GLIMPSES OF THE MYSTERY
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Part Twelve was...well...a little odd. From the glacial pacing of many key scenes, to some glaring discontinuities, to the inclusion of scenes that collectively mention up to ten new characters we've never seen nor heard from to date, to apparent reruns of Roadhouse bands and Dr. Amp's vlog, to bizarre manicures, Part Twelve offered us plenty of head-scratching opportunities. Just what we should expect, I guess, from an episode that has the same "red light" (upper left corner) establishing shot of the Hotel Mayfair at the beginning and right near the end.
Here are a baker's dozen of the things I found puzzling over the course of this oddball episode--twelve proper plus a bonus! What oddities did you notice?
1. Discontinuous wine consumption--To toast Special Agent Tammy Preston's joining the elite ranks of the Blue Rose Task Force, Albert pours Gordon a tiny little glass of wine which proceeds to morph into a full glass just seconds later. It's right out of the gate and pretty glaring, but not obviously meaningful in any way. Just sloppy editing, or something more?
2. Diane's weird "Let's Rock!" hand gesture--The chilling Lodge soundtrack and Diane's hardened expression were creepy enough without the addition of this inscrutable hand gesture. Have we seen it before? Not exactly, to my knowledge, but it reminds me of Red's preoccupation with hand "guns".
3. Discontinuity at the convenience store--Sarah Palmer's terrifying trip to the convenience store witnesses a chilling change of scenery behind the clerk shortly after Sarah says "The room seems different." and "Men are coming." At first, there seems to be another checkout line behind the young woman at the counter, but after Sarah's warning, just seconds later, there appears to be another wall of wine and liquor on the opposite side of the store from where Sarah picked up her Smirnoff. It could just be that the camera angles are different, but I worked pretty hard to try to find a way for that huge wine section to be behind the woman, and I couldn't imagine how it would work.
4. Two incidental turkey references in two weeks?!--Sarah Palmer freaks out about the addition of turkey jerky to the options at the checkout and asks "Is it smoked?". Just last week in Part Eleven, we saw a symbol of a turkey entering diseased corn, calling to mind Laura Palmer's bizarre claim to James Hurley that she's "Long gone, like a turkey in the corn" in Fire Walk With Me.
5. Time out-of-joint in Vegas?--In an episodes with so many early discontinuities, I had my eyes peeled for other temporal strangeness and was surprised to see Sonny Jim Jones wearing exactly the same outfit in Part Twelve (top photo) as he was wearing in Part Five (bottom photo): notice that the shirt, jeans, and shoes are the same.
6. Something in the kitchen?--What on earth was that menacing ruckus in the kitchen that prompted Hawk's concern that someone else might be in the house? As if the preternaturally loud ceiling fans weren't terrifying enough!
7. Kriscol's plasma?--Who is Kriscol and why is a scene devoted to telling him to keep his blood? I loved the scene, because I'll watch anything and everything I can get with Carl Rodd in it, but we already know from any number of amazing scenes (consoling the dead hit-and-run boy's mother, helping Shelly in the clutch, etc.) that he is a supremely good guy (so there's no need to reestablish that), and we know nothing whatsoever about Kriscol, so it just seemed a bit gratuitous somehow unless something important is going to come of it. But what?
8. Ben Horne's reticence--Why does Ben Horne neglect to tell Sheriff Truman that Richard beat up his own grandmother before going on the lam? What does he stand to gain from withholding information on Richard from the Sheriff's department? Or is he just too disoriented to keep his wits about him? He seems to recall that two-tone lime and forest green bike with the fat tires well enough.
9. Gordon Cole's French connection--Far be it from me to criticize Director Cole's late night company, but the strangeness of this scene was on a par with the "Lil" scene in Fire Walk With Me where Cole and Desmond communicate about the Teresa Banks case with the unorthodox aid of a dancer in a red dress with a blue rose on her lapel. I was thinking of Lil the entire time, but after this woman finally succeeded in making her dramatic exit to the bar, the uncanny interchange between Cole and Albert, with all the talk of mothers and daughters and turnip farms and all the blinking and intense eye communication sealed the deal: this entire scene was in code, right?
10. Pretty much everything about Audrey and Charlie but especially all the new characters!--Aside from the fact that this was not the triumphal return for Audrey that many had envisioned (though I still think Sherilyn Fenn killed it), and that her "lawfully wedded husband" Charlie is probably not the guy you'd pick to win a contest of suiters involving a head-to-head with the likes of Special Agent Dale Cooper or John Justice Wheeler, who the bloody blue blazes are "Tina," "Paul," and "Chuck?" and what is going on in this storyline that seems to be arriving just a little too late in the game? When you add these three who's-its from Audrey and Charlie's bizarre love pentagon to "Abbie," "Natalie," the less-than-fully-flourishing-but-at-least-now-free-from-house-arrest "Trick," and their pals absentee "Angela," the double-timing philanderer "Clark," and his side project "Mary," you've got a soap-opera full of brand new characters with just a third of the series to go. Not sure who all these folks are, but they're probably all super tight with Kriscol. Or maybe they're the people stiffing Kriscol for his work around the New Fat Trout. WHO KNOWS?!
11. Dr. Amp reruns already?!--There must have been a writer's strike at the ol' "Where's Your Freedom?" vlog, because virtually all of the footage from Dr. Amp's lengthy appearance was either recycled or just very modestly tweaked from previous appearances. The still below of the good Doc at his broadcast bench is from Part Twelve, but the same sequence appears more or less verbatim in Part Five. Initially, I thought that the Nadine footage was from the same take as well, but double checked to find that she's wearing a different outfit and drinking a different flavor dinner shake in Part Five.
12. Diane's left thumbnail--We've borne witness to a fair number of odd things happening on the left lately, but what in the world is going on with Diane's left thumbnail? Is that a covert camera lens? Or some sort of gem-implant? Brrrrrrr. Chilly.
BONUS: Chromatics (again) playing instrumental covers? I can't get enough of Chromatics ("Shadow" is basically still the soundtrack of my life two months later) so I ain't exactly complaining, but it is a little weird that in this particular outing, the band is not even playing one of their own songs, but rather an instrumental cover of one of Chromatics' bassist and producer Johnny Jewel's other bands' songs, namely "Saturday" by Desire. The lyrics of the song they aren't singing, though, certainly would have added to the chill if they had sung them. Among the more ominous lines are "Baby, someone is stealing you at night." and "I've got a bad feeling about Saturday."
"Sitting in front of a fire is mesmerizing. It's magical. I feel the same way about electricity. And smoke. And flickering lights." --David Lynch (Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, 127, 2006)
"Twin Peaks is still out there. Haunted, full of shivers and delights, a candle glimpsed in a log cabin window, while passing through a deep and darkening wood. Some dreams survive. --Mark Frost (Foreword to The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, iii, 2011)
Hawk's discussion with Sheriff Truman of his "very old but always current" map in Part Eleven (25:10-30:08) is a crucial and most illuminating addition to the guiding Twin Peaks mythology surrounding fire. This scene thus offers the perfect prompting to revisit some other prominent pieces of the fire puzzle in Twin Peaks, illuminate them in view of the new information that Hawk presents to Sheriff Truman, and finally set them into the broader context of the rich mythological and evolutionary history of fire in human experience. Along the way, I hope to shed some light on a handful of puzzling questions about Twin Peaks, including those of (1) how the need for fire betrays a fundamental lack at the heart of the human experience, (2) how fire transforms the human relation to time (specifically, how fire illuminates "the darkness of future past"), (3) how this transformed relation to time expands human freedom (and thus feeds the "magician's longing to see"), (4) how the desire to "walk with fire" is indicative of humanity's ambiguous placement "between two worlds", and (5) how fire (and its kinetic analogues, such as electricity) are functioning in the valuation of good and evil and the conflict between them in Twin Peaks.
The symbol of fire is ubiquitous throughout the narrative of Twin Peaks, showing up in prominent ways in each of its filmic iterations, including both seasons of the original run (1990-1991), the feature film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and now abundantly in Twin Peaks-The Return (2017), as well as in its textual supplements, including Jennifer Lynch's The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (1990) and Mark Frost's The Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016). (Though some might reject the idea that The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer deserves inclusion among primary sources overseen by the series creators, I take it that Lynch and Frost view the diary as of a piece with their work (in spirit, at least, if not always in literal detail) given that each grants the diary his imprimatur in a dedicated foreword to the new edition issued in 2011. Frost calls the book "another bright pane in [Twin Peaks'] hall of mirrors" (iii) and Lynch goes even further, claiming that "Jennifer Lynch found The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer in the heart and mind of Laura herself." (iv))
Though the symbol of fire is handled in nuanced ways throughout these respective treatments, it seems fair to observe a trajectory across the works from earliest to latest in which fire is initially most often associated with evil (or at least antisocial transgression of established norms) but comes to be portrayed increasingly in a more ambiguous light as an instrument of great power that, while very dangerous and susceptible to corruption, can be used for good or ill. More concretely, where early works such as the original series, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, and Fire Walk With Me explore fire primarily as a symbol of evil, contemporary incarnations of the world of Twin Peaks such as The Secret History and The Return give us a more complicated picture in which fire, though often a corrupting force, is potentially also a force for good, and even perhaps a primordial source of goodness. It is fitting, somehow, that things have gotten a little more complicated in the twenty-five-plus years since Twin Peaks shattered the innocence of television and ushered in an era of experimentation now fully into middle age and at the height of its powers.
Perhaps the quintessential reference to fire in the original series takes place during Cooper's dream in the third episode of season one, where Mike--the one-armed-man--performs his infamous soliloquy over a slumbering Cooper, introducing BOB and acquainting us with the incendiary yearnings of the people from another place ("inhabiting spirits"), the dwelling where they live, and Mike's divine conversion away from a life chasing fire with his devilish former partner: 'Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see, one chants out between two worlds: 'Fire, walk with me.' We lived among the people, I think you say "convenience store." We lived above it. I mean it like it is, like it sounds. I too have been touched by the devilish one, tattoo on the left shoulder. Ohhh, but when I saw the face of God, I was changed. Took the entire arm off. My name is Mike. His name is Bob." (S1S03, 40:17-42:00) Seconds later, BOB announces his nefarious intent to "catch you with my death bag" and promises "to kill again," as the flames on a ring of twelve candles surrounding a mysterious mound of dirt flicker and suddenly extinguish into thin columns of smoke. When Cooper, Harry, Hawk and Cole finally apprehend Mike's host, Philip Gerard, and deprive Gerard of his antipsychotic Haloperidol prescription (following the Giant's clue that "without chemicals he points"), Mike emerges and spills the beans on his former partner, describing BOB as a parasitic inhabiting spirit who feeds on "fear and the pleasures", consuming and dissipating the life-force of his host like a raging fire turns wood to ash and smoke. (42:04-46:30)
We get a much more intimate and terrifying picture of BOB as a consuming fire in The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, which rocketed onto the New York Times Bestsellers List in 1990 propelled by unanticipated public obsession with the question "Who killed Laura Palmer?" in the wake of the scintillating first season. What readers found in the diary, however, was not the coffee, quirk, and teen angst many sought, but the harrowing consumption unto death of a brilliant and mercilessly abused young woman who fueled BOB's fire by cleaving herself in two, living a double life of school and volunteerism by day and drug-trafficking and sex work by night to escape (and explore) the inferno within her. Described in her own words in a series of journal entries logged from her twelfth birthday to just before her death at age eighteen, Laura's exposure to fire comes in many forms, from the kindling of her desire to be touched at age thirteen while standing naked before three older men in the flickering shadows of a campfire (34), to the sparks of a psychic bond forged in shared dreams with Margaret Lanterman who mysteriously carries a log since her husband--a fireman--was tragically killed fighting a blaze (45), to the wildfire of insanity-inducing conversations with BOB himself (or at least the consumptive self-loathing he burned into her), whose words she records exclusively in capital letters:
Laura: "When you first came to me, I was not doing bad things! I was a baby girl! I was nothing...I was all goodness...I was happy!"
Laura: "I could talk to you forever and never learn a thing."
BOB: "SOMEONE OF WISDOM IS ALWAYS MORE DIFFICULT TO COMMUNICATE WITH. THIS IS THE FIRE YOU MUST WALK THROUGH."
Laura: "I don't want to hear about fire."
BOB: "THEN YOU DON'T WANT THE ANSWER."
Laura: "Who are you...really?"
BOB: "I AM WHAT YOU FEAR I COULD BE." (156)
The vision of fire that emerges in these early works is one of a consumptive, destructive, even evil force, one that lures us in with bright, promising sparks of illumination, discovery, and exhilarating self-transcendence only then to catch flame and blaze into a blinding inferno of forbidden knowledge, derangement, and annihilating self-transgression. This vision of fire comes into heart-rendingly sharp relief at the decisive moment in Fire Walk With Me when Margaret Lanterman intercepts Laura on her way into the Roadhouse just hours before her death in an abandoned train car in the woods. In a scene that is all the more poignant for those who have learned from the Secret Diary of the special psychic bond the two share, Margaret puts her hand lovingly to Laura's forehead like a vigilant mother checking for a fever, and offers a terrible beauty of a lament: "When this kind of fire starts, it is very difficult to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then all goodness is in jeopardy." Twelve hours later, Pete Martell finds her ashen corpse wrapped in plastic. Jeopardy, indeed.
