What with the recent discussion around David Lynch's Twin Peaks coming back to TV, or something, I ended up having a parallel discussion about the appeal of David Lynch, the man I've credited with making compulsive weirdness-for-weirdness's-sake a mainstream thing. I suspect one of the results of his cultural impact has been stuff like the bizarro lit movement (the roots of which also stretch back to folks like Burroughs, the Surrealists, the Grand Guignol, Dada, etc.), but I'm finding it's possible to be a David Lynch fan and not care for any of that stuff at all.
I think I know why, now: it's because compulsive weirdness is every bit as straight in its own way as anything else.
The one insight I come back to often with one of the ur-influences in this realm, Burroughs's Naked Lunch, was that it was not written to impress anyone or get in with any particular crowd. It came out of the extremes of Burroughs's experiences. No target market existed for it at the time, and indeed it seemed for a while that there might never be any market for it at all if it ended up falling under the censor's ax.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the East Village: A self-selecting market popped up around both it and the rest of the works that fell loosely together under the guise of a "movement", one only called such by dint of the fact that many of the people in it hung out together. Still, there was no mistaking Burroughs for Kerouac, or either of those for Gregory Corso or Ferlinghetti. They weren't coming from the same places, they weren't trying to accomplish the same things, and they weren't trying to advance a particular labeled agenda. They may have been weirdos, and in many ways they did try to be weird, but they didn't try to be weird for the sake of appealing to people who had an existing taste for the weird.
You know what the problem is with cultivating a taste for the weird? The same problem you have cultivating a taste for anything else so equally identifiable: it makes you into a target market, and thus turns the resulting product into, well, a product, a commodity. Hence bizarro getting its own imprints and its own shelving, and while I'm fairly sure a lot of the folks involved in it are sincere enough about how strange they want to be, that doesn't make the finished results any less commodified. If they can take "weird" and put it on its own shelf — its own nice, safe, isolated, excluded shelf — then it's no longer "weird".
The whole point of weirdness, if you ask me, is that it's not on a shelf by itself. The reason Naked Lunch made such a splash was because it was proffered as Fiction/Literature, not Weirdness/Bizarro. That it sat on the shelf next to the likes of Nabokov and Burgess (and sometimes literally next to Burgess) was what made it special and dangerous.
To my mind the whole point of doing of something "weird" is not to do something "weird", but to do something original, or as close to original as can be had in a world where there is no climbing save on the shoulders of giants anyway. And once that somewhat-original thing has been accomplished, the point is not to lock it away behind a self-fulfilling genre label prophecy, or
Even self-professed lovers of the bizarre, I've found, fear the actual original thing when they come across it, for many of the same reasons as the more self-consciously straightlaced types. It's the idea of the original — the idea of being original by appreciating original things — that people more readily value than originality as such. I come back to this often because it affects us more broadly and more completely than we give it credit for. And now I wonder if it affects us all the more when we pride ourselves for being connoisseurs of the original.