Ju-Yeon Kim, THE IN-BETWEEN, 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable.


God’s Justice! who could ever paraphrase
the agonies and tortures that I saw?
And why did I feel guilty as I gazed?

-Dante Alighieri, Inferno, translated by Ciaran Carson (2002)

1. THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG

I’M AT AN artists’ colony editing a book about fowl and infinity. Every night the chickens here get sung a lullaby written especially for them by a Pulitzer Prize winning composer. It’s an insipid little ditty but it works. It is sung seven nights a week by two to five highly accomplished artists of the almost always female persuasion. Right now I’m one of them.

Singing to chickens is like a parody of maternity, some obeisance or act of care—ovary to egg, breakfast to sundown—that I can’t even wrap my head around. There’s one woman here who wisely declares, “I can’t have any dependents” whenever we invite her to sing to the chickens with us. I’m not good with dependents either. But I met an artist named Ju-Yeon Kim on chicken duty.

She asked who I was, so I told her. That’s a fancy name, she said, grinning sadistically. Thanks I said. It suits you she said. I was sixty percent sure I had been insulted. I was pleased.

The other night Ju-Yeon showed us some slides. There was a set of sixty-four tiles she made in Sheboygan, depicting human beings performing characteristically human acts, a kind of deadpan socialist realism of the soul. There were big confident paintings of dazzling virtuosity. “These seem to have been influenced by the various traditions in Asian art,” noted an audience member. “Yeah,” said Ju-Yeon, “I used to make abstract expressionist paintings but they kept asking me why they didn’t look more Asian, so then I made them more Asian.” There was a cave in Provence studded with paper flowers and dried flowers dipped in plaster, like the bebarnacled hull of an undersea god. There was a mediation room made of finely-embroidered cloth depicting human figures in various states of torment. We were all agog.

“I base my work on Dante and The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” Ju-Yeon said.

The most ambitious piece of Ju-Yeon’s that I’ve seen is called THE IN-BETWEEN. It’s a room depicting the six Bardos described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. One of the things I love about THE IN-BETWEEN is it masquerades as a sleek, even Scandinavian design piece on the outside, concealing within it a grey high relief of souls and bodies in torment. These days we like to conceal our torment. Which is to say we try. I love that THE IN-BETWEEN’s a room, because stanza means room, and a room for a feeling, room for the truth, is always what a poet’s trying to make. It is always some awkward transition, some contortion that demands a kind of shrine, even just some extra space around it. Now that Hell is a retrograde idea we’re disinclined to believe in, its even more vitalizing to confront it, since we’ve obviously gotten good, as a species, to making hells on Earth. Anyway.

2. CONFUSION IS SEX

Both the Gita and Bessie Smith agree: Do your duty. Another’s duty will make you insane.David Rattray

A few celestial events to note:

October 5: The Charm Offensive

Full moon in Aries (2:40 PM EST), Venus conjunct Mars in Virgo trine Pluto in Capricorn

This month’s full moon is in the dazzling and martial sign of fire, but masculine Mars and feminine Venus conjunct in the moon’s bright light, in the sign of the physical body & holy service to the collective, while locked in a strong beam from Pluto in Capricorn, spells a new way of leading with love. It’s almost like the ragiest neediest part of you getting to see your grandparents, if they hated each other, tangoing cheek-to-cheek to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” in a luxury nursing home on… Mars. I always tell my clients that what Aries represents, fundamentally, is the vertical movement of energy: the rush of blood to the head (whether from fury or embarrassment) & likewise the rush of blood to the head of the genital—Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, the masculine sign par excellence, & not a reflective or contemplative energy. It is not the boner you read a book about and then organized yourself into having.

Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” on MTV Unplugged, 1993.

Also? This full moon happens while the sun is in lovely, fair-minded, and seductive Libra, adding even more queer balance and oomph to the entire vibe (moon: feminine / Aries: masculine; sun: masculine / Libra: feminine)

The spark in us that drives us to live, to hunger and search, to be identical with our desire will be conjugated Thursday into a divine diagram of alchemical androgyny, the actual possibility of harmonizing the feminine and masculine energies within ourselves and in the erotics of our relationships, in such a way that we can actually deploy this balance to get what we want and need as earthlings, as citizens, as lovers, as negotiators. This is a queer and a beautiful gift.

Chaucer, in the foundational works of literature in the English language, set the world up, the whole battle of humankind, as a war between love and war, i.e. a war between Mars and Venus. What could a more balanced approach to attack and victory look like? One example comes to mind.

Taking a knee.

Dignified, elegant, powerful, and catching, this gesture, first made by Colin Kaepernick, long may he live, has seduced the hearts of legion while simultaneously drawing a powerful boundary between the conscience of NFL players and their industry and country’s official okayness with state murder and destruction of black and brown people. Not to mention the structurally fucked things about the industry of the game, the rapey militarism it has come to represent in our lives from the minute we enter middle school.

My point is, taking a knee is a great example of the charm offensive in action. It is Venus and Mars working in (rare) and perfect harmony: the dignified, succinct, beautiful expression of absolute boundaries and absolute respect. I’m not saying other modes of protest are invalid, I’m saying the charm offensive is underused in our day, and Venus-Mars in conjunction while the full moon is in Aries Thursday sends a very clear message to every single one of us: Ye who study the arts of war, bone up on the weapons of seduction. How can we better put this energy to work in our personal and social struggles?

October 10: Sexual Healing Year Zero

Jupiter enters Scorpio for a yearlong residency, ’til November 9 2018. Contrary to what I said last month, I think this is gonna be a fun one. Jupiter is the planet of good luck and the magnifying glass of the zodiac. His yearlong residency in the sign of the genitals, the anus, obsession, X-ray vision, dominance & submission, the things we really fear, & the things we really want, is a chance to bring some dignity and even fun to the desires and yearnings you’re ashamed of and the parts of yourself you’d rather not face. Jupiter also brings a dose of confidence and I-deserve-to-be-hereness to the tough stuff of advocating for yourself and your paper, telling the truth, breaking up when it’s time to break up, and weaponizing, when you must, the very deep and very private ways that you’ve been hurt.

Jupiter in Scorpio can mean more intimacy, deeper intimacy, freakier sex and more of it, and actually drawing in more good luck and material fortune (!) by getting and giving more and deeper pleasure. It brings trust and shining good humor to places where the abyssal drop and dank pull of gravity can be heavy.

This is a year for the world to explore consent and fantasize hard. It’s a year to worship unbridled mystery and also the major psychic abs required for self-control. And here I come to the tough part. Jupiter will also simply magnify Scorpionic themes of power, obsession, master-slave dialectics, vengefulness, and the delusion that the nuclear option is ever an option. (Pluto is still in Capricorn, y’all.) So while in my heart I believe the shamans and mountain spirits of Korea will protect us all from nuclear holocaust, we also have some singularly cretinous and cruel world leaders standing on our necks. Spending this year working on deepening our connections to ourselves and one another, and actually sexually healing, going to the root of the problem and going all the way—no tyrant or imperative can make us do this. We have to want it. Jupiter will help, and will make it as fun and as lucky a process as it can possibly be.

On October 23, the sun enters Scorpio & becomes conjunct with Jupiter on the 26, bringing extra oomph to the deep and actually-possibly-for-the-first-time-ever fun work of facing who we really are and sharing it honestly with one another. The truth can be scary and gross, which is why we tend to bury it in our genitals and butts and demote its planetary representatives to nonplanetary status (hello, Pluto?). Right now the heavens are giving some extra support to our need to face the things about ourselves we think (we know) are bad, and lending us the capacity to laugh at ourselves in the process. This is really important. Because, as a reminder, Pluto is in Capricorn until 2023. The process of complete and total nuclear meltdown of existing social structures (some of what is dissolving is good things that we need but a lot of what’s dissolving is evil, needs to end, and will not go without a fight). This is likewise the era of the x-ray of our leaders’ souls, writ large across the world: it’s all out there for all to see. Unfortunately, our buffoon leaders are also the x-ray of everything about ourselves that’s conniving, wrong, and fucked. So we have to learn how to be honest about ourselves, give love even though things are so confusing and wrong, and protect our tenderness while hardening our will.

October 31–November 2ish are the Days of the Dead, All Hallows’ Eve, Fet Gede, and the Santa Muerte festival. Lots of traditions say the boundary between the living and the dead is thinnest at this time. Embrace the spooky feeling, open yourself to wonder, make offerings & prayers to the people in your life who have passed on. People in your life include people you have never met. (I’ve made offerings & prayers to Jimi Hendrix, my grandmother, people killed in earthquakes & hurricanes & wars, people murdered by the police, and Harry Houdini. There are lots of dead people in our lives.)

Julee Cruise’s “Floating,” 1989.

3.

Right now, there are five men who own more than most everyone else on the planet. The New Age (and age-old) adage that each of us reaps what she sows is a little bit complicated in the current regime—but what I can tell you without even looking up at the heavens is there is no way in heaven or hell the sowers of death won’t reap what they’ve dealt. The present structures are in the process of passing away. It’s already over. Marry your ideals now, and buckle up.

There are those of us having panic attacks from the news, there are those of us being murdered by the police, or, as this morning, by white terrorism. Those of us who are variously underwater, poisoned by toxic sludge, rendered homeless by structural evil & hurricanes, & those of us flipping out about it on the internet. There are the people who drive the drones and there are the people those drones bomb. There are those whose equanimity is inborn, like an animal’s; there are those who are simply insensitive while others are numbing out, a lot of us are on drugs, and some of us radiate balance and compassion thanks to our very expensive diets and exercise-and-meditation regimes. Whatever gets you through the night.

Nobody is excused from figuring out how to love other people, themselves, all creation, and god, not even now while it is visibly dissolving. Have you ever heard that thing about life here on earth being an illusion? Well now that there are so many illusions running amok, do you believe it? Why do you think you’re so attracted to astrology? I praise you for wanting to feel more connected to the cosmos and I praise you for seeking a larger meaning for the sometimes crazed and contradictory ways you feel and act.

The world is being emulsified, dissolved, and, to quote Shakespeare, translated into and out of total delusion a million times a second every day. Beauty is being churned into trash, the sap of the planet is being sucked out and turned into money, money is turning into the creams you put on your face. It’s weird to feel like an illusion, yet true.

Anyway, gentle reminder that nobody, not the Dalai Lama or Alice Notley or Oprah, fully knows what the soul or consciousness are. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Broken and hurt as we are, we’re made of the universe and we have our minds. Let’s be together in life and in death, in humility and reverence and awe forever. Amen.

XO
Ariana

Ariana Reines is a poet & playwright. She astrologizes at lazyeyehaver.com.

Ariana Reines

Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield, Craig Owens: An Interview, 1984, video, black-and-white, sound, 80 minutes.


APRIL 16, 2017 AT 2:24 PM EST

Dearest Bruce,

Today, a resurrection. 

On Tuesday, as you recommended, I went to Light Industry to see Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield’s 1984 conversation, or portrait of, Craig Owens, part of Video Data Bank’s incredible interviews with artists and writers. This was some six years before he died, age thirty-nine, of—I rehearse the intolerable boilerplate—AIDS-related complications. 

Eighty black-and-white minutes. Owens sits in a director’s chair in front of a makeshift backdrop—the zigzag of a wrinkled moving blanket. He talks and talks, always smoking. Or… he’s not really smoking, just lighting cigarette after cigarette and then mostly letting the lit cigarette sit on his lap so that the smoke blooms up into the frame. It looks like his crotch is on fire. The camera sits still, sometimes zooming in on his face, then pulling out to show his dark, formica sweater. The blanket and the sweater and the video’s poor contrast makes his face so white. 

It’s a real performance. We start in early childhood, when Owens is ten or eleven years old, reading Variety in isolation in suburban Pennsylvania. I guess this was 1960 or so? He draws designs for houses for TV stars, including one for Gale Storm, which he sends to her. 

More bio: His father takes him to New York to see the Sound of Music. He’s accepted to Haverford College as a junior in high school. He directs many plays. In May of 1970 he’s working on a Noël Coward comedy when the US invades Cambodia. The National Guard murders four students at Kent State. He goes to Washington, but “politicization never happened for me.” External events annoy him. All that matters is the work.

He moves to New York in 1971, does theater. He sees the stage version of Yvonne Rainer’s Film About a Woman Who…

He hears about Robert Wilson, Vito Acconci. His passion for commercial theater flags. 

For six months, out of financial desperation, he moves to Philadelphia to work at the Al Paul Lefton advertising agency. Another Rainer twist: He comes across—how?—Annette Michelson’s germinal 1974 Artforum article on Rainer. This, he thinks, is serious criticism. He begins to read Roland Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Marcuse. An “older gentleman” encourages him to go to grad school. He applies to Columbia, NYU, and CUNY’s Grad Center, choosing the last simply because they let him join midyear. 

The cranky coincidences of an education.

All this Rainer, Michelson stuff: I feel interpellated.

He takes classes with Leo Steinberg. Skepticism becomes admiration. Rosalind Krauss joins the faculty. Owens swoons. Krauss is beginning to carve her path out of formalism. A year later Douglas Crimp joins as a student. October dawns.

Owens wants to write about performance. He thinks he can bring his new critical tools to bear on emerging live-art disciplines. He writes a paper for class on Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach. He’s surprised when Krauss asks if he’d like to expand it for “the magazine.” This becomes “‘Einstein on the Beach’: The Primacy of Metaphor,” published in October’s fourth volume (autumn, 1977). (Also in this issue are Krauss’s “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America [Part 2],” Michael Snow’s “Notes for Rameau’s Nephew,” and Amy Taubin’s “Doubled Visions,” on Michael Snow.)

Looking back, from 1984, Owens considers this period with amused embarrassment. He’s writing what he calls “footnotes” to Krauss’s own writing. “I was not equipped at that point,” he says, to tackle something like Einstein on the Beach, calling his first essay an “overinflated… pretentious piece.” 

The Octoberites are all “carrying the torch of serious criticism,” writing only for one another. The readers, if there are any, are just eavesdropping. At this time, he says, the frame of art was not an issue for him. It didn’t matter, for instance, that Einstein on the Beach played not at some downtown theater but at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Things change when he becomes an editor at Art in America in… 1980? At October everything was taken care of by public funds. Suddenly he’s thrown into the same market conditions as the artists about whom he’s writing. He begins to consider the purpose of intellectual work, whose interests that work serves. His new mandate: “To analyze the position of your own work vis-à-vis the channels through which it must pass to reach an audience.”

He begins to think of criticism as existing alongside the work. You find work with which you feel solidarity, and “the critical task is to extend… amplify… develop new terms.” He begins to see the categorical debates around “modernism” and “postmodernism” as “diversionary tactics, to take intellectual energy away from feminism.” (Race doesn’t enter his picture.)

He zooms out. Art doesn’t “change the world—it changes the terms. If we get hopeless, we’ll let other people do it.” Success is being able to “responsibly set the agenda.” 

If he had lived, where else he would have zoomed?

The punchline: at the end, a credit for the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Eternal returns.

I begin with a mouthful. But I’ll swallow all but this question: For whom do you write? 

DVx

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Work/Travail/Arbeid, 2016. Performance view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 29, 2017. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.


APRIL 16, 2017 AT 9:49 PM PST

I don’t want to talk with food in my mouth, and you’ve given me a lot to chew on, despite a single question.

Race hasn’t entered his picture, but “gay men,” whether “outlaws in feminism” or not, haven’t been articulated yet either, as an impulse for theoretical pursuit. 

Yet with great dexterity and purpose, he recounts how, after repeatedly turning over the sheets of his quickly finished, elementary-school writing assignments to sketch designs for dresses, teachers and parents tried to divert his talent for fashion toward a butcher design endeavor: architecture. 

Talk about feeling interpellated!  

I’m not sure I can answer your question (for whom do I write?) with any resolve, especially right now. 

Am I wrong to interpret Owens’s fatigue and/or resignation (?) at always responding, having to respond, as similar to Barthes’s coming to terms with his long-harbored desire to write a novel? 

Does “being able to ‘responsibly set the agenda’ ” equal abandoning a certain mode or genre of writing for another?

However much alongside culture any criticism exists, it too often must be in response to a work. While that seems plainly obvious, this morning, rewatching Owens end the interview on this topic, I could only nod, slowly, in agreement, mouthing the words, I feel you, dude

The frame was invisible. He learns not only to see the frame but also to draw attention to the frameworks that support it. 

I’ve extolled to you how enthralling I found Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Work / Travail / Arbeid at MoMA a few weeks ago, the involutional forces of her choreographic endeavor, one that manages to be roomy, inviting, able to accommodate or, rather, unite, the movements of passersby as counterpoint to not only those of her corps but also of her musicians, who wind through the space of the dance as complement to the dancers’ transit. The dance and Gérard Grisey’s Vortex Temporum, in which the musicians play their instruments as percussive things and breath modulators as much as for melody, resonate with one another, sometimes in synch, sometimes discontinuous. While W/T/A seems incredibly “open,” the openness exposes the choreographer’s intense formal assiduity, centrifugal, centripetal, alert to every action, activity, gesture, and/or stillness of the event. How deliberately but without strenuousness the force field of her choreography clarified when and where and how rapidly any audience “in the way” as well as part of the dance would have to move and when and where they could just be darted around or leapt over by her dancers. 

At what point and how does the fact that Anne Teresa is the Baroness De Keersmaeker become critically or theoretically useful?

After watching the dance for an hour-and-a-half in the Atrium, I left—hearing the music reverberating, spying it from other vantages—saw Seurat’s Evening, Honfleur, 1886, with its dazzling painted frame, extending the artist’s pursuits beyond the strictly pictorial, and wondered about the conversation he and the Baroness could have about frames, frameworks, duration, luminosity, points, vibration, atomization, futures.

Something meteorological, the systems of what they put into motion.

Is it like a maelström?

Like a tempest?

“If I negate powdered wigs, I am still left with unpowdered wigs,” Marx stated, c. 1843.

A little later, Molly Nesbit replied: 

“There must be another response besides negation.

A maelström is not a death.” [Midnight: The Tempest: Essays, 81]

We are in the midst and mess of a male storm, one which might take the entire planet down; nevertheless, Madame Nesbit instructs us: “Try to think of the maelström as a swim.”

With her last book, The Pragmatism in the History of Art [2013], Madame left us climbing and hanging in a large tree in Poughkeepsie, New York, courtesy of Gordon Matta-Clark—who was known to tango, darkly, on the piers—his Tree Dance. She left us, too, with this question, which seems apropos, given the Baroness, evenings at Honfleur, extension, social questions: “What if there were no limits to aesthetics?”

“The Tree Dance,” she informs, “was an event infiltrated by other events: the weekend beforehand 500,000 people had marched on Washington to protest the Vietnam War; students were occupying the administration offices in Vassar’s Main Building; in June the New York Times would publish the Pentagon Papers detailing the secret history of the American buildup in Vietnam. On May 31st, the Times would quote a letter from Gordon Matta-Clark urging an artist boycott of the São Paulo Bienal because ‘it is now common knowledge that freedom of speech survives nowhere in Brazil.’ ”

The past would seem, still, to speak fluently to our possible future.

Trisha Brown, Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, 1970. Performance view, 80 Wooster Street, New York, April 18, 1970. Joseph Schlichter. Photo: Carol Goodden.


APRIL 17, 2017 AT 1:29 PM EST

Dear Sir,

You’re playing the dance card. 

Tempesting me. 

Tree Dance—a tea dance for heterosexuals?—was made for an exhibition, “26 x 26,” organized at Vassar in solidarity with Lucy Lippard’s “26 Contemporary Women Artists” at the Aldrich Museum. It was the most beautiful way for Nesbit to end The Pragmatism.  It took my breath away. I couldn’t really believe it.

I also couldn’t really believe that it was Gordon Matta-Clark we were talking about. Because it sounds like it should be a Trisha Brown dance. 

Nesbit leaves a clue: “[Matta-Clark] had asked Carol Goodden, his new partner, herself a dancer with Trisha Brown, to find him some people for this dance that was not one exactly, meaning it was not to be explicitly choreographed.” [The Pragmatism in the History of Art, 84]

How much of the work is “finding some people”? 

What is a dance that is not one exactly?

Matta-Clark’s Tree Dance, May 1, 1971, was barely a year after the April 18, 1970 premiere at 80 Wooster Street of Brown’s Floor of the Forest, in which dancers climb across—rather, through—a horizontal net of clothing, dressing and undressing themselves as they move. (The restaging of this work in Documenta 12 [2007] was one of the signal moments in the reawakening of a certain art-world fondness for dance.) At the same time, Goodden participated in the premiere of Brown’s Leaning Duets, 1970, in which pairs of dancers hold onto opposite ends of a rope, lean away from each other, and walk, balancing against each other’s feet. These are the early days of the Equipment Dances—Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (April, 1970), Walking on the Wall (March, 1971)—one of the most thrilling and still-underthought moments in art-making. 

I want (another!) book about Brown. 

I want a book about Goodden.

Why have there been no great women artists?

“What if there were no limits to aesthetics?”

It’s a beautiful question, and one applied to some more than others. 

But it’s certainly an ideal toward which I aspire. 

In the end, Matta-Clark’s Tree Dance surrendered to a thunderstorm. The maelström has its own priorities. His nondance broke up. From what we can gather, this was part of the plan. And so becomes the stuff of legend.

This is different, of course, from the maelström (the Gale Storm?) of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Work / Travail / Arbeid, a choreography so explicit, so rigorously rehearsed, that it can adapt to the deluge without compromise.

It makes its own weather. 

I’ve seen it now in two places—at the Wiels, in Brussels, and in the Museum of Modern Art’s Atrium. (It also traveled to the Pompidou and Tate Modern.) At Wiels, the dance took over two adjacent galleries, the dancers and musicians moving between. At MoMA, the dance conspired with the Atrium to open new vistas. You could be on the same plane as the dancers, broken up by them, or you could go upstairs and watch from above. At every angle, the dance sets its own agenda. 

Break away to one of my favorite chapters in Nesbit’s new book, Midnight: The Tempest Essays, “Without Walls,” an expanded version of an essay she did for Artforum in April 2003. She’s thinking about Malraux’s The Voices of Silence. “The problem under consideration here—how to find forms that can address the vastness—has a history that is and is not an art history, that is and is not American.” [118, emphasis mine]

What is this vastness? What counts as American?

“Solitude is a strong position… the position to refuse,” Nesbit quotes Godard in another favorite chapter, “History Without Object.” [100]

How to become a figure in the vastness, Nesbit asks. 

