GLIMPSES OF THE MYSTERY
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Just before Cooper's encounter with a luminescent Laura Palmer in Part Two, Philip Gerard--the one-armed man--asks Cooper, "Is it future or is it past?". Imagine for a moment the circumstances under which you might encounter this question in full earnest. Under what circumstances, in other words, might you find yourself in the existential quandary of genuinely wondering whether your perceived present actually has yet to happen in the future or has already happened in the past?
Any such circumstances will be profoundly disorienting. Anyone who has experienced déjà vu, for instance, has lived through the gooseflesh-inducing dislocation that this question provokes--that uncanny feeling that arrives in the coincidence of breathtaking excitement at getting a special kind of leverage over the usual flow of time (on the one hand) and bloodcurdling horror at existing, somehow, outside this usual flow as a stranger to oneself (on the other). In addition to instances of déjà vu, we might experience different but similar shades of this vertiginous feeling in dreams, visions, religious experiences, meditation, bouts of mental illness, experiments with mind-altering substances (think Jerry Horne's recent revelation: "I don't know who I am!"), or--to a lesser degree--in philosophical thought experiments that invite us to consider whether we're brains in a vat or drones in a matrix, beings whose experiential lives are not staked to the ground of fundamental reality at all, but are rather ever-flowing spatio-temporal projections that can be sped up, slowed down, rewound, replayed, remixed, back-masked, beamed into other worlds, and put to ends that are not our own.
The world of Twin Peaks pays lavish attention to this disorientation of being in time (let's call it "time-out-of-joint") and, crucially for my purpose here, to the prospect of achieving liberation from the incessant, limiting flow of time by learning how to abide in time-out-of-joint--that is, how to seek out and experience these uncanny departures from the usual spatio-temporal flow as opportunities to return to the flux of everyday life with renewed vision, sharpened attention, decreased dependence on material and spiritual superfluities, and increased attunement to one's essential resonance within the mystery that lies beyond and ultimately envelopes one's fleeting historical moment.
Twin Peaks attends to the liberating prospects of "abiding in time-out-of-joint" on two distinct levels:
(1) At the narrative level, the unfolding of the story offers ample opportunities to observe characters struggling to abide in time-out-of-joint with varying degrees of success and failure. Moreover, because the story unfolds across two (or more) worlds, we have an opportunity to witness these characters contending with departures from their usual states-of-being both in the "real" world (i.e., in a fictional version of the world we viewers live in here on Earth) and in a spiritual/dream world that is somehow both in and beyond "reality." To make this distinction more concrete, think, for instance, of the difference (in the original series) between Cooper's efforts to depart from the usual spatio-temporal flow of a criminal investigation by, say, throwing rocks at milk bottles as a means of inviting the cosmos to participate in identifying key suspects, and Cooper's efforts to decipher what is going on while in dreams or in the Black Lodge. Because Cooper's (and other characters') stories take place between two worlds, our opportunities to witness their grapplings with time-out-of-joint are doubled.
(2) At the meta level, the way the narrative of Twin Peaks is constructed offers viewers themselves ample opportunities to experience time-out-of-joint by forcing them to contend with unconventional visuals, sound, pacing, and plot devices that violate established norms of narrative flow in serial drama, thereby disrupting viewers' experience, thwarting expectations in ways both thrilling and infuriating, and demanding that viewers seek alternate means of being edified by the narrative when the typical goal of straightforwardly "understanding what is going on" is simply not an option. Woe to the unsuspecting viewer, more concretely, who comes to Twin Peaks reluctant to watch "three pointless minutes of some guy sweeping out the Roadhouse" or hesitant to accept the intervention of "a blob of medical waste perched atop a sycamore sapling" as a fitting explanation of how our beloved protagonist escapes an assassination attempt unscathed. In summary, we viewers get to join the characters of Twin Peaks in the struggle to make meaning of worlds teeming with interpretive possibilities that far exceed our present powers of understanding and that strenuously resist any singular interpretation of "what actually happened" even at narrative's end.
The case of Cooper in Las Vegas furnishes a particularly fascinating opportunity to experience both of these levels simultaneously--that is, we can learn from the experience of a character who is himself "abiding in 'time-out-of-joint'" as the story unfolds, and we can experience a version of this abiding for ourselves by resolutely hanging in there with a story that simply refuses to observe the usual rules of narrative flow in serial drama, finding ways to take up Vegas Cooper's invitation to "make sense of it" even when the meaning isn't immediately or straightforwardly accessible.
Before attending to the case of Cooper in Las Vegas, however, it is important to say a bit more about what I mean by "the usual flow of time"; after all, if the purpose here is to illuminate what it means to abide in time-out-of-joint (and thus to achieve a certain liberating visionary leverage on garden variety time), we must begin with a clear sense of how the world looks when time is, as it were, "in joint"--that is, when experience is flowing in the usual way. Here, a little insight from the 20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger can help us.
As Heidegger saw it, typical human experience flows from out of the past toward the future, as human beings naturally draw on the prior understanding of the world they have achieved through previous experience ("the past") in order to illuminate and understand new, as-yet-unrealized possibilities for thinking about and acting in the world ("the future"). The good news about this arrangement is that experience begins not in alienation from a hostile world unknown, but in the comfort and familiarity of a world that is always already "home:" by the time there is a meaningful world in front of us--family and friends to engage and things to use in various ways--we are always already experienced with this world, always already construing it (and the people and things in it, including our very selves) in terms of the familiar patterns of identification and transmission we have inherited from the past. The bad news about this arrangement is that always starting with the familiar has a way of flattening the world, reducing a magical place where there is much more to behold than most of us have dreamed of in our inherited philosophies to a series of banal repetitions of the same. This bad news gets considerably worse when we countenance the fact that these banal repetitions of inherited ways of thinking and being inevitably transmit forms of injustice, exclusion, and suffering that become nearly impossible to escape.
Let's call this default form of human experience "living from out of the past toward the future" or "past future," for short. In part two of this post, I'll address the question of how this default mode of experience--"past future"--can be disrupted by a different way of being in the world "from out of the future toward the past," or "future past" for short. The challenge, as we shall see, is that while the way of the "past future" is comfortable and familiar, the way of the "future past" is dark and difficult, at least at first. Here is the epiphany toward which we are progressing: "In the darkness of a future past, the magician longs to see..." Can the world once again become a magical place of infinite possibilities when we short-circuit our default approach to construing the world in terms of familiar, predictable patterns of thought and being and open ourselves to seeing and being something more? How can attending to the details of Cooper's experience in Las Vegas help us to open these doors of perception? More to come...