Twin Peaks: The Return
Reviewed by John David Ebert
This review is based only on the first five episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, but I think we can already begin to see the main themes emerging. Agent Dale Cooper has apparently been cloned at least twice by some unspecified electronic force that sends him through circuits and portals into other dimensions. At one point he squeezes through a wall outlet and winds up displacing a man named Dougie, who looks exactly like him and who was disintegrated when he was transported into Lynch’s famous astral red room (red is the traditional color of the underworld and the chevron patterns on its floor are archaic symbols of the watery abyss. The scene with the lavender tower that follows is an updating of the upperworld, the zone of transformation where the soul is refashioned in accordance with karmic exigencies). There are, so far, three iterations of Agent Cooper: Dougie, someone who appears to be Cooper himself (and a “cooper” is someone who makes vessels, in this case astral vehicles) and a mysterious criminal known only as the doppelganger. When Cooper comes through the portal into a Las Vegas house in a suburb, he seems to have lost some intrinsic part of his nature, for his personality is hollow and nearly catatonic.
These multiple souls, as it were, are a modern updating of the ancient idea that human beings had many souls, not just one, or even a spirit and a psyche. Throughout human history, as Jean Gebser has shown, the ancient plurality of souls—such as in Egypt—has slowly over the course of time diminished and simplified to the idea of a single soul. (A sort of microcosmic parallel to the slow shift from polytheism to monotheism which took place in tandem with the process).
But it is precisely under the electronic conditions with which we are saturated that the human subject is undergoing assault. The Kantian-Fichtean transcendental subject, which contemplated the world from the standpoint of Heideggerian Vorhandenheit, is now a leaky self subject to astral invasions and electronic replications. The phenomenon of the celebrity whose image avatar is multiplied to the point of fractal feedback loops is a kind of modern electronic recasting of the ancient idea that the human soul was made up of a plurality of souls—in Egypt, for instance, the pharaoh had fourteen ka’s. Already in the art of Andy Warhol. with its obsessive compulsive repetition of the image avatars of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, we can already begin to see the way in which the plurality of souls has made a comeback through the back door of our technologically hypersaturated culture, which routinely generates electromagnet fields within which we are saturated. Paranoia abounds under these conditions, as reality has disappeared from its substrate and become completely phantasmal.
Lynch’s iterations of Cooper, with their elastic hollowness and faint reality, are a way of saying that the human subject beneath the onslaught of the new media invasion has become something of a decorporealized phantom. In Twin Peaks, the body is becoming divorced from its material substrate and so identities can melt, blur and disintegrate into each other, just as they do on the Internet, where identities shift and dissolve constantly. One can never quite be certain just WHO one is dealing with on the other side of the electronic plasma pool.
Lynch is the master of the liquid self, of shifting and displaced identities and astral invasions of the porous membranes that now surround the subject. The cultural immune system around us is breaking down and the self, beneath the onslaught of electronic technology, is losing its immunological ability to discern self from other, or even fantasy from reality. We live now in a world of media generated avatars, phantoms, idorus and electronic ghosts. Our technologies have hollowed us out and now identities slip and slide from one mode to another.
Lynch, thus far, is creating an epic equivalent of Zygmunt Bauman’s liquid modernity. It is the liquid self now that each of us encounters daily through our iPhones, our laptops and the various electric screens with which we have surrounded ourselves. There is no ontological foundation to the subject anymore, for the subject has slipped free from its material substrate and become two dimensional: as hollow and empty as Agent Cooper when he slips into the life of Las Vegas wheeler dealer Dougie. Something is missing from him: he is Peter Sloterdijk’s hollowed out self as metaphor for the electronic capture of the psyche in its interaction with multiple screens. The human-screen interface is melting and dissolving human subjectivity. Individuals now have multiple selves as multiple screens have replicated them into a vast profusion of image avatars.
Those are my impressions of the show thus far, but it looks as though Lynch will be developing these themes into a grand work for the electronic Avataric age.
Hello, I think the theme of all your texts: that the post-human, post-historical, post-modern situation we find ourselves in is “a problem” and “bad” is a sad perspective (at least that´s how you make it sound). I´m sure you´ve read Nietzsche; when I discovered him I found it so refreshing, the tone he uses. It´s so heroic, I feel this world of ours where the mechanisms of language and being lay exposed, a bottomless world, is the best of all possible worlds, for those that brave the void and embrace it fully, divinity, the power to go beyond oneself, awaits.
John David Ebert says
I never said it was “bad,” you’re misinterpreting me. I said it was a “crisis,” and that it most certainly is. Every crisis opens up new possibilities and it’s a question right now of finding out what new possibilities this situation presents us. But it seems certain that many of our culture forms are not in good shape right now. I’m a cultural critic: it’s my job to diagnose Modernity and, as it were, take its temperature. If it’s good for you, that’s great. Be well.
how would you describe the “Return”? what do you think it represents? do you not find it as repetitive as history is itself?
returning to the past instead of the future. all that had happened before is happening again with a new form. there are no answers — perhaps that is why “The Return” is constantly the broad option.
“is it future, or, is it past?”