I choose dance to connect vastness and solitude.

What do you choose?

DVx

Pages 122-3 of Molly Nesbit’s Midnight: The Tempest Essays (Inventory Press: 2017).


APRIL 17, 2017 AT 10:58 PM PST

Your question jetés to life, how to live, in a world often increasingly immiserating.

The questions of life and living, their complication by livelihood, their imitations, organize Midnight. Or as Nesbit puts it: “With whom will one walk?” [92] 

Like Godard’s, hers is “a practice in which the ideas become questions, not answers.” [92]

With her tempest, she addresses our concerns in many ways, with many questions, perhaps most directly by way of Albert Béguin, who opened the preface of his book L’Âme romantique et le rêve, in 1936, darkness storming, with a meditation on a very particular question, “Am I the one who is dreaming?” [104]

Madame continues:

A question, he went on to say, with infinite prospects, one which touches on our very reason to live, on the possible choices one makes inside one’s own limits; for it uncovers both the problem of knowing and of poetry. It is one of the few questions which abstract thought cannot satisfy, he felt, because it is the kind of question thrown in one’s face by an undefinable reality, more vast than ourselves and on which we depend so heavily that we refuse it only at the expense of a diminished life. He continued to ask the question about what lives inside our selves at nightfall, no need to put politics there overtly, the times in which this was being written were looming too large in the minds of his readers. Science seemed unable to account for this dreamwork, a theatre of incoherent dancing, poor and aping, a patter in the atoms of one’s own mind, abandoned to an absurd caprice. [104]

The vortex—the vortext—of your ellipsis makes me wonder how that sinuous sentence about solitude is to be read.

Swimming against the current to return to it, reaching into the mist of the ellipsis, I find this sticky goodness:

“Solitude, as Deleuze had rightly remarked, had long been Godard’s private vanishing point. ‘Solitude is a strong position,’ like a right, Godard himself had remarked flatly, ‘The position to refuse.’ ”

Is solitude the state of being refused or is it solitude that allows one a position from which to refuse?  

Of course, it isn’t ever only either/or.

With the help of Deleuze’s response to Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville’s Six Fois Deux, Nesbit reminds us that the philosopher who weathered many plateaus “made a point to mention Godard’s solitary ways, called him one of a kind, a man apart from the usual routes taken by the cinema, and yet… Godard was always a man surrounded, working both with the people on his crew and with the worlds that lived in his mind,” making for a “multiple, populous solitude that was really a crowd bound to the outside world not by a heartbeat anymore but by a stammer.” [91] 

It would be remiss, if not grotesque, to forget to state the obvious: One of the ones with whom Godard walks is Miéville, and she agrees to walk with him, being more than an accomplice, coconspirator, or muse, but an artist in her own right. See not only her films We’re All Still Here (1997) and After the Reconciliation (2000), but her sly preface to Godard’s Hail, Mary (1985)—his study of life’s pulsation and plenty, wildlife—The Book of Mary (1985).

They walk AND in AND (“AND being the word upon which relations can be expressed” [92]), and they’ll extend his methods of montage to “upset everything and everyone’s relation to everyday life.” [88]
 
The heart of Midnight homes in on a decade running, roughly from 1975 to 1985, in France with Godard & Miéville, in New York with Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Louise Lawler, and David Salle.

“Let us say only that by the seventies the irresolution of history itself was apparent in New York. The term postmodern was not needed to see this.” [120]

The group in New York would find “their rhetoric of form” at the movies. Douglas Sirk’s proleptic treatise on so much of what remained long occluded in Pop art, Imitation of Life (1959), would hold particular sway. Nesbit sketches all the film showed: “the dangers that lay in wait for every success and star—the racial segregation festering within integration, the torture of maternal love, the unbridgeable personal costs.” [115]

What does it mean to feel that we are still held in the vice of so much of what Sirk lensed in that opus?

Nesbit beams no small part of her admiration on André Malraux’s The Voices of Silence. “Malraux saw a great threat. It came from the formalisms and professionalism of a modern art culture keeping art from its chief and ancient business, the confrontation with the totality of experience and fate.” [119] 

To begin to confront via aesthetics such totality, Sherman would use thrift culture to refuse “commercial fashion” and its dictates; Levine would employ the internegative as well as the “most impersonal, least theatrical techniques of thrift to bring divinity back” [130]; Lawler would host borrowed light to demonstrate how you “have walked into a situation that has rearranged your own world and made you well aware of it.” For the most part “the new New York art criticism was not concerned with the imitation of life, but only with imitation.”

The debut for some of these techniques were exhibited at “Artists Space in the fall of 1978 in a group show curated by Janelle Reiring,” which assembled Sherman, Lawler, Christopher d’Arcangelo, and Adrian Piper.

The essay “Without Walls” ends with a looking backward. The “interaction being imagined remains personal, full of the trace of internegativity of the old days, as if art might still be something that passed between friends,” but it is now seen to be a thing of the past.

Is it? Does it have to be?

The Artists Space show emblem circled or bull’s-eyed the “A” for anarchy as much as artist. 

Perhaps I’ll anarchize these proceedings a little with some disappearance and/or absence. Nesbit schools the inattentive to keep alert for what is not there. While we’re left almost at the doors of the opening of Metro Pictures and a certain kind of business that won’t be refused, recall the other ways two of the artists in the Artists Space show went. D’Arcangelo, having italicized certain removals to point to social systems and occlusions, would kill himself in 1979. For her part in the Artists Space show, Piper introduced Aspects of the Liberal Dilemma.

In 1983, Piper premieres Funk Lessons at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Her best friend Phillip Zohn dies of AIDS-related encephalitis. After that, her brief biographical précis concludes: “Begins design of poster, Think About It, commemorating 1983 March on Washington. Reads Toni Morrison. Goes dancing regularly and hears live funk bands from Oakland and Los Angeles at Little Orphan Annie’s, Foster City, California. Watches Entertainment Tonight. Sees BrainstormThe Hunger.”

Rather than ask you any of the questions I was going to ask—where do the younger artists of today find their rhetorics of form? do they think about any such rhetoric?—I’ll leave you with another beat and image of 1978, one artist’s form for addressing the vastness:

Sylvester, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), 1978.

APRIL 20, 2017 AT 2:49 PM EST

I’m realing a bit here. 

1. From The Fabulous Sylvester—a disco-catechism that Ryan read years ago and that I read more-or-less by proxy, anecdote by anecdote, communicated relentlessly as we walked around the city as he pushed deeper into the fairy kingdom—one particular episode has long stuck in my head. The artist “first turned forty in 1985, when he was thirty-eight. He wanted to go ahead and get that milestone out of the way while he still looked good. […] Besides, he liked to say, he was timeless.” [243]

2. It might be unsurprising to hear that Piper was the first, or among the first, artists who really mattered to me. I didn’t study art, at least not in school, but when Piper came and spoke to my college, I remember sitting in the auditorium trying to fathom her Funk Lessons and the ways that difference inhabited and took over our bodies, how it inhibited us from moving in certain ways. I remember being embarrassed for all the white college students who couldn’t keep up. 

I could always keep up.

3. Sylvester died in December 1988 of AIDS-related complications, a few months after his forty-first birthday. He left behind instructions for his funeral, held at the Love Center, where he appeared in a red kimono with flaming red hair and red lipstick—less red than peachy-orange, in the end, a small concession to his mother, who thought maybe the red was a bit too much.

He was timeless until he wasn’t. 

Or the time of timelessness was altered—both expanded and contracted—by the plague. 

Timelessness matters most when you have no time.

4. Piper’s The Big Four-Oh premiered in 1988, the same year as her fortieth birthday. (She is a Virgo, like Sylvester.) The installation has a video featuring her, facing a white wall, dancing alone to a selected playlist of funk, salsa, R&B, and rock, including the Rolling Stones’s “Miss You,” as well as a notebook, “forty hardballs,” a “disassembled coat of armor,” and “sealed jars of blood, sweat, tears, piss, and vinegar, respectively.” 

The three-minute clip provided on her website includes voiceover of Piper reading from the journal. I’ve transcribed a small portion, simply because I love it: 

[…] I sweated blood to become myself and not someone else I didn’t like. So many tears for what’s been lost have been wrung out of me I thought I’d drown, parched, in my own grief. Under attack my fangs appear, emitting searing streams of piss and vinegar. I had to get hit in the stomach with a hardball many times before I learned to play the game. Nevertheless my forays into community are stymied by the concrete particularity of these artifacts. I don’t understand their chemical structure, nor the stillness of their lives, and I can’t see all sides of them at once. Embodiments of me, they become themselves; and in visual conjunction they mean other things I didn’t intend and didn’t anticipate. I am inspired by their imperturbability, and rely blindly on my ghost to steer me through the second half of my life with the wisdom and grace stored in unrecollected midnight dreams. I defy you to stop me from dancing.

“Unrecollected midnight dreams” will guide her through the next forty-some years.

Who gets a second-half?  

Who on earth would want to stop Piper from dancing?

6. I hear these lines and trip into the final page of Under the Sign of [sic] (2013), your book, so important to me, when you, or “Pierre Menard” writes, “How do we know when we are really living?” which immediately prefaces the question of why that author (which author?) didn’t “deal with” Sturtevant’s Haring Tag, 1986—how this not-dealing-with also means skipping how Haring Tag “forebodes what of the inappropriable remains.” [314] 

There is the “disappeared,” something left out so that something else may be revealed, and then there is what you can’t “deal with,” the inappropriable remains. 

These inappropriable remains and unrecollected midnight dreams might be a way for us to take Nesbit’s collected Midnight dreams, the periods in French and New York art they so magically chart, to think a way into how “younger artists”—by which I suppose I mean my friends and loved ones—might see their relationships to form, to addressing the vastness.

Ylang Ylang and Vesolo at The Spectrum, Ridgewood, New York, April 15, 2017. Photo: David Velasco.


7. Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990, of complications related to AIDS.

On October 30, 2014, I began to take Truvada, not because I needed to, but because for my entire life I had associated sex with death, and I no longer wanted to do so. I continue to feel like those of us who aren’t dying of it are still living with complications related to AIDS. Like somewhere in the time between the “AIDS cocktail” and Truvada-as-PreP, a lot of us kind of stalled out on addressing the vastness.

8. The other night Sam and I went dancing late at a club called The Spectrum. A lot of black and brown and white kids, mostly queer, mostly young, mostly moving splendidly through a haze of cigarette smoke under a canopy of thrifted chandeliers, another beat in the comforting pulse of night-places I’ve phased through throughout my young and then adult life. Something seems different though (and not in the way that every night can feel different), in that it might be among the first clubs I’ve inhabited that feels unhaunted by AIDS. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have a relation to AIDS (impossible), but that its relation goes differently, not AIDS-AND, but AIDS-AND-AND.

9. I emailed Piper the other day to inquire about another, unfinished, dance video she told me about years ago. Coincidence: It’s now done, and she’s made it available, for rental, on her website.

“As if art might still be something that passed between friends.” 

I’m not ready to let go of this line. 

Friends AND…? 

APRIL 21, 2017 AT 10:32 PM PST

[I’m realing a bit here.]

​But isn’t it part of our project to attend to the ruptures in the various dances, realings and reelings, around us?

Nesbit has Godard cut off Hegel (isn’t it about time?), the filmmaker having little truck with his “grey of philosophy” or his ornithological musing that the “owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk” [103]. Instead, Godard’s “[m]ontage will see to it that no owl, no concept, no saving philosophy will arrive, only a growing rupture in the real.”

One way to convey Midnight’s tempests, their temporally cross-cutting organization, would be to see it as montage.

[2. It might be unsurprising to hear that Adrian Piper was the first, or among the first…]

Funk Lessons, were “staged collaborative performances with large or small groups of people,” that she conducted from “1982 to 1984”; the videotape, Funk Lessons with Adrian Piper, provides a “record of one of the more successful performances.” In her lively “Notes on Funk I-IV,” Piper writes: “My immediate aim in staging the large-scale performance (preferably with sixty people or more) was to enable everyone present to

        GET DOWN AND PARTY. TOGETHER.”

Inspiring to learn that she also conducted more intimate versions of her lessons. To wit:

I would have people over to dinner, or for a drink, and, as is standard middle-class behavior, initially select my background music from the Usual Gang of Idiots (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.). I would then interpose some funk and watch people become puzzled, agitated, or annoyed, and then I would attempt to initiate systematic discussion of the source of their dismay... This usually included listening to samples of funk music and analyzing their structures, content, and personal connotations for each listener, in a sympathetic and supportive atmosphere. Occasionally, it also included dance lessons…

N.B.: When conducted in Los Angeles, Funk Lessons went down at the Women’s Building, 1727 North Spring Street, March 3, 1984, billed by the artist as a “collaborative experiment in cross-cultural transfusion”—highlighting “Music Appreciation” and “Social Dancing.”
                                                                                 
[Sylvester] was timeless until he wasn’t.

Or the time of timelessness was altered—both expanded and contracted—by the plague.

Timelessness matters most when you have no time.]

​Or he now can return in unexpected ways, not ghosting but coursing through the mainstream in surprisingly powerful ways, i.e., there’s a lot of Sylvester in Titus Andromedon, the character played with such gusto by Tituss Burgess, written with such verve by Tina Fey, in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. See his “Lemonading” in full-on homemade Bae regalia​ down a New York street!

[4. Piper’s The Big Four-Oh premiered in 1988…]

​I saw The Big Four-Oh at the Walker the last time I was in Minneapolis. What a revelation! Stop her dancing at your peril! But, as you put it, “Who on earth would want to do that?” The piece connects so deeply to Funk Lessons, a private tutorial rather than a seminar or lecture, which, as Piper writes, was itself a way to confront the “ignorance and xenophobia that surround the aesthetic idiom of black working-class culture” and that have “affected the audience’s comprehension of my performance work since 1972, when I did the Aretha Franklin Catalysis piece on the streets of New York…”

I had the once-in-a-lifetime luck to watch Simone Forti take in The Big Four-Oh. Her response: “She’s a really good dancer.” Takes one to know one.

[I don’t know why I think so, but these inappropriable remains and unrecollected midnight dreams might be a way…]

Remains functions, funkily (I can only hope) as both a noun and a verb.

We’d agreed to hold off reading the last section of Midnight until we were deep in the stank of our convo. I read it (“The Port of Calls”) this afternoon. Roughly a third of the way through the text—which was written as much, or even more so, in response to 9/11 as for Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11—there is this bit of astonishing synchronicity:

When pressed to give a form to the life she saw in New York, Jane Jacobs chose dance. She described deliveries, school students en route, shopkeepers setting up wares, taxis taking the businessmen away and back, the lunches in taverns, fire engines, drunks, a little boy sitting on a stoop to learn English. In the minds of others, these forms were not exempt from art. Merce Cunningham, for example, has often spoken of walking as being full of the movements, individual, small and large, from which dance could come. But Cunningham’s dances existed, so to speak, on a sidewalk where others worked too. He and John Cage collaborated on many dance productions in such a way that the music and the dance exist side by side, not conceived together, but like two walkers, each moving along together and at their own pace. [193]

[8. [Spectrum] might be among the first clubs I’ve inhabited that feels unhaunted by AIDS. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have a relation to AIDS, impossible, but that its relation goes differently, not AIDS-AND, but AIDS-AND-AND.]

​Let art be a way of unhaunting. Shall I say that I believe Nesbit wishes the conclusions of her book to spill “into the infinite” [201]? She rallies us to embody knowledge (Piper’s honey jars of blood, sweat, tears, piss, and vinegar) as much as to remain alive to what exists between bodies, dancing or walking down the street, Lemonading or Aretha Franklining. “That might perhaps,” she uses Deleuze, “be the defining characteristic of art, this business of finding infinity and giving it back. Was this the plan for good life? […] Something was coming from the nothing. It seemed to inhabit the space between people.” [201] ​

She’s a really good dancer.

[“As if art might still be something that passed between friends.”

I’m not ready to let go of this line.]

​Who on earth would want to let go of this line?​

Why on earth would anyone wish to let it go?

[Friends AND…?]

​No partying, no getting down together, without some expanded/expanding ampersand of friendship.​ 

Umbrella for the storm:

Netflix ad for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, February 13, 2017.

MAY 21, 2017 AT 1:30 PM EST

A month goes by. Some travels (for art, in Europe).

Scatter art.

I’m back in time to see the opening of the Rauschenberg exhibition at MoMA. The show is a holiday; it’s “professional” in the ways I like, masterful but also sly and adventurous, cueing us to track the ampersands of getting down together in (a supposedly bygone?) New York. The institution working healthily to do the memory-work we ask of it.

It’s good to be back in New York. I don’t feel the need to look backward at it, even as it’s refreshing to have its past honored, a reminder of what has happened and thus can happen rather than a monument to our exhaustion.

Some things I think about now that I’ve read Nesbit’s final chapter, written after 9/11, around the time that I moved to New York.

I recognize her city aflame. The danger of the market, of marketing, persists. That “Pepsi-Cola” thing, Duchamp’s warning to artists obsessed with branding and integration. “There was still the danger of Pepsi-Cola,” Nesbit writes, “still the vacant lot, the piece of string, the memory of a writer’s phrase, the vaporized world of cubes. Difficult to subsume all that into the single horizon of publicity, difficult to call it all entertainment or fashion, impossible to contract it into the low horizon of expectation targeted by most marketers, the view of the world seen from the top down by a fifteen-year old’s eyes. Difficult to see all places as non-places, or modernity as only super-modernity. Difficult to see the city simply as New York.” [203]

(I wonder here only about this perspective on a fifteen-year old’s eyes. Fifteen-year-olds have the best taste in ideas. But I’m a marketer as much as a critic.)  

So much dancing in “The Port of Calls.” Jane Jacobs and her figure of dance as the form for life in the city, her critique of separation; Cunningham’s Walkaround Time and his serendipitous movements across New York’s sidewalks; Rem Koolhaas inviting a “perverse modernist choreography” to describe the junkspace of airports and other schizoid switch-points. (I refer Koolhaas to Charles Atlas’s Ex-Romance [1987], a beautiful film of Karole Armitage dancing with Michael Clark through airport lounges and baggage claims—more convoluted ampersands of friendship. Or to Ryan’s ME3M: A Story Ballet About the Internet, an elaborate twitting of this idea that choreography can articulate a junkspace.) 

Charles Atlas, Ex-Romance, 1987, 16 mm, color, sound, 48 minutes 22 seconds.


Around the time Nesbit is writing “Port of Calls,” the choreographer Sarah Michelson is making her dance Group Experience, which premieres at P.S. 122 in October 2001. (As the towers fall Michelson and her collaborator Parker Lutz are at Materials for the Arts, tracking down the orange carpet that would be added to the risers, attending to every tiny detail, rubbing this seductive attention against the supposed slacker MO of “downtown.”) Group Experience, like all of Michelson’s dances, takes place seriously, which also means with a lot of humor. Place and the people of a place, who are also its audience. She is not an anyspacewhatever artist. 

Our friend Claude Wampler describes the group that Group Experience was for:

They were dancers who were working with everybody and being shared by lots of choreographers, all longtime East Village–type performers. That alone created an audience, just each dancer and all their friends and Sarah having been on the scene. She was involved with lots of work before she started making her own. I think that’s who her audience was, because she was so intrinsic to the lower Manhattan dance world, just by dancing for everyone, working for everyone, helping everyone. Like being in my piece and making out in my shows. I mean, she really was all over the place, like she still is. [Sarah Michelson, 106]

In New York there is the push to be all over the place, to spread yourself thin and then recoil back into your own thing, your art, maybe. The dialectic of street and studio is strong here. I have a theory, maybe a stupid one, that the whole development of what we call “pedestrian” dance emerged from this New York groove, from the collision of sidewalks and dancespace, so peculiar to twentieth-century Manhattan geography. (So many interesting dances to be made amid our twenty-first century Manhattan abandon.)

Nesbit quoting Duchamp on Dada:

It was not intended to be a school, to be—we did not want to say we are a group of people—we were not a group—we were five friends who were having a good time during the war—and I think all these things—that’s the way they are always—even Cubism was not intended to be Cubism when they started, they just painted paintings that were funny to look at and ten years later they were called Cubism…. It just happens what happened in the course of years, and some people gather together and keep those things together and call it a movement or that way. But there is no essential foundation to it that makes it go that way. Because it was a genius who did it. [188]

So strange today to hear the word “genius,” and refreshing, I think. Let’s keep the genius thing going. Let’s keep the Nesbit thing going. I keep on with Group Experience because it’s the one thing in the book I put together on Michelson that I wanted to write about but couldn’t quite. A group experience for a group I was on the cusp of experiencing. Just some geniuses in a moment being together, making something for one another. Or as Nesbit says Deleuze says of that generous arc of art, “finding infinity and giving it back.” [201]

we were not a group…

And yet, the group is—even if that is is only a taste: bitter or sweet.

Avital Ronell: So long as there is something like experience, it is not entirely mine.

I never saw Group Experience, not even a video. Just talk, some publicity shots. There was a lot of different kinds of dancing, from what I understand, but the strongest memory people have from the show is of the performers standing for a very long time, together, in relevé.

Standing together, until they couldn’t any longer.

👯

Page 134 of Molly Nesbit’s Midnight: The Tempest Essays (Inventory Press: 2017).


MAY 22, 2017 AT 5:42 PST

Nesbit tracks and prioritizes so many dialogues—between philosophers, between friends. Confidants, conspirators, we can, about Midnight, foreground “that it is in dialogue too with the words of artists… calling across positions once held. The conclusion spilled into the infinite” [201], which is, of course, no small part of why we wish to be, why we were compelled to be, in dialogue with it.

But finishing the book I was still not ready to harbor in Manhattan. I was not ready to commit to her final image-repertoire of Matthew Barney (Cremaster 3) and Richard Serra (“Torqued Spirals”), among others. Not with fifteen-year-old eyes, but looking back fifteen years on, aren’t these the type of forms, myths, of “masculinity” which assist in leading us to our desolate, bloated state? 

Will New Yorkers ever allow an “art history” other than one that places New York at the center? Beyond tedious, this ongoing east coast/west coast maneuvering—and yet it still dominates too much thinking, too much art history. “Act so that there is no use in a centre,” recalling Gertrude Stein, who was raised in Oakland, California. 

