2003 issue for $17 or the ONLINE EDITION for $5.99.

* This rate applies to U.S. domestic subscriptions.