If Lanterman's vision of Laura's imminent immolation is bleak, however, it is fascinating to observe that she seems to acknowledge the possibility of a different species of fire ("When this type of fire starts..."), or at least the potential for a more genuine relationship to fire reserved for the wise and mindful--those who have already pruned the tender boughs of innocence through experience and taken adequate precautions against the flames rising too fast, against becoming fuel for a blaze they naively or rapaciously tried to use as a tool. To make matters still more intriguing, in addition to her special connection with Laura, Lanterman essentially functions as an oracle for the two characters in the series who most convincingly lend themselves to being interpreted as exemplars of this different, wiser, more mindful relationship to fire: Major Garland Briggs and Deputy Chief Tommy "Hawk" Hill. Though Briggs and Hill will get considerably more attention in this essay, it is worth mentioning as well that Lanterman shares a less oracular though no less profound connection with a third potential exemplar of this relation, Carl Rodd--owner of the New Fat Trout Trailer Park--who was abducted as a child with Lanterman and another classmate (since deceased) in the woods outside Owl Cave in 1947. (The Secret History of Twin Peaks, 142-151)
Serendipitously, the two primary sources of Twin Peaks that remain to be discussed--The Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks-The Return--map nicely onto Briggs and Hawk respectively: Briggs turns out to be "the Archivist" who compiled the dossier that constitutes the former; and Hawk has emerged in the latter as the primary investigator and interpreter--with regular guidance from Lanterman--of the BOB-fire connection between Leland and Laura Palmer and Special Agent Dale Cooper. What's more, while Briggs and Hawk are similar in their expressions of a wiser relationship to fire--one that recognizes the value of its utility under proper care but respects its destructive power and even wisely fears its employment beyond its proper limits--Briggs and Hawk take decidedly different approaches to modeling this relationship--approaches that are well-calibrated to their unique personalities, vocations, talents, and gifts. Where Briggs is an analytically-minded scientist, strategist, documentarian, and moralist, Hawk is an intuitively-minded artist, spiritualist, seer, and storyteller. On paper, they couldn't look more different from one another. What they share in common resonates on a deeper plane, not attributes of being but a fundamental way of being: each has rigorously come to know himself through the careful discernment of his gifts and limits, thus enabling him genuinely to be open to what the world and others have to teach, and vigilantly to make ready for opportunities that the cosmos puts in front of him to gear his unique perspective and talents into the flourishing of the whole.
That Briggs knows himself intimately and has transcended the facade of toxic, grasping masculinity that consigns many men of his station to a life of aggressive one-dimensional fragility couldn't be more obvious. From his freely shared vision of light for his embattled son Bobby to his rejection of vainglorious careerism (both of which are back at center stage in Part Nine of The Return), Briggs is a man who is both intellectually and emotionally clear about what matters to him, why it matters, and what in particular he is called to do about it. These qualities are on open display in his fascinating interchange with Lanterman over coffee at the R&R in Episode Nine of Season One. In what appears to be a test of character designed to discern whether Briggs is worthy of receiving prophecy from the log, she observes his medals and says "You wear shiny objects on your chest. Are you proud?". His reply is classic Briggs--"Achievement is its own reward. Pride obscures it."--and serves as intuitive confirmation to Lanterman that her log has found its proper audience. Its message to Briggs? "Deliver the message." Briggs understands, as open to taking counsel from a log as he was to welcoming its wonderful and strange bearer to coffee.
As the overseer of Project Bluebook--a top-secret government investigation of paranormal activity around Twin Peaks and far beyond--Briggs is well versed in compiling and delivering messages. One such message is the 350-page dossier published in The Secret History of Twin Peaks--an archive that traces the mysteries of Owl Cave across time from Meriwether Lewis's journey through the fire and into the cave on October 1, 1805 to Briggs' prognostication in 1989 of a present-day journey there that Hawk, Bobby, and Frank Truman (as well as, we anticipate, Gordon, Albert, Tammy, and Diane and the guests of honor, Cooper and Mr. C.) will make on October 1 in The Return. The realization that dawns on Briggs in his final entry in the dossier on March 28, 1989, just minutes after meeting with Cooper (we now know it was Mr. C.) and just a day before he allegedly died in a fire at Bluebook's Listening Point Alpha (we now know he escaped the fire into "hibernation" in "The Zone"), is this: though he had believed that the transmission he received "from somewhere in the surrounding woods of Ghostwood Forest" (353) just before his abduction--those strings of numbers intermittently interrupted by the words "Cooper/Cooper/Cooper"--was an indication that Cooper would replace the recently deceased Douglas Milford as his partner in Project Bluebook, the meeting with Cooper (Mr. C.) made it clear to him that "the message holds the answer, just as I thought, but I've misinterpreted it. Protocols are in place. I must act quickly." Among those quickly taken actions, surely, was the sending of a message to the future that only Betty Briggs could deliver, only Bobby Briggs could retrieve and decipher, and only Hawk could properly receive as a dire warning that a malevolent double of Cooper would be confronting them there with intent to take possession of black fire. (358-359)
Major Briggs, you see, is wise enough to know that no one can harness the fire alone, that the very best one can do is to open the way for those in one's circle of influence to discover their unique paths to it and through it in challenging and often mysterious concert and community with others--an approach precisely the opposite of BOB's workings in Laura: selfish, secretive, isolating, rapacious, degrading, and exhaustively consumptive. When one considers that Laura had the steam, barely beyond girlhood, even with BOB hellbent on consuming her, to feed the hungry (Meals on Wheels), heal the sick (Johnny Horne), comfort the imprisoned (Harold Smith), and even love her enemies (the Secret Diary contains some shocking passages in which Laura, apparently clear-headedly, describes degradations visited on her as opportunities to bring mothering love to dark places and broken people--"sleazy men who are actually crying babies," 38, 112), it is not particularly surprising that she (or someone very like her) should be chosen by the oldest of the old for redemptive work of cosmic significance. It's enough to make one wonder whether there was more to BOB's targeting of her than the just the happenstance that she is Leland's daughter, whether perhaps Leland was targeted because he would be Laura's father, whether the largely secret, mostly isolated, but nonetheless fiercely resolute and relentless fire-fighting unto death of Laura's childhood is preparation for an enigmatic chapter yet to unfold, a resurrection into a community of fellow fire-fighters, all now converging--as Lanterman says to Hawk, "there is fire where you are going!".
Perhaps we should try to imagine our way to a radical transformation of vision--a shift in our gestalt from a lost girl full of dirty secrets to a young woman learning to preserve and unfold a great mystery; from a charred husk of a man enabling BOB to consume his daughter to a father so determined and loving that he finds a way to break through forty years of deep dissociation at the moment on which everything hinges and knowingly end the earthly life of the person he loves most in the world ("Don't make me do this!") in order to save her from a fate far worse than death (possession by BOB, the end game from the beginning) and preserve the possibility for her to finish her appointed task in another place and time. What if these temporal tragedies that we have received always and only as unspeakable secrets shelter deeper, other-worldly mysteries with redemptive possibilities we have scarcely imagined? And what would it be like to learn to experience the world at large in this way? The significance of this crucial difference between secrets and mysteries is powerfully conjured by Garland Briggs at the decisive moment in the dossier when he turns away from discussions of Lewis and Clark and the Nez Percé to cataloging the events in and around Twin Peaks traceable to BOB (whose first known host seems to have been a grifter and failed gold miner known as "Denver Bob Hobbes," 58-65). Says Briggs on the outset of this new section of the dossier: "Moving forward in time, it is important that we learn to distinguish between mysteries and secrets. Mysteries precede humankind, envelop us and draw us forward into exploration and wonder. Secrets are the work of humankind, a covert and often insidious way to gather, withhold or impose power. Do not confuse the pursuit of one with the manipulation of the other." (Frost, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, 58.)
There is no more perfect segue into illuminating the pivotal discussion of fire between Hawk and Truman that begins with the displacement of a computer at center screen by the unfurling of an ancient map. Staring into his screen, Truman gazes at the secret location, the coordinates for which (as we know even if he doesn't) Mr. C. is killing people with impunity in order to discover--targeting anyone with even minimal utility (Darya, Phyllis Hastings, Ray, Warden Murphy, Duncan Todd, eventually Hutch and Chantal, and who knows who else), objectifying them into pure instruments of his will, exploiting them until their utility is exhausted, and then annihilating them. Of this secret location harboring an occult power for the sake of which many lives are being desecrated, Truman says: "By my reckoning, this is where we're headed. But there's no road. The road is gone." Low and behold, in the age of information, we have arrived at a location that Google maps can't countenance and that civil engineers can't help us traverse.
But where the power of technology to lay secrets bare ends, there mythology can elevate and focus our vision on the deeper mysteries. Says Hawk, "The information that Major Briggs gave got me thinking. We'll understand a lot more when I explain my map. This map is very old but it is always current. It's a living thing." If there's a better brief description of mythology than "a very old but always current living thing," I'm not aware of it, and Hawk proceeds to deliver a master course in illuminating figurative seeing:
Truman: "Looks like a campfire. What is this?"
Hawk: "It's not a campfire. It's a fire symbol."
Truman: "What's that mean?"
Hawk: "It's a type of fire. More like modern day electricity."
Hawk: "It depends upon the intention. The intention behind the fire. The Major also gave us a date. The day after tomorrow. If you read these stars, you find that same date. It refers you to here [*points to corrupted corn*]."
Truman: "What is that?"
Hawk: "It's corn, it's fertility, but it's black, diseased or unnatural. Death. If you put these two symbols together [*points to fire and black corn*], you get this [*points to black fire*].
Truman: "Black fire."
Truman: "We saw this [*points to the symbol that is similar to Mr. C.'s modified ace of spades*] on that little slip of paper we took out of Major Briggs' tube. What is that?"
Hawk: "Frank, you don't ever want to know about that."
Several of Hawk's insights here invite our rapt attention. First, fire is not to be understood literally, but rather as a symbol for a constellation of different phenomena (including "modern day electricity") that grant to human beings the transformative power to convert one form of energy into another, and thus the life-changing freedom to concentrate, store, and deploy that energy as a resource on demand. Second, this transformative power (in whatever form it takes: fire, electricity, oil, fission, etc.) is in itself neither good nor evil; it is--at least at first--an instrument of the intentions of those who wield it, and can thus serve good, evil, or indifferent purposes in keeping with the goals for which it is mobilized. Third, this transformative power is inherently dangerous and potentially transgressive--whatever intentions may lie behind its use, its deployment has the potential to range beyond and thwart those intentions, corrupting and even annihilating the the people and things it was mobilized to sustain and enhance (often even without our realizing it until we're choking on the smoke of its unintended consequences). Fourth, there are uses of this power and mysteries at its origin that the wise should never even contemplate much less attempt to appropriate or control on peril of unleashing oblivion--not just annihilation of the ones suffering or wielding the power, but the total effacement and forgetting of the world as such and everything good, true, and beautiful within it. (That Hawk explicates these insights by recourse to the symbols of corn and "black fire"--a metaphor resonant with engine oil, among many other things including dark magic and the left-hand path--may call to mind our previous discussion of "The Pain and Sorrow of Convenience: Oil and Corn as Avatars of Atomic-Age Suffering in Twin Peaks.")
Having now blazed a trail through some highlights of fire's employment in the narrative of Twin Peaks, we may gain some concluding insight into the mysteries of fire therein by situating this narrative in view of some older stories about its transformative power. Fire, as it happens, is one of humanity's most ancient and abiding symbols of the essential lack at the heart of human existence, the ambiguity of human longing that arises from that lack, and the destructive potential of inordinate human desire--desperate wanting that obsessively yearns to possess what cannot wisely or rightly be owned in hopes of filling the insatiable lack at the heart of human being. To bring these features of fire into view, we'll consult two very different ancient stories that are nonetheless remarkably similar in their implications: the Greek myth of Prometheus (as told by Ingrid and Edgar Parin D'Allaire) and a rendering of fire's role in the history of human evolution (as told by Yuval Noah Harari). I'll let them speak in their own voices in the following two long quotations and then follow up to tease out a few final insights.
Prometheus Brings Fire to Humankind (D'Allaire's Book of Greek Myths, 71-72)
"Man's creator and his best friend was the Titan Prometheus. Zeus had given Prometheus and his brother, Epimetheus, the task of repopulating the earth after all living creatures had perished in the early battles of the gods. He gave the two brothers great measures of gifts to bestow upon their creations, and they went down to earth and began to make men and beasts out of river clay. Wise Prometheus modeled men with great care in the shape of the gods. Epimetheus rapidly made all kinds of animals and without any foresight he lavished the good gifts upon them. When Prometheus had finished shaping man, he found that there were few of the good gifts left. Animals could run faster, see, smell, and hear better, and had much more endurance. Besides, they were kept snug in their warm coats of fur, while men shivered in the cold nights. Prometheus was sorry for mankind and he went to Zeus and asked him if he might have some of the sacred fire for his poor creations. But Zeus said no, fire belonged to the gods alone. Prometheus could not bear to see his people suffer and he decided to steal fire, though he knew that Zeus would punish him severely. He went up to Olympus, took a glowing ember from the sacred hearth, and hid it in a hollow stalk of fennel. He carried it down to earth, gave it to mankind, and told them never to let the light from Olympus die out. No longer did men shiver in the cold of night, and the beasts feared the light of the fire and did not dare to attack them. A strange thing happened: as men lifted their eyes from the ground and watched the smoke from their fires spiraling upward, their thoughts rose with it up to the heavens. They began to wonder and think, and were no longer earth-bound clods."
Fire and Evolution (Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, 12-13)
"Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens, by contrast, is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. [...] A significant step on the way to the top was the domestication of fire, [which gave humans] a dependable source of light and warmth, and a deadly weapon against prowling lions. [...] A carefully managed fire could turn impassable barren thickets into prime grasslands teeming with game. [...] But the best thing fire did was cook. The advent of cooking enabled humans to eat more kinds of food, to devote less time to eating, and to make do with smaller teeth and shorter intestines. Some scholars believe there is a direct link between the advent of cooking, the shortening of the human intestinal track, and the growth of the human brain. Since long intestines and large brains are both massive energy consumers, it's hard to have both. By shortening the intestines and decreasing their energy consumption, cooking inadvertently opened the way to the jumbo brains of Neanderthals and Sapiens. Fire also opened the first significant gulf between man the other animals. [...] When humans domesticated fire, they gained control of an obedient and potentially limitless force. Unlike [other animals], humans could choose when and where to ignite a flame, and they were able to exploit fire for any number of tasks. Most importantly, the power of fire was not limited by the form, structure or strength of the human body. A single woman with a flint or fire stick could burn down an entire forest in a matter of hours. The domestication of fire was a sign of things to come."