Of course, to be American is deranging. “The pure products of America,” Dr. Williams long ago discerned, “go crazy—.” The poem in which he reminded anyone who cared of that fact, “To Elsie,” prescribes nothing dulcet nor dainty, notices “promiscuity between // devil-may-care men who have taken / to railroading” and addresses us as the “degraded prisoners” we are. Who is Elsie? The doctor’s words course by like a current hard to grasp:    

…reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs—

some doctor’s family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us—

Electric, that anacoluthic leap over the line break from “Elsie” to “voluptuous water,” which disorients yet nevertheless conveys something powerful about Elsie’s body and presence, what she has seen and knows. The poem “to” her, her truth, becomes “about” how much is not witnessed, and what remains to seeing and reporting on what is being seen. Williams concludes his furious, elegiac poem: “It is only in isolate flecks that / something / is given off // No one / to witness / and adjust, no one to drive the car.” 

That’s something, that single-word line “something.” To contribute an isolate fleck, this may be our small and yet overwhelming task.

It shouldn’t be a contest, we must outmaneuver such maneuvering, but, proleptic as always, Los Angeles, didn’t it situate so much of our current image-repertoire? In 1992 with the Rodney King case and the uprising that followed, events recapitulated and extended in the O. J. Simpson murder case?

Preparing for her Powerful Reversals at Galerie Hans Mayer in Düsseldorf in 1995, Sturtevant, as Peter Eleey discovered, was confronting these matters as a disturbance in aesthetics. In a draft checklist for the exhibit, Sturtevant, as Eleey writes:

included something described as “Rodney King Tape.” Taken at face value, this entry suggests that the artist might have intended to show the famous broadcast tape, perhaps looped on a monitor in the gallery. The video of five Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King after a car chase on the night of March 3, 1991, shot by amateur videographer George Holliday on his new camcorder, had by then already entered the world of art, having been included in a work by Adrian Piper in 1992 and also featured in the Whitney Biennial in 1993. Given the importance of missing and absent elements in Sturtevant’s work, it is tempting to view the possible inclusion of the video as an idea aligned with Gober’s “lynching” wallpaper, which Sturtevant did not repeat in her installation, and to consider the video as a horrific enactment of that scene.

Material remains. 

Material remains to be thought through.

What does such thinking look like?

I don’t know, but not the already soured, recently au courant mode of abstract expressionism with, as my friend Andy put it this morning, “nothing to express.”

(Sturtevant, circa 1969: “Pop-art [sic] is our new folklore, our sense of nature, it is common property, so I use it and paint on the spot. I am a perfect naturalistic painter.”) 

With her astonishments of language, swift, fluid arguments, Nesbit demonstrates not only the relevance of linguistic relevés, but also of leaps and bounds. Midnight is a book, as so many of the best books are, with which to argue, and, certainly, there will have to be a response to Nesbit, looking east in two directions at once—to that historically imaginary “East” as well as to the east coast—something along the lines of (nodding to the midday glare of film noir, earthquakes, and Gavin Lambert): High Noon: The Slide Area Essays.  

Ours is the time of no shadows. 

As Blanchot anticipated, “Midnight is only a dissimulated noon.”

SEPTEMBER 15, 2017 AT 16:30 PM EST

Act as though the shadows remain.

AIDS-AND-AND.

Then:

Last weekend, on the morning of Saturday, September 9, AIDS killed another brilliant artist, Michael Friedman. He was forty-one.

When he died, our friend who was with him in the hospital said, he looked like “one of those photos.”

I don’t know how to, nor do I want to, find special meaning in this. Meaning isn’t good enough.

Find me on the dancefloor:

Denis Lavant’s final dance in Claire Denis’s Beau Travail (1999).

DVx

Bruce Hainley is a contributing editor of Artforum.

David Velasco is editor of artforum.com and of the volume Sarah Michelson (Museum of Modern Art, 2017).

Molly Nesbit’s Midnight: The Tempest Essays is now available from Inventory Press.

Craig Owens: Portrait of a Young Critic, an edited version of Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield’s 1984 interview, is forthcoming from Badlands Unlimited (Spring 2018).

Cady Noland, Log Cabin, 1990, installation view, Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne, 1990. Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin I Paris.


IF CADY NOLAND’S ART has over the years embodied a concern with “how to gain control in the face of chaos,” as Steven Parrino once put it, these anxieties continue to echo in her recent legal battles. In a lawsuit filed last month, Noland asserts that her name can no longer be associated with Log Cabin, a work she created in 1990. But her claims go even further: She declares that conservators’ material alterations to the sculpture’s facade (when they replaced decayed logs) created a new copy, violating her exclusive right to make new reproductions.

The case submitted by her legal team invokes a core provision of the Copyright Act, which specifies that only the copyright owner (in this case, Noland, as the artist/author) may elect to reproduce a work. The substitution of entirely new wooden parts and logs, the logic goes, amounted to an unauthorized iteration. As restitution, she asks the court to impound Log Cabin and all photographs of it in various owners’ and galleries’ possession, and to bar any display, marketing, or other use of the work while the case is pending. In other words, she is asking the court to stash Log Cabin out of sight.

Noland likely faces an uphill battle—in part because courts have historically been willing to allow purchasers of copyrighted works ample freedom to repair them. The eventual outcome of these legal proceedings aside, Noland’s suit illustrates a potential new phase in the war over copyright: Artists unhappy with the fate of older works are anxious to find new legal means for authorial control.

Noland is hardly the first artist to repudiate her work. Balthus disowned paintings to “punish former lovers or dealers with which he . . . had disagreements,” according to testimony submitted in a related case. When Picasso denied creating La Douceur, 1903, deeming it a “joke by friends,” he may have just been dissatisfied with the work itself. More recently, Richard Prince, in a cannily complex act of protest, disavowed a portrait of Ivanka Trump that had ended up in her collection. Prince called it “fake art,” and said he returned the $36,000 that Trump had originally paid for the work. Amusingly enough, the portrait’s source image was one that Prince had appropriated from her own Instagram feed.

These efforts, in aggregate, underscore a question Virginia Rutledge posed in the March 2008 issue of Artforum, in an article on copyright and ownership. Writing in the context of the legal standoff between artist Christoph Büchel and Mass MoCA, Rutledge asked, “What power should artists have to control the presentation and disposition of their work, and what obligations are appropriate to impose?”

With the exception of some limited moral-rights protections, US artists have had little legal recourse to control the fate of a work after its sale. But there may be a potent legal approach—largely overlooked thus far—that could prove powerful to new-media artists seeking to assert rights over creations they sold long ago. The little-known power, called copyright termination, gives artists the ability to take back copyright rights necessary to exhibit many conceptual and new-media works in the US, after thirty-five to forty years, even if the artist expressly transferred such rights forever. The same mysterious rules that songwriters have been using to wrest back compositions from record companies (Paul McCartney recently settled a suit to retake his share of the Beatles catalog) offer an alternative means for controlling when and how dematerialized artworks can be publicly displayed, performed, or refabricated.

Take artists who use 3-D printing. Often, they anticipate that an acquiring institution will re-create otherwise disposable physical components whenever their works are installed. These anticipated acts of re-creation bring copyright law directly into play. Many of the institutions currently acquiring pieces intended to be refabricated on installation insist on artists granting express copyright licenses for conservation purposes. But even in the absence of such licenses, courts may imply copyright permission for museums to reprint sculptural elements on a limited basis where, for instance, the artist handed over digital files for just that purpose.

But as it turns out, that initial permission—however clear at the outset—is subject to termination after thirty-five years. Imagine that a few decades from now, an artist working in 3-D-printed components objects to a proposed reinstallation of his work at the museum, or becomes critical of the institution generally. He (or his heirs) would be entitled to revoke all copyright permissions, at no cost. This would leave the museum with the unenviable choice of showing the aged, disposable components as originally printed (clearly contrary to the artist’s original intent), reprinting them and risking a copyright suit, or acquiescing to the artist’s future desires. I’m guessing that most museums would choose the last route, thus underscoring the potential impact termination rights could have on artist control.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 880, 1998, acrylic paint, dimensions variable. Photo: Elizabeth Berg. Courtesy Mass MoCA.


Termination, however, does not only apply to hypotheticals in the distant future. They could be applied by artists (or their heirs) to pieces of art acquired long ago. Take Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings. LeWitt created these signal Conceptual pieces in the form of authenticated diagrams and instructions. The owner of these plans is entitled to have the work painted or drawn onto a wall. LeWitt compared these documents to a musical score. But to a copyright lawyer, they are also a copyright license—permission to the holder of the certifying documents to copy the diagram.

Copyright termination now offers LeWitt’s surviving family members a potent legal power to control the realization of many of his wall drawings, even those that have been owned outright by private individuals or institutions for decades. They could likely revoke (for free) copyright permissions granted by LeWitt decades ago, including the wall-drawing permission documents. In other words, it gives LeWitt’s heirs the legal power (if, say, they believe a collector or museum is not treating the work in a manner consistent with LeWitt’s intentions) to ask a court to prevent a wall drawing from being installed.

It must be noted that termination only applies to practices that involve not just the sale of objects, but the transfer of legal permissions (whether in videos, instruction-based Conceptual works, performance, or digital media). Traditional artworks are exempt from some key copyright provisions, and thus termination likely has little value to painters or sculptors except to block collateral reproductions of their works (for example, in gift-shop merchandise). Still, one might imagine artists otherwise working in traditional media beginning to include minor dematerialized elements in their pieces—say, a digitally printed component that needs to be fabricated anew for each exhibition—to establish a terminable hook for future use.

Why haven’t we seen artists wielding this power yet? It’s likely a combination of reasons. The most applicable termination provision only took effect in 2013, and artists must wait at least thirty-five years to invoke it. Most artists and dealers working beyond object-based practices don’t yet know about this tool. (And even as this course of action becomes more widely known, many may be reluctant to threaten suit against the collectors and museums who ultimately keep their endeavors afloat.)

Could copyright termination wreak havoc with the systems that facilitate dematerialized art’s production, collection, and display in the US? If and when artists or their heirs begin taking advantage of this tool, we might expect to see changes to studio and acquisition practices. Most immediately, both private and institutional collectors of high-value older works already subject to termination may need to start paying attention to the objections of artists that created the work, rather than risk a public threat to their acquisitions. Meanwhile, artists whose practices already inhabit digital or conceptual spaces might start expressly granting limited copyright licenses along with their works to (ironically enough) make it that much easier to terminate the grant in the future. (Noland, by contrast, reserved all copyright rights to herself, according to documents attached to her complaint. Had she instead granted some form of express, limited copyright license in 1990, there would likely have been a strong case for her to terminate that license in 2025.)

Before moving forward with acquiring new work, meanwhile, museums and collectors might have to be considerably cagier about pieces subject to termination. They could conceivably ask artists to create legal structures immune from termination rights. Gallerists, for instance, could push digital artists to incorporate themselves and create artworks as employees of their own corporations—a loophole capable of stripping the artist of authorship and converting the resulting art into works-made-for-hire immune from termination (though the termination right itself, unlike rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act, may not be waived).

It remains to be seen whether artists working with newer media and dematerialized practices will embrace the lurking power the Copyright Act gives authors in the US. Disputes between creators and collectors are unavoidable, and the groundwork is already being laid for innovative legal approaches that new-media artists can wield in future clashes.

Peter J. Karol

Peter J. Karol is associate professor of law and director of the intellectual-property concentration at New England Law | Boston. His legal writing on copyright termination and art appears in the Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA.

Eclipse. Photo: Reinhold Wittich.


“EVERYTHING has a schedule if you can find out what it is.” —John Ashbery

On Labor Day, the sun in Virgo and Neptune in Pisces achieved perfect opposition. One way to translate this: The heart attempted austerity & sobriety under the crushing, carceral weight of delusions and dreams, my own and everyone else’s.

There was a sheet of pure pain wound around my heart, like a postallergen sour gelatin or a Fruit Roll-Up for anhedonic adults you’d buy at Whole Foods. I’d been home two days. My mom had been fully homeless two days. North Korea had detonated a hydrogen bomb in those two days. I was trying to learn boundaries.

On September 5 at 5:35 AM, Mars entered Virgo. Just get your shit done and be fucking tidy about it, I told myself; don’t make it an emotional issue just because you can. Get what you need by breaking every single goal down into a sequence of tiny, even boring, tasks. If the tasks are too interesting break them down further: Make them bland and easy and mildly satisfying to polish off, like rice balls.

Pretend this is a Beckett novel and I am Molloy sucking stones in his mother’s house, irreproachable in his pathos and hilarity.

On September 5 as the moon waxed in Pisces and Mercury & Mars went direct in Virgo I was numb. OK there was a slight combustible vibe coming from the base of my guts. But my guts are like a barbecue into which charcoal briquettes have been laid but to which no flame has yet been brought.

I got back from Norway three days ago. Like a lot of culture industry proles I was away all summer, moving through the world in a variegated lacework of residencies, jobs, and festivals, traveling in steerage to eat salmon beside the moderately famous, teaching poetry in a mansion in the Eastern Bloc, conjugating my longings, from the vapid to the profound, into Whatsapp, hack introspection journalism, the kind of sex that can only be described as a heaving poultice; the kind of meditation you do at dawn with polished rose quartz up your thing. Which is to say I got through it only by the grace of a moderate amount of what they call self-care while moving like an earthworm through the humus of dead bad people’s ideas.

Ours is a world of structures that enact the bad ideas of dead people.

Jupiter will enter Scorpio on October 10th, magnifying every little thing you or anybody else has ever repressed, even wanted to. I mean this physically. I’m kind of freaked out about what that might feel like. I’m also a little spooked about what it might look like in the world. I get a volcanic, tectonic vibe from this transit—big earthly things shooting up from below. And in us, in people, our so-called animal natures looming large in the bodies we try so hard to elegantly drag around.

Let me try to remember last month for a second. I remember that my period came a week early, on August 21, timed perfectly with the solar eclipse in Leo. I was well away from the path of totality, bleeding like a champ, trying to think there had to be something marvelous about millions of Americans bearing witness to our eclipse as a culture. While my heart roasted and puckered like a nonkosher hot dog at a kiosk outside a ballgame neither of whose teams I could possibly root for, an idea with a faint whiff of wisdom came to me: As the world cooks so does the human heart. I must cool my heart at all costs, I thought. I must feed it cooling foods, endew it in any and every possible calming thought. I must cool it with the primary coolant of all sentience: with breath.

Do you remember the August 7 lunar eclipse? I almost don’t. It happened at 15 degrees of Aquarius, with the Sun, Mars, & the lunar North Node in Leo. A collective, networked version of the truth, however distorted or even “fake,” eclipsed the fundamental truths and yearnings in our own hearts, and subjugated them. A lot of other major stuff was happening in the heavens too but I don’t have my whole entire life to write this. I was at the Hopi reservation in Arizona looking at colored orbs across the mesa, having a normcore paranormal experience. A week later was Charlottesville.

I would have to write a separate essay to begin to be able to talk about what happened in Charlottesville. In fact, I’m not even going to mention the stars. They don’t cause us to do things. We are reflections of them, but as anybody who has ever been to a funhouse knows, there are a lot of different ways to reflect a given reality.

It wasn’t until last week that I learned that a dear friend had almost died from a kidney infection and that the sister of a friend had died suddenly when an ear infection became meningitis, all around the second eclipse. Saying nothing of my lover’s visits to the emergency room for severe allergies, another friend’s exploded spinal disc, another friend’s purchase of Kevlar vests in advance of a fall semester he knows will be full of violence. All around the eclipse.

I get why in many cultures you’re not supposed to do anything during eclipses except maybe eat yams and sing songs. And I get why traveling while Mercury’s in retrograde is a bad idea. If we lived in a civilized society we would worship menstruators, time our labors to the doings of the sun and moon, meditating would be the law, and nuclear research would be about telepathy and the quantum field, not bombs. Killer Drone would be nothing but a genre of music. Graven images would exist to enhance mental clarity, not mind control. All great thinkers would be poets.

By 7:30 AM on September 5, Mercury will go direct in Leo, blessing me, you, and everybody we know with about four shining days to pour our intellects straight into our hearts. It’s like there will be a Jacob’s ladder running from the pineal gland down into the bowels of what hurts.

In the wee hours of the 6th the moon will be full, in Pisces, funneling every particle of divine longing in the universe down into the seat of all longing and all generosity, literally the bottom of the heart, while our brains are all lit up. We have an opportunity, four days, to get so clear about what we really want.

There are so many things I don’t want to look at or think about. There are so many ways my private dreads are hooked up to the global economy it’s just impossible to think about. Why isn’t my homeless mother standing behind my desk and raving at me right this second? Why do we have to be inside the lives we are in? Because they are our blessing, down to the tiniest particle. Will we all die in nuclear holocaust tomorrow, or will our souls gradually atrophy in a capito-cybernetic nightmare of twitching silicones, state murder, apocalyptic weather, and the hundred thousand vicious connivances that gnaw even our tiniest parts, even in the dead of night, pulverizing our souls to powder?

Artists, between September 6th and 9th write down your dreams and record what happens in your heart. I mean physically. I can feel mine right now as I type this. It feels like a frozen Eggo waffle in a toaster and the toaster is on. Yes it feels flat and round and frozen and melting and singeing at the edges. I mean every part of my metaphor and so can you.

On September 9th, a little before 11 PM, Mercury, lord of all thought and speech and the trickster behind our every idea, will enter Virgo, cooling our brains off, which is going to be such a relief—it’s going to make it possible for us to put our heads down and do the basic carpentry of putting and keeping our lives together. The heart won’t be hot in the same way, but neither will the mind have the same access to it.

If you can bear the sacrifice—and if you are an artist you should—use September 6th to 9th to face your own heart, hard. Use your fucking brains to get in there. The climate that is changing, which includes the kind of climate change that sees Nazis take their sheets off, includes our hearts. I hate to say it, but climate change began there.

Ariana Reines

Ariana Reines is a poet & playwright. She astrologizes at lazyeyehaver.com.

Peak Peaks

09.02.17

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 9.


EUCALYPTUS TREES, WEAKENED BY DROUGHT, are on their last legs all over Los Angeles. One fell and knocked out the power lines next to my friend’s house, where I am staying, in Eagle Rock, and we stood on the deck drinking Vinho Verde––delicious, like if wine were beer––watching the action. A fire truck loitered for an hour, produced no helpers, and left. Disruption made the street its own neighborhood. Homeowners came out wondering, hands synchronized on hips. One man retrieved his digital camera and tripod and took commemorative photos. Another ambled the length of his driveway twice an hour to see what was up. For a few hours, nothing. Power trucks eventually came, two then three. My friend walked down to the street, tan and hot in a crop-top, to talk to the workers, but even she couldn’t inspire them to finish faster. I thought this was fine. The only problem, really, was that without working television, or internet, we were missing the West Coast premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return.

The light dimmed outside, and my friend and I read books by flashlight and candle. Flies that would normally stay by the window were drawn to the page, and I killed the first by whacking it against a coffee table with The History of Sexuality in paperback and the second by crushing it inside The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick. Its viridian dead body blotted out four or five letters of text in the story “Back Issues,” so that I may never know whether the New York Public Library is at Forty-Second or Forty-Seventh and Fifth. Finishing the Vinho Verde, my friend remembered that by siphoning her cellular connection, we could stream The Return, available via Showtime on Hulu and Amazon, without electricity. This inappropriate usage of data would cost something totally nuts per minute, but “whatever,” said my friend, and I had to agree.

To begin with, there was almost no sound. What there was for a score was, with one exception, diegetic, selected vagaries of the soundscape plucked and turned up to make a loose, spare derangement. Fans of the original Twin Peaks (1990–91), not to mention nonfans who also watched it, will remember that Angelo Badalamenti’s influence went way past the theme song, that adult lullaby, to disquiet the breezy scenes, make fun of sad ones, and build a fugue state throughout. Twenty-six years later, the theme remains, but nothing else plays. There are no sideways forays into jazz, no melodramatic crying jags, and few stabs at banter. The hell-bent silence makes the passage of time unbearable, like a subway ride without headphones, or a book, or a friend. Would I say that the first hour is slow? It is so slow that Stanley Kubrick watching it would start thinking about dinner.

David Lynch and Mark Frost, cocreators of Twin Peaks then and now, have said that the only scene flagged by the network in the very first episode, which aired on the American Broadcasting Company, was the one where Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), examining the body of a dead Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), took tweezers and dug deep under the empurpled nail of her ring finger to retrieve a miniature clue. A close-up on this procedure lasted fourteen seconds, which censors said was too long. It was perfect, yet in a technical sense the censors were correct: It was still TV. The basic differentiating formula for the best TV, or prestige TV, since the two aren’t synonymous, is film minus time. Films, when they’re great, improve on and proliferate life, which is why you don’t leave the cinema anxious about wasted hours, the way you do (I always do) after watching television no matter how good the show, and why it’s possible to watch episode after episode on Netflix or HBO Go without getting around to feeling uncomfortable or stopping to think. Some critics hold that television now is better than film, but though the average show on network television is cleverer, more inventive, more interesting than the average studio movie, suggesting that the best TV rivals the best new cinema, the medium which still represents the apotheosis of time taken and given, is rude and unacceptable unless you live in a town, like Twin Peaks, come to think of it, without a movie theater. All is to say: Lynch knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing the right thing when he calls The Return an eighteen-part film. Not a miniseries––nothing mini about it––and not episodic. To watch more than two episodes in a night would be like eating three cherry pies.

Lynch used to hate his show being interrupted by commercials, saying, Imagine if you were at the symphony and every fifteen minutes the music stopped and was interchanged with jingles, and a benefit of streaming is the optional elision of ads. Another cool feature is closed captioning, which on Hulu is customizable, ergo mine is neon lime with a glowed edge to match the titles and credits, and which on The Return gives us incredible, specific descriptors of sound and score. A line dialed by the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) isn’t ringing but “trilling.” Footsteps on tile in the Black Lodge are “odd reverberations.” Skin “crinkles.” In the anonymous woods are “whooshing sustains,” followed by, naturally, an “ominous tone.” But where technology gives godlike it takes away, and new problems show up in place of old ones, like the compression thinning the image-stream on a laptop so that the black ink and shadow flooding the screen turns silty instead of looking as meant: “Dark as pitch, as noir, as hate,” to quote Manohla Dargis in her review of Lynch’s last film, Inland Empire (2006).

