The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
Desire Under the Douglas Firs


In "Twin Peaks," Cooper detects through immersion physical indeterminacy, obliqueness, and ambiguity are his primary modes of discovery. Once Cooper has used standard FBI procedures to assemble his suspects, he turns to his preferred means of inquiry, a modus operandi that initiates the town and the television spectator into the sleuthing approach of a mind-body detective. In the third episode, he introduces his unorthodox procedures to the audience and the Twin Peaks constabulary as he sets himself up in a local forest, incongruously situated in front of a blackboard, to expound upon the Tibetan Method.

This Method is not grounded in the pragmatic "realities" of most police dramas: police academy, laboratory, or mean streets. Instead it issues from the most powerful plane of reality in "Twin Peaks": the dream. Cooper narrates a dream about a longing to end the political repression of Tibet that is identified with what amounts to a longing to free the body from the repressiveness of logic. "I awoke from the same dream realizing that I had subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique involving mind-body coordination operating hand in hand with the deepest level of intuition." The mixed, seriocomic tone of Cooper's presentation under the Douglas firs itself challenges us to use Cooper's method, an exercise that pointedly avoids the routine detective apparati of logic, clues, or muscle. Instead, Cooper designs a unique heuristic process which calls for him to throw rocks at a bottle situated on a tree stump at a precisely measured distance as the name of each suspect is read from the blackboard.

As we accustom ourselves to meditating on crime through the sensory experience of natural textures and sounds, the illegibility of the body loses its accustomed code as a site of fear; instead it emerges as the locus of knowledge through play as it was when we were young. However, the result is not a regressive infantilism but a renewal of human desire for a miraculous world.

Lynch/Frost's choice of an FBI agent as the hero of "Twin Peaks" draws attention to the transformation of normal coding. A mass-media FBI agent character ordinarily depends on our understanding of the literal job of the FBI: to intervene in criminal investigations when state or national boundaries are crossed. Television government agents are the sine qua non of television's endless and obsessive restoration of limits, barriers that authorize only the most domesticated form of desire. In"Twin Peaks," the traditions are honored in that, literally, a state boundary is crossed during the murder of Laura Palmer, and that is the conventional reason why Special Agent Cooper is the man for the job. However, as a boundary specialist, Cooper is not the disavower of the body, the purger of bodily fluctuation through the rigid limits of convention, but a specialist in crossing boundaries, a quester capable of moving confidently and productively between the mental clarity of law and the intelligent fluidity of the body.

Such talents are immediately in demand when Laura Palmer is found brutally murdered naked, pallid, blue-lipped, and wrapped in plastic within the first three minutes of the series. This crime is a form of reality testing for Twin Peaks (and television tradition), revealing a town layered into slick, flat planes of cliche through a mind capable of negotiating many layers. Local law (and television tradition) is by nature merely part of the plane of cliche, and thus only capable of partial vision. Local law read common sense is affectionately personified by Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), but his traditional search for "just the facts" has limited application because "Twin Peaks" challenges the constitution of a "fact."

The traditional fact loses its hard edge when the crucial clues are discovered in dreams and visions. Cooper's dreams reveal what pragmatic detection will never find: BOB (Frank Silva) and MIKE (Al Strobel), two male energies from another dimension who have crossed the limits of the natural world to inhabit it as parasites of human hosts, as they term their local habitations. BOB, a male Medusa complete with snaky locks and bone-chilling smile, is the young male energy that has used smiling Leland Palmer, Laura's father (Ray Wise), as his host and that impels him to horrifying atrocities against his daughter (and others). MIKE is BOB's former companion in crime, one-armed from ripping off the offending, guilty arm, who now hunts BOB to terminate his reign of terror. The absurdly banal names adopted by these devestating powers once they have crossed into the plane of "ordinary" reality are, according to Frost and Robert Engels, a writer-producer on the series, a primary example of the "Twin Peaks" tone: here, banalities tragicomically mask strange forces. (note #4)

Cooper first meets BOB and MIKE in a dream at the end of the third episode of the series. The meeting between detective and crime within the dream context expands the conventional role of the detective's eye (which traditionally is restricted to controlling through looking), emphasizing the otherness of body. Cooper's eye within the dream is, by contrast, enraptured.

The heart of MIKE's message to Cooper is couched in five rhymed lines:

Through the darkness
The future past
The magician longs to see.
One chance out between two worlds
Fire walk with me.

The magician is Cooper. The heart of detection is the magic of boundary crossing. Cooper's "chance out" will enable him to cross the limits of the ordinary world into the darkness where future and past conflate.