For two stories so different in their orientations to the human experience (one mythological, one scientific), the parallels here are astonishing. Both accounts portray human beings in their most primordial state not as lords of creation but as originally deficient creatures among other superior animals. Both accounts position the transformative power of fire in terms of both the leverage it gives humanity over other animals (elevating them to a position somewhere between animality and divinity-"between two worlds") and the possibilities it opens for abstract thought (promoting the growth of "jumbo brains" for higher forms of "wondering and thinking"). And both accounts intimate the potentially destructive power of fire--that fire is destined to be both a blessing and curse, and a curse precisely because the blessing unfolds as the quintessential temptation to want too much of a (potentially) good thing.
The insight I'm most interested in here is the import of fire for the dawning of abstract thought. What fire offers humanity in raising its gaze to the heavens is, both literally and figuratively, a fundamentally changed relationship to time that vastly expands human freedom. Whereas creatures of instinct and habit must live in the small, familiar orbit of subsistence--doing little more perhaps than meeting their most basic needs for food, water, companionship, and reproduction (if they're lucky!)--creatures who have big brains and the time, convenience, and leisure purchased from cooking by fire, extending their productive and waking hours by torch-light, and sleeping soundly under cover of fire without worry of a hungry lion attack may begin to imagine their lives as otherwise than merely subsistent. Whereas once there were only pasts, the urgent inheritances of biology, vaguely understood but not explicitly known, pushing one inexorably into first order desires to meet the most pressing present need, there is suddenly now the opening of future-past: the ability to project oneself in the present into a time that has not yet obtained, hypothetically survey the possibilities, risks, and rewards for being in that time, and then orient oneself by way of that hypothetical projection into the state of being that imagines. No longer enslaved to the endless repetition of mere subsistence, one has the means at one's disposal to transcend through imagination, to accrue action-guiding experience not by actually undergoing it (and thus assuming all the real risks before one can anticipate the outcome) but by imagining it, eliminating those prospects that fail to withstand hypothetical scrutiny, and then acting in anticipation of the desired outcome.
As this ability to "see in the darkness of future-past" grows ever more capacious and efficient, and one's imagined goals and hopes become ever more ambitious, and the means at one's disposal to convert, store, and deploy energy continue to increase apace, it is only a matter of time until the "longing to see" outstrips anything resembling an authentic or legitimate need. I'll have more to say about that problem (and how it illuminates the lives of any number of characters in The Return) in a future post on "Mindfulness in Twin Peaks." Stay tuned!
Clocking in at a robust thirty-three minutes of airtime out of the roughly ten hours we've been back in Twin Peaks so far, the Roadhouse is a major presence in The Return. Its outsized role in the new series, however, is far from universally appreciated, both in the sense of being liked, on the one hand, and--as I shall argue here--in the sense of being understood, on the other. Along with the slow pace of the "Cooper in Vegas" narrative and the demanding abstractions of Parts Three (Cooper's journey back to Earth) and Eight (the atomic blast at White Sands), the prominence of the Roadhouse and the precious time allotted to the songs performed therein is one of the most carped-about aspects of the new series.
The carping reached a crescendo this week after Part Ten ended with a Roadhouse juggernaut--Rebekah Del Rio's seven-minute performance of "No Stars"--in a comparatively short episode (just over 54 minutes) that many hoped would grace us with Special Agent Dale Cooper's long-awaited awakening from somnambulance in Vegas or at least a first appearance of the much-beloved Audrey Horne. The three most common complaints one hears about the Roadhouse are that (1) it's too commercial ("What is Lynch doing carrying water for hipster bands?!"), (2) it's not my kind of music ("I don't really like these songs and it's a pain to sit through them!"), and--one suspects, most importantly--(3) it's a waste of precious time ("Why are we languishing away with Rebekah Del Rio for seven minutes when we haven't seen the old Coop or Audrey yet?!").
I sympathize with folks who have lodged these complaints. The Roadhouse does seem a bit like a band showcase at times. I don't personally love all the songs (though I do confess to loving some of them). And knowing from recent experience how much action Lynch and Frost can pack into thirty-three minutes, it's hard to resist weighing the opportunity cost of Roadhouse performances in lost nostalgia for Coop and Audrey and Big Ed's Gas Farm and pie. Notwithstanding my sympathy for these complaints, however, I think they all misfire. In what follows, I'll explain why I think these complaints are misguided, briefly sketch what I take to be a more productive way to engage the Roadhouse scenes, and set up a therapeutic exercise that might help viewers--Roadhouse lovers and haters alike--to make the most of what these scenes have to offer.
The complaint that the Roadhouse scenes are a glorified form of hipster-friendly product placement, while tempting at a time when twee-loving culture vultures are the new yuppies, is fundamentally out of step with Lynch's aesthetic. Heineken and Pabst wars in Blue Velvet notwithstanding, Lynch famously abhors the trend toward using films as promotional instruments of any kind (see above: "total fucking bullshit!") and cares notoriously little for "what's hot" in terms of broader cultural trends. He admits to working on the occasional commercial to make money, but is adamant that the commercialization of film "putrifies the environment." Given that what attracted Lynch to Showtime in the first place was having total creative control and a budget that precluded the need for any kind of commercial pandering, those who wish to frame the Roadhouse as some sort of sell-out to hipsterism face the uphill battle of explaining why in blue blazes Lynch would choose to engage in a practice he openly despises--"to putrify the environment," as he so scornfully puts it, of a work of art decades in the making with no commercial pressure to do so. The Roadhouse just ain't about showcasing hipster bands on any reasonable interpretation.
The complaint that the Roadhouse scenes confront us with songs we don't particularly like, while perhaps perfectly true for some of us and perfectly fair for those approaching Twin Peaks as mere entertainment, is not a legitimate reason for those approaching Twin Peaks as a work of art to eschew the duty of interpreting these scenes in the context of the work as a whole. Obviously, if you're watching just for fun and the show feels like being stuck in a carpool with a Smashmouth fanatic, then get out the car. But if you think of yourself as aesthetically bent or critically astute or even open to a little interpretive challenge, expressing frustration with the Roadhouse because you don't like the songs is a little like hating on Guernica because grey's not your favorite color or because "it's not very realistic." The challenge of the Roadhouse scenes is to see beyond the particular songs and bands to their resonance within the work of art as a whole: how are the Roadhouse scenes inviting us to see, hear, feel, and imagine the world of Twin Peaks differently than we might without them, and how do those modes of seeing, hearing, feeling, and imagining illuminate that world (or fail to illuminate it)? That a work of art fails in some way is inevitable, and you might well conclude, after a serious engagement with these scenes, that they are an artistic flop. Be that as it may, the Roadhouse ain't ultimately about you and your fave bands.
The complaint that the Roadhouse is a waste of precious time is a bit more complicated, since it is conceivable that one could engage the Roadhouse scenes on their own terms in view of their place in the work as a whole and come to the conclusion, as noted above, that they fail to do anything beautiful or interpretively important, or at least that the opportunity costs of indulging the beautiful, significant things they accomplish outweigh the time devoted to them; one could perhaps make a cogent case that Twin Peaks would have been a more beautiful or compelling work of art without the Roadhouse scenes, or with some other aesthetic strategy in place for accomplishing the intended effects. It seems fair to suggest, though, that if one is aiming at a charitable interpretation of the work--if one is attempting to remain genuinely open to seeing, hearing, feeling, and imaging the world that the artist has painstakingly created for the viewer and invited her to explore and to wonder at and to relish--the conclusion that the Roadhouse scenes are a waste of precious time is one that should not be reached summarily, on a whim, at the merest whiff of indifference to the particular songs, or aesthetic taste offended, or narrative expectations thwarted.
So suppose one is genuinely open to idea that the Roadhouse matters to the work of art--that it's not ultimately just a showcase for "hipster" music, or a video jukebox featuring records you love or don't, or a sonic filler that displaces potentially more important narrative "content". What reasons do we have for thinking that the Roadhouse is important--that careful aesthetic attention to it will repay our time and effort? Here we can point to reasons that are both external and internal to Twin Peaks itself.
Externally, we have Lynch's four-decade commitment to marrying film, music, and sound in revelatory, revolutionary ways that have transformed the medium--ways about which entire books have been written. In the foreword to Beyond the Beyond: Music from the Films of David Lynch, Kristine McKenna describes Lynch's uncanny ability to intuit just the right song for illuminating an image or narrative: "Who can explain the alchemy of a song, or what causes it to combust in the human heart? Lynch doesn't question it or try to explain why; he just knew that no other song could be playing when Pete got his first glimpse of the smoldering beauty, Alice, in Lost Highway. [...] From the grinding of a rusty gear to a symphony, Lynch is tuned in to the sounds of life on earth. His receptors are acutely sensitive and unfiltered, and he makes no value judgment of the sounds or the songs he hears; they simply fascinate him, and he knows how to pair them with images that transform them into something new. I can see him, one ear pressed to the ground, listening to the distant groan of shifting tectonic plates, the other ear pointed heavenward, hearing strains of a popular song he loved as a teenager. He listens, marvels at what he hears, then brings it all back home to the rest of us." (Beyond the Beyond, 8, 11) McKenna refers above to the use of Lou Reed's "This Magic Moment" in Lost Highway, but we could just as easily cite the use of This Mortal Coil's "Song to the Siren" in the same film, or Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet, or Rebekah Del Rio's "Llorando" ("Crying") in Mulholland Drive (more on that in a minute), or a dozen others. Music always matters--and matters a lot, too--in the films of David Lynch. Borrowing the words of the one-armed man, Philip Gerard, we might say that Lynch "means it like it is, like it sounds," insofar as the meaning of being in Lynch's films--the significance of what is appearing before us--is so inextricably tied to how it sounds that it sometimes feels like things come into existence through and as music.
Internally, we find a preponderance of evidence that music--and in particular, music in the Roadhouse--matters a great deal in Twin Peaks. In first run of the series, Julee Cruise's "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" and "The World Spins" (see above) are the gateway into the unforgettable scene in which the Giant appears to inform Cooper and the rest of us that "it is happening again" as Maddie is murdered. And now that it is happening yet again here in 2017, what are the Giant's (or at least his close relative, ???????'s) very first words to Cooper and to us in the very first scene featuring new footage? "Listen to the sounds." Among those sounds, so far, are thirty-three minutes of Roadhouse performances, the culminating seven minutes of which--just this past Sunday--are a performance by none other than Rebekah Del Rio, the very diva whose heart-rending performance of the aforementioned "Llorando" at Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive (embedded below) delivered a life-shattering epiphany to Betty/Diane, the film's tragic protagonist: your nostalgia over the past and your expectations of the future will rob you of the unfathomable richness of the world present before you right now. Those who have seen the film will know that Betty's thwarted expectations of life in Hollywood enslaved her--or rather her alter-ego Diane--to a feedback loop between regrets over the past and anxiety over the future that turns deadly both for her and for the woman she loves. And here in the Roadhouse, we find Rebekah Del Rio saying the same differently, singing of unrequited hopes ("No stars!") for a return to the starry night on which it all began, perhaps alerting us to our own thwarted expectations of life in Twin Peaks--those regrets over the past (Cooper's trapped! Audrey's dead!) and anxieties about the future (No Coop? No Audrey?) that threaten to rob us of the mystery, wonder, and beauty that the film gifts to us right now, with each and every passing week.
Assuming there are good reasons to pay close attention to what's going on in the Roadhouse, then, how might the presence of these scenes enhance or even transform our seeing, hearing, feeling, and imagining the world of Twin Peaks? How can these performances aid us in being fully present to what is unfolding before us? I suspect there are many answers to this question and that individual viewers paying close attention are finding their way to all sorts of edifying vistas on the series by way of these performances.
My approach has been to see these scenes as functioning somewhat like a chorus in Greek drama--a company of players tangential to the main action that appears on stage at regular intervals for various purposes that are crucial to the advancement of the story and the viewer's orientation within it. In a brief but illuminating post on this topic, Kris Haamer describes the Greek chorus as serving a wide variety of functions, meeting everything from the practical need to pace and space major events in the narrative, to the literary needs of providing commentary on actions and events and guiding the atmosphere and expectations of the audience, to the emotional need of distilling the very essence of the story into an affective experience that the viewer can feel even and especially when the drama cannot adequately convey it through didactic dialogue.
In my experience, the Roadhouse has served all of these functions at various times, from Rebekah Del Rio's sage warning above, to the Cactus Blossoms providing transportation back down into the Mississippi mud after a surreal journey into the beyond in Part Three, to Nine Inch Nails anesthetizing me into believing that an edgy if conventional journey into an aging industrial icon's rage would be the highlight of the evening only to propel me moments later into the abstract core of atomic evil in Part Eight, to Chromatics' whispering the unspeakable heart of The Return directly into my spirit at the end of Part Two such that I will never again be without it, nor ever forget where I was and how I felt when I first received it at an illicit screening in an anonymous theater in Los Angeles on May 21, 2017 where there was--at least for a fleeting, transcendent, inexplicable, transgressive moment--no discernible difference between everything that is me and everything that is Twin Peaks and everything that is everything else.
