GLIMPSES OF THE MYSTERY
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Figure one--A Lincoln penny on its way to New Mexico. Among the many mysteries that The Final Dossier doesn't address is the distillation of the orb containing Laura Palmer's essence into a Lincoln penny which is then sent hurtling toward New Mexico, only to be retrieved by a young Sarah Palmer on the night that a Lincolnesque woodsman undertakes a head-crushing murder spree at a local radio station.
The publication of Twin Peaks-The Final Dossier and Mark Frost's battery of publicity interviews with Slate, Variety, and DigitalSpy (among others) have offered some plot-resolution satisfaction for those who desperately craved it while leaving others with a sinking feeling that the delicate "calibration between revelation and mystery" (as Frost calls it) has gone a bit lopsided in the revelation direction.
In his review of The Final Dossier for NPR's Monkey See, Glen Weldon offers an illuminating take on how this delicate calibration epitomizes the unlikely but charmed alchemy that is the Lynch/Frost partnership. Weldon puts the point about as winsomely as I've seen it articulated in print, so I'll just let him speak for himself at length:
As Weldon admits, this clean opposition between Frost-as-narrative-mastercraftsperson and Lynch-as-fever-dreaming-auteur has its limits. But for the sake of following a potentially interesting path cleared by this productive dialectic of "clear storytelling" and "openness to happenstance," let's delve a bit deeper into the question of what our irresistible urge to tell clear stories indicates about the human experience, especially at these stories' outer edges where narrative clarity (if not narrative vision) can be purchased only at the cost of refusing to countenance the abysses of the world beyond finite meaning
Storytelling is what we do--whether in film, fiction, art, or life--to connect the dots and orient ourselves within a world that discloses itself to us as radically underdetermined in meaning and purpose. We need stories precisely because the raw beauty, brutality, and infinity of the naked world are simply too overwhelming for finite creatures to bear. Stories, if you will, are the burning bushes that keep us from being incinerated by the full presence of holiness, or the foot- and hand-holds that allow us to cleave to the sheer mountainside, or the constellations that lend familiarity, warmth, and order to the sublime expanse of space beyond imagination. We human beings aren't very well practiced or confident at being on our own in a world of near to limitless possibilities.
To cope in this vertigo-inducing world of possibilities too excessive to fathom (much less control or even firmly grasp), we seek firmer ground in inherited stories that make this capacious, uncanny, unfathomable world feel smaller, friendlier, and more intelligible. With familiar narratives that have clear-cut beginnings, middles, and final ends, we cut the world to fit our need to belong, to feel safe, to set and achieve clear and meaningful intermediate goals, and especially to render approachable and explicable those indifferent or hostile or ungraspable worldly revelations that would otherwise threaten to unravel the strong and artful but nonetheless ultimately rendable weave of narrative threads that constitutes the swinging hammock of existence we've somehow managed ever so tenuously to suspend over the yawning abyss between an infinitely receding yet inescapably formative past and an infinitely expanding yet inescapably inscrutable future.
From the way I'm talking about storytelling, you'd think we were aware that we are doing it. But most of the time, we're blissfully unaware of the narratives through which the whole wide ungainly world becomes our own little familiar patch of being. We are like the storyteller who tells a story and then lives inside the story, no more capable than the slumbering dreamer of waking up to the limits of our artifice by our own devices. The question "Who is the dreamer?" rings out within the dream only when the seamless, self-forgetful narrative in which we are absorbed as characters is rifted by some disparate element--an irruption or rending of the story whose otherness and irreconcilability with the foregoing narrative suddenly commands our attention, thwarting our continued passive reception of accessible meaning and compelling us to become active interpreters of the ruptured text before us who must somehow either piece together the remnants of the story or learn to live with its discontinuities.
This transition from the comfort of being a a character passively absorbed in the drama to the alienation of being a narrator standing outside it--now with an urgent responsibility to create rather than just receive--is deeply disorienting. But it is also essential to our individuation as free agents capable of understanding and interpreting the world and our place in it. One might even say that we don't have a world at all--that is, a set of open possibilities for understanding and navigating life as the unique individuals we are--until this transition has taken place. That we have a world from which to differentiate our own particular selves and in which to assert and develop these selves is a function of trauma--some irreconcilable separation from the seamless flow of the narrative that gives us the interpretive distance from the story that is necessary for getting leverage on the question of what each of us must do.
Let's call these moments of rupture or emergence of irreconcilable otherness within a narrative instances of "world-disclosure": their job is not to advance the running narrative and keep us comfortably absorbed in it, but rather to interrupt the story and give us a glimpse into the wide, uncanny, unfathomable world that lies beneath--that yawning chasm of possible but as yet undetermined meanings in the face of which we must take responsibility as narrators or reconcile ourselves to abiding in mystery (or, as is often the case, negotiate some combination of responsibility and reconciliation).
A big part of what makes Twin Peaks such a unique and inimitable experience for the viewer is the speed and frequency with which we must undergo this disorienting transition between immersive storytelling and irruptive world-disclosure. Back and forth and back and forth we go, pistons in what Glen Weldon describes above as the "two-stroke engine" that is Frost/Lynch...Lynch/Frost...Frost/Lynch...Lynch/Frost.
In reading Ta-Nehisi Coates We Were Eight Years in Power, I came across a gorgeous stretch of prose on the need for unflinching truth in art that really illuminated the world-disclosive spirit of Twin Peaks for me. Describing how early hip-hop from the likes of L.L. Cool J. and Nas awakened him to the transgressive power of brutally honest words, Coates communicates a transformation he experienced in the wake of ruminating on Nas' "One Love," a song that tells a story in which "Nas and a twelve-year-old drug dealer are sitting on a bench smoking marijuana" and "Nas attempts to advise the younger drug dealer, who routinely carries a gun, how to cope with the violence of the projects." Says Coates,
"His advice is beautiful, which is to say it is grounded in the concrete fact of slavery. That was how I wanted to write--with weight and clarity, without sanctimony and homily. I could not even articulate why. I guess if forced I would have mumbled something about 'truth'. What I know is that by then I had absorbed an essential message, an aesthetic, from Nas and from the hip-hop of that era. Art was not an after-school special. Art was not motivational speaking. Art was not sentimental. It had no responsibility to be hopeful or optimistic or make anyone feel better about the world. It must reflect the world in all its brutality and beauty, not in hopes of changing it but in the mean and selfish desire to not be enrolled in its lie, to not be coopted by the television dreams, to not ignore the great crimes all around us." ("Notes from the Fourth Year," in We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy, 88)
Coates is obviously writing about (and from within) a completely different experiential matrix with decidedly different cultural markers and animating conflicts than that of Frost and Lynch. Nonetheless, I found what Coates had to say about the urgency of art's mission to show us our bondage--to force us to confront those dishonest stories to which we remain enslaved--to be powerfully resonant with some of the truths Twin Peaks teaches us about late twentieth-century human experience.