The set design, the refrain elements in the series, as well as the visual and narrative texture of "Twin Peaks," implicate the spectator in both kinds of perception: the more conventional use of the controlling camera eye is disrupted by visual elements compatible with Cooper's Tibetan Method, by an alternate camera eye enraptured by indeterminate visual distinctions. Richard Hoover, the production designer of all the series episodes except the pilot, created a look for the show in which, he says, the concepts of inside and outside were conflated. A massive use of wood gives an outside feeling to the interiors. The interiors burgeon with dead animals and their parts horns, shells and nature drawings that are often photographed as if they were theatrical backdrops for the action. (note #5)

The opening signature montage (my terminology) of "Twin Peaks," designed by David Lynch, prepares us for both visual styles. Its lap dissolves among sharp images to the strains of the slow, mournful, but somewhat romatic theme music (composed by Angelo Badalamenti) suggest, according to Lynch, an enigmatic interpenetration of opposites as robins and cascading waterfalls dissolve into artifacts of an industrialized logging industry which spews thick smoke from its smoke-stacks and generates spearlike golden sparks with its gears. The series is coded to create a rich "cultural compost heap," as Mark Frost calls the unorthodox yoking of elements in "Twin Peaks." With its suggestion of the blending of once discrete entities until they fuse with each other, this phrase suggests the organic reality that calls forth Cooper's mind-body approach.

In this context, the purely Holmesian sleuth seems alarmingly invasive. A synecdoche of the reductive aggressiveness of the Holmesian mind is provided by the redoubtable Albert Rosenfeld (Miguel Ferrar), Cooper's favorite FBI forensics specialist, who can virtually reconstruct in his laboratory the molecules of Laura's last minutes. Called into the investigation by Cooper to perform an autopsy, Rosenfeld positions himself over Laura's corpse, sounding a prefatory whir with the handheld drill with which, in the name of science, he intends to bore a hole in her head. He is surprised (and furious) when his state-of-the-art methods are opposed by the Twin Peaks doctor, Doc Hayward (Warren Frost), and Sheriff Harry S. Truman, both of whom knew and loved Laura. Truman is so infuriated by Albert's unfeeling detachment that he punches him, indeed so hard that Rosenfeld lands grotesquely on top of Laura in a position that suggests the perverse necrophilia inherent in the Holmesian passion. Cooper underlines the negative image by supporting Hayward and Truman against Albert's scientific enthusiasm. The body of the crime, the body of flesh, is not to be erased or commodified by logic. Cooper's expression of a belief in mind-body connection is not just theory. In his compassion for body, he is mind-body connection.

"Twin Peaks" redefines the detective sensibility as being as much of the body as is the corpse, not to frighten the spectator but instead to encourage him/her to play with the instability of Cooper's physicality during intensely dramatic moments. For example, when Coopers wakes up in the middle of the night with a sudden insight, he presents a ludicrous figure, with his slicked-back hair still neatly plastered together but standing straight up, as a 90-degree angle to his head. Frequently, while sifting evidence, Cooper takes time out to breathe in the aroma of the ubiquitous local Douglas firs, or to savor black coffee, sugar doughnuts, or pie in a way that has the effect of a police car chase coming to a screeching halt to make way for a family of ducks. In "Twin Peaks," the illegibility and orneriness of the body is everywhere "in our face," minus the anxiety with which Hollywood detective films code such occurences. Cooper's persistent sidetrips into sensuality are comic, but not frivolous. They forge a new sensibility, one in which the sensuous loses its conventional coding as a distraction to be scrupulously avoided by the hero.

In "Twin Peaks," mystery conventions that depend on the suspect nature of the sensuous world inevitably tied up in gender issues are transformed. For example, in suspense films the tracking shot down a corridor paralyzes us with anxiety as it suggests an awful crisis of illegibility in the physical world, which is inevitably bound up with a fear of the feminine. (note #6) The long corridor is conventionally shot as if its depths, secrets, and illegibility were completely other to a masculine seeker, stimulating a positivist need for definitive control of a physicality which now seems female, fearful, and illegible. By contrast, on "Twin Peaks," the prevalence of an alternate treatment of this shot weakens both its usual gender implications and its usual definition of the relationship between the detective and the body. Sometimes a stationary camera may look down a long corridor while figures appearing in the distance come toward us as a form of energizing discovery. When Cooper and Truman meet for the first time, they are tiny figures shaking hands at the end of a very long hospital corridor. As they move toward the spectator, the long hallway is no longer claustrophobic but rather a place from which good things emerge. The friendliness of the corridor is a part of a text in which the ideal subject position is Cooper's Tibetan Method.

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Martha Nochimson wrote The Passion of David Lynch: Wild At Heart in Hollywood.

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