The Roadhouse, for me, is about attunement, about a weekly coming-into-resonance with Twin Peaks, as if each performance strikes a tuning fork, drawing me inexorably into the orbit, the mood, the interpretive horizon within which its many gifts have appeared, can appear, and are appearing. I have come to rely on the Roadhouse you see, and to depend on its orienting compass. I missed it dearly in the single standalone episode where we got no help from it, Part Seven--an episode that, bereft of the guiding hand of its chorus, as if reminding us how important the Roadhouse really is by its flaunting its conspicuous absence, begins with a man screaming in abject desperation "I don't know where I am!" and ends in somnambulant disorientation with the song "Sleep Walk" piped into the R&R, where people are disappearing and reappearing seemingly willy nilly. How fascinating that Part Ten appears to function as an orienting opposite of sorts to Part Seven: Jerry Horne knows where he is (or at least that "I've been here before!"), we advance in more linear ways than usual on a host of plot lines, and we get double-time in the Roadhouse, as if Rebekah Del Rio senses the vacuum left by Part Seven and decides to let us in on a major secret as a bonus: until your experience of the now alone is adequate, with no past regrets propping it up and no false hopes motivating it, you will never be present enough to the world for it to reveal itself to you in all its grandeur.
I promised, in conclusion, a therapeutic exercise for cultivating deeper appreciation of the Roadhouse. You're probably already onto it, as it's nothing particularly complicated: just a cordial, curated invitation to spend some more intentional time with these performances in the spirit of what Kristine McKenna calls "Lynch's capacity for deep listening"--listening "to each song as a universe unto itself." (Beyond the Beyond: Music from the Films of David Lynch, 7) What follows is a collection of all the Roadhouse performances in the order of their appearance, each with accompanying lyrics beneath the embedded video. When you listen to these songs and reflect upon their lyrics, what is stirred in you? How do you feel? Of what are you personally reminded? Are any of these stirrings such that they allow new revelations to appear from out of the narrative flux? I hope this labor of musical apprehension is as evocative and rewarding for you as I have found it to be! Please share any revelations in the comments!
Chromatics, “Shadow” (Part Two, 49:46 ff, approx. 5 minutes)
Shadow, take me down
Shadow, take me down with you
For the last time
For the last time
For the last time
For the last time
You're in the water
I'm standing on the shore
Still thinking that I hear your voice
Can you hear me?
Can you hear me?
Can you hear me?
Can you hear me?
For the last time
For the last time
For the last time
For the last time
At night I'm driving in your car
Pretending that we'll leave this town
We're watching all the street lights fade
And now you're just a stranger's dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you're nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night's rain
For the last time
For the last time
For the last time
For the last time
Cactus Blossoms, "Mississippi" (Part Three, 56:14 ff, approx. 3 minutes)
I'm going down to the sea
I watch the sun yellow and brown
Sinking suns in every town
My angel sings down to me
She's somewhere on the shore waiting for me
With her wet hair and sandy gown
Singing songs waves of sound
There's a dive I know on River Street
Go on in and take my seat
There's a lot of friends I'll never meet
Gonna take a dive off River Street
You look different from way down here
Like a circus mirror I see flashes, of you on the surface
I'm coming up from way down here
The water's clear, all I want is to see your face
I'm going down to the sea
I watch the sun yellow and brown
Sinking suns in every town
Au Revoir Simone, "Lark" (Part Four, 55:23 ff, approx. 2.5 minutes)
So long ago
There wasn't anyone out there I thought I needed to know
But no more
When I find the day leave my mind in the evening just as the day before
I saw the window was open
The cool air
I don't know what you saw there
Don't know what you saw in me
Sometimes I want to be enough for you
Know that it's understood
There's not enough of me
I saw that something was broken
I've crossed the line
I'll point you to a better time
A safer place to be
Sometimes I want to be enough for you
Know that it's done no good
Sometimes I want to be enough for you
Know that it's done no good
Trouble, "Snake Eyes" (Part Five, 47:13 ff, approx. 4 minutes)
Sharon Van Etten, "Tarifa" (Part Six, 55:28 ff, approx. 3 minutes)
Hit the ground
The yard, I found something
I could taste your mouth
Shut the door
Now in the sun tanning
You were so just
Looking across the sky
No I can't remember anything at all
We skipped the sunrise
Looking across the grass
Said he wanted
And not that I'm every
It's the same, I could mean you were right
Hasn't a chance, don't
Fail me now
Open arms, rest
Let's run under
Cursing myself at night
Slow it was 7
I wish it was 7 all night
Tell me when
Tell me when is this over?
Chewed you out
Chew me out when I'm stupid
I don't wanna
Everyone else pales
Send in the owl
Tell me I'm not a child
Forget about everyone else
Fall away somehow
To figure it out
Nine Inch Nails, "She's Gone Away" (Part Eight, 11:55 ff, approx. 4.5 minutes)
You dig in places till your fingers bleed
Spread the infection where you spill your seed
I can't remember what she came here for
I can't remember much of anything anymore
She's gone, she's gone, she's gone away
She's gone, she's gone, she's gone away
A little mouth opened up inside
Yeah, I was watching on the day she died
We keep licking while the skin turns black
Cut along the length, but you can't get the feeling back
She's gone, she's gone, she's gone away
She's gone, she's gone, she's gone away
She's gone, she's gone, she's gone away
She's gone, she's gone, she's gone away
(Are you still here?)
Au Revoir Simone, "A Violent Yet Flammable World" (Part Nine, 54:55 ff, approx. 4 minutes)
Oceans shape the sides
Touching down in the spaces
Soaking from a warm goodbye
An early rise offers kindly
Tonight I sleep to dream
Of a place that's calling me
It is always just a dream
Still I cannot forget what I have seen
The crowd's hard to believe
At their faces I'm looking
But your feet I'm following
In soft steps on a path the way you lead
I don't want to lose myself
It's a whisper
It's a funny thing
We fold like icicles on paper shelves
It's a pity to appear this way
You're flying when your foreign eyes
Trace the heights of the city
With rocks and clouds we breathe
A shock to my own body
Speech is wild
Alive sacred and sounding
From across and beyond, oh far beyond
I don't want to lose myself
It's a whisper
It's a funny thing
We fold like icicles on paper shelves
It's a pity to appear this way
Hold, hold, hold on
I swear I saw it somewhere
Waving, waiting, one, two, three, above the wakes that follow
Hold, hold, hold on
I swear I saw it somewhere
Waving, waiting, one, two, three, above the wakes that follow
I don't want to lose myself
Tonight I sleep to dream of a place that's calling me
It's a whisper
It is always just a dream
It's a funny thing
Still I cannot forget what I have seen
We fold like icicles on paper shelves
With rocks and clouds we breathe, a shock to my own body
It's a pity
Alive sacred and sounding
To appear this way
From across and beyond, oh far beyond
Rebekah Del Rio, "No Stars" (Part Ten, 46:48 ff, approx. 7 minutes)
My dream is to go to that place
You know the one
Where it all began on a starry night
On a starry night where it all began
When we danced
With the stars in our eyes
The night when it all began
When it all began
You said hold me
Hold me hold me
Don't be afraid don't be afraid
We're with the stars
I saw them in your eyes
En tus palabras [trans: in your words]
Y en tus besos tus besos [trans: and in your kisses...your kisses]
Debajo de una noche [trans: under a night]
llena llena de estrellas [trans: full...full of stars]
Under the starry night
But now it's a dream
Yo vi en tus ojos [trans: I saw in your eyes]
Yo vi las estrellas [trans: I saw the stars]
Pero ya no hay ya no hay estrellas [trans: but there are no stars]
Pero ya no hay ya no hay estrellas [trans: but there are no stars]
Ya no hay estrellas [trans: there are no stars]
For me, the return of Twin Peaks has been nothing short of a jackpot--an embarrassment of riches that I vaguely hoped for in my wildest dreams but never imagined I'd actually win. I suspect I'm not the only one out there pinching myself to make sure I'm awake, as week after week, the show delivers the goods on every imaginable front: a complex, deeply absorbing story, fascinating characters, unfathomable mysteries, abundant beauty, harrowing horrors, astounding set design and photography and effects, gorgeous music, winsome ensemble acting, the best sound work in the history of television and on and on. It's been such a deep personal joy to experience it all that I don't think I could love it more even if David Lynch himself subscribed me to an exclusive "Wonderful and Strange Gift of the Week Club."
I've been keeping up an episode guide and trying to eek out a few glimpses into the mystery as occasional inspiration strikes, but tonight I just feel like reveling in some of the wonderful and strange things I really love about the return of Twin Peaks. Here are some of them, in no particular order, and with no attempt to be rigorous, critical, or insightful. This post is just straight up fan love for a show that is making my life extra wonderful and strange here in the summer of 2017.
1. The elevation of the everyday--Twin Peaks routinely makes the likes of ancient toilets, dime-store alarm clocks, telephone poles, and federal prisons look breathtakingly beautiful. It's simply astonishing.
2. The Detectives Fusco--Every minute that these lumbering lugs are on screen is a hoot, not only because I love their hamfisted bumbling and the absurdity of the idea that three brothers or three cousins or (my favorite possibility) three random guys with the surname Fusco ended up employed in the same department, but also because the whole time they're lunking about, I'm relishing the anticipation of Albert's hopefully forthcoming excoriation of these blithering hayseeds. That's got to happen, right? If anything seems written in the stars...
3. The evolution of the Arm--Is it a brain synapse with a rinded watermelon impaled on it or just a garden-variety leafless sycamore tree with a translucent bladder of medical waste perched atop it? I don't need to know to love, love, love it so! (And when it--or it's doppelgänger?--appeared out of the Las Vegas pavement and began screaming "Squeeze his hand off!" to Cooper, the abiding primordial desire not to wake my children and thus have to pause the show for who knows how long is the only thing that kept me from bursting into sustained applause and cheering.)
4. The Cole/Rosenfield synergy--I would seriously consider mortgaging my house for a shot at seeing a buddy cop show with these two cats tooling around on the trail of otherworldly riff-raff. Starsky and Hutch. Cagney and Lacy. Stankle and Cutty. Cole and Rosenfield. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. But what a swan song for the inimitable Miguel Ferrer! I am so grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this incredible performance.
5. The furniture--The set designer is trying to kill me with this stuff. I Google it. I have dreams about it. I know full well I can't afford it, but no harm in a fella knowing what's what and keeping an eye out for bargains.
6. Bushnell Mullins--Intuitive, empathetic, and unstintingly loyal, Battling Bud is just the cat's pajamas. I was shocked to learn last week that Don Murray, the actor who plays Mullins, is 87 years old and that his return to the screen in Twin Peaks comes after a sixteen year break from acting that began upon the wrapping of his last film, "Elvis is Alive."
7. Harry Dean Motherf*cking Stanton--The Lynch-Stanton thing is one of my favorite things of all time, but my love affair with HDS began before I became a Lynch fan back when he was Andie Walsh's underemployed widower dad in Pretty in Pink. One of the great epiphanies of my years of pouring over the details of films I can't shake is that the book Mr. Walsh is reading when Andie comes in late is James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, one of the toughest reads in modern British literature. HDS is just complicated like that, and his dazzling depth and gravity radiate from every scene.
8. This neon sign--The gin joint where we meet the fabled Diane for the first time couldn't just be any old watering hole. And thanks in no small part to this scintillating sign, it wasn't. All I wanted to do was drink a corpse reviver #2 with an aviation chaser somewhere in the vicinity of the blissful buzzing of this sign. That's one hell of a prop! Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.
9. Bizarre electronics--Of all the disorienting, decentering aspects of Twin Peaks--the journeys through space and time, the abstract core of the atomic explosion, the Lodges, you name it--I find exposure to the bizarre electronics to be among the most uncanny experiences in the series because they are at one and the same time almost perfectly familiar and utterly alien, like being in a dream in a house that you are certain is yours even though you know it isn't. It doesn't help when these items occasionally crumple in on themselves, collapsing their considerable mass into a tiny pebble of pyrite or whatever.
10. Superb smalltime crooks and their ruthless masters--These guys really sold it. Never before have the words "he borrowed it" or "nevertheless" been delivered with such sleazy panache. Poor fellas didn't even see that Janey-E train coming, though.
11. Dr. Amp's pedal-powered gold-plated shit-shovel painting station--This ludicrous contraption is such a thing of beauty. Can you imagine being the set-designer furiously taking notes while David Lynch describes this monstrosity to you in assiduous detail?
12. Hawk's vision quest (across a bathroom)--Hawk's breathtaking discovery in a bathroom stall door of three of the four missing pages from Laura's secret diary is one of my favorite scenes of the entire series. Heritage, intuition, investigation, insight, the inherence of the transcendent in the prosaic, the vanquishing of dastardly foes ("You do that, Chad."), and the thrill of a world-changing discovery--this scene had it all!
13. The woodsman in Buckhorn Jail--Hats off to Lynch and Frost for dishing up one of the most terrifying and intriguing moments I've ever witnessed on television. I could not get this image and its possible consequences out of my mind, and the unscratchable itch it generated in me to attempt to exorcise the experience through writing about it is what led to my very first NON-EXIST-ENT post on THE GLASS BOX: "A Spectral Meriwether Lewis in Buckhorn Jail?".
14. Full blown sublimity on the small screen--The deranging, category-busting experiences in Lynch's work are like torrential rivers flooding the parched desert floor of my spirit. What an oasis of inexhaustible richness these sequences are in an age of television as techne without poiesis or phronesis.
15. Mr. C's appearance as a guest villain on Miami Vice--This "last known photo" of Mr. C. that was taken at his home in Rio just before "a girl from Ipanema" bought it furnished one of my favorite moments of comic relief in the series so far.
16. Roadhouse performances--I wasn't sure how I felt about this new convention initially, but now I absolutely love it and look forward to it and even miss it in the episodes in which it doesn't happen. It has become a sort of affective grounding, orienting feature of the series for me, like a chorus in Greek drama, helping me to figure out how I should be disposed and attuned to the events unfolding before me. [Ed: I discuss the significance of the Roadhouse in a lot more detail in "'Listen to the Sounds': Why the Roadhouse Matters Whether We Like It Or Not". ]
17. Ike "The Spike" Stadtler's pitiable 'sad voice'--One of the most abrupt mood shifts of the show to date is the one that takes us from feeling terrorized by Ike's murderous blood-soaked rampage through Lorraine's office building to feeling equal parts amused and sad about the demise of Ike's titular spike when he emits a despondent high-pitched whelp upon noticing its ruin.