There is almost no blue. Lynch banned blue-colored props from the set of Twin Peaks in the first season, maybe also the second. This contributed to a long sense of skylessness, redoubled here in The Return. We see only a pressed and dried cornflower blue, subdued further by dank cinematography. The blue stays in the background of Laura Palmer’s iconic school portrait, now displayed in a glass case with assorted trophies. The blue is matched on the bedroom walls of our new, female victim—well, her head is female, severed and floating atop the lumpen, tumescent body of a “male John Doe” (a funny redundancy, its specificity a comment on how the typical anonymous corpse belongs to a hot girl or a woman). There are stomach-dropping aerial shots of New York City and Las Vegas, two added locations that jar the expectation, the memory of Twin Peaks as existing on a map without a territory, but these are exclusive to night. The blue is matched again in the motel room where another woman dies.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 1. Darya and Mr. C (Nicole LaLiberte and Kyle MacLachlan). Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime.


There are almost no not-white people. This will become more noticeable and weird as further scenes, with further and extra characters, unfold in those cities, but basically it is as it should be. Lynch specializes in a whiteness that slips from the norm, from seats of power, from centers that are traditionally but never essentially, exclusively white, to become whiteness per se. He doesn’t participate in the creeping normalization that tries to include everyone in a whiteness reconstituted as chill and that to some degree is always white-centric, and he doesn’t show us worlds where anyone, save teenagers bent on going to hell, would seek representation. Rare among major white artists, and almost impossibly, he appropriates whiteness in a manner all at once glib, unstudied, and tender, superficial and earnest, well-intentioned. This appropriative tendency is a huge and underrated part of what we mean when we say “Lynchian.” (In this Lynchianness no one excels more, more obviously, than Lana Del Rey.) Ditto his light grip on irony. Atypically for such a white American, he knows that irony is not sarcasm, is not really funny, and is never on purpose.

That Lynch is our guru and genius of white identity is one reason why I see so many fans and critics, and fans who are critics, all of them white, ask or demand that his works be held above and beyond interpretation. Yeah, I think. Nice try. The one near-definitive book on Lynch is by the critic and curator Dennis Lim, who doesn’t subject his taste to questions of either identity or identification, and who nonetheless has taken more care than most of his white peers to understand Lynch. This is an effect of Lim’s talent, and talent is always more or less selcouth, but it’s also no accident: One of the many things white people have refused to see about race is how we’re bound by our own, a refusal that makes us inadequate critics of our best representatives. Those fans and critics who, on the other hand, insist that things be explicable or that they alone have some answers are obviously wrongheaded. Less obvious is the problem: not that some viewers need everything to make sense, rather that they need things to be justified. Some things are simply not forgivable. The solution is not to mystify ignorance.

Besides, what we have here is an auteur who plays not with but to critics. Lynch teases, he tickles, he withholds relief and escape. He also holds out comfort in symbols and puns. He’s a lot like the other David (Cronenberg) in his twisted devotion to genre, his habit of making actors talk like they’re saying lines from other, lesser movies, and his hokey, dated special effects, stopping shy of “movie magic” and leaving spells broken, lying around. A serious dreamer, he welcomes without begging analysis, and takes analysts, even critics, seriously. The evidence of his generosity is that he doesn’t give his own interpretations. There are so many artists who think they can do my job. I let them. I like writing about art that leaves space. Take Lynch at his purest here, his lens hovering on Darya (Nicole LaLiberte), the newest of his uncanny valley dolls, in some anywhere motel during the last minute or two of her life as she goes from being hit in the face to getting shot in the head. Her heavy false eyelashes come unglued, lifting visibly from her natural lash line, in an exposure so slighting, cruel, and brief that you feel special, then guilty, for noticing it, though probably your noticing it is the point. Trompe l’œil, painted with a shaky, minatory hand, is the effect. Take Lynch at his most obvious in the scenes where a pretty young man is being paid to sit in a TriBeCa loft and watch an empty glass box, told only to wait for something, some image to materialize there. His crush comes over with lattes from the coffee shop where, in the guise of a junior ad executive, she works nights as a barista, and he tells her the loft belongs to “some anonymous billionaire.” “Oooh,” she goes. “Mysterious.” (Unnecessary emphasis hers.)

Twin Peaks, 1990–91, clip from a TV show on ABC. Season 2, episode 22. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).

One image appearing briefly in the glass box––a harbinger greeted, as it happens and has to happen, by no one––belongs to the man last seen as Cooper, trapped soul and body in the Black Lodge (long story) for the past twenty-five years. Cooper hasn’t been seen this side of limbo since, possessed by his prime suspect’s demon, he bashed his head into a mirror and asked how Annie was, though he did find time to change into a tux before leaving the dimension. Wandering earth is his doppelgänger, a heartless, successful criminal wearing Lenny Kravitz’s pants, a Samson-haired and literally strong-armed man (what is his arm made of, steel?), a killer who goes only by “C.” Lynch at his most moral: There are no antiheroes, only heroes who stand to be ruined rather than fall. There are no complications, no excuses, and as he prefers not to diagnose from the director’s chair, there are no pleas of insanity. (A doctor on the original Twin Peaks, opining that Leland Palmer has been driven to kill by madness, triggered by grief, is stopped right there by Special Agent Cooper: “Do you approve of murder, Doctor Hayward?”) This binary starring role for MacLachlan, taken into consideration with his quite prominent billing, over the alphabetical rest of the cast in the end credits, may or may not indicate that the fifty-eight-year-old actor is angling for what we might have to call a “MacLachlanaissance” (cf. Matthew McConaughey’s “McConnaissance,” which peaked with his bravura performance as the philosophical, reluctantly loved, eventually schizo Rusty on season one of HBO’s True Detective). The last we see of Monsieur C, he’s driving what appears to be a 1989 Lincoln Continental (cf. Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln ads), hearse-black inside and outside, back to where he belongs.

The first we see of Twin Peaks in The Return is a lonesome clearing in the woods, and a red truck backing into a gravel driveway as smoothly as if it were shot in forward motion and reversed in post. Doctor Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) emerges at the door of a derelict trailer home and takes off a pair of shades to reveal another pair, one red lens, one blue, a joke about what—shadiness, layers, the third dimension? A joke about being Lynchian. The driver lifts boxes from the truck, and from the boxes brings objects seen only as shapes, wrapped in plastic. He asks the doc how he’s doing. “Good as ever,” says the doc. Not a joke, a fact about being here.

Five minutes before the end of the second hour, my friend’s laptop died, and mine, too, proved dead. The last thing we saw was Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) looking at James Hurley (James Marshall) as the Chromatics, live at the Bang Bang Bar, play a song about darkness. “James is still cool,” Shelly says. “James has always been cool.” I could honestly have cried. Outside the house, the men in orange hats worked overtime under temporary lights.


Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 4.


LAWS IN THE WORLD OF DAVID LYNCH are unnatural but do not lead to order, and things disordered lapse into “thingness.” This should be one of Lynch’s favorite words, lent to him in that book by Dennis Lim: “In his own speech—and in the speech patterns of his films, with their gnomic pronouncements and recurring mantras—the impression is of language used less for meaning than for sound. To savor the thingness of words is to move away from their imprisoning nature.” Write down the “academic definition” of “Lynchian,” suggested and sent-up by David Foster Wallace in his notes from the set of Lost Highway, and then I’ll never say “Lynchian” again: “[It] refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” Now say the word macabre over and over, silently or aloud to yourself, until the word has lost all definition to become a void, a nothing, a prenatal lump of sound. Now try it with human.

The man who taught us binomial nomenclature, as in Homo + sapiens, divided humanity into four squares, or “races,” extrapolated in a fucked-up way from the “four humors” of more ancient thought. He was a Swedish doctor and botanist who lived in the seventeenth century under the name Linnaeus, and he decided that Americans were Americanus (red, choleric, upright), Europeans were Europeaus (white, sanguine, muscular), Asians were Asiaticus (pale yellow, melancholic, stiff), and Africans were Afer (black, phlegmatic, relaxed). Four, the number of limbs, seasons, and elements, has remained the magic number of inter-human difference, as with the four major archetypes discovered by Carl Jung, and the four dichotomies, combining to make possible sixteen types, in the Myers-Briggs personality test. (Lynch would be, I think, a medium-rare type of person: Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving, known for “revealing [his] beauty and [his] secrets through metaphors and fictional characters,” according to the third website that appeared to me when I googled “INFP.”) But Linné, as he was called after his ennoblement, in a codicil that basically deconstructed his legacy, added two absurd bonus types: ferus for the feral or “wild boys,” and monstorus for the deformed and the freaks found in folk tales. When I learned this, I felt the way Foucault says he felt when he read a Borges fable, a spoof on taxonomy, written as if excerpted from “a certain Chinese encyclopaedia” wherein animals are those “belonging to the Emperor,” or those who are “fabulous,” those who are “stray dogs,” those who “have just broken the water pitcher,” and so on. “In the wonderment of this [fictional] taxonomy,” writes Foucault, so beginning The Order of Things (1966), “the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own.” We don’t have to read Foucault, or even Borges, though, to feel our limits, since they begin with our dreams.

Among the menagerie of pet theories I’ve kept from my childhood, a sentimental favorite is that dreams are just pieces of the day, unprocessed or left on the cutting-room floor, swept up and viewed in a kaleidoscope. Maybe the order is deranged, fragmentary, and synesthetic, but there can be nothing in my dream that wasn’t already in my head. As for dreams being illogical or strange, it’s simply a matter of being free from the unreasonable expectation that life, and the things in it, will make sense. The other day I bought in-ear headphones decorated with little skulls, and found that both headphones were marked R, requiring me to have two right ears. “Weird,” I thought. But in a dream, I would have thought nothing. This is why we say that works by Lynch are dreamlike, because sometimes we don’t know what to think. What, for instance, do we think about the one pale horse who appeared to Sarah Palmer in Twin Peaks before Madeleine died, and who appears again as a figure in The Return, once in the Black Lodge and once in Las Vegas as the namesake of the Silver Mustang Casino? Coincidence, dream-symbol, or mere déjà vu?

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 4. Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole and Agent Albert Rosenfeld (David Lynch and Miguel Ferrer).


Pale people, we can say with more certainty, are not woke but dreaming. In the funniest bit of Twin Peaks (1990), a lady named Gwen, sister of Lucy, surmises to Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill (Michael Horse, who, like his character, is American Indian) that given what they’ve done to his tribe, he must really hate whites. Hawk neither startles nor hesitates. “Some of my best friends are white people,” he says. A decade or two later, this would be an obvious joke. At the time it was perfect, part sincere. Lynch takes the stereotyped stoic American Indian and imbues his silences not with some mystic wisdom but with a down-to-earth amusement that befits a man burdened by history and tasked with protecting innocence in adults. That views on whiteness from elsewhere are entirely determined by the actions, behaviors, and thoughts of white people themselves is a ludicrous, too-common assumption. (It says more about the people who assume it, about their taste for vengeances, their grudges, similar to how what a critic says about a show can say more about the critic than the show, an old truism I haven’t found a reason to contradict.) This isn’t to say that Lynch’s views on nonwhite characters are unproblematic, rather that they are problematic in two senses, both the more current definition (offensive, troubling) and the more original one (merely troublesome), the additive effect being that his non-sense, unlike so much “white nonsense,” is worth thinking about.

Hawk is now deputy chief in the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department, and on the third and fourth hours of The Return, playing on Showtime, he grapples with a directive from the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson, may she rest in pines). “There is something missing,” says the Log, by way of the Lady. “Something,” that is, “to do with [his] heritage.” Puzzled and willing to play the game, Hawk unburies the box of case files and calls in Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy Brennan (née Moran, played with breathtaking continuity by Kimmy Robertson), who are deputy and secretary, respectively. Lynch and Frost’s scripts are like two-player games of word association, and the word here is clueless. “Your heritage,” says Lucy, slow and tremulous. “You’re . . . Indian?” Her particularly white way of being afraid that just saying a name is calling a name is, in this case, ironically justified. Hawk looks at her slowly. We see what he’s not saying. He says, “Yes.” It’s easy to make Anglo-Saxons, in the presence of a token or tokenized character, seem like the tolerant ones. Here the tolerance is all on Hawk’s side, and though the figure of him remains tokenized, a requisite nod to the precolonial history of town and country, the actor’s intelligence gives him an out-of-body aspect, and he glides above tokenization. When I said last week that almost no humans would seek representation in Lynch’s world, it was an exaggeration, and besides, the opposite is true about actors: Who wouldn’t want to be set loose on screen by this guy?

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 4. Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan).


The fourth hour of The Return, destined to be an all-time fan favorite, brings us the only child of Andy and Lucy. As Lucy tells it, Cooper wanted the son to be named Marlon Brando, after the legend whose love affair with the American Indian is never forgotten, and at birth the couple compromised and named him Wally, Wally Brando. Boy, does he (Michael Cera) live up to that choice. Showing up unannounced on a motorcycle, clad in a punk-ass black leather jacket, a white-and-navy ringer tee, and an oversize army beret, Wally has transcended the decades to embody at least a quarter-century of boy-teen rebellion. He has roamed the country, he has a strong sense of dharma, and his idiolect is a very fine whine. “From Alexandria, Virginia, to Stockton, California,” he nasally muses, “I think about Lewis, and about his friend Clark, the first Caucasians to see this part of the world.” He enunciates each morpheme in “Caucasian,” such that it rhymes with Abkhazian. Kaw-kay-zee-uhn. Try it. Try not to laugh. Also, Wally informs his parents, in the deposed-royal manner of a fifth-generation middle-class American, that he will permit them to turn his childhood bedroom, which he has not seen in years, into a study. The Brennans respond like listeners of a classic pop radio show who have just been informed they’ve won the keys to a timeshare in South Florida and two vouchers for dinner at P.F. Chang’s.

Wally is right about Lewis and Clark, who were among the first white people to belong in the Kaw-kay-zee-uhn era. Less than a decade before the two stepped all over America, one Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a doctor and anthropologist in Göttingen, Deutschland, elaborated on the work of Carl Linné and reclassified as “varieties” the humans he saw. Unlike his more racist peers and successors, says Nell Irvin Painter in her empathetic, well-limned treatise The History of White People (2010), Blumenbach did not assort humans by race or assign to the races differing, unequal abilities, intelligences, and virtues, unless you count beauty a virtue: He chose, for the “variety” to which he himself would belong, the name “Caucasian,” because he felt that the people of Caucasus, a loose braid of mountains around Georgia, had the most elegant bones in their heads. Painter notes that the “unblemished young woman’s skull” from which he drew this conclusion had resonances with the old white-slave trade, one in which “the figure of the slave is invariably female, always young, emphatically white—sometimes even blonde—and invariably beautiful”––a real Laura Palmer, in other words, one who “usually comes from Georgia or the Caucasus.” An upside to his superficiality was that, having organized peoples by color, he began to see their differences not in squares but on a gradient, the way we’d later see sexuality, or sanity. Nevertheless, it was pure white entitlement. It wasn’t that Blumenbach was given the first choice of skulls, nor that he stole the skulls, exactly, only that he happened to pick out the prettiest skulls; he also liked that all skulls were themselves “white in color, which we may fairly assume to have been the primitive color of mankind.”

There is something morbid and wonderful, as well as dastardly, about Blumenbach’s choice. When I said that Lynch appropriates whiteness, rendering it less flesh than guise, a naive costume, I was remembering that more than once he gave white actors “whiteface” with old-fashioned pancake makeup, most memorably in Lost Highway (1997). I was thinking that the whiteness of Twin Peaks was something like a skull mask worn over the face, a skeleton worn over the body on Halloween. Had I spent much time as a teen getting oppressed on the basis of being white and bony, I would perhaps be offended. Today white knuckleheads are always logging on to different websites to fret about oppression that has yet to exist, especially “white genocide,” by which is meant the declining birthrate among descendants of European whites, and which sounds more like white suicide, to which we have been led by our freedoms, like the sexual ones. As a woman of childbearing age and ability, I have been accused by my own youngest brother of being too ambitious, self-absorbed, and vain to further my race by becoming pregnant with another white fetus. Unfortunately, it’s beyond me to care whether so-called Caucasians have plenteous futures. For my people to die in vainness and sterility, aided by pills, would be appropriate, desirable, and not bad. I welcome our fate.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 4. Dougie Jones and Jade (Kyle MacLachlan and Nafessa Williams).


But before fate, nostalgia. Lynch, a shapeshifter who appears as a perfect square of a man, loves to pack and unpack the boxy, obsessive, even maniacal systems of classification (for identity, and thus for derangement) and storage (for pride, and for loss) that line the halls of the past, and to dwell on the backwardness that often now accompanies the nostalgic. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), after a long and stressful journey through consciousness, lands on earth in his body; his mind, and his shoes, are left on the plane. Worse, there are more than two Coopers, for lack of a better term. One, the real bad one, Mr. C, has failed to show up for his scheduled return to the Black Lodge, and is alive in a prison cell. Sent in his place is another one, a licentious and chintzy-looking real-estate agent named Dougie Jones, whose mortal coil is compressed into a tiny golden nugget, leaving only a significant jade ring. Yet the person of Dougie remains, husband to a stressed-out, underweight woman named Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and father to the eight-year-old Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon).

We meet Mr. Jones on an exurban tract-housing project in a development named Rancho Rosa, the two Rs recalling the Double R Diner of yore, in a beige-carpeted bedroom where light falls through the slats like on the set of a black-and-white noir; the shot, however, looks like a recent photograph by Torbjørn Rødland. He’s in the arms of an extremely pretty prostitute named Jade (Nafessa Williams), posed like the Venus Anadyomene, her black skin all bared. What she brings is such stomach-dropping eroticism that I have no clue whether I’m meant to be shocked. I can only suggest that, in the moment, MacLachlan has never looked more like the kind of Caucasian who needs a pocket calculator to tally his Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and Cornish heritage. Jade, another tolerant professional of color, emerges from her postwork shower to find that Dougie, prostrate on the carpet, has been replaced by Coop. She’s at a loss to ascertain where her client got “that suit . . . and that haircut,” but assumes by his abandonment of most functions that he’s had a stroke and drops him off at the Silver Mustang Casino, saying, “Call for help.”

Long scenes transpire in which Cooper may as well be an alien. Like the brother from another planet in the 1984 John Sayles film by that name, he has an unexplained power over things that plug into the wall, and simply by pointing at the slot machines, he wins twenty-nine jackpots. Like the invading body snatchers in both the 1956 Don Siegel film and the 1978 Philip Kaufman remake, he seems fated, despite this life-changing fortune, to end up a pod person. It is to the bright, clean, well-appointed life of the Joneses that he returns. We can’t keep up, but neither can he. Unable to speak except to repeat what’s literally just been said to him, he lights up for the first time at the breakfast table in the spacious eat-in kitchen. “Here’s your coffee,” says Janey-E, handing him a mug that says, in block letters, THIS IS DOUGIE’S COFFEE. “Coffee!” he gasps. Watching this the first time I sighed with relief, thinking it was all a bad joke about not being yourself before that first cup of coffee in the morning. Alas—he takes one sip and, like a goddamn baby, spits it out.

Excerpt from Twin Peaks, 1991

By now I can see that it might be annoying to watch anyone, even Kyle MacLachlan, perform some enormous difficulty in being a straight, cissexual, employed, married, (relatively) able-bodied, blah blah blah white male. The more you dwell on it, the more perverse is the truth that white men discovered alienation. Better to think about white men’s greatest invention, other than Venetian blinds, lipstick in a tube, and the guillotine, and that is: romance. The beautiful scam! I’m obsessed. There is no more individuating force than romantic love, as I have said a thousand times or, at the very least, once. This is why we see on daytime soap operas decades-long plots revolving around the supposition that two identical white women, played by literally the same actress, are opposites on the inside. Lynch, in his soap-loving bones, is as romantic and Romantic as Blumenbach was. He’s a Double R romantic, we could say.

Case, point: Remember Denise, the top federal agent and trans woman with every reason to be proud, played with sly aplomb by David Duchovny? There was scant discourse on gender to greet her appearance in 1990, and there is discourse galore awaiting her reappearance now, yet the show needs no change. Anyone who self-actualizes and looks better doing it is fine and has always been fine by Lynch. “When you became Denise,” says Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, who is Lynch himself, “I told all of your colleagues, those clown comics, to fix their hearts or die.” Unhelped by his hearing aid, Cole shouts this as he does most things, but here in a meter that edges on iambic, doubling the line’s sudden wham. Lynch in director mode can be less than present, relinquishing control to the aleatory and straying so far off the beat that the beat is a memory, so that when he does match a line to the pulse, it’s shockingly great.

Later, Cole and Agent Albert Rosenfeld (Miguel Ferrer), fresh from a visit to the imprisoned Mr. C., who is pretending to be an undercover Cooper, are standing outside. “Blue rose,” says Rosenfeld. “Blue rose,” as we know, is Cole’s code term for especially tricky and transmundane cases. The term first appeared in the literal, as a poly-silk corsage on a woman’s red dress in Fire Walk with Me, and no one could say what it meant, like how the proto-Romantic German poet Novalis, in Penelope Fitzgerald’s 2014 novelization of his life, The Blue Flower, knows only that it’s all he needs to know. “It doesn’t get any bluer,” says Cole. It really doesn’t. The anomalous, gelid blue that douses the frame doesn’t come from the sky behind the men, rather from the tinted window of the Lincoln Town Car, a tint known as Gasser, after a breed of 1970s muscle car, but to me recalling Gass, William Gass, and his On Being Blue (1975). Hell, he says in the book, has gas-blue flames, and on earth everything empty is blue, but so are human interiors. These connections weren’t planned for me, but sparked. Lynch does it again: a blue tuned to a frequency that cracks the protective glass between what you’re seeing and you.


Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 5. Becky (Amanda Seyfried).


“BLUE IS THE WRONG COLOR FOR ROSES,” says the crippled, disconsolate Laura in The Glass Menagerie (1944), my favorite Tennessee Williams play. “It’s right for you!” says Jim, her old high-school crush. They are about twenty-three years old and have been reunited in the one-sided hope that he’ll pick her out, pick her up, and carry her off. Once, all those years ago, she told him she was sick with pleurosis, which he misheard as “blue roses.” The mondegreen stuck. “The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of,” he says to her. “Because other people are not such wonderful people . . . They’re common as—weeds, but—you—well, you’re—Blue Roses!”