18. The astounding Kyle MacLachlan--What can one say about the burden he has been asked to carry in The Return and the precision, grace, and beauty of his carrying it?
The left side of the body--and in particular, left arms--have enjoyed a significant place in the Twin Peaks narrative and Lodge mythology from the very beginning. In the original series, think of Philip Gerard, the one-armed man, who tattooed his allegiance to Killer BOB on his left arm and then removed the arm when he was "changed" and saw the light, forsaking the life of killing. Another central character from the first two seasons, The Little Man from Another Place, was essentially the Lodge embodiment of Gerard's amputated left arm. And outside the Lodge, victims of possession or exploitation by Lodge dwellers who bear the Owl Cave Ring, such as Teresa Banks and Laura Palmer, experienced their left arms going numb at pivotal times, a theme that has been carried over into The Return in the character of Dougie Jones (whose arm goes numb during extracurriculars with Jade just before he is summoned back to the Lodge in Part Three in order to become--you guessed it--a gold pearl in the pocket of a man missing his left arm).
This emphasis on wounds and abnormalities to left arms--and to the left side of the body in general--has only ramped up in The Return. Ruth Davenport--the woman whose murder kicks off the new story--suffered a bizarre mutilation of her left eye. Phyllis Hastings--the bitter, cheating wife to unfaithful husband Bill Hastings--was shot through the left eye by Mr. C. in Part Two. In one of the most baffling cases so far, Ike "The Spike" Stadtler seems to experience a traumatic injury to his right hand when Cooper follows The Arm's instructions to "Squeeze his hand off!" and we see Ike pull his hand away from the right grip-module of the gun to reveal that the heel of his right palm is missing; but then when the forensics team is collecting evidence in the next scene, it appears that it is in fact the palm of his left hand that is affixed to the left grip-module of the gun.
As if Ike's swapped right and left hands weren't confounding enough, Part Eight piles on to this strange event by serving up what is surely one of the most inscrutable cases of completely unpredictable character doubling in the series so far. And who are these unlikely twins? None other than Ike "The Spike" Stadtler and Experiment, the mother of all evil conjured by the Babylon Working ritual that began with the atomic blast at White Sands, cut an ungodly path through an other-worldly convenience store, and finally culminated in the vomiting forth of a cradle of filth that looses into our world the soul-eviscerating Bob and a frog-locust that has god-knows-what carnal designs on some poor teenage girl in New Mexico.
You're probably thinking: "Ike the Spike and Experiment?! What the *%$#? I thought THE GLASS BOX was committed to sober analysis! C'mon, man! Take us back to that on-point stuff about why Dr. Amp matters or how Cooper's journey to find Laura is our journey too. Anything but some far-fetched comparison between Ike and Experiment!". Fair enough. It is pretty weird, I guess. I'll just leave you to your own devices to explain why Experiment HAS A RIGHT HAND ON HER LEFT ARM and vice versa, you know, the sort of condition that calls to mind the predicament of a certain smaller-than-average assassin whose left palm shows up where his right palm should be.
With all this negative attention paid to the left in previous episodes, I admittedly went into Part Nine looking for another healthy helping of port-side puzzlement. And heavens to Mergatroid did I find it, but predictably for Twin Peaks, I didn't find it in quite the places I was expecting. No more left-sided murders or mutilations. No more left extremities where the right ones ought to be. What I found instead was instance after instance after instance--far too many of them to be mere coincidence--of characters intentionally touching the left shoulders and arms of other characters, often in ways that (when you're looking for it, anyway) seem blatantly obvious and unnatural.
There's Chantal touching Mr. C's left shoulder before she goes to get "the kit." (5:11) There's Cole giving Diane the next thing to a left shoulder massage upon asking her to accompany their crew to Buckhorn. (5:20) There's Bushnell Mullins' effort to comfort Janey-E by patting her left shoulder on his way out of the Las Vegas Police Department after giving the Detectives Fusco a piece of his mind (and a few FWWM-ish clenches of his (right) fist). (13:16) There's one of the Detectives Fusco reaching out to touch the left shoulder of another officer just before the Ike "the Spike" arrest. (20:10) There's Andy offering Lucy a love-pat on the left shoulder after she purchases the chair he likes. (23:05). There's Mrs. Horne laying her hand on Johnny's left shoulder to check his condition after his run-in with the waterfall picture. (24:30) There's Mrs. Briggs reaching out to touch Sheriff Truman's left upper arm after the moving hand-over of the doohickey in the chair. (28:07). There's Albert Rosenfield's gentle restraint of Detective Mackley's left forearm on the way into the morgue. (30:15). And there's Cole's laying the arm of collegial solidarity on Albert as they discuss the Cooper/Briggs connection in the hall outside the morgue. (31:58). In the first half hour of Part Nine (not including two minutes of opening credits), then, there are no fewer than nine obvious cases of characters interacting (in odd and in some cases gratuitous ways) with the left arms of other characters.
At 32:00 minutes in, I thought sure there'd be escalating left-arm-contact o'plenty throughout the remainder of the episode. But after Gordon put the ol' paw on Albert's shoulder outside the morgue, these instances completely dropped off. Despite paying close attention to every scene from that point forward (after believing myself to have lighted onto a pattern I thought might give way to something deeply significant by episode's end), I couldn't find any further instances. At least, that is, until the last scene in the Roadhouse where Ella reveals to Chloe that nasty unexplained rash under her left arm.
And just in case we've been lulled to sleep by twenty-one minutes of left-arm free drama by this point, Lynch goes in for a second pass--this time a nauseating close-up--to make sure that this new instance doesn't slip by unnoticed.
In puzzling over all this chaos on the left, it is well worth remembering that Lynch and Frost are not alone in associating the nigh side of the human body with mystery, evil, and non-conformity to the usual norms and rules of this-worldly human behavior and interaction. The English word "sinister"--defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen"--is derived from the Latin word for "left" (sinister). And religious and spiritual visions in both Eastern and Western traditions have strong associations between the left side of the body and evil (or at least extreme non-conformity to social convention that is likely to be interpreted by more conventional people as evil).
In a previous post, I briefly discuss Lynch's interest in Hindu wisdom literature and meditation practice. Given the influence of this tradition over his creative process, it isn't terribly surprising to find Lynch paying attention to the left side of the body in just these ways. A passage from Kirti Trivedi's "The Asymmetry of Symmetry: The Left and The Right in Hindu Philosophy, Art, and Life" brings the basic ideas here into sharp relief:
Mark Frost, for his part, taps into a similar mythology via Western occultism. The imagination-capturing linkage for Frost, at least the one that comes through clearest in The Secret History of Twin Peaks (239 ff.), is that of Aleister Crowley's identification with "The Left-Hand Path" and the veneration of Baphomet, a goat-headed idol or deity claimed by a variety of occult and mystical traditions (most famously, the Knights Templar) and divergently associated by those groups with everything from "a baptism in wisdom," to Satan worship, to the constellation Aries, the ram.
I found this last alleged connection to the constellation Aries especially interesting in the light of the fact that I'd been trying to place why a particular light pattern from the convenience store scene in Part Eight looked familiar to me. In the lead up to the opening of the portal behind which Experiment awaits, there are these odd blurry shots where Lynch turns the convenience store into an abstract pattern of lights that call to mind starlight. Here's the image I have in mind:
What you're seeing here is a an out-of-focus shot of the convenience store in which that illuminated top edge of the overhang, the two lightbulbs on top of the gas pumps, and the light at the top right of the store--when taken far enough out of focus--resemble a chain of stars, like a constellation. Given this alleged connection between "the left-hand path" and Aries, I thought to myself: well, does this set of stars look anything like Aries? I don't know much about astrology, so I Googled "Aries" and this image of a potential design for an "Aries Tattoo" popped up:
Here's what happens when you lay the tattoo design onto the out-of-focus convenience store.
It all seemed pretty far-fetched and not worth writing up until an icon of Aries showed up in Part Nine, just before Ben Horne and Beverly continue their search for the singing bowl noise (50:16):
Whatever's happening here, it certainly seems wise to keep looking left as the symbols and secrets and mysteries pile up in the second half of the new series. Seems to me that something sinister is afoot.
Big things are happening in Buckhorn, South Dakota! Part Nine saw major breaks in the Buckhorn case concerning the murder of Ruth Davenport--the woman who was discovered dead in her apartment beheaded with her body missing and the corpse of a beheaded Major Garland Briggs (whose head is still missing) positioned in bed just below her severed head. The prime suspect, Bill Hastings, is a local school principal whose fingerprints were found all over the crime scene, but who maintains his innocence, claiming (back in Part Two) that a bizarre dream about the Davenport murder is his only connection to the case. Yes, he and Davenport were having an affair, he admits, but he loved her and is not guilty of her murder.
Hastings and Davenport were up to more than dancing in the sheets, however. As Detective Mackley reveals in Part Nine (27:26), "It turns out that William Hastings along with the help of Ruth [Davenport] the librarian was researching and publishing some strange little blog about some alternate dimension."
The plot thickens when Agent Rosenfield reveals the bizarre contents of Hastings' recent posts: "About one week ago, Hastings ended his blog entry with this cryptic sentence: 'Today we finally entered what we call 'the zone' and we met the Major.'" (28:00)
And when Special Agent Preston interviews Hastings in person (40:45), we get to hear it straight from the horse's mouth:
Preston: "Mr. Hastings, are you the author of an online journal or blog entitled The Search for the Zone?"
Hastings: "Uh huh, yes."
Preston: "What sort of things to you write about?"
Hastings: "Different things."
Preston: "Approximately two weeks ago, did you write an entry about what you described as an alternate reality?"
Hastings: "A different dimension. Yes! But it's real! It's all real!"
When Preston confronts him with his claim about "meeting the Major," Hastings tells a fascinating story. Ruth Davenport, a librarian, is "very good at uncovering hidden records and she had indications that if we went to a certain place at a certain time we would enter the dimension and make contact with a certain person. And so we went there...and the major was hiding there, or "hibernating" as he said, and other people were maybe going to find him and he wanted to go to a different place and so he asked us to get him numbers--important numbers--coordinates. And we found them in the place he told us go, a secure military database. Ruth wrote them on her hand so that she wouldn't forget." (41:45) (Looks like I might have been on to something in "Flipping Terrifying: Does Davenport Mirror Palmer?".)
There's more to the story, which I'll cover in detail in the episode guide, but the big news for this post is that Bill Hastings wasn't just whistling dixie when he said "It's real! It's all real." As it turns out, his website, The Search for the Zone, is indeed live online at http://www.thesearchforthezone.com.
Suffice it to say that web design isn't exactly his forte, but it's still a terrific little easter egg with a significant collection of things to peruse and read. How much of it will be plot-relevant is anybody's guess, but what we have here seems to be a sanctioned supplement to the series, and so perhaps information within these documents will end up functioning in a way similar to The Secret History of Twin Peaks as a trove of inputs that provide perspective on various characters, plot-lines, and mythology arcs that don't receive sustained treatment in the series itself.
Here are some things to check out while you're nosing around on the site:
1. "My older journal entires"--After a paragraph on how "forces from deep dimensional space" might have "splintered time" or effected "the assassination of President Kennedy" in some way, Hastings offers us an opportunity to "Click here to read my older journal entries." When we do, however, it takes us to an "Http Error" message which then kicks us over to an 11:00 minute static-filled video (mostly a black screen with flickering lights and some fuzz) with music from the third season of Twin Peaks--Badalamenti's "Falling," Chromatics' "Shadow," "I'm a Good Man Old Skool Hip-Hop Mix," "I Love How You Love Me," NIN's "She's Gone Away," and a few others. It's really just viral marketing in the end, but an intriguing form of it, at least.
2. Reading Links--These go surprisingly deep and look and feel a lot like some of the real conspiracy sites out there that offer a pastiche of half-baked theories and genuine insight into various scientific and historical phenomena. The aesthetics are definitely a time-warp.
3. .Wav Files of Electrical Interference--Looks like good ol' Wild Bill Hastings has been tracking the woodsmen around and making recordings of their signature sounds.
4. A Chance to Sign Up for The Search for the Zone Mailing List...which is actually, disappointingly, just a ploy by Rhino to get email addresses to shill the Twin Peaks soundtrack. They have to pay the rent, I guess, but I'd rather get stuff in my inbox under subject headings like "The Science of Parallel Universes" and "The Horizon Project" on a regular basis than just opportunities to buy music. Not that I won't buy the music. I'll probably buy the music. Ok. I'm buying it. But I still want the crazy articles!
5. Invisible Coordinates Leading to the Convenience Store--Located just underneath Bill Hastings' incredibly prestigious list of web accolades is a set of coordinates that remain hidden until you scroll over them. Once they appear, you may click on them to be taken to mysterious video of the convenience store where the woodsmen hang out.
While everybody's dazzled by the mushroom cloud, a more insidious form of evil is going unnoticed. Ever wonder why the people from another place live above a convenience store? Or why they eat creamed corn? Or smell like engine oil? Or vomit a mixture of corn and oil when they're about to give up the ghost? If so, this one's going to blow your mind.
The critical fallout of Part Eight has been largely about the evils unleashed by the atomic bomb. On a surface reading, the bomb itself perpetrated terrible evils against humanity. On an esoteric reading (think The Secret History of Twin Peaks), the bomb was engineered by Aleister Crowley and his cabal of evil sex-magicians with the hope of literally opening a portal to hell. On a figurative reading, nuclear fission is a terrific metaphor for "the evil that people do"--those myriad social, psychological, and spiritual ills that are driven by the mechanics of bombardment: something unified gets hit hard by an outside force it cannot withstand and splinters into parts, generating exponentially multiplying destructive energy in the process. What happens to Leland, Laura, and Cooper when they collide with BOB is a kind of fission--a microcosm of what happened at White Sands.
But if the literal and metaphorical horrors of nuclear fission are the most obvious forms of evil under scrutiny in Part Eight, they are not the only ones, nor are they the ones that are explored most extensively in the mythology of Twin Peaks to date. Part Eight is also, if much less obviously so, an exploration of another atomic-age evil, namely the incessant drive for convenience that set loose the behemoths of the petroleum industry and industrial animal agriculture, leading to our collective dependence on two of the most destructive commodities in the history of humankind: oil and corn.
The first step in illuminating this insight is to highlight the pride of place given to the symbols of convenience, oil, and corn in the existing Twin Peaks mythology of evil. Though the recurrence of these three symbols as harbingers of evil may not leap to mind as readily as more glamorous baddies like BOB, the white horse of death, and now "Mother" or "Experiment," most Twin Peaks fans will have an implicit grasp of their importance to the narrative.
Have you ever wondered, for instance, why the people from another place live above a convenience store? Or why they smell like engine oil? Or why the pain and sorrow they consume to survive are symbolized by creamed corn? Or why they vomit a mixture of creamed corn and engine oil when they're about to give up the ghost? Or why some of them--especially this new crop of "woodsmen"--appear as if they have just bathed in fossil fuels? If these questions have occurred to you, you're probably already at least implicitly familiar with convenience, corn, and oil functioning together as symbols in a broader mythology of evil in Twin Peaks.
But notice, too, that these three elements are not only individually present as symbols of evil, but they are recurrently bundled together as a package of elements that characterize the most basic existential necessities of evil characters: these characters live above a convenience store, they eat creamed corn, they look and smell like engine oil (as if, terrifyingly, their bodily exertions exude petroleum--a substance that is quite literally eons of death exposed to extreme pressure and released through destruction of the Earth). In the Twin Peaks mythology of evil, then, convenience, corn, and oil aren't just incidental instruments of evil-doing (like weapons, hard drugs, malevolent plans, or even cursed rings), but are rather essential existential elements of evil-being: convenience shelters evil, corn nourishes it, and oil is its lifeblood and bio-power. These are the things that give evil place, feed it, and keep it going.
The central roles of convenience, corn, and oil in the Twin Peaks mythology of evil predate The Return, but they are all back with a vengeance in the new series. We get early glimpses of their continuing importance in the oily woodsman haunting Buckhorn Jail (Part Two) and Dougie's and Mr. C.'s corn-and-oil-ridden vomit (Part Three), but the latest two episodes have put these elements and their essential connectedness at center stage. At a pivotal moment in Part Seven (17:26), for instance, just before we see Gordon Cole in repose whistling to himself in front of a giant poster of a mushroom cloud foreshadowing what is to come in Part Eight, the camera lingers on a bizarre framed print on the side wall of Cole's office that depicts an ear of corn superimposed over what appears to be the shaft of a mushroom cloud (see below).
I can practically hear Cole's inimitable shrill tenor instructing us to keep our eyes on the prize: "NOW WHEN YOU SEE THAT MUSHROOM CLOUD, YOU'RE GOING TO BE DAZZLED! YOU'LL BE TEMPTED TO LOSE SIGHT OF THE CORN. DON'T LOSE SIGHT OF THE CORN! THE CORN COMES FIRST!" Less cryptically, the message might be to recognize that gigantic, glaring, world-historical forces of evil like atomic bombs (and the cabals of elite scientists or would-be sex-magicians who conjure them) don't just come into being without more pedestrian, less obvious forms of evil hidden the woodwork, laying the groundwork, feeding the hunger for ever more spectacular forms of domination, exploitation, and destruction. Without scarcity and lack at the mundane level of simple human finitude--without the desperate but too often unquenchable needs that vulnerable beings have for safe shelter, ample food, and the means for securing bodily integrity and healing--there would be no grandiose plans for world domination.
In Part Eight, this foreshadowing comes to full fruition in what is surely the most accessible and stylized presentation of the underlying significance of convenience, oil, and corn for the Twin Peaks' mythology of evil that we have yet seen in any of the three seasons. At 21:54, exactly five full minutes after the Trinity explosion at 16:53, and after a harrowing journey into the mushroom cloud and through the sublime rip in the fabric of space-time opened thereby, where do we find that this long-sought portal into hell leads? Where do we end up after all this world-historical Sturm und Drang? At a f*cking convenience store. And what are the two (and only two) things visibly available for consumption at this place beyond the atomic portal? You guessed it. Oil conveniently refined into gasoline for automobiles and corn conveniently canned for stacking in suburban bomb-shelters. And who is all this for? A bunch of aimless, slovenly, desperate busy-body men milling around trying to keep their sad, waning fires lit.
The anti-climax of it all actually had me tempted to laugh at the absurdity of this destination-nowhere. All this work to open up the hell-gate and control the world, and all we manage to do is invite some other pitiable group of lost, lonely souls to act out their version of our frenetic, fragile, graspy melodrama in service of preserving the illusion of material satisfaction and fulfillment. I'm glad I didn't laugh, though, because less than a minute after the above close-up of a convenience store and its two key commodities, the store itself opens up into a yawning black abyss (24:35) and just a few seconds after that, we're treated to the horror of Experiment disgorging a plague of frog-locusts and the voracious hunger to instrumentalize and destroy life that is BOB (24:43). Here's the upshot: a convenience store stocking oil and corn is essentially the go-between or the connective tissue between the Trinity Explosion and the primordial opening of the hell mouth. How's that for impressive product placement?
It's one thing to realize that convenience, corn, and oil are at center stage in Twin Peaks' mythology of evil, and another thing entirely to understand why they belong there. Upon reflection, it's pretty clear that any perceptive account of the unique forms of pain, sorrow, and self-inflicted alienation that we face in the wake of the atomic age will need to take convenience, corn, and oil into account. Let's start with convenience. As print advertisements and television from the 1950s suggest, life in the atomic age is synonymous with easier life through technology. Housework is barely work anymore, what with vacuums, dishwashers, and washing machines. Reading and museums and the arts for entertainment? Who needs them, with the exciting advent of radio and television entertainment in your very own home? And who needs weeks or months on a boat when travel on a jet aeroplane is such a snap! And no need for multiple visits to the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker (much less to labor on those things yourself), when one-stop shopping at a supermarket with shelves upon shelves full of meaty chicken breasts under cellophane and eggs in pristine cartons is just a fifteen minute drive from your shiny new subdivision away from the noise and crime of the inner city!
Can you guess which commodities we have to thank for all these wonderful new conveniences? We are grateful to unfathomable amounts of oil to make gas to drive our cars and to make electricity to run our appliances and to make fertilizer and pesticide to grow our corn. Thanks to oil, we no longer need to grow corn the old fashioned way like the indigenous people from whom we stole it did, taking the time and effort to husband the soil and let the land be fertile for the many other things it nourishes. No, we can let the soil burn and feed the plant with fertilizer, and we can patent the fertilizer so that no one else can use our seeds without paying, and we can talk the government into subsidizing our growing of vast amounts of corn on practically every field in existence at a financial loss so that we can drive subsistence farmers across the world into famine or suicide and produce artificially cheap meat, eggs, and dairy by moving all the animals off of pasture into cages where we feed them corn and produce them by the tens of billions in conditions that it is kind to call a living hell and then flush their oceans of blood and excrement into our water tables, lakes, rivers, streams and oceans. Our reward for all of this will be ever increasing convenience with maybe a few unintended consequences like the hollowing out of rural America, infertile soil, water shortages, dying oceans, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, global warming, severe weather, cancer, strokes, diabetes, and maybe a pandemic of bird flu. Oh, and perhaps a few wars to keep the oil flowing so we can keep the corn growing and our stomachs full of the artificially cheap pain and sorrow of others--oil converted to corn, corn converted through suffering into dead flesh, and dead flesh into energy for the pursuit and acquisition of still more power and comfort. Garmonbozia, anyone?
David Lynch has never shied away from showing us the evil, bleeding underbelly of the voracious need to consume and instrumentalize that lies beneath the illusion of suburban convenience and comfort. Not in Blue Velvet, not in "Eat My Fear," and certainly not in Twin Peaks, where--for those with the eyes to see--the terrifying people from another place, the dark magicians seeking total power, those living on the pain, suffering, and humiliation of others--turn out to be us. Convenience has a way of sheltering evil in plain sight, of turning the degradation of people, animals, and the Earth into instruments of perverse power and pleasure. Convenience has a way of robbing us of meaningful labors and difficult but important relationships to people and places from which we are estranged because of the safe distance we put between our attitudes and actions and their consequences for others. And convenience has a way of putting us to sleep, of deflating us, of duping us into living lives that are filled to the brim with that gaudy emptiness that always digests into despair. Let us not allow the mushroom cloud to divert our gaze from the corn and the oil.
"Gnosticism," roughly speaking, is a collective term for the generalized teachings of a variety of ancient heretical Christian sects that denied Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully divine (as orthodox Christianity claims), believing instead that Jesus was a divine, spiritual being who merely inhabited a human form without actually becoming incarnate--i.e., materialized into human "flesh". Rather than coming to save the entire world, the gnostic Jesus was believed to have come in order to impart transformational esoteric knowledge ("gnosis") to a select few adherents who, through the possession of this secret knowledge, could escape annihilation at the end of their material lives and become fully spiritual entities like Jesus. Some scholars of gnosticism suggest that these basic teachings long predate Christianity, having precursor forms in ancient Asiatic religions. Contemporary proponents of pre-Christian gnostic ideas (e.g., John Lash) often describe the gist in psychological terms as "intuitive knowing of the heart that liberates us from social conditioning and ego-fixation."
One of the key teachings of Christian forms of gnosticism was that Christian sacred texts--especially the New Testament gospels--had a double-meaning throughout: on the surface were stories and lessons and bits of wisdom that average people could take at face value, more or less literally, and get a basic sense of the world and its features and how to live a decent life therein; under the surface, however, were alleged to be deep secrets that gnostic adherents could use on their journey toward spiritual transformation and eventually complete freedom from the constraints and corruptions of material life. Select initiates detected by masters of the chosen few could be brought into the fold if and when they passed certain tests and initiation rituals, but generally the secrets of gnostic Christianity were to be closely guarded, and were thought, in addition, to be impenetrable to non-adherents in any case, given that the condition of understanding was having the secret knowledge. Without gnosis, one would not be able to access the hidden secrets of the gospel messages.
Why think that Part Seven has anything whatever to do with gnosticism? There are several intriguing clues that take place in rapid fire from 21:40-29:56.
1. Diane's change of heart on going to Yankton--The first is Diane's strange change of heart about the trip to Yankton Federal Prison upon having Gordon Cole tell her (at 21:40 ff) that "this is extremely important, Diane, and it's about something you know about, and that's enough said about that." Up until Cole's raising of the prospect that some secret knowledge of Diane's is the key to the case, she's as cold as stone to the prospect of helping them out. But the minute the issue at hand becomes one of using her secret knowledge to leverage an outcome that is otherwise unobtainable, she seems immediately resolved: "Federal prison. South Dakota." Just seconds later, we see them on a plane to South Dakota.
2. The esoteric plane--And speaking of the plane to South Dakota, there's no way to deny that this situation offers us a straightforward example of something like gnostic double meaning. On the surface reading, we've got a relatively banal establishing shot of a jet in flight (an establishing shot that is in fact so banal that redditors were able to dig up the stock footage from which it was drawn--an online advertisement for a used Gulfstream G450, no less). But the deep reading gives us something else entirely: a coded message blinking out to us from the six cabin windows that alternate white and dark in rapid succession. And because the stock footage of the used G450 didn't include the whited-out windows, we have no choice but to conclude that there is a special message being conveyed here meant only for those with the eyes to see it.
3. Albert's coded message to Diane from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7--It struck me as deeply odd when, immediately following the bizarre establishing shot of the plane, Albert stops to offer a pearl of biblical wisdom from Matthew, Chapter 7 to Diane while handing off two 50ml bottles of vodka. He says "Judge not lest ye be judged." and hands her the bottles (notice that he has two in his hands in the photo above, and then two again in the photo below, even though Diane is shown holding just one when it cuts to her with the bottle). Once again, there is a double meaning. At face value, Albert is just being kind: he knows Diane likes to drink, he knows she's under extreme stress, and he's providing her with the means of self-medication, judgement-free--no strings attached! Immediately following this kind gesture, he says "Just the fact that you're here speaks louder than words.", and of course he gets the typical Diane response. On the surface, this is a throwaway act of kindness that supports the surface narrative that Albert and Diane have both got hearts of gold under those rough exteriors.
But there's an esoteric meaning, too, as it turns out that Matthew Chapter 7, Verses 1-6 is a passage that is taken in the gnostic tradition to be a crucial reminder that the deepest truths of the gospel are not for everyone and that adherents of the narrow path should know better than to assume that the deep and transformative things they are gleaning from holy scripture are things that can or should be understood by everyone. F. Aster Barnwell comments on the significance of Matthew Chapter 7 in this regard his esoteric work, Hidden Treasure: Jesus Work of Transformation in the following screen capture of pages 168-169 (accessed free via Google Books). [NOTE: I have not read this text and know nothing whatever about the author, but rather found it through a targeted Google search of "Matthew 7 + esoteric meaning" on a hunch that Albert's comment went deeper that it may have at first seemed. As such, I do not seek to recommend or criticize the work here, but use it merely as an example of links to gnosticism.]
"To 'give that which is holy unto the dogs' or to 'cast pearls to swine' portrays the one doing so as ignorant of the true value of the knowledge he has gained. It is not the fault of the swine that pearls have no aesthetic appeal, but it is certainly the fault of the one casting them not to know this."
It's not entirely clear to me what Albert intends to convey to Diane (or to us) on a deeper level, but there are some intriguing possibilities to consider. Given the fact that Lynch keeps taking us back to Diane throughout the jet plane scene to show us her jaded/dismissive reactions to various gaffes or expressions of naivety committed by Special Agent Tammy Preston (her failure to get Albert's "Girl from Ipanema" joke, for instance), perhaps Albert is offering her a gentle reminder that Preston is not yet among the initiated and so Diane should neither judge her harshly for her failure to be in the loop nor let slip any information for which Tammy isn't yet ready (I'll say more about this in 4. below). A second possibility is that Albert knows that Diane will face a true test of her mettle in meeting Mr. C. and that she must thus ready herself to guard her secret knowledge from Mr. C. at all costs. I'll have more to say about this second possibility in 5. below.
A third possibility is that Albert is attempting to convey something to us--the audience--about how advocates of "secret readings" of Twin Peaks ought to conduct themselves. This is an especially fascinating prospect given that just one week later, the airing of Part Eight opened up a chasm in the show's viewership between "gnostic" viewers in-the-know (who claimed to be gleaning all manner of deep meaning from the episode) and befuddled viewers (who claimed to have no idea what was going on). Befuddled viewers, in many cases, were treated very badly indeed by "gnostic" viewers, being told repeatedly that maybe "Twin Peaks wasn't for them" and the like when they expressed any sort of reservation about the genius of the episode. Perhaps one meaning of the esoteric subtext of Albert's comment is a rebuke of arrogant viewers: he is reminding us that people who are really, genuinely in possession of deep insight into Twin Peaks--that is, folks who enjoy something like what John Lash describes above as "intuitive knowing of the heart that liberates us from social conditioning" and the conventions of "accessible television"--are not likely to be judging others for their lack of knowledge; the true possessor of wisdom, after all, knows better either than to lord that wisdom over others who lack it (judge them for their ignorance) or share it with them before the time is right (throw pearls to swine).
4. Agent Tammy Preston's initiation into gnosis--Throughout the series, one gets the impression that Cole believes that Preston is special and is thus putting her through a series of challenges in order to give her the opportunity to prove her mettle and enter more elite ranks of knowing and understanding. But it is also clear that Cole is pacing her through this process--he is neither judging Tammy for not being fully up to speed nor is he "throwing pearls to swine" by introducing her to things for which she is not yet ready. Recall that in Part Four, for instance, Cole actually sends Preston away before discussing Mr. C's disturbing "Yrev very good to see you" line alone with Albert. But here we witness him take her through what seems like an initiation or right of passage into deeper, more esoteric wisdom. She comes on the scene to present a discrepancy between Cooper's finger prints 25 years ago and Mr. C.'s prints two days ago, and this time Cole decides she's ready for a different plane of reasoning about what is going on with that reversed finger print.
Cole points to the reversed print, looking knowingly at Rosenfield, and cryptically says “Yrev…the backwards word,” this time explicitly choosing to include Preston in the conversation. A puzzled Preston is lost: “What does this all mean?”, she wonders aloud. Cole congratulates her for doing excellent work—“passing one test after another!”—and bids her to put out her hands. She offers them palms up and he tells her to flip them over. Starting with her left pinky finger, he takes each of her fingers between his right pointer finger and thumb, lightly pinching each while saying one word per finger: “I’m very, very happy to see you again old friend.” When he’s pinched each finger, he returns to her left ring finger—the same one whose print was reversed on Cooper’s recent prison prints—and touches the fleshy lobe just above her knuckle: “This is the spiritual mound, the spiritual finger…you think about that Tammy.”
What Cole seems to be inviting her to realize is that Mr. C. is not the real Cooper. Those with the eyes to see know that Mr. C. is not the real Cooper because his "spiritual mound"--the fleshy part of his left ring finger just above the knuckle--betrays him as a forgery, insofar as that spiritual mound conveys an unforgeable spiritual blueprint of the bearer. Only the real Cooper will leave a proper print of that particular part of that particular finger; the doppelgänger, who is a material look-a-like but ultimately a spiritual imposter, will not leave the proper spiritual resonances (which in this case has the effect of reversing the print, leaving a mirror image). Here we find two key features of gnosticism in the same instance: the belief in esoteric insight that only a select few can see and the belief that the true essence of being is spiritual rather than material.
5. Diane shields her gnosis from Mr. C. and detects his emptiness of it--Key to this insight is to recall that, from the very beginning, Diane's urgent importance to the story derives from special knowledge of Cooper which she and only she possesses. Back at the end of Part Four when Cole and Rosenfield get hip to the fact that they might be dealing with a doppelgänger, Cole's first thought is to find "that one certain person"--namely, Diane--who can verify whether Cooper is the real article. Then when it comes to the brass tacks of talking Diane into helping, it's his reminder to her--as noted above--that her secret knowledge is key to unlocking the mystery that convinces her to do it: "it's about something you know about. And that's enough said about that."
When Diane finally faces the fire and rises to meet the bottomless emptiness of Mr. C.'s gaze, one gets the impression that she is at great pains to guard this secret knowledge from him and that Mr. C. is concentrating all his dark powers on attempting to draw it out of her. The question of where they last saw each other is pivotal to this exchange, and Mr. C.'s failure to provide an answer in the proper spiritual register--his terrifying, labored, contentless reply of "At your house."--is what convinces Diane beyond a shadow of a doubt that he lacks true understanding of what transpired the last time she saw the real Cooper. Diane's successful defense of her secret knowledge and her clear intuition that Mr. C. lacks the indelible spiritual mark that she and Cooper once left on one another proves her authenticity as a votary of esoteric knowing.
Her success in thwarting Mr. C.'s dark powers of spiritual invasion stands in stark contrast to the pathetic failure of Warden Murphy, whose mind is a sieve leaking all kinds of information that Mr. C. can use to exploit him. The juxtaposition between Diane and Warden Murphy's encounters with Mr. C. is at it's most instructive in the difference between Mr. C.'s answers to their respective litmus test questions--the questions whose answers will tell their inquirers whether Mr. C. is the real article or a fraud. Diane asks "When did we see each other last?". Mr. C.'s got nothing, so he tries to deflect and get inside her head by asking her "Are you upset with me?". She turns the tables, responding with a question, "What do you think?", refusing to engage him at all on his own terms. When she forces this issue yet again, all Mr. C. can manage is the hollow, labored "At your house." She knows he's got nothing. Warden Murphy, by contrast, asks him "How do I know you know anything about...THIS." After an agonizing but relatively brief pause, Mr. C. says, almost with alacrity, "Joe McCloskey." Where Diane stonewalled Mr. C.'s dark powers of intuition, Warden Murphy betrayed himself almost instantly.
6. Diane's assessment of what is missing from Mr. C.--After Diane bolts from the visiting room and Cole rejoins her in the parking lot, she regales him with a viscerally moving description of how she knew that Mr. C. is not the real Dale Cooper:
Diane (in agony): “Listen to me! That is not the Dale Cooper that I knew.”
Cole (turning up his hearing aid): “Please tell me exactly what you mean.”
Diane (beside herself): “It isn’t time passing. Or how he’s changed. Or the way he looks. It’s something here (points to heart) or something that definitely isn’t here (crying).”
Cole: “That’s good enough for me Diane, that’s good enough for me.”
If we loop back to the beginning and recall John Lash's psychological definition of gnosticism as a form of "intuitive knowing of the heart that liberates us from social conditioning and ego-fixation," we can see that what Diane found wanting in Mr. C. that Special Agent Dale Cooper has in spades is gnosis (if not any particular gnosticism)--that liberating, intuitive knowing of the heart that he must have once upon a time lavished on Diane in a way that left an indelible spiritual mark on both of them.
LANGUAGE AND THE LABOR OF MEANING: WHY TWIN PEAKS IS SO DEMANDING OF VIEWERS AND THAT'S A GOOD THING, TOO!
In the wake of Part Eight, it's no longer a stretch to say that Twin Peaks demands more of its viewers than any show in television history. Doubtless, there are occasional patches of smooth, beautiful sailing: with David Lynch skippering, you're going to see lovely things. But the truth is that the show is frequently very, very hard: hard to watch, hard to follow, hard to understand, hard to explain, and increasingly hard to defend to the burgeoning number of viewers who want more coffee and donuts and less primordial egg-ridden spooge hurtling through the tohu wa-bohu.
To be sure, there are plenty of folks who love the show despite (or even because of) its difficulty. But there's no denying that the heat is rising in Twin Peaks discussion groups, with members bickering--occasionally even at each others' virtual throats--over whether Part Eight went too far off the rails to deserve to keep its audience. Some participants even confessed to the advent of significant unrest in their households and relationships over personal disagreements with partners and friends who have had their fill of hanging out in mushroom clouds and watching soot specters shamble around under strobe lights. Critics are increasingly impatient too, with some going so far as declaring their "loathing" for the show and questioning the artistic integrity of Frost and Lynch's motives in making it. Says Scott D. Pierce of the Salt Lake Tribune, "[a]t some point, I half expect that Frost and Lynch will laugh, tell us it was an elaborate joke and mock all who took it seriously." Pierce's view is extreme, but he isn't alone.
I think Pierce and his ilk are dead wrong that Twin Peaks' difficulty disrespects its viewers. On the contrary, I think that Twin Peaks is demanding of its viewers precisely because it respects them. But for the sake of promoting healthy dialogue across differences of opinion, I won't just baldly assert this claim. I'll argue for it in hopes of bridging the gap between those who sympathize with Pierce's view (or something like it) and those who could spend years watching giants and jubilant otherworldly flappers fine-tune their Rube-Goldbergesque time-travel machines unto infinity while Audrey Horne and Big Eg Hurley go hang.
The first step is to challenge the claim that Frost and Lynch's artistic motives are inauthentic--that their aim is not in fact to make a compelling show, but is, at best, to ride their aesthetic hobby horses with no real intention of rewarding the viewer or, at worst, to revel in obscurity for the express purpose of confounding or mocking the viewer.
This outlook seems wildly implausible in light of what we've learned about Frost and Lynch over the course of their storied four-decade careers. Indeed, it is difficult to find two people in the industry who have been more consistently earnest in their efforts to be true to their artistic visions and generous to their audiences. To anyone who has spent even five minutes with Mark Frost's recent novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, the suggestion will seem lunatic that Frost is somehow cynical in his approach to Twin Peaks or anything but fully earnest in his love for the characters and subject matter. Whatever one thinks of the book, the care and delight that went into producing its fastidiously curated content are veritably beaming from every page; whatever flaws one can ferret out, there is simply nothing cynical about the effort.
As for David Lynch, the consistency of his artistic vision is nothing short of legendary and direct expressions of deep respect for his viewership are easy to find. If anything, he gives his viewers too much credit. Consider, for instance, the following long quotation from the "Interpretation" essay in his book Catching the Big Fish, in which he credits viewers with knowing much more than they may realize about difficult films and texts, enjoining them to dive deep into their own intuitive depths with the help of good friends. Says Lynch, "Cinema is a lot like music. It can be very abstract, but people have a yearning to make intellectual sense of it, to put it right into words. And when they can't do that, it feels frustrating. But they can come up with an explanation from within, if they just allow it. If they started talking to their friends, soon they would see things--what something is and what something isn't. And they might agree with their friends or argue with their friends--but how could they agree or argue if they don't already know? The interesting thing is, they really do know more than they think. And by voicing what they know, it becomes clearer. And when they see something, they could try to clarify that a little more, and again, go back and forth with a friend. And they would come to some conclusion. And that would be valid." (Catching the Big Fish, 20)
The book concludes with this blessing to readers: "May everyone be happy. May everyone be free of disease. May auspiciousness be seen everywhere. May suffering belong to no one. Peace." (Catching the Big Fish, 177) And Lynch is not just whistling dixie here. He puts his money where his mouth is, having founded a a non-profit organization--The David Lynch Foundation--the express mission of which is to teach transcendental meditation for the purpose of "healing traumatic stress and raising performance in at-risk populations" (including inmates in prison and students in embattled schools). In short, these simply are not the words and actions of an indulgent elitist who disrespects his viewers, satisfied to waste their time with self-centered, masturbatory obscurantism. It seems plausible, then, to think that Frost and Lynch respect their viewership and have every intention of delivering them an authentic, edifying experience. Their efforts to do so might still fail, of course, but if they do fail, it's not for lack of genuine effort to succeed. The demanding nature of Twin Peaks, then, is not plausibly explained as a one gun (five gun?) salute to its viewership, Dr. Amp's antics notwithstanding.
From this point forward, I assume that Frost and Lynch see the difficulty of Twin Peaks as fully compatible with genuine respect for their audience. My aim in the remainder of this essay is to illuminate the questions of (1) how and why Twin Peaks is so demanding of viewers and (2) why one has good reason to consider the difficulty of Twin Peaks an asset to the show and a potentially edifying gift to its viewership.
I'll handle the questions of how and why Twin Peaks is so demanding in two steps: I'll start with some examples drawn from my own personal experience of the difficulty of watching and interpreting Twin Peaks, and then look to the work of philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer for some help in explaining what's going on behind those difficult experiences. As the subtitle of this essay suggests, the guiding problem is that Twin Peaks complicates and even transgresses our dominant language norms, saddling us with the additional burdens of constructing context and even inventing new language before we can begin to interpret and understand what the show puts in front of us. Whereas most television shows unfold within a familiar context (i.e., realistic police drama, heroic fantasy, psychological thriller, etc.) and abide by well-established conventions of plot development, dialogue, and character type, Twin Peaks resolutely does not and thus shifts the difficult labors of contextual construction and establishing nomenclature (a system of naming and reference for making meaning in a particular narrative or context) onto the viewership. A couple of personal examples might help to bring these problems into sharper relief.
I'm trying to write an episode guide for Twin Peaks and it feels like translating a foreign language. Before I can say anything meaningful about "what's going on" in plain English, I have to have a holistic, insightful grasp on what's going on in the show. The problem is that Twin Peaks keeps showing me things that, first, are incredibly difficult to understand, and second--even once I have (tenuously) understood them--are near to impossible to capture in sensible, accessible descriptive language. Reflecting on these two interpretive problems, it is easy to see that they are intimately connected: of course it's going to be really hard to capture in language something that I don't really intuitively understand from experience. It's hard enough to bridge the gap between having an experience I do intuitively understand and then describing it to someone else in a way that captures that experience. With the added wrinkle that the original experience of the show is often so foreign to my everyday stock experiences as to be initially unintelligible, it's hardly surprising that it ain't easy to capture "what's going on" in words.
To make matters more concrete, think about the scene in Part Three where Dougie is called back into the Lodge and must confront the news that he is merely a spent golem. What happens to Dougie in the wake of receiving this terrible news is so bizarre that one can barely even grasp the basic mechanics of it on a first viewing, much less the significance of it. In attempting to write about this scene, I found myself rewinding the footage five, six, seven, eight times before it was even clear to me exactly what had taken place and even then--still!--I had no idea how to try to convey what I finally understood. Here's what I came up with: "Without warning, Dougie’s head implodes into a menacing black vapor and a gold pearl materializes from out of the vapor. In a flicker, an entity that appears similar to the Arm's disfigured head snaps into the frame and ingests the gold pearl, only then to disgorge it onto the seat before disappearing." To say the least, this sentence was not an easy one to compose even after it was clear to me what had actually transpired. What's more, though the sentence is rendered in clear English, the meaning of the happening it expresses is hardly illuminated thereby.
If it were just the surreal moments that presented this challenge, Twin Peaks might not be so hard; after all, for every Lodge visit, temporal rift odyssey, and gravity-defying dime, there are five scenes depicting regular folks doing mostly mundane, if sometimes odd, things. But those scenes too are often incredibly demanding of the viewer, given the care that is taken with how the scenes are constructed and situated in the series as a whole. Scenes that appear on their face to be relatively straightforward instances of comic relief, or action, or much-needed rest from the action in a clean, well-lighted space often turn out, upon further reflection, to be more complicated or mysterious than they initially seemed (think of Dr. Amp's Gold Shit-Digging Shovel or Ike the Spike's failed assassination attempt on Cooper or Bing's curious behavior at the R&R). These challenging oddities and mini-mysteries strewn throughout even the most seemingly banal scenes are incredibly difficult to capture and convey, assuming one notices them at all.
The upshot is that Twin Peaks is demanding of its audience not just as a task for reflective interpretation after the fact, but also at the most basic level of the viewing experience itself; much of the time, what we experience on screen is not enough to provide the usual assurances that we fully, or even partially, understand what we are seeing, much less the significance of what we are seeing. And this is simply not an experience we're televisually well-accustomed to, even from watching other demanding, well-wrought series like True Detective or The Leftovers where there are interpretive mysteries o'plenty (to be sure) but many fewer disruptions and transgressions of the foundational assumptions that viewers are used to being able to take for granted in watching television concerning, for instance, what and where and when things are, what basic laws (if any) of perception, persistence, and interaction govern these entities, what to expect in terms of pacing and plot and character development, and how to discern the big tops from the sideshows when it comes to interpretive significance for the narrative as a whole.
In Twin Peaks, however, viewers can't take any of these things for granted, but must take on the burdens of contextual construction and meaning-making themselves, wrestling their understanding of the narrative (and the more conventional mysteries within it) from regular bouts with--among other things--extreme abstraction, surrealism, spatial and temporal discontinuity, magic, absurdity, caricature, bizarre characters and their perpetual doubling, unconventional pacing, and exaggerated sonic signification. Even for the most experienced Twin Peaks freaks, the result is inarguably a demanding, disorienting ride.
That these unorthodox features of Twin Peaks complicate things for the viewer is certainly clear enough, but it remains to elucidate why they make it so demanding, and, moreover, why rising to the challenge of these demands (rather than simply deeming Twin Peaks a failed experiment and throwing in the towel) is an edifying prospect. Here, some insights from Hans-Georg Gadamer into the norms of human language and understanding (and how Twin Peaks complicates and transgresses them) can help us to glimpse what is going on behind the scenes as we struggle to make sense of Twin Peaks. [Spoiler warning: Things are about to take a turn for the slow and abstract for the next handful of paragraphs, but only for the purpose of returning to our beloved Twin Peaks with some handy new interpretive tools; besides, if you're reading this, you probably voluntarily watched Cooper standing listlessly under a statue for ten minutes and willingly journeyed to the center of a mushroom cloud aided only by images of white flak and rain falling upwards, so we already know you're adept at negotiating slow and abstract.]
Following his teacher Martin Heidegger who famously described language as "the house of being," Gadamer maintains that language is not just a communication tool that we pick up and use when we need it and then shelve when we don't (e.g., "verbal" communication), but is rather the primary mode of being through which humans meaningfully experience and understand the world in the first place. Because we human beings are always already using language (in this broad, interpretive sense of recognizing and understanding meaningful differences in the world) by the time there is a meaningful world in front of us to speak of, we can never get a fully impartial perspective on meaning-making. Insofar as our understanding of the world is always already taking place within language by the time it's possible to ask critical questions about it, there's no way for human meaning-making to leave language behind.
In "Man and Language" (pp. 69 ff.), Gadamer characterizes this linguistic mode of human understanding in terms of three essential features: self-forgetfulness, I-lessness, and universality. According to Gadamer, when "language is a living operation"--that is, when we are experiencing it in the way we ordinarily do as an open window into the world--language is unaware of itself (self-forgetful), always already absorbed in a community of understanding (I-less), and all-encompassing of our understanding given that every particular linguistic point of reference (ideas, words, sentences, etc.) that is meaningful to us assumes our background understanding of how that particular idea or word fits within the linguistic system as whole (universal). We can make these abstractions more concrete by attending to how they feel in our experience on the ground.
The self-forgetfulness of language feels like breathing or seeing through your favorite pair of glasses: it's influence is simultaneously pervasive and almost completely hidden from you--everything depends on its occurrence behind the scenes, but like a good operating system on a phone or a computer, when things are going well, you'll never even know it's there. Imagine calling to tell your best friend about an amazing night on the town with a new flame: here's what you're not doing--"Now let's see, I want to express my excitement, so I'll choose emphatic verbs, limit my use of dependent clauses, and make sure that my word order is entirely unambiguous, leaving no room for question about the sincerity of my attraction to this fascinating new person." Nope. You simply gush forth your enthusiasm for the person and your excitement about the evening, without any care or knowledge of grammar or syntax, or even basic awareness that you are speaking words at all. The same is true for your friend. Unless she is pissed at you or jealous, she won't even apprehend that you are speaking or that she is listening--you will simply be together in a world of shared meaning, as the words and sentences vanish into their understood significance for the two of you in that experience. And this is the way it goes most of the time in our day to day dealings.
Self-forgetfulness is thus a beautiful thing--it means that, most of the time, anyway, we can live and experience and communicate in a meaningful world without the vaguest sense that we are doing so, without any conscious effort to "construct" what we are seeing or saying or feeling. To appreciate what a blessing it is that language usually functions in this way, consider those terrible moments, hopefully much fewer and farther between, where language is not a living operation and you become acutely and awkwardly aware that you must now "produce" something to say and everything depends on your "finding the words:" the professor calls on you when you're unprepared for class; the person you'd most like to impress in the world turns up next to you at the grocery when you're in your giving-up-on-life pants; you're suddenly on the spot to make an impromptu wedding toast half in the bag, but not far enough in to be oblivious to how badly this is about to go; you're on deadline, but you have writer's block. For most of us, these experiences and others like them make us feel anywhere from uncomfortable to seriously incapacitated: the usual luxury of blissful self-forgetfulness is snatched away and we're suddenly on the interpretive hot-seat, scrambling to discharge a burden of meaning-making that usually happens effortlessly.
The I-lessness of language feels like a fascinating conversation in which you lose yourself in the back-and-forth of the dialogue and emerge a different person, or like a game in which you subordinate your individual performance to becoming one with your teammates and rivals in the scintillating, unpredictable play of the competition. When linguistic understanding is taking place as usual, we are always already enmeshed in a world of shared meaning with others, going about our business in implicit awareness of how the communal norms of meaning-making and -sharing generally function and of how to make our way within them. Even when we aren't actually with other people, the ways in which we understand ourselves and the world are always already deeply inflected by the ways we've been shaped in our language communities. Understanding, as Gadamer elegantly puts it, always takes place "in the sphere of the 'we'".
The universality of language, finally, shows up in our ability implicitly to infer and express all sorts of unstated information from prior understanding of the background context of what is explicitly seen or said or felt. When someone says, for instance, "I'd like two scoops of vegan butter brickle, in a cone, to go.", no one needs to tell us not to prepare six scoops of cow's-milk Superman in a dish for dine-in, much less not to offer a massage or a cab ride or a trip to see the Rothko Chapel in Houston. We already understand all those things implicitly and immediately without having to be told because we already possess a background understanding of the language as a whole and of how the various parts work meaningfully together therein. Thanks to the universality of language, every meaningful sentence we speak brings the entire unsaid background context of the language along with it.
We are now in a position to make it much clearer why Twin Peaks is so demanding of the viewer, in light of these three essential features of language. Most television shows do not challenge these basic conventions of linguistic understanding but rather work intentionally and comfortably within them: they allow us to suspend our disbelief and become blissfully absorbed in the narrative (self-forgetfulness), safely ensconced in a set of shared communal interpretive conventions of meaning (I-lessness) and armed with significant background knowledge from our previous experience of similar shows that enables us effortlessly and implicitly to grasp and infer innumerable meaningful connections between what we see and what we don't see (universality).
Twin Peaks, on the contrary, not only resists easy accommodation to all three essential features of language, but often makes a point of calling our attention very explicitly to the fact that breaking out of these usual rhythms of made-to-order meaning is essential to our ability to wake up to what is really going on, both in the drama of Twin Peaks and in our own daily lives in the world at large. As wonderful a blessing as it is, most of the time, to live in a world that is effortlessly understood (self-forgetfulness), shared meaningfully with others like oneself (I-less), and grasped in advance as a whole (universality), it is nothing short of dangerous to allow oneself to be lulled into believing that there is nothing more to the world than what one has dreamt of in her inherited, accessible, expressible philosophy. To embark on a genuine search for truth, one must wake up from the ingrained tendency simply to accept what has been handed down to one and take responsibility for actively making meaning rather than just always passively receiving it.
Waking up isn't easy, though. It typically requires exposure to some person or place or experience that calls forth a radical rupture from the everyday--a cleavage from our average selves and modes of apprehension that affords us enough critical distance from who and how we typically are to see the crucial difference between who we have been up to now and who we might yet be in a future past. Most of the time, we live from out of the past toward the future, allowing the conventions and inheritances of our heritage to dictate what we see, feel, understand and know--what we will be. But in these rare moments of wakefulness, in these experiences of rupture with the everyday, we live from out of the future toward the past, holding open the possibility of being and understanding something new, something as-yet-underway, something not completely determined by who one has been and what one has understood up to now.
Twin Peaks awakens us from our self-forgetfulness by making it impossible to fall asleep at the wheel. How, after all, can one become anesthetized by inherited understanding when inherited understanding often provides exactly ZERO traction on what is transpiring in front of one at any given moment? When we are sure that we understand, we can coast along and sink into comfort; when we are unclear about what is going on, and yet desire to understand, we must cling to wakefulness, stay alert, remain poised at the edge of our attention.
Twin Peaks forces us into expanded consciousness of our I-lessness by necessitating interaction with different others. When we're confident that the people in our usual orbit have a stranglehold on the truth, there's no reason to go outside the bubble. But when a visceral experience is so confounding that everyone we usually trust is as confused as we are, we have no choice but to broaden our horizons and look for input from elsewhere if we care about truth-seeking. To achieve the understanding we hope for, we must build bridges to communities of interpretation beyond the one in which we began the search.
Twin Peaks pushes outward on the boundaries of the universality of language, finally, by reminding us that our present conception of "the whole" is always too small and that there are beings and experiences and epiphanies out there in the world that our inherited conception of things, at least as we currently apprehend it, cannot sufficiently comprehend.
It is hardly a mystery, then, that most viewers find Twin Peaks exasperating at some point or other. What the series is doing, after all, at least if I'm on the right track in this essay, is nothing short of challenging and even transgressing some of the most elemental ways that human beings go about their business in the world. Self-forgetfulness, I-lessness, and universality are who we are and where we live and what we know. To expose those essential features of our identity to dismantling, expansion, and evolution is deeply unnerving. In the same way that most of us find it uncomfortable (at the least!) to be called on when we don't know the answer, or to be put upon to articulate and defend what we believe when we haven't really thought it through, most of us--if we're honest--will find ourselves put on the spot in various ways by this show that simply refuses to cooperate with our expectations, forces us to hone our perspectives against the whetstone of diverse opinion, and demands that we perpetually find the courage to dismantle and reconstruct the frames of reference we were tempted to think could bring everything together even before all has been revealed.
It seems to me that hanging in there with Twin Peaks is an edifying prospect notwithstanding the various challenges and discomforts that attend to attempting what it demands of us. Those of us who are disinclined to suffer it any further as entertainment, moreover, might do well to abandon it as a leisure activity and take it up instead as a spiritual or philosophical exercise in self-expansion. What Frost and Lynch are offering us here, I think, is nothing short of the gift of an opportunity for cultivating self-transcendence. None of us can achieve that lofty goal, alas, without putting in some hard work. In today's world, with insular group-think on the rise and tyrants o'plenty anxious to exploit our uncritical provinciality, I think we could do much worse than to spend some of our ample televisual experience hard at work on expanding our interpretive horizons.