Though Laura is “pretty . . . in a different way,” she is apparently still more different than pretty. Jim wishes she were his sister, not his girl. He is engaged now to a chick named Betty, he says, dropping the bombshell like it’s a jacket on a chair. With about the same care, he lets fall a glass unicorn in the menagerie––its horn breaks, leaving it a mere pale horse. “I’ll just imagine it had an operation,” Laura makes herself say. “The horn was removed to make him less—freakish!” Meanwhile, Laura’s kid brother, who has facilitated this unblissful reunion, is at the movies, which makes sense for a boy who, in the words of Laura’s sister, doesn’t know anything. “You live in a dream,” she says, when he gets back. “You manufacture illusions!” When Jim leaves, she says, faintly: “Things have a way of turning out so badly.”

There is an old word for women who believe they can overturn fate, and the word (adjective) is “weird.” (Remember, in Macbeth, the “weird sisters.”) This was also the word (noun) for fate or destiny itself, and is now the word (verb) for alienating others: “weirding out.” What makes the new David Lynch so weird, and at the same time traditional, sometimes ancient, is its ever more delayed, more inevitable reckoning with fate. Things in Twin Peaks have a way of turning out badly, and for women those ways are more predictable. “Blue Rose,” the designation lent by FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) to the few, weird cases we see him handle, seems to imply that the cases are unsolvable, or that the solutions lie in the paranormal. But in the case of Laura Palmer, what was left unresolved was something very physical, very sick, between her and her father. If biology is not destiny, and neither is identity, we can split the difference: it’s family that destines and thwarts us, family that buries the evidence for what we can and can’t do, and family that decides, still and so often, where we end.

At the end of the second, third, and fourth hours in Twin Peaks: The Return, we were left at the Bang Bang Bar, the long-standing roadhouse in Twin Peaks, listening to a new band each time: the Chromatics, the Cactus Blossoms, Au Revoir Simone. They played songs about darkness and seeing angels, about going down to shorelines, living evening to night. Before the end of hour five, we go again to the bar, where now the band Trouble is playing, and a guy with the face of a wolf raised by housecats is smoking under a No Smoking sign. This guy, we see in the credits, is Richard Horne (Eamon Farren). It would seem that Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), the baddest girl with the second-worst dad on the original Twin Peaks, has a son who’s just evil. (Having yet to see Fenn, we can’t be sure; he could belong to another Horne.) A girl who asks Richard for a cigarette gets choked out, name-called, and threatened with rape, or something like rape, instead. Trouble plays a song about wearing a new pair of cowboy boots to dance on the future grave of Kenneth Anger, next to the one for Johnny Ramone, in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (the song has no words).

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 5. Richard Horne (Eamon Farren).


Over at the Double R Diner, where Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) and Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) are still working, or where, I suppose, the women could have returned after second divorces, the daily lunch special is $8.95 and Shelly’s daughter needs $72 in cash. Becky (Amanda Seyfried) is wed to the weirdly hot asshole and coke dealer Steven Burnett (Caleb Landry Jones), just as her mother, in Twin Peaks, was wed to the weirdly hot asshole and coke dealer, also the woman-beater, Leo Johnson: “I’ve got one man too many in life,” said Shelly at the time, “and I’m married to him.” When her husband wound up in a coma, her real love, Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), believed she could cash in on the disability checks and change her life. Apparently not. “If you don’t help [Becky] now,” says Norma to Shelly, “it’ll be a lot harder to help her later.” Shelly says, “We both know that tune.”

Where sudden, unearned riches are an ultimate fairy-tale ending, the notion of being happy without money is no less fantastical. Even a little extra serves the purpose. Steven has thoughtfully saved a thimble of cocaine for his wife, a wee aperitif before he takes her to an unaffordable dinner, and she snorts it off his hand before putting on the song “I Love How You Love Me,” from 1961. We know this tune too, whether or not we’ve heard it before. Head tossed back to the sky, eyes so wide she’s like Joan Crawford playing innocent, Becky looks ecstatic, or should I quote the poet Harmony Holiday, in her new book Hollywood Forever, on “what hints at an ecstatic freedom of the mind but is actually our most tender disaster after birth” (I guess she means sex, heterosexually). Becky’s thrill is adamantine, ludic. Either the cocaine is also from ’61 or love is really the drug.

My friend Alan says that Twin Peaks: The Return is perfect because it manages to say exactly what David Lynch means: Our favorite auteur is funnier than ever, but he isn’t joking. My friend Fiona says he’s trying to get us all to transcendentally meditate, to slow down and stop thinking, which she’s into. As for me, the reason I feel so understood by Lynch is that, though like him I believe we do our best, and though sometimes our best is better than at other times, we can change very little besides ourselves, and our selves are in themselves not that significant. I believe in fate with every new year that repeats itself. I no longer believe that anything changes your life, your experience of life.


Conrad Tao's mashup of Britney Spear's 2003 song “Everytime” with Angelo Badalamenti's theme for Twin Peaks.

THE SECOND-BEST USE of “Falling” outside the original Twin Peaks is on the fourth hour of Twin Peaks: The Return. Those vespertine keyboard notes, which used to go off with the regularity of an egg timer at an all-day diner, are saved until the moment you stop listening for them, and then: Officer Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) sees the portrait of Laura Palmer at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department and cries like he’s never cried in his life. He cries like he’s never seen the very first episode of Twin Peaks, the one where everybody—hilariously—cries, or like he’s on a Twin Peaks–themed Saturday Night Live skit. Only Bobby, the former football star and de facto ex-boyfriend to the homecoming queen, also the first and most innocent suspect in her murder, would get in on the joke twenty-seven years late.

The first-best use of “Falling” is in a demented mashup with the sad Britney Spears song “Everytime” (2003), made for fun by the composer Conrad Tao. Mashups are not often taste-affirming, but this one stays on your tongue: a razor blade in an apple baked into a tart, served with vanilla ice cream as cold as love (colder than death). I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of Britney being Laura, had only thought of her being Lolita, but duh. A Pitchfork writer did think of it: Tom Ewing, in a post about how her 2007 album Blackout sounds straight from the Black Lodge, wrote that “Palmer’s story is cliché—sour secrets of the suburban everygirl, virginal beauty off the rails—but it’s a cliché we have an endless appetite for: Witness the fascination with Britney Spears, and her messy life.” The exploding star’s “surrender of identity from track to track… to make individual songs more disorientating and thrilling” expresses what made Twin Peaks great, and “it wasn’t the central good-girl-gone-bad story, it was the strangeness liberated by the story.”

Britney co-wrote “Everytime” to get her boyfriend back. “Cry Me a River,” a massive hit for the single Justin Timberlake, turned rumors of her infidelity into widespread knowledge, and where another starlet (Mariah Carey then, Selena Gomez now) would have one-upped the allegations in a good-riddance banger, Britney, a heartbreakingly literal reader, responded in tears. Her concept for the music video, directed by David LaChapelle, involved an overdose, a drowning, and a reincarnation as a baby, but the record label wouldn’t let her die. (They should have hired our David.) The baby appeared as a more ambiguous symbol of rebirth, but seemed rather a harbinger: Within a year she was Mrs. Federline, and within three she was a barefoot, soon-to-be-single mom of two boys. She sold her Hollywood Hills mansion to Brittany Murphy, who lived there until she died in 2010. She bought and sold places in Malibu and New York City, then bought but could never resell a place on the edge of Mulholland Drive, a locale like “the lip of a pit, a vertiginous fall into destruction,” a Rolling Stone writer said. Though she did everything to stop being desirable, gaining weight, shaving her head, she was no less wanted (dead or alive). The Associated Press had twenty-two staffers on the Britney beat, and had her obituary prewritten. Dark nights she drove like Princess Di’s driver on Mulholland, daring paparazzi to finish the job. “I don’t know who you think I am, bitch,” Britney snapped at some fan at the mall, “but I’m not that person.” Paris Hilton nicknamed her “The Animal.”

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3.


Lynch likes to dance around the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, a famous thought experiment wherein a cat occupies a box, concealed from the viewer, containing death-triggers arranged to give it a fifty-fifty chance of survival, so that Kitty is both dead or alive, or either, until we look inside. Martha P. Nochimson, in her 2013 survey of quantum physics in his later films, David Lynch Swerves, suggests that while Schrödinger didn’t think the cat could be both, Lynch does. While making Eraserhead (1977), Lynch obtained a cat’s corpse from a veterinarian on the condition that the cat not appear, or be recognizable, in the film; we have never been told how he honored this condition, but it’s easy to think that the cat, preserved in formaldehyde, then dissected, helped form the inhuman baby birthed at the end. In The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (1990), the bestselling tie-in written by a twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Lynch, we read that the day Laura’s cat got run over (“I can’t believe someone could hit a cat like that, right in the middle of the day, and not tell someone”) turned into the night she first had sex, and felt black and hot and nowhere near good inside, sure as a teen can be that no one knew who she really was. Lynch, after Twin Peaks, has brought heroines from Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) to Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) ever closer to “superposition”—that is, being at once dark and light, particle and antiparticle, unknowing which form is her particular, original one.

The sixth and seventh hours of The Return bring us a long-missing piece of Laura’s diary, found by Hawk as the Lady’s Log predicted: in a funny, flimsy string of coincidences (a coin rolls under a bathroom stall door, a crack appears in the door) that signal his heritage. Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) holds a page to the camera and reads aloud a dream in which Annie Blackburn, played by Heather Graham on Twin Peaks, and Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) are in the Black Lodge. Annie says that the real (good) Cooper can’t get out. This dream belongs to a future long gone and is the closest we’ve gotten to finding out how Annie’s doing. Laura wrote out her death before it happened. Maybe she also wrote her reincarnation. Reading along, we see that Truman skips one word, after the name Annie, in brackets: me??!!! Laura had never been seen in the same room as Annie, who spent five years in a convent after trying suicide, and Cooper only came to Twin Peaks after Laura was killed.

Graham was introduced to the show’s second season because Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Laura’s best friend Donna, was dating MacLachlan, and was annoyed by his on-screen romance with Sherilyn Fenn, who was already the fan favorite, as Audrey Horne. The show gave in, and Cooper got a girlfriend his own age. But Lynch as usual is getting his way in the end. Neither Boyle nor Graham is present or accounted for in The Return, while Sheryl Lee’s Laura appears in one form or another every hour, and Fenn’s reappearance has been promised at least a dozen times. As I’m given to wonder whether Laura is alive, whether she was Annie all along, or Annie her, I can hear Donna screaming in the cemetery: “You’re gone, Laura, but your problems keep hanging around! It’s almost like they didn’t bury you deep enough!”

Maybe the absence of Graham and Boyle isn’t so deep. Both actresses are a little too available, and would be dated and outclassed next to two arrivals: Watts, who has never looked stronger, and Dern. Both stars ascended via Lynch, and both do credible impressions of the boy scout from Missoula, with Dern emphasizing his backwards charm and vivifying, in-your-face ebullience, Watts his obstinate, encouraging screech.

Watts retains a trace sour-sweetness of that impression in her turn as Janey-E Jones, the long-suffering wife of Dougie, or Cooper, fending off anyone who’d make him suffer, too. There are the men to whom he owes a major gambling debt. Then there are the men, presumably hired by the vile Mr. C, also Cooper, who think his debt is eternal. When three indistinguishable policemen arrive at the offices of Lucky 777 Insurance with some questions about Dougie’s missing car, Janey-E is there to answer for him. Policeman number two asks if there’s a reason Dougie didn’t report it stolen. “Reason? Yeah, I’ll tell you a reason,” she snaps. “There’s more to life than cars.” Watts has a face so fine-formed as to convey a barely suppressed laughter at how mad she is, while getting still madder. “What were you going to do, break his legs?” she says when the bookies tell her how much Dougie owes. “Fifty thousand dollars is more than anyone can make, let alone with a broken leg.” They will take the twenty-eight grand Janey-E gives them, and they will be grateful. “Tough dame,” says one to the other.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).


“She’s a tough cookie, always has been,” says FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) to his right-hand man Albert (Miguel Ferrara), thinking in admiration of Cooper’s ex-secretary, played by Dern. The actress is hardly recognizable when for the first time ever we see the mythic Diane, mid-forties, in a silver-white, obvious wig, with a freshly lit cigarette; it’s the way she holds it, tall and accusatory, that gives her away. In Dern’s second film with Lynch, the horrifying romantic comedy Wild at Heart (1990), she and her costar, Nicholas Cage, smoked constantly in so pronounced a fashion that the cigarettes were like tiny signal flares spelling out messages. She looked, like she does now, hot from spitting distance and molten up close. “I like a woman who talks tough and… fucks like a bunny,” says Bobby Peru, a Latino gangster type whose middle name is Problematiqué, played in Wild at Heart by a moustachio’d Willem Dafoe, before he zanily rapes her.

What we know of Diane’s relationship to Cooper is very little, but what we remember best of Cooper was given straight to Diane. “Diane, I’m looking at a small box of chocolate bunnies,” or “I’m eating a wonderful cherry pie,” or “I’ve got to find out what these trees are,” the agent would say into his tape recorder, and the secretary, who would have been college-aged, got the tapes in the mail. One night after Cooper returned as other than himself, he went to see Diane and something happened. We better pray it wasn’t rape, which unlike murder can happen to you more than once, a statistical truth that eludes male filmmakers who treat it as a one-night-only life-changing event.

Whatever it was, it’s enough. Cooper is imprisoned in the Dakotas? “Good.” The FBI needs her to see whether it’s really Cooper? “Fuck you, Gordon,” she says to Gordon. “Fuck you, Albert,” she says to Albert. A youngish female agent who, with her black patent pumps and pencil skirts, is given little actual work, tries to talk to Diane, and Diane politely asks her name: Tammy (Chrysta Bell). “Fuck you,” she says. “Tammy.” (Bell reacts as usual, blinking and widening her eyes and rolling her head, like a sexbot being reprogrammed. Everyone seems to agree that Tammy should get fucked.)

Diane’s scorn for older men and the babes who go along with them is insufficient to stop her curiosity, and she goes along too to South Dakota, dressed like a wonder. Her tight-fitted top looks sewn from the faux-silk leaves of a Christmas poinsettia. Her nails are painted each a different color, to match her outfit. Earrings rhyme on her ears. False lashes look like upended garden rakes. She carries a tapestried bag, a leopard-skin jacket, and a mini-bottle of vodka, bangles clattering with each unconcealed swig. After seeing the real bad Cooper, she can only drink more.

“It isn’t time passing,” Diane says in a sob to Gordon Cole. No, wait—the breaking lines should be heard not in quotes but as the bridge and the chorus in a plangent pop song.

It isn’t time passing
Or how he’s changed
Or the way he looks

It’s something here…
It’s something that definitely isn’t here

Jennifer Lynch did her own impression of David in her debut feature film, Boxing Helena (1993), starring Fenn as what else, a beautiful woman, held captive and amputated by a plastic surgeon (Bill Paxton). Lynch’s mom had a replica of the Venus de Milo in her living room, and both son and granddaughter were fascinated. Lynch Sr., in early hours of The Return, gave us a Venus in the Red Room with one arm disappearing and reappearing, perhaps corresponding to the new inhuman strength in Cooper’s arm, one trait shared by Mr. C and Dougie. Lynch Jr., interviewed in 2012, said she grew up noticing “people didn’t see [the Venus] as broken, they saw her as beautiful.” Inspirational quotes aside, it’s not very original to put a chick in a box, and Boxing Helena unpacked its metaphors clumsily, lacked brilliance, facetiousness. Still, had this been a Lynch or Cronenberg movie in that same year, there would have been protests and feminist remonstrations and bad, angry reviews, but with the apposite consequence, the devil-advocated redemption in cult status. A daughter who wants to please men and herself at the same time tends to seem less desirous than needy, and anyone’s open needs are hard to see (e.g. in Lynch’s Blue Velvet [1986], I find it harder to watch Isabella Rossellini beg to be held than to watch her be raped).

Elders who fail their children are a constant, discordant theme on Twin Peaks, cranked to eleven on The Return. Coop as Dougie bonds with Dougie’s son in a moment like the one in Paris, Texas (1984), when the man played by Harry Dean Stanton, having wandered for seven years in the desert and forgotten his name, reunites with his eight-year-old son. In The Return, Carl Rodd (also Harry Dean Stanton, now like a hundred years old) sits on a bench and sees a little kid, playing tag with his mother, get hit by a truck on the run. As the boy dies a gold mist rises upward, where a certain telephone pole, significant in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), bears the number six. Another boy is nearly blasted to bits by the car bomb planted for Dougie, while at home his drug-addicted mother (Hailey Benton Gates), chants 119 like 911 backwards.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).


Lynch uses numerological phenomena more for effect, and for a generalized sense of consequentiality, than for narrative’s sake. “In real life, there is no algebra,” said Audrey Horne twenty-seven years ago. “In evil, as in dreams, there are not multiple interpretations,” said Simone Weil before that. Lynch solves for evil, plain and simple. His relentless sensationalization of human-on-human crime serves an upbeat message, which is that violence is bad, and when violence is worse than bad, gratuitous, that too is the point. He refuses to lessen evil by making sense of it. Innocence heightens his propaganda, but whether a harmed child or woman, or less often a man, was ever that innocent doesn’t matter to his conception of harm-doing, the underlying fault. (That the man Leland Palmer killed was a lowlife suspected in his daughter’s death made no difference to Cooper: “Do you approve of murder, Doctor Hayward?” Lynch is not a doctor. He can’t stomach explanations. Nor is he a math man.)

At the end of the seventh hour of The Return, a guy sweeps the floor at a familiar roadhouse, owned by the Renaults. For two minutes and ten seconds, there’s only the sweeping. A phone rings. A Renault (Walter Olkewicz) answers, and hears that some exaggeration of fate has befallen two young prostitutes who report to him, girls who are definitely of age, definitely not a problem, he says, “two fifteen-year-old, straight-A whores.” I guess I shouldn’t be laughing. One reason Lynch gets away with his treatment of women is that the women aren’t crazy nor understood as such. Almost no one is crazy in his “strange worlds,” to quote MacLachlan and Dern in Blue Velvet, yet when specifically female characters are sane against the odds, women notice and grin. Being insane in this world is only natural, not an excuse. Britney knew, and didn’t pretend her beloved self was the real one, so that now when she’s a good mom, happy in pictures, she is also—at best—half here, half disappeared on Mulholland.

Who are we when we’re not ourselves? Who else could we possibly be? Lynch takes this possibility seriously. Who are you, screamed Laura at BOB, the killer possessing her dad, or maybe her real dad. Who are you, screams Diane at Mr. Cooper, perhaps the new BOB. Everyone wants to hear that evil is inhuman. Who wants to hear the answer: Me??!! So the answer’s withheld.

PS: It has to be said, and should have been said earlier, that I hate this show. I resent it; it takes over my mind. Walking through quondam neighborhoods of mine in New York, I notice that a mediocre French restaurant I loved, while looking exactly the same, has been renamed The Black Lodge. An ex-lover who doesn’t like the internet, doesn’t read my writing, and didn’t know there was a new Twin Peaks sent a text to say he just watched Blue Velvet and “for some reason” thought of me. (Maybe he goes on my Instagram.) A publishing house sends me a novel, The Incest Diary, anonymously penned by a woman who was raped—who seduced, she says sometimes, or let herself be screwed—by her father. Ray Wise, who plays Leland Palmer, once said of Lynch that “his take on life is weird because life is weird.” I always have looked for echoes.

A man using the name “David Lynch” starts emailing me from Washington, DC, where he runs a small bookstore and reads everything he can about Twin Peaks. At first he seems interested in discourse, accuses my reviews of having “more red herrings than the show.” When I stop responding, he sends plaintive follow-ups: “kitten?”


Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 8.


FLAMMABLE AND INFLAMMABLE both mean “easy to burn,” though many people have tested their luck by reading inflammable as “fire-proof.” Flammable is, in one sense, how Lynch pronounces human. On the eighth and finest hour of Twin Peaks: The Return, his elegant pyrotechnics commemorate the birth of today’s America, and a near-wordless script shows that whether you describe a monstrous act as human or inhuman, you are right. But you are not trying to be right, you’re trying to be sincere, an effort so helpless as to defer meaning. Igor Stravinsky, a man so depraved he once asked the Nazis—nicely—to unban his works, felt sincerity in art to be “a sine qua non that at the same time guarantees nothing.”

That there are no more guarantees in Lynch’s late direction is obvious. Ditto that this eighteen-part limited series, a presumptive sinecure for Lynch that he took as a gamble instead, has proved auteurs are so necessary. I knew as soon as the “retired” filmmaker signed on with Showtime, having shrugged off the network’s first offer, and demanded, in addition to full control, a bigger budget, that The Return would be great. Why else would I recap a television show, a task for which the term “armchair critic” was designed, and which is, accordingly, thankless and useless!? Prepared to be wowed, I still wasn’t ready for the unplugged rage and beauty of this episode, titled—I forgot the episodes have titles, but this one is very good—“The Last Evening.” Stravinsky would find it pleasurable. I did not. I recommend watching it twice.

The first thing that happens has happened before. On the eighth episode of the original Twin Peaks (1990–91), Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) opens the door to his room at the Great Northern only to be greeted by Josie Packard (Joan Chen), the shenanigans-loving owner of the Packard Sawmill, with a gun and three bullets to his chest. Now, five minutes into part eight of The Return, a friend named Ray (some friend) turns around on Mr. C, Cooper’s apparent doppelganger, and shoots him thrice. He dies, which is a shame because he just got out of prison. Ray (George Griffith) feels fine about it. But lo, from the woods emerge phantasms in sackcloth and ashes, or regular clothes they haven’t washed in decades. The Woodsmen, as they’re called in the credits, swarm around the body, making a performance out of exorcism or resuscitation, until the face of BOB appears in an amniotic bubble drawn from Mr. C’s chest. Ray drives off.

Interlude: Nine Inch Nails, live at the old roadhouse, play their 2016 song “She’s Gone Away.” Trent Reznor excellently impersonates a screaming BOB. The track sounds like it features a large elephant, but no elephant is to be seen. Mysterious.

Cooper sits up in a jolt.

Nine Inch Nails performs “She’s Gone Away” on episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return.

Stravinsky debuted The Rite of Spring for the Ballets Russes’s Paris season at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on May 29, 1913, a year and two months before Germany declared war on France. There were riots, and (mocking?) calls for a doctor. There were objections to the story, about a young woman who voluntarily dances herself to death in a needed sacrifice to the renewing world; to the frustrating score, which one critic exclaimed “always goes to the note next to the one you expect,” and the concussive or even seizure-like rhythms; and to the dancing, by Nijinsky, so inconcinnus, visceral. Twenty-five years later, the Manhattan Project began with the discovery of nuclear fission, and a year after that World War II began. Then The Rite of Spring made perfect sense.

Imagine having been a child in the jaundiced dawn of the Atomic Age, anticipating the death of all you’d known, the reality at Hiroshima and Nagasaki transposed on your Manhattan, or your Missoula, Montana. Imagine seeing one photograph in particular, depicting the instant shared death of a hundred thousand people and thinking, “I have an idea.” Seeing a perfect image in . . . a mushroom cloud, and making it your own. Who is so outrageous? Sylvia Plath? Bruce Conner? I would kill someone to have that kind of brain, which is why God didn’t give it to me. He gave it to Lynch, who reappears on The Return as FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, now with a fancier office, and behind his wide desk, as we saw in the third hour, a wider black-and-white photograph of a nuclear blast. Five hours later, this completely inappropriate decorating choice is explained.

We go to the first detonation of an atomic bomb, in White Sands, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, at 5:45 AM (MWT). The date and time, with its stressed specificity, is like an evangelical’s save-the-date for this year’s doomsday. The Trinity Test we are about to see did in fact take place, but a shimmer of unlikelihood, like this is unbelievable, remains. The cloud mushrooms and swallows the camera, so it feels like we’re shrinking, like Alice in . . . Hell. The colors are too much for words: imperial purple, incarnadine orange, gold. (Lynch, in his wonderfully inadequate explanation for dissecting a stranger’s recently deceased cat in his basement, said that “when I opened up the inside, it was unbelievable—the organs inside the cat were brilliant colors, and as soon as the air got to them, all the color started draining out, right before your eyes.”) The rest of the episode is in lambent black-and-white, as in Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977). There are quivering shots, almost stills, displaying staticky, patterned abstractions that look like Ross Bleckner’s paintings after AIDS. Bleckner has said that the disease, with its radioactive threat, was “a total paradigm shift in consciousness, a rupture.”

The vertiginous cinematography, the sensation of falling through a long telescope, and the upheaving sound track—Penderecki’s 1960 “Threnody to the Victims at Hiroshima”—could make anyone remember Stanley Kubrick, particularly his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (Remember, too, the strange love is mutual: Kubrick screened Eraserhead for the cast and crew of The Shining (1980), to set the mood.) The way certain images vibrate and rattle like in a skull, lighting up the brain like a pinball machine, makes me think about the similar cracked landscapes (deserts, casinos, labyrinthian motels) of Nina Menkes, the under-known auteur who shares with Lynch a devotion to Buñuel and Maya Deren, and to Jungian views on the underworld. Menkes once told an interviewer that she takes cues from a Gertrude Stein lecture, “What Are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them?,” which she paraphrased, saying, “If you re-create something, it doesn’t have the organic precision of the spontaneous moment of creation.” (This is one reason that remakes of most films, reboots of most television shows, are unwise no matter how welcome.)

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 8. Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).


Why, seventy years after Stein, are there even fewer masterpieces per capita? Because generations of artists found it impossible to compete with a masterpiece, a “total paradigm shift in consciousness” like AIDS, or the A-Bomb. Lynch excels at creative recursion, starting with a simple, paradigmatic binary, the zero and one of dark and light, or Adam and Eve, that turns out to launch a Fibonacci spiral, and when he repeats himself it’s more like he never forgets. After the detonation, we see the Woodsmen at a convenience store and gas station, shuffling in stop-motion before drifting out like unstrung marionettes, a choreography recalling the sexless—automated but not easy—dancing we saw at the start of Mulholland Drive (2001), the chaste couples swinging off-time with their shadows. Nine years later, in the same area, a tumescent, hideous insect emerges from a small, mottled carapace that looks like the shit-talking wad of gum in the Black Lodge. A girl and a boy walk past the empty gas station; he asks whether she likes some song, she lets slip that she knows where he goes to school. What echoes is the meet-cute between Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) and Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) in Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), when Sandy “just knows” who he is. Reincarnation, hinted at where two people feel like they’ve known each other forever, is a funny principle, and more spontaneous in its way than creation, certainly a more unlikely and difficult principle for a creator to assume.

Meanwhile, on a two-lane road, a husband and wife stop the car so some Woodsmen can cross. One comes to the car, sticks his head in the window, and points with a cigarette. “Got a light?” he says, his voice a cello bow scraped across a rock face. “Got a light?” At a radio station the DJ is playing a song and his secretary is busy. A mechanic listens while burning the midnight oil; a waitress while cleaning up at the diner; and the girl in her flowered bedroom, dreaming about the boy she just kissed. When the twilight has gone, the song goes, and no songbirds are singing. The Woodsman enters the station, and the secretary moves toward him in an awful trance. “Got a light?” he says, but by now it is evident that nobody has a goddamn lighter.

The Woodsman begins to crush skulls, killing first the secretary, then the DJ. Lynch opened Wild at Heart (1990) with Sailor (Nicolas Cage) crushing a man’s skull in much the same way, like saying, “It’s not all in your head now, is it.” This is not the best way to communicate, but it does grant the Woodsman access to more listeners, and taking the DJ’s microphone, he prophesies:

This is the water,
and this is the well . . .

The horse is the white of the eyes,
and dark within.

Someone whose primary reaction to the surreal is to say, “Whoaaaa,” and then nothing, eliminating hassles of the mind by believing “the work speaks for itself,” will take the sequence to be mere proof that Lynch explodes brains. Someone more inclined to believe that the work speaks about itself will recognize the white horse from Sarah Palmer’s premonitions and the Red Room, a harbinger of death—like in the Book of Revelation, and more ambiguously in Godard’s King Lear (1987, another ultimate late film). I’m nervous about being spoken to, but I have some old-fashioned faith in pure symbolism: what a white horse means to a girl who cannot dream of riding one. Death is too near life to be symbolized, but a dying wish, or even a death wish, can be a symbol—if it can be nothing else.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 8.


Maybe the best thing about Lynch is his absolute refusal to leave America. When he is not on earth, he is still in America; when he is dreaming, he is still in America. Mid-episode, between 1945 and 1956 on the clock, he takes us across a livid sea to a Streamline Moderne kind of castle, where the Giant (Carel Struycken) lives with a silent woman (Leslie Berger), made up for a silent film, in sequins. A gramophone, the jacquard clamshell settee, the Tiffany lamps, all telegraph the Jazz Age, while the crepitant electricity takes me back to the night Frankenstein’s bride was born, in the mid-1930s. A spotlight follows the woman who follows the Giant across the empty floor of a theater, going right up to the screen, where the explosion, the stars, the gas station, the face of BOB on an asteroid, all we saw, replays to the Giant’s astonishment. He levitates and issues from his eyeballs a primordial gold light and dust (like we saw when the little boy dies on the street in the sixth hour), followed by a golden orb (like the one formed from the body of Dougie Jones when he trades places with Cooper in the Red Room). The orb bears Laura Palmer’s face, mirroring the asteroid as if she and BOB were obverse, but they’re also separate, equal and whole. Lynch does not have to follow Marguerite Duras to Hiroshima to get to the other side. He locates (in)humanity at the test site, where for two hundred miles around there was no human presence: a void, in other words, where a nation usurped its own God so there was no one else left to blame for evil.

“The real question this episode asks,” says the critic Sean T. Collins for Rolling Stone, “is no more or less than the one pilot Robert A. Lewis asked [somewhat apocryphally] when he dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima: My god, what have we done?” Lewis said that as long as he lived, he would never forget those few minutes. He never attended a reunion of the flight crew. He spent the rest of his life working in a candy factory, a common way to make a good living, but one that, reduced to a biographical footnote, reads like an overstatement on manufacturing innocence. Lynch and Frost could have written a man like Lewis, a sweet man, no doubt, who died of a plain old heart attack, a touch on the young side. How dare we go on, is the follow-up question, and how do we?

The Woodsman’s words make the waitress faint at the diner and the mechanic collapse while the engine runs. The girl only sleeps. The insect comes to her open window, and her mouth opens, so it crawls in. I guess she could have let him in devil-like by having succumbed to temptation with a boy, but really the sin is of the father, the scene incestuous, as ever with Lynch.


Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10.


“ELECTRICITY IS HUMMING,” says the Log Lady to Hawk in the tenth hour of Twin Peaks: The Return. She says “electricity” like she’s a kid with a crush on Ben Franklin. She says it flows like a river and is heard in the river, too, and in the mountains, and is seen to glow around the moon. It’s a long conjure, electricity: a literal expression of magic that also connotes the satisfying pop of eureka, the blue purl of genius finding its vessel, a longed-for apotheosis, like when wires burst and flood the walls with lightning as Henry unites with the Lady in the Radiator in Eraserhead (1977). Drama like that can’t happen with technology unplugged, devices wireless, noiseless, eliciting idioms like “losing connection,” as if “connected” is our natural state and nothing is immanent. “In these days, the glow is dying,” the Log Lady says. “What will be in the darkness that remains?”

Any comment on “these days” from a woman who’s been using a log as a pager since the 1980s is bound to be iffy, but then she may mean “decades” by “days.” Lynch uses new, dated, and totally out-of-date technology to juggle the times. He takes a bemused view of the latest devices, less like an old man yelling at clouds and more like an old man saying, How do you know the clouds aren’t talking to us? Why do you need a phone to access the cloud? Here in Twin Peaks, devices such as Dale Cooper’s tape recorder, Gordon Cole’s hearing aid, and Dr. Jacoby’s coconut have been used to dramatize the minor struggle of saying what you mean and to turn up the funny polyphony, more than to help along the plot.

A pratfall performed solo and in tempo rubato by Candie (Amy Shiels), one of three bunny-type chicks in pink silk at the Silver Mustang Casino, ends with her using a remote control to whack a housefly, and with it (accidentally or Freudianly) her boss. In a dance of paired electrons, or a scene from a domestic comedy by an absurdist theater troupe, Andy and Lucy Brennan (Harry Goaz, Kimmy Robertson) look at the same chair on the same furniture-selling website at their separate desks, three steps apart. She gets up to tell him she really likes the beige one. He gets up to tell her he really likes the red. Then he says she can get the beige, and pleased, practically humming, she gets the red. Lynch will be damned if he lets technology make anything faster. Ages before Lucy fainted for the first time, and not for the last time, at the sight of Sheriff Frank Truman walking into the office while also talking with her on the phone, the director believed that a body could be in two places at once. He seems to appreciate the high-speed networked world, with its lapsed temporality and objects set loose in space, as a pastiche of his obviously superior dream one.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10. Sandie, Candie, and Mandie (Giselle DaMier, Amy Shiels, and Andréa Leal).


Anything can become anything else in a dream, and Lynch likes to get back at our devices, which try to expropriate our conscious and unconscious functions alike, by using them as props. Or abusing them, like when a resurrected Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) uses a hot-pink flip phone to tap out a single text, T9-style, before gratuitously shooting it to bits with a single-barrel rifle. “Around the dinner table,” says the text, “the conversation is lively.” In South Dakota, Diane (Laura Dern) smokes in the waiting room of a morgue (“It’s a fucking morgue,” she says when told she can’t smoke), while Gordon and Albert view the corpse of Major Briggs. She gets the text. Her hands don’t shake. Either Diane is as good an actress as Dern herself or she doesn’t know who she’s talking to. “They have Hastings,” she replies, off-screen, referring to the high-school principal (Matthew Lillard) charged with killing Ruth, the school librarian, and pairing her head with the Major’s body. “He’s going to take them to the site.” The FBI finds and reads the text, presenting a serious twist. And a smirk: Diane’s textually legible and “heavily encrypted” message, delivered via technologically superior means, is worse at conveying a secret than Mr. C’s unencrypted cryptic one.

Messages, either way, seem not to lose compression but to pick up resonance as they move through the air, giving humans on the other side of the screen a gravitas that normally belongs to spirits. Jacoby, formerly the town shrink, is now a charlatan with an hour-long weekly web series wherein he advances addled theories on why the world is so filled with shit, and then asks you to buy a gold (gold-painted) shovel, only $29.99, for the purpose of shit-digging. Whether this represents a real career change is unclear: Lynch is loud about distrusting analysis, psychiatric or otherwise; but he also shies from intelligence generally and does not seem to consider “conspiracy theorist” a slur. He once, twelve years ago, appeared on the Alex Jones Show with some questions about the events of 9/11, and there described intuition as “a flowing of knowingness,” also as “an ocean of solutions.” Plus, Jacoby’s monologue is gold. Pure anticapitalist gold: “We’re sheep to these monsters, and they don’t give a shit! We grow our wool, and just when we’re getting warm, they come along with their electric clippers, and shear our wool off, and we’re just naked, screaming little fucks!”

At the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks, something is definitely ahum. The noise comes from the walls, giving owner Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his hot, boring assistant, Beverley (Ashley Judd), an opportunity to stand very close in the corner of an empty room, whispering. They could sleep together, except that Ben has a conscience, or enough trouble. His disabled adult son, Johnny (Eric Rondell), lives in constant danger of injuring himself in a big beige house owned by his ex-wife, Sylvia (Jan D’Arcy), and paid by alimony. His brother, Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), has been in the woods for days hunting a cell signal, playing the role of the too-stoned viewer at home: “I’ve been here before!” he screams. “I am not your foot!” screams his foot. We have to agree, ceci n’est pas un foot. Then there’s Audrey, the one beautiful member of his family who so far remains unseen. Maybe she’s screaming, “I am not your daughter.” Maybe she’s stuck in the walls? And all the while, the boy we assume is Audrey’s son, Richard (Eamon Farren), is sucking the light from the world, a vampire for glow.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 10. Richard Horne (Eamon Farren).


Richard, on the run after hitting and killing a child in his giant truck, goes to “talk” to the witness who recognized him: Miriam (Sarah Jean Long), who lives in the Fat Trout Trailer Park, in a mobile bachelorette pad the color of chewed mint gum. From behind a screen door, Miriam says she’s just mailed a letter to Sheriff Truman about how Richard’s a murderer, and so if anything is done to her, they’ll know who did it. Does she not have power in her apartment? Where is the phone? Why didn’t she e-mail? Her pride in doing the right thing is as tragic as any hamartia. Richard bashes in her head, opens the gas stove, and lights a candle, and leaving the scene he phones a dirty cop at the sheriff’s department about stopping the letter. Next stop: Grandma’s, to get cash. Using his words as well as his hands, he brutalizes a crying Sylvia and a pathologically speechless Johnny, while Johnny’s only friend, a robotic teddy bear with a white-lit plastic globe for a head with a Sharpie’d cartoon face, says, “Hello Johnny. How are you?” on repeat. Like something dredged up from an abandoned student film in Lynch’s basement, this stupid and annoying bear, who is also not cute, affronts in two ways—one as a bad response to monstrosity, the other as a gesture or grace note of surreality where surrealism has long since evolved.

The Surrealists prefigured with a curious, justified horror the future extreme cleavings of man and machine. Salvador and Gala Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst took turns guessing at the nature, the effect, of these transmogrifications, going so far as to summon the “thinking machines” that Alan Turing would later make plausible. Otto Neurath, a philosopher born the same year as Germaine Dulac, wrote that a “thinking machine,” like the “logic piano,” conceived by the nineteenth-century logician William Stanley Jevons to instrumentalize syllogistic methods, would allow for “syntax to be formulated and logical errors automatically avoided” so that “the machine would not even be able to write the sentence: Two times red is hard.” Hours after reading this, I had to look up the passages again, as the only thing I could remember was that two times red is hard. My iPhone has helped make remembering irrelevant over time. Nothing replaces the unpredictable. But predictive text and text-bots still can get it “wrong,” producing striking accidents of wording and making us second-guess, as if we’ve misspoken at the shrink’s office, what we meant to say.

Two times red. What would it mean? A pair of red shoes, as worn at one time or another by almost every leading lady in a Lynch piece. Laura Dern as Lula Fortune in Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) wears low-heeled red pumps in a rape scene, clicking her heels to disassociate. As Diane, she wears red flats and reconnects with her men. In another waiting room, at a police station in Vegas, Janey-E (Naomi Watts) wears red flats and wishes that the man she calls Dougie (MacLachlan) would come back to himself, or at least to her bed, while the audience wishes the man we know as Cooper would return to being . . . the man we know as Cooper. A sip of fresh coffee inches him nearer to awareness, so we follow his widened eyes to an American flag, whereupon an instrumental “America the Beautiful” plays faintly from the back of his mind; to a woman’s white calves in red high-heeled pumps, recalling the shoes Audrey wore to seduce him twenty-seven years ago; and to an empty power socket in the wall. Symbolism, not that it matters. He can’t connect these saturated images to the source, the power fails. Maybe the socket, which looks like an expressionless face up close, isn’t working, is unwired the way eventually all sockets will be, the new empty telephone booths. Lynch’s nostalgia is essentially for the heyday of advertising, when everyone seemed to know that red was for sex, also known as danger, whereas now red can mean seven different things, almost nothing.

At the same time, he’s grasped exactly how real the internet is, real not as reality but as dreams, realest at the moment you disconnect, awake, and wonder where you’ve been and for how long. Although now we’re all tossing and turning, unsure whether we are on- or offline at any given time, and unwilling to get out of the (metaphorical, sorry) bed. Online the reality level hovers somewhere between that of one’s own dreams (high or low, depending on what and how you dream, and where) and that of other people’s dreams (very low). Like a dream wherein everyone we know looks entirely different from life and yet is somehow recognizable, the experience of being with others online deranges the contents of our heads, making new content, but we are not required to find it meaningful or act upon whatever meanings we find there. “Internet Art” or “Post-Internet Art” has seemed, since its dubious inception, to be essentially surrealistic, picking up on the millennial habit of “being random” and taking it to new levels of senseless and ugly juxtaposition, with objects flying everywhere, text doing little to identify. Artforum’s Surrealism issue of 1966 invented the Post-Internet aesthetic before there was internet, with its cover designed by Ed Ruscha: Surrealism appears in block letters of filtered sunset orange with a massive drop shadow on a background of yellowy-green and cyan soap bubbles, fulgid like iridescent crocodile skin on a handbag.

  • Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 9. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).

  • Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 9. Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan)

  • Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 9. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).

Annette Michelson in her essay on Breton et al., published in that issue, defines what Surrealists were doing, and (to me) what Lynch is doing on Twin Peaks: The Return, a show meant to be watched with your phone turned off, if ever there was one. She writes: “The linking of dream and waking state, of the ‘communicating vessels’ [an apparatus for keeping a homogenous liquid at the same level across different and differently shaped containers, for instance the head and the body, the unconscious and the conscious, in Breton’s metaphorization of the term] pre-supposed their prior discreteness, and an opposition (among many) which can be bridged, modified, but never really abolished, whether in art or in action. A notion of the ‘noumenal’ persists. Surrealist thinking is haunted by demons and old ghosts such as a ‘transcendence,’ subjected periodically to rituals of exorcism, but never quite dispelled.”

We cannot say that Cooper will ever be fully present. We can guess, if we’re looking to be satisfied, that Miriam’s letter will eventually arrive in the right hands, the way those missing pages of Laura Palmer’s diary appeared at last. And we know that her account, partly because it is delivered after her death, and the dead don’t lie, will be believed as Laura’s dreams are believed. Ditto a message from Major Briggs, sealed for years in a gadget only his son Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) knows how to open, and written in a private language only Bobby knows how to read. I never thought I’d type the words “Bobby knows how to read,” but it’s a beautiful thing. Hastings breaks down and reveals his most deeply held secret: He has a blog, The Search for the Zone, whereon he and Ruth took “multidimensional time travel” and “dark matter” with utmost seriousness; and apparently, before she died, she met the Major. More than the wireless-enabled romances between old characters, or the inside jokes, the credence Lynch gives to this preposterous blog is a gift to all the out-there fans who turned the original Twin Peaks into a message-board sensation. Fans today on Reddit and Twitter are the people who think out loud and puzzle so Cooper doesn’t have to, the people who constitute one big and lively thinking machine.


Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 12. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie).


CORRECTION: I SAID “WE CAN GUESS” that Miriam’s letter, bearing witness to Richard Horne’s (Eamon Farren) manslaughter of a boy, would make its way to the sheriff and would be believed. But she is not dead—yet. Emerging on all fours from the woods, she is found and taken to the emergency room, where she, uninsured, requires a life-saving operation. Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) delivers the update to Ben Horne (Richard Beymer), who says he will pay for it. A bad thought arrives: He could pull a Leland Palmer and suffocate the witness at her bedside. But from now on, “we” will refrain from guessing.

Coma and exposition are two of the several tricks that David Lynch (and Mark Frost, inspired by the ’60s show Peyton Place) borrows from soap operas, where comas provide suspense without camerawork, and sending a messenger to advance the plot is cheap. The borrowing is purposeful, but unnecessary: Twin Peaks: The Return has a budget to dwarf that of the 1990–91 Twin Peaks, and it has shelved the soap we saw there, a show within a show, Invitation to Love. Replacing its communal pulse is Dr. Jacoby’s alt-reality webcast, which keeps time for us: Two or three of its hours equals one day on Twin Peaks. “It’s seven o’clock,” the show begins. “Do you know where your freedom is?” This week’s monologue gets repetitious:

And the fucks are at it again! These giant multinational corporations are filled with monstrous vermin, poisonous, vile murderers, and they eat, drink, and shit money. They buy our politicians for a song. Then these fucking politicians sing as we gag and cough, sold down the river to die. Fuck you who betray the people you were elected to help, elected to work to help to make life better for.

Once a Reaganite, Lynch is changing the tune, in keeping—uncharacteristically—with the current-affairs beat. Tricky to say where his heart lies, but his hearing aid is tuned to the outcry at a new, buzzy pitch. He’s never been this attentive to the miserabilist vagaries of dead-end life, like at the Fat Trout Trailer Park where Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton) is not only the manager but also the show’s moral compass. He hands cash to a resident who, troubled with rent, has been selling his blood plasma to the hospital. (Being Canadian, I did not know this was something you could do.) “I don’t like people selling their blood to eat,” Rodd says in the show’s most affecting and tweetable line since Agent Gordon Cole (Lynch) told “those clown comics” to “fix their hearts or die.” The handsome doctor, a melodramaturgical fixture whose role is partly to cure boredom, is no more present than the handsome Agent Cooper, or maybe he too is replaced by Dr. Jacoby. “He’s beautiful,” sighs Nadine with the eyepatch, watching on her desktop from Run Silent, Run Drapes, her too-silent drape store.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 12. Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie).


Irna Phillips, the “single mother” of American soap operas, began as a daytime dramatist on the radio, with Today’s Children (1933–50), and her resounding success came because she read listeners’ letters. Robert LaGuardia wrote in Soap World (1983) of Phillips’s belief in “time and character, rather than story,” her sense that “people want to become involved with the lives of other people; that viewers follow soaps not just to see what happens next, but to experience—drink in, as it were—the characters, almost as if they lived in the viewers’ homes.” Characters on the shows she wrote for television, including As the World Turns, lived by “moment-to-moment emotions, expressed to each other in quiet scenes.”

Drink in, drink full. Time and character, in their enormous codependency, drive The Return. At last, at the start of the twelfth episode, it’s said clearly that the roads we are traveling bend back, like Laura Palmer’s arms. Limning the origin of the Blue Rose Task Force, Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) says it’s possible that “these answers” (unpreceded, often, by actual questions) “could not be reached except by an alternate path we’ve been traveling ever since.” He seems to mean “alternative,” but what he says is “alternate.” Another soap-opera trick is having a single actor play a good and an evil twin, but here the splitting occurs in a single character, too: Cooper, obviously. Laura, less so.

And Audrey? Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), so singular as a precocious teenager, makes her hotly awaited return not in the eleventh hour, where I expected her, but three-quarters through the twelfth, after a sudden jump cut. She just stands there, and presents as another of the show’s shrill, dispossessed wives: Janey-E (Naomi Watts), wife of Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan); Doris Truman (Candy Clark), who has been in a petty rage since losing her son to suicide; and Sylvia Horne (Jan D’Arcy), ex-wife of Ben and mother, or babysitter, to the disabled Johnny (Erik Rondell). Audrey’s damage is unclear, but we found out in part seven that, after an explosion at the Twin Peaks Savings and Loan, she—like Ronnette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) before her—landed in a coma for some unspecified time, and was visited by Cooper in one or the other of his forms.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 12. Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn).


Audrey tongue-thrashes her tiny husband (Clark Middleton) for not helping her find her lover, a sober farmer named Billy; and her husband calls a woman she despises, maybe his own lover. This bathetic scene goes on for like forty-five minutes (actually ten), and if Fenn is reprising any character, it’s that of Anna Nardini, Luke’s ex-girlfriend and a sort of evil twin to Lorelai, on Gilmore Girls (2003–2007), in which she also played a totally separate character. The eyebrows and the maraschino lips are there, but something is glazed and doughy in her face, like she’s just been unwrapped from plastic; and some expressiveness has been lost, maybe to the needle. Ditto in the face of MacLachlan. Maybe they’re both frozen in time, and will awake if they kiss. But he does seem evil, and mostly she seems disappointed. Her new characterization spits in the face of her old image—her teenage, dreamy, indefatigable manner and perfervid will to seduce—and of the men (on both sides of the screen) who bought into it. That or more simply: Precocity doesn’t age well.

It’s sad, in any case, but Fenn’s out-of-place performance makes you appreciate the other ones. Even Ashley Judd, playing Ben’s desired assistant, Beverly, seems to have a new, sly ripple in her flattish affect. Likewise with the amateur Chrysta Bell, who plays the FBI’s Tammy Preston with an advanced robotism, but who also displays a surprising range of expression—her facial muscles make the battle to control emotion into a cubist dilemma, or as Don DeLillo would say, her face is avant-garde—when she reacts to a dangerous promotion: She will work with Albert on the Blue Rose Task Force, a latter-day replacement for the disappeared Cooper. The former members of the force, and its forerunner, Project Blue Book, are mostly dead or missing; and William Hastings, the layman who got physically closest to the metaphysical origins of the mystery, finds his head exploded (crushed by a Woodsman, invisible to the others) when he takes the agents and Diane to the dilapidated tract at 2240 Sycamore, where he first found the portal. Any scene can be stolen by Diane, who has the advantage of being played by Laura Dern: casually, brilliantly. “There’s no backup for this,” she whispers, peering through the windshield at Hastings’s beheadedness while the agents recoil.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 11. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).


Lynch exacts in every episode, more noticeably in the recent, quieter ones, these little ariosos that balloon, change shape, and deflate. At the Double R Diner, we watch with Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) as drama unfolds among Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick), her daughter Becky (Amanda Seyfried), and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), who turns out to be Becky’s dad. Norma’s expressions shift dramatically but none are scrutable. She watches what is happening as if she were remembering it a decade from now. When Shelly’s new crime-boss boyfriend (Balthazar Getty) shows up outside the diner, appearing with his own neo-noirish lighting in his greasy leather, she seems to disappear in a flash, and, on the other side of the glass, rematerialize as her old teen self. Shelly’s glittering transition dissolves into the old Bobby’s feeling crushed as he sees her in love, and Becky instantly wises up to see him not as her father, for a second, but as a fellow broken romantic. Ashbrook and Seyfried could play those dogs with eyes the size of teacups and water wheels in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and their companionship too is doglike, hushed.

Back in the Dakotas, Jennifer Jason Leigh thrills as Chantal, the gum-smacking, laconic henchwoman to Evil Coop, opposite the equally white-trash henchman, Tim Roth’s Hutch. Near the end of episode twelve, Hutch shoots to kill a man—Warden Dwight Murphy (James Morrison)—and Chantal, driving the getaway van while watching Murphy die in front of his child (Luke Judy), licks Cheeto dust from her index finger, seeming to enjoy the orangey tang more than the sight of blood, which makes it sicker. “Next stop: Wendy’s,” says Hutch. Sky Ferreira, the very modern bombshell with an ash-in-ice-cream voice, appears at the Roadhouse at the end of episode nine as one of the locals who, with their unrecurring, relatively heterogenous appearances, make a jangling chorus. She’s a chick on methamphetamine, scratching horribly for too long at a rash in her armpit. She got fired from a burger joint, but it’s okay because she has a new job. Where? asks her friend, and she grins with the reply, At another burger joint. Ferreira has never looked worse, making the before-seen single mom on heroin (Hailey Benton Gates) look like a heroin addict in a Calvin Klein ad.

When I said the web was a substitute for the dream-world, I did not add that being online feels less phantasmagoric and venturesome as we professionalize, try to grow up, and play limited versions of ourselves. Compared to the nightmarish, as they say, state of the world, online feels lighter, more banal, and mere, like being stuck in an anxiety dream. Timelines—on Twitter, Instagram—are rearranged to show us what we already know to see. There is constant refreshing, getting nowhere. It’s like that, or like opening the fridge for the seventeenth time, only to find the same undesirable yogurts, every time Cooper as Dougie wanders on-screen. The eleventh hour threatens to be his last, as the Mitchum Brothers plot to end him, having lost to him in jackpots and again in a bid to collect, from his insurance company, a thirty-million-dollar payment for arson. I could yell through the screen: Wake up! You’re going to die a meme.

But one of the brothers, Bradley (James Belushi), has a dream and unlike real dreams it predicts the day. He remembers it bit by bit as the day catches up, and this for Lynch is a clever, if not new, way to build suspense. On a one-way road into the desert, in what looks like an homage to the endgame of David Fincher’s Se7en (1995), Dougie arrives with a box; should the box hold what it did in Bradley’s dream, the brothers will have to forgive Mr. Jackpots. Ding ding ding, the box holds a cherry pie. Table for three, at the Silver Mustang Casino: “Damn good,” says the other brother digging in, and “Damn good,” says Dougie, sounding more like Coop. He still might die a meme. ☹️

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 2. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie).


The single greatest performance of the series so far belongs to Grace Zabriskie as Sarah Palmer, unsurprising for this magnificent seventy-six-year-old actress but all the same a shake of the bones. Sarah is buying food she won’t eat and three bottles of Smirnoff at the store, when she sees a “new” kind of jerky—turkey jerky, which has existed since Natives were the only Americans—and is rushed by terror, whether of the contents or the packaging, with its primal symbols. “They” once “came” and are “coming” again, she warns with escalating terror. Maybe she means the Woodsmen, who are a kind of smoked meat incarnate. Or maybe the animals she disconsolately watched maul each other on the Discovery Channel, on a big flat-screen television, in the second hour. That shot has become, for me, the after-image of the show, but any frame of Zabriskie’s untouchable face may trigger the lonesome. Hours after the outburst, a fan whirs monotonously in a lamp-less room and she answers the door as old Sarah, scarier with her cold, hard brow, her low-burning eyes, and her corroded smile suggesting a mettle twisted to bitter ends.

I watched these two episodes on a television like that, huge in a small room, dark, the way Lynch intended. To watch a movie on your phone and “think you’ve seen a film” strikes him as nuts, and to defend phone-watching on the basis that we all have phones, and don’t all have televisions, disinterests me since necessity is not inspiring or related to the good. (Besides, the television costs less than the phone.) A character’s face in a close-up on a screen should not appear as if it were in a pocket mirror, or even in a regular mirror. The head should be significantly, alarmingly bigger than yours, and in a portrait shot, from the shoulders up, it should be the size of a clock on the wall. Convenient alternatives begin to suck. On whatever websites, avatars the size of pencil erasers ease our forgetting the obvious, like that the owners of these avatars also have homes, incomprehensible habits, old haunts on certain square miles in a subdivided country, and especially that they have other faces, shaded minutely by expressions never represented in a reaction GIF. “The face is what one cannot kill,” said Emmanuel Levinas, another thinker of otherness, the year I was born. Can representation make us stronger? On The Return, it matters that the stories are disparate, that worlds diverge and are weirdly, sparsely populated, so that the faces do not appear in a crowd.


Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 13.


OVER THE LATEST HOURS of Twin Peaks: The Return, two timelines emerge, one stronger, one fainter, like lines on a pregnancy test. (If my husband is reading this: I’m not pregnant.) Old Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan) comes off a bender with the Mitchum Brothers (James Belushi and Robert Knepper) and the bunny-type girls (Amy Shiels, Giselle DaMier, and Andrea Leal) and swerves into the Lucky 777 Insurance office, horrisonous music, a marching song for manic-depressive clowns, playing behind him. Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore), a double agent at the company, calls his other, criminal boss, Mr. Todd, to say that the latest attempt on Dougie’s life has failed. Mr. Todd (Patrick Fischler) says Sinclair has one day to finish the job. The clock ticks.

After work, around 6 PM by the light on the stucco, the cops at the Las Vegas Police Department continue to bungle the case involving Dougie Jones and Sinclair buys cyanide from a crooked detective (John Savage). Night falls on Sonny Jim carousing around his new gym set, courtesy of the Mitchum Brothers. In the driveway there is a brand-new convertible, ditto. Theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake plays, like in I’ve wondered whether this bright, jangly story was lagging a little behind the dark one, whether Dougie does not really coexist with Agent Dale Cooper, so that eventually we find that his timeline ended when Mr. C’s began, and are left, willing or not, with that bad Coop. The car, a BMW M3 convertible in alpine white, dates to 2014 and the scene was filmed in 2016, and presumably it was just the most recent car available, but if this were happening two years before the rest of the show, or if time were zigzagging, it would not be a shocker. (Lynch’s will, at its most self-serving, makes a world where a mere vicissitude of production can seem like a gotcha, any hole in the plot suggestive of a void.)

Two years was how long a certain agent with the Bureau had to be off in Argentina before being hailed, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), as “the long-lost Phillip Jeffries.” Jeffries (David Bowie) appears in Agent Gordon Cole’s (David Lynch) dream in episode fourteen of The Return, in an alternate, black-and-white version of that scene, asking Albert (Miguel Ferrer) “who do you think that is there” instead of “who do you think this is there,” referring to Cooper, a change making the sentence more grammatical but also vicissitudinous, signaling that Cooper is further away than he seems (as that is habitually further away than this). He seems unsure whether it has really been two years. His accent belongs to a Confederate soldier who defected and joined up with Australian pirates. “We live inside a dream,” he tells Albert, who in the present, getting the replay from Gordon, says he’s beginning to remember (as if the original scene were not really a memory, but a dream he’d shared). Also in Gordon’s dream, making it a wet one, is Monica Bellucci (Monica Bellucci), who shows him his old self and repeats “ancient phrases,” among them saying: “We are like the dreamer.”

The next morning Janey-E (Naomi Watts) drives Dougie to work in the new car, and says, kissing him, “It’s like all our dreams are coming true.” (Emphasis: like.) Dougie, over coffee and pie with his would-be poisoner, foils the plot by giving him a silent, firm massage, a gesture that would be alien to Dougie and, if witting, is clever and evidences the remaining nature of Coop. After dinner at home, he eats cake and sees Sunset Boulevard on cable, and, hearing the name of that minor character for whom Gordon Cole is named, has a thought—a whole one—and crawls across the staticky carpet to stick his fork in a socket. The lights go white. Time’s up. No one’s heard from Sinclair. Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Louboutins assassinates Mr. Todd, who was himself operating under long-distance control, presumably by Jeffries, and tells Hutch (Tim Roth) on the phone to order French fries. When we see them driving out of town it’s like 10 PM.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 14. Naido and Andy (Nae and Dana Ashbrook).


So far, easy. The scenes are not all linearly shown, but the times line up in Vegas and in South Dakota, and in Twin Peaks. While Sinclair confesses his sins to Dougie and to his legitimate boss, Deputies Hawk (Michael Horse), Andy (Harry Goaz), and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) go to the place Bobby knows from his dad’s coded message, and at 2:53 in the afternoon, the vortexing hour, each are transported to another place while Naido (Nae), the blinded visage from that other place, lies on the ground. They take her to jail to be safe, a joke if I’ve ever heard one. Next morning, Gordon calls Sheriff Frank Truman to gather up more missing pieces in the Blue Rose case, and Nadine (Wendy Robie) walks miles from home to tell her pure, good husband Ed (Everett McGill) that he’s free to be with his true love, Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). “How beautiful is this?” she says. Kierkegaardian, really, to find beauty nowhere but in ethics, to resolve a triangle in the symmetry of goodness returned. When Ed goes to the Double R, Norma’s busy with her franchise-happy boyfriend. “Cup of coffee,” he tells Shelly (Mädchen Amick). “And a cyanide pill,” he says to himself, while at the same time—although we saw it an hour ago—the foiled poisoner is flushing coffee for Dougie down the toilet. Ed’s line is a punchline and a pin in time.

Why are the pieces so cohering? For the same reason a magician takes care to explain, step by step, what he is going to do. When you think you know the steps, the sleight of hand becomes a greater surprise. Lynch is always reminding us that we’re supposed to be watching television, calling sudden attention to screens, glass—the gel-blue windshield of a car, the man squeakily cleaning the window outside Gordon Cole’s office, and in the very first episode, the glass box containing the dread apparition. When, in part nine, the coroner at the morgue in South Dakota, played with cool acidity by the comedian Jane Adams, relays the events of the previous two days or four episodes, Albert asks drily, “What happens in season two?” When Andy meets the Giant, the Giant unreels before his eyes a montage that might as well begin with Lynch saying, previously on Twin Peaks: The Return, and the Brechtian word for the montage would be Fabel, defined in John J. White’s book on Brecht as “a matter of a play’s parabolic potential, and of plot understood as an aggregate of significant details,” which we could sub for “perfect images” if a Godardian sense is desired.

He and Frost, also reflexively, write arcs that call to the superfan’s conspiratorial instinct. Many guessed, well before the May 21 premiere, that Laura Dern would be playing Diane Evans, Agent Cooper’s former secretary. Even I guessed that Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) would be Audrey Horne’s (Sherilyn Fenn) son, as Richard tells Mr. C when the two meet at odds; and the bad Cooper, with his black, metallic voice, his all-black leather, makes us think of Darth Vader so we know Mr. C is the dad. Excited to get what we wanted, even if all we wanted was to be right, it’s easy to be unprepared for the greater excitation, not the whodunit, not even the whydunit, but how it’s done. The delay, the sickening reverb, in that inevitable union of Ed and Norma, set to a live rendition of Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine” that you’d never have guessed could get more awesome. The tension in an arm-wrestling match we know Mr. C, with his supernatural right arm, and his opponent unaware of it, can’t lose, yet watch intently as if we’re paying per view. The Log Lady has been dying the whole time, and Catherine E. Coulson, her embodiment, died soon after filming her scenes, but when she phones Hawk and says her log is turning gold, goodbye, it feels unacceptable. These forced cessations of breath and urges to disbelieve, not the chintzy special effects that make Twin Peaks at times look like a student film, or worse, an art student’s film, are cinema magic. Embarrassingly, for me, these sleights inculcate “magical thinking.” Maybe, I think, I should accept the failure to return of actual, known Cooper, get used to the idea that there will only be Dougie then Mr. C, that this world doesn’t deserve such a special agent, and then—voila, he’ll come, the way my period comes when I wear white jeans.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 15. Nadine (Wendy Robie).


At night time starts bending like a spoon. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), drinking at home after her break with reality in the grocery store, watches a boxing match on loop. A boxer comes from behind, lands a punch, and “now it’s a boxing match again,” we hear like ten times. Maybe she can’t sleep and changes out of her robe and goes after midnight to the bar, as we see her do in part fourteen, or maybe it’s the next night she goes to the bar, at a more normal, evening hour. I suppose it could also be the night after next; she could be sleepwalking. At the roadhouse, in parts fourteen and fifteen, we see a master of ceremonies (J. R. Starr, the only black man in the house) announcing the acts where before there was no emcee, suggesting it’s all the same night, but if the time in Twin Peaks is the same as in Vegas it should be two nights; plus, the crowd on the floor changes almost entirely and so do the people in the booths, or they’re playing musical chairs. James (James Marshall) and his randomly English coworker, Freddie (Jake Wardle, a London kid who was heretofore known exclusively for doing different English accounts on YouTube, and here appears to be doing them all), talk about going in part fourteen and show up in part fifteen, making it seem like actually it is the same night. James says hi to his crush, Renee (Jessica Szohr), and, long and absurd story short, ends up in jail along with Naido, Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello), and a drunk who echoes Naido’s chitters, Chad’s expletives, eliciting more chitters, expletives, another loop that may as well be taped.

And Audrey is still arguing with her husband, Charlie (Clark Middleton), about whether to go to the Roadhouse. Having played out over four episodes now, in nearly contiguous scenes up to ten minutes long, the argument is occurring at about one-hundredths of the average speed of life elsewhere. Here’s where we get the wow and flutter of the show, words for its effect on your skin, words originally for the distortion produced by the wobbly of vinyl on a turntable or the dragging of tape in a cassette shell.

Audrey, beginning to be afraid: “I feel like I’m somewhere else, and somebody else […] I’m not sure who I am but I’m not me.”

Charlie: “This is Existentialism 101.” [That’s true.]

Audrey: “Oh fuck you, I’m serious.” [That’s funny.] “Who am I supposed to trust but myself? And I don’t even know who I am! So what the fuck am I supposed to do.”

Charlie: “You’re supposed to go to the Roadhouse and see if Billy is there.”

Audrey: “Is it far?”

Charlie: “Come on, Audrey, you know where it is. Are you going to stop playing games or do I have to end your story too?” [Trigger warning for anyone who unfortunately watched HBO’s Westworld.]

Audrey, terrified: “What story is that, Charlie? Is that the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?”

The 1976 adaptation of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane stars a thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster as the titular kid, Rynn, and features, in a nude scene, her older sister as body double—something I bet thrilled Lynch. She has a magician boyfriend, Mario (Scott Jacoby). To her stalking neighbor, soon to become her newest poisonee, she says that her (actually dead) dad’s name (actually the name of her hamster) is Gordon. Coincidences? At the end, you’re left with the same question you had at the start: Jesus, how old is this girl?

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 13. Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan).


A murder suspect under investigation by Gordon and Albert, decades ago, died of being shot in a hotel room and her body, before becoming the body, vanished. Her last words: “I’m like the blue rose.” Her shooter, in turn, hanged herself and did leave a body. The two murderesses were identical and not twins. What can this signify, asks Albert of Agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell), who replies, in syllables like a mermaid’s first steps on land, that a blue rose isn’t natural and neither was the dying woman—because murder isn’t natural, or suicide? No, because the first dying, vanishing woman was, intuits Tammy: “Conjured. What’s the word. A tulpa.” A tulpa being, in different Buddhist mythologies, a body made not from bodies but from a mind; or from a hive of minds, a collective projection. And in Christian mythology, we’re all descended from one tulpa, the word made flesh, for what is a word if not a “thoughtform.”

Foucault, in The Order of Things, writes about the unity of thoughts that cannot be represented in sentences. To his mind’s eye, “the brightness is within the rose.” But a sentence with any logic is a set of “linear propositions” and in a line he “cannot avoid [the brightness] coming either before or after [the rose].” Language, at last, is “to thought and to signs what algebra is to geometry: it replaces the simultaneous comparison of parts (or magnitudes) with an order whose degrees must be traversed one after the other.” And we know how Audrey Horne used to feel about algebra. Lynch does not, however, accept these limits and is more logocentric, that is—speech takes precedence over writing, and, with the major exception of Laura’s Diary, text is left to signage and the pictorial. A reader sees the whole line at once, which is why her mind automatically fills in missing words and switches transposed ones; a listener doesn’t parse the sentence until she hears the end, unless the sentence is so cliché, idiomatic, or like her own thoughts that she can finish it, and so “blue” is anything until she hears “rose,” making the before or after irrelevant as far as meaning goes. The less predictable, undemotic, unnatural the speech, the more it begs repetition, the more unified its expression can be.

I’ve been rereading at night the stories of Laura (Riding) Jackson. One that makes me think even more about Lynch is “The Story-Pig,” wherein a totem in the shape of a porker tells stories to the guests of a hotel. A maid named Rose spends her days polishing the Story-Pig, who is silver or gold depending on the angle, and tries to make him brighter and brighter, but there is a limit to his brightness, and she sighs. At dusk she is transformed, with the help of her equally classed lover, Hans, and a pair of red slippers, into a Queen. Her subjects are “snobs by day, sentimentalists by night.”

Although the clock ticked round always to the same hour, things themselves were never the same again. [The citizens] only escaped because they were quite old, quite dead. They belonged to the Queen and had no illusions about tomorrow, when they were almost the same but never quite—except the Queen, and she only because she went not from a beginning to an end but from a beginning to a beginning.

They were dead, but they were also alive—exactly because they were dead, having beheld the true rose that is not a flower at all, and because who behold this “shall never die.”

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 15. Big Ed Hurley and Norma Jennings (Everett McGill and Peggy Lipton).


Who is the dreamer? You and I as the collective, singular viewer—we’re the dreamer, we’re the simplest answer. “We live inside a dream,” says Jeffries. All characters do live in boxes in a larger box. Lynch meditates transcendentally, goes deeper than meaning to find, I suppose, desires we’re left hoping are not his own. “We’re a nation of killers,” says Chantal to Hutch in the van, by way of shrugging off the day’s work. “We [white Americans] killed all the Indians, didn’t we?” Rynn to Mario, in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane: “You Americans are a violent people.” Last week the actor who plays Mickey, a trailer-park resident, on The Return, was arrested in Spokane, Washington for beating his girlfriend nearly to death with a baseball bat. She’d declined to go to the store to get him a Kool-Aid before going to work at 420 Lingerie. I remembered David Foster Wallace on Charlie Rose, reprising his definition of Lynchian:

A regular domestic murder is not Lynchian. But if the man—if the police come to the scene and see the man standing over the body and the woman—let's see, the woman’s ’50s bouffant is undisturbed and the man and the cops have this conversation about the fact that the man killed the woman because she persistently refused to buy, say, for instance, Jif peanut butter rather than Skippy, and how very, very important that is, and if the cops found themselves somehow agreeing that there were major differences between the brands and that a wife who didn't recognize those differences was deficient in her wifely duties, that would be Lynchian—this weird—this weird confluence of very dark, surreal, violent stuff and absolute, almost Norman Rockwell, banal, American stuff.

Americans are born into a history of unbelievable violence and the cover-up is usually banal. There are Nazi youth marching with tiki torches as if the suburbs are a source of pride and humans unwanted in college towns are only mosquitoes. There are immigrants who, like Naido, are “safer in jail.” There have now been at least 910 deaths attributable to Kool-Aid. Lynch as a prophet of homeland affairs is a turn in the dark that feels wrong or impossible: He and Frost wrote the show’s four-hundred-page script in a couple months and started production when “President Trump” was still a bogeyman. But then any successful near-future prophecy is an accurate observation of the present, like a palm reader's reading the nerves, not the lines.


Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 16. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).


A WORLD WHERE TWIN PEAKS is the center is horrifying and moral because there is, obviously, no God. There’s no sense of God, no shadow or presence. There’s not even a church, astounding for a town with a diner, a roadhouse, a hospital, woods, waters. There is a church in the unincorporated community of Twin Peaks, California. There are three churches of the Mormon kind by the foot of the Twin Peaks range in Utah. A work so wholly American, American as Underworld, as A Face in the Crowd, and yet not Christian exists nowhere else. But in Twin Peaks, Washington, in lieu of a creator, there is a dreamer and we don’t know who.

The first time around (1990–91) we wanted to know who killed Laura Palmer and David Lynch thought knowing would kill the show. Overruled by the network, he lost interest, left things to his cocreator, Mark Frost, and the show faltered, collapsed; or else the show couldn’t go on when the showman had left. This is Lynch’s second chance—to climb the dread heights, as John “Scottie” Ferguson does in Vertigo (1958). Cooper’s chance, too. MacLachlan’s MacLachlanaissance is in doubt, since between the dream-locked Cooper, the absent Dougie, and the evil-incarnate Mr. C, he has yet to play human, a writing choice that begins to seem like an excuse for the actor. He once played a man becoming more than that, the youthful quester, Paul Atreides, in Lynch’s ill-fated, fantastic, misunderstanding 1984 adaptation of Dune. Lynch had him imbibe what’s called “the water of life” and, rather than “drink full and descend,” ascend to being a god, whereas in the novel he’s only playing at godhood. (Imagine if Francis Ford Coppola, adapting Heart of Darkness for the cinema, had turned Kurtz into a literal deity and cast Paul Newman. The horror, etc.) Though Lynch retracted his authorship of the film after the studio made sense-destroying edits, it’s unclear that, had he been given the control he wanted, it would have been what we could honestly call great.

When I said the dreamer could be us, it was the simplest and not the best solve; I think the question should be answerable, not answered. “One does not offer an ethics to God,” says Simone de Beauvoir in her Ethics of Ambiguity (1947), and so “far from God’s absence authorizing all license, the contrary is the case, because man is abandoned on the earth, because his acts are definitive, absolute engagements.” (We can add “creative” before license, if we like.) Together, men bear “the responsibility for a world which is not the work of a strange power, but of [man] himself, where his defeats are inscribed, and his victories.”

And when the show ends, if you can believe it, this Sunday, we’ll want a sense that the dream of the show is not over, even we are not to see, for real this time, another new minute. I pray not, since Twin Peaks: The Eternal Return would be too ungodly. In the picture as it fades there should be a dreamer who is like us, made in our image as gods always are, in my god-averse view, but not us. A Godardian “perfect image,” like I said. Afterimage, maybe. Face without an “I.”

Cooper, a dreamer, cannot be the dreamer. An early episode in the original Twin Peaks was called “Cooper’s Dreams,” not “Cooper’s Dream” (or even “Cooper Dreams”). In episode sixteen of The Return, having put a fork in the socket and in Dougie, the hero awakes from both his medically induced coma and his once-interminable limbo. “You are awake,” says Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel), aka The Man from Another Place. “One hundred per cent,” says Cooper. Dale Cooper. Special Agent Dale Cooper. “Finally,” says Gerard.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 16. Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel).


What proceeds is as pure and fun an action sequence as any in a Bond movie (and I’ve seen every Bond movie), set—finally!—to the Twin Peaks theme. He’s starving. He’s talking, all determination and cheer. He borrows a gun from his boss (he knows the exact make and model, which says he’s been watching, as in sleep paralysis, from inside Dougie) and tells the Mitchum Brothers to get the private jet ready. “What about the FBI?” says Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray), because the FBI is looking for Mr. Jones. Cooper turns, a familiar turn. “I am the FBI.” He’s suave, driving the white Beemer, another man’s wife, Janey-E (Naomi Watts), looking at him with lust and adoration. Leaving wife and kid tearful at the casino, he promises that “Dougie… I will be back.” (It’ll be a figure named Dougie but, for Janey-E’s sake, more like Cooper, made with a strand of his hair and a “seed” of some kind, conjured by Gerard.)

As for the other one, the bad one, he doesn’t dream ever, permitting the notion that what we see is his dream—but no, Mr. C cannot be the dreamer. Since minute one he’s been too in control. Dreams don’t tend to be plotted, lack beginnings or endings; they begin in darkness and they’re over when you stop remembering, or wake. He does create—tulpas, like Dougie. He decreates his son, duh, Richard Horne (Eamon Farr), electrocuting him on a rock, and the son’s disappearance indicates he too was/is a tulpa, or half-tulpa. The one man he can’t control is Phillip Jeffries, who reappears at the old convenience store in voice only, and it would be apt for David Bowie to play the dreamer, to have, perhaps, an alter ego named Judy, and therefore to hold the answers two questions—who’s Judy and who’s the dreamer — in one hand. However, if Judy is to be like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, played by Judy Garland, she should have once been a girl.

Kim Novak is Judy Barton in Vertigo, and Judy, mistress to the rich Mr. Elster, goes blonde and waspy to impersonate and frame as a suicide his wife, Madeleine. An early episode of the original Twin Peaks has Laura’s cousin, named Maddy or Madeleine after Novak, played like Laura by Sheryl Lee, put on a blonde wig to play the dead girl’s ghost. Syllogistically, casting aside, this means Judy is Madeleine and Madeleine is not Laura. Some fans ignore this and think Judy is Laura, pointing to the shot of a monkey saying “Judy,” followed by a shot of dead Laura, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). But Judy has a sister, says Jeffries in the same film, and “part of her” is there in Argentina. Laura does not have a sister, far as we know. (Can a tulpa be considered a sister?)

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 16. Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn).


Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) had a half-sister, Donna Hayward, played on Twin Peaks by Lara Flynn Boyle and unreturned here. Norma (Peggy Lipton) had a sister who was played by Annie (Heather Graham) and ditto. I suppose when Cooper asked how’s Annie the answer could have been “chilling in Buenos Aires” but it’s impossible to think of Norma as a Judy. Joan Chen, writing in character as Josie Packard to David Lynch, asking, in vain, to be on The Return, said that she often thinks of her “twin sister, Judy.” A writer on Fire Walk with Me said ages ago that Judy was, at one point, meant to be Josie’s twin, and at least one fan is convinced that Judy is Josie, while another on the same fansite is convinced, via the Bible and numerology, that Judy is Naido (Nae Yuuki). On the Twin Peaks Reddit I read that Judy is both Josie’s sis and Naido, but since Nae is very apparently Japanese and Chen is very apparently Chinese, this development would be racist, blind, and dumb. Diane (Laura Dern), we found out in part fourteen, is half-sisters with none other than Janey-E, their lives another soap-operatic double aria in this devil’s puzzle of a magnificent script.

But the Diane we have seen is not the Diane we never knew. She’s already been a double agent, working with the task force on the Blue Rose case and simultaneously texting info to Mr. C, but the latest text reveals she’s a double, a tulpa. Mr. C texts “ALL” preceded by a smiling emoticon, and the smile triggers her, as in literally triggers, weaponizes. Twenty-five years ago, on the night she doesn’t talk about, she tells Gordon, with Albert and Tammy listening, Cooper showed up at her house. He kissed her, and it didn’t feel like a kiss. He smiled, horribly. He raped her. Dern is incredible: What could be truer than the dreamy, teenage way she says “he kissed me” and then, breathiness curling and solidifying into disgust with the processive control of a ballet dancer’s developpé, says “something went wrong.”

Cooper was, then, definitively, bad at the time Richard was conceived with Audrey, meaning either that Audrey was a tulpa and tulpas can reproduce, which is unlikely but so are a lot of things before they occur; or that Audrey was raped and the dissociation a rape produces came to stick. Finally at the roadhouse, at the end of this sixteenth hour, she dances the dance we remember and we’re ensorcelled into grinning at the sight. But just when she seems like herself, she is interrupted by yet another barfight over someone’s wife and stops, runs to Charlie, screams get me out of here and poof, appears elsewhere, in a white room, makeupless in a mirror, as in a psych ward. I have already expressed my total disdain for rape—let alone rape by a partner, lover, friend, or acquaintance, a crime about as rare as petty theft—as a plot device granting a male protagonist power over the rest of a victim’s life and I refuse to say more about it as a reason for a girl to go mad.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 16. Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).


The matrilineal nature of madness, more accurate to my paradigm, is supposed in Vertigo and echoed in Twin Peaks. Other fans, in a theory I enjoy, say that the girl asleep when the Woodsmen come, into whose mouth the tumescent insect crawls, must be the dreamer; that is to say, some percentage of her never woke up. More than any of the other female characters, the girl looks like Mädchen Amick, enough so to have been her mother, making Becky (Amanda Seyfried) her granddaughter and analogous to the character of Madeleine Elster, with the insane, suiciding grandmother of lore, in Vertigo. But that’s perhaps my superficial reading and the fans who think the dreamer is Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), the desolated would-be matriarch who alone is the right age to be that girl as a woman if she’s still alive, are onto something more. She’s been nuts as long as we’ve known her. She’s only moreso. She has a sister, one we’ve never seen: Beth Ferguson, mother of Maddy, though again if we are following the plot of Vertigo this would make Maddy the Judy. Maybe I just want Sarah to be the dreamer because she is the character in Twin Peaks I most hope is somehow immortal.

Zabriskie had the greatest scene of the show so far, or so I said, in part twelve; she had a greater one in part fourteen, when Sarah goes drinking alone at an unfamiliar dive bar. Harassed by a man in a TRUCK YOU T-shirt (where’s Richard with Billy’s truck when you need him?) who accuses her of “looking like one of them bulldykes” (he may be excused for not knowing what a bulldyke looks like, there being a total of no lesbians in Twin Peaks), she takes on an attitudinal freeze and hiss, becoming precisely as touchable as nitrous oxide. He says he’ll eat her cunt. She says she’ll eat him. Removing her face like a paper moon from a collage of the galaxy, she emits the voice of a Woodswoman, saying do you really want to fuck with me, and a hand appears, and something bites, so that the next thing anyone sees he’s dead on the floor with a missing jugular. A half-second. A return to her human form. Then a scream which, in Zabriskie’s throat, has wit. I laughed the first, second, third time I watched it. The bar owner approaches her with suspicion and she plays helpless, stricken, then drops her voice to a mere chill and says: “Yeah. It’s a mystery.” Her alloy of the deadpan and sangfroid supercedes even that of Diane, and I wonder whether tulpas can have this much self-possession, congenitally; no other tulpa has gone off her head of her own volition.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 14. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie).


Few other options are left for the dreamer’s identity. Gordon Cole (David Lynch), whose name is the last thing Cooper-as-Dougie hears, the final trigger, cannot be him either. You wouldn’t say to the dreamer, as Monica Bellucci does to Gordon Cole, that “we are like the dreamer.” If we’re not the dreamer and the characters aren’t like us, who are they like? Do we want to know what we’re like? Maybe it’s someone we’ve never seen. The original, human Diane, the invisible presence the old Cooper was always addressing, perhaps. Or someone we mysteriously can’t see, on the verge of disappearing, an old authority figure in the hospital, sick, someone people are always asking to see and can’t—the actor unavailable, retired. Sheriff Harry S. Truman, that is. Horrible to think we’re just in Truman’s show!

Go back to Vertigo, Lynch’s favorite. I had forgotten whether it ended with a fate—and it did, a punishment for interfering with fate. But the plot is set into motion by cynical people, not “forces.” There is no “strange power” at work. People on The Return die of common causes, like being shot, but not for very good reasons: Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Hutch are riddled to bits by, of all people, an accountant in an act of mutual road rage. Steven (Caleb Landry Jones), in the fourteenth hour, was heard to die by his own handgun, startled, like Judy Barton atop the belltower, erroneously at the approach of a stranger. People also die in what are deemed paranormal or “not natural” ways, and these autopsy-defying deaths seem yet less “senseless,” less amoral than the picayune, indubitable ones. Morality, said de Beauvoir after Kierkegaard, is no more relevant than language is to nature, and is perhaps supranatural; it’s easy to make the slip to supernatural, then to sense good and evil as something no longer above but beyond us, something out there. Lynch is a true believer that some things can’t be explained. Yet Scottie, the detective in Vertigo, believed in the inexplicable too for a time, and was institutionalized, and when he solved the case and beat his agoraphobia, almost in one breath, it was because he saw, like Paul in Dune, that “fear is the mind-killer.” I suspect the best reason not to say who killed Laura was that people already knew, only they were afraid to think it.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Sarah Nicole Prickett’s individual recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:

Episodes 1 & 2
Episodes 3 & 4
Episode 5
Episodes 6 & 7
Episode 8
Episodes 9 & 10
Episodes 11 & 12
Episodes 13, 14, & 15
Episode 16

Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.

Moyra Davey, Hemlock Forest, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 41 minutes 15 seconds.


Two years ago, artist Moyra Davey and writer Maggie Nelson were asked to commence a wide-ranging conversation over email for a book project that never came to light. This summer, I invited them to revisit their conversation. What follows is the second of a two-part feature. To read their introductions and part one click here. —Lauren O’Neill-Butler

MAGGIE NELSON: First of all, if we want to talk about things that make us feel ashamed, I’m very ashamed that the above exchange took place in March 2015, and now it’s the end of October 2015. So sorry, and onward!

I haven’t read the Barthes quotation you mention but from what you say here, I am quite interested in it. Not so much in what lies outside language, but rather the idea that “something is fascinating, you want to talk about it, but you can’t, precisely because it’s fascinating.” This seems to me the basic seed to all writing projects—a seed that makes them, perhaps, more paradoxical than photography, because in photography you can follow fascinations without having to talk about them in words.

When you say, fascination as a defining principle of the medium, is it something he locates in the photographer, or in the medium itself?

Moyra Davey: It’s a fascination for actual photographs. The interview predates Camera Lucida by a few years, it was done in 1977. Perhaps Barthes evolved ‘fascination’ into the punctum as a solution to his problem of not being able to articulate the former.

MN: In any case, your desire not to talk about photography in the abstract seems a wise one to me.

I also want to tell you that I’m traveling right now and I brought with me on the plane the package of your books which you sent, including your essay and photograph collection Long Life Cool White, and I read them all happily and hungrily.

MD: Thank you!

MN: Re: the piece you included in the package, “Mothers,” I was happy to be turned on to Mary Gaitskill’s “Gattino.” And I really like the unusual gathering of artists you have here. It makes me want to look anew at Frances Stark, and find the Xavier Dolan film. Mostly though—and maybe here’s my own “make it more personal” request—I couldn’t help but wonder about the maternal transgressions you refer to, re: your parenting of B. You say “I blew it with B., my one and only.” As it seems so clear to me that you didn’t blow it, I can’t help but wonder what you think your transgressions were . . .

MD: I wish I could have been a more patient, calmer, happier person when B. was small. I see women with their tiny babies enveloped in a love cocoon, and I never had that because B. had colic and screamed for three months. It was hair-raising, and kind of set the tone for the next four years. I always think about Margaret Meade’s question, something to the effect of: “Does the sunny, happy baby produce the happy mother, or is it the other way around.” And of course you can substitute happy for ‘cranky’ and ask the question the same way, and that’s where I dwell on my flaws and wonder what I might have done differently. I love the way you write about caring for your kids in The Argonauts, it is so full of tenderness and pleasure. You marvel at the routine tasks, like folding tiny socks.

MN: Yeah, well, maybe my cranky / failed mom memoir is yet to come! (Or maybe I’ll leave it to my kids to dwell on my flaws in public . . . as someone who has repeatedly raked my mom over the coals in print, and as someone who also reads tons of student work of this nature, I now know that this is one of, if not the most common subsets of the autobiographical genre . . . i.e. Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad./They may not mean to, but they do,” etc.)

I was also interested in your writing about reading, in your essay “Notes on Photography & Accident.” Especially in your description of reading as “a literal ingestion, a bulimic gobbling up of words as if they were fast food.” I feel embarrassed when people treat me like a big reader, as I actually feel ashamed of how little I actually read, or how poorly I read. I don’t know if this is a result of the Internet like everyone says or if it has more to do with this “bulimic gobbling up of words,” the selective gusto of reading as a writer, “looking for what you need.” When I was in PhD school I often imagined there could be a kind of IV drip of books, because I needed to read more than I had time to read—I didn’t know how to, say, ingest all of The Last of the Mohicans in a day, or a week, so I started fantasizing other ways to get it in my head, my body. I forgot, or never realized, how to savor. I just crammed it in.

MD: People think I read a lot too, but it’s getting to be less and less. Recently I had to give a talk and a seminar at Rutgers, so I re-read a bunch of my stuff in preparation, and I watched some of the videos. I’ve grown weary by how much I quote and how much I rely on reading to write. I love how you put it: “looking for what you need,” and the excitement that arises when you find the right thing. But I feel more and more self-conscious. In the thing I’m writing now for my next video, I’m trying to refer, for example, to Godard and Barthes, without using their names. That’s how desperate I am to change things up!

MN: I say all this in confusion, because I’ve also spent a lot of time reading poetry, which is supposed to be read “slowly,” so I presume somewhere I know how to read in a different fashion. But I worry. I wonder whether your reading style has changed over time, the physical phenomenology of it.

MD: It has changed. For one thing, I read too much on screens, and it kills my eyes. I’m a bit stuck at the moment with this new project—it’s for Norway, so I re-read Mary Wollstonecraft’s Scandinavian letters, and that was pure pleasure for the way she writes about the natural world. She was in a terrible state of depression, and the landscape rescued her, at least for a time. But I am also writing about my son, and I find that SO difficult and uncomfortable, writing about missing him. I feel like I don’t have the right to write about the privileged ritual of a young adult leaving home for college, when some people have permanently lost their children. I could read Winnicott, but some part of me is in rebellion. My friend, Jennifer Montgomery said: look and listen instead. So I’ve been listening to Chantal Akerman, and I can’t get enough of her. I am utterly smitten. You can watch a ton of interviews, panels, artist talks, and she is warm, flirtatious—she has that raspy, smoker’s voice—she is also tough, fearless, honest. Talk about bulimia and rabbit holes, I will lose myself to her for hours. She is my greatest inspiration at the moment.

MN: I guess I’m partly interested in this because I’m fascinated by how your work seems very of the present, very in the present, while also performing a dedication to slowness, an attention to dust, to B sides, to physicality, to acts of physical lost-and-found ness, to archives, etc., which some people don’t associate with the so-called digital age, something hot, rushing, dematerialized, sleek (though the abjection of precarity and the reminder of the intense physical costs of the so-called virtual are, I think, gaining in attention as of late, as in, for example, some bad & weird weather). But I don’t feel nostalgia in your work, I feel presence. I also feel recognition: I know those rooms, those book backs, those dust bunnies, that fridge. (I really, really like your writing about the fridge!)

MD: You also write about the domestic and the mundane, and there is such a quality of lightness and a gentle, cajoling humor to the way you do it. It’s a poetic voice embedded in a prose writing style. We can feel you taking real pleasure in the rituals of food, drink, hanging out with little kids, being with Harry, and then pleasure again as you shape the experiences into writing.

MN: Speaking of those spaces, I had a dream last night, here in an oppressive conference center in Flagstaff, Arizona, that I was back in a perfect East Village apartment which I’d lived in my whole life: a diminutive studio, arched tin ceilings painted light turquoise, bathtub in kitchen covered by a board, Patti Smith had lived there once, there were scrawlings all over the ceiling, some of which were mine. It was all part-Nan Goldin, part-Larry Clark, part-Moyra Davey. And I realize now I invented this dreamspace after immersing myself in your books all day. And it feels so strange to me, to know this space as foundational, a kind of recurring foundation in my unconscious, but to live now in Los Angeles, with nothing resembling it whatsoever. As if one’s foundation were a dream. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel grateful that my formative years were all lived without the internet.

MD: I was just reading something by Joan Didion, about the utter confusion of what is home: the West Coast, where she grew up, or New York where she ended up. Your dream apartment sounds pretty appealing. Early Goldin, Clark, and Patti Smith are still touchstones for me. Maybe part of the fatigue (and potential bulimia) of the internet comes from knowing that everything is available to us at the touch of a finger. It’s all there to read instantaneously, or it can be on your doorstep in two days.

MN: Speaking of Patti Smith, I’m on a plane to NYC right now, and I just finished her new book M Train, have you read it? I adored Just Kids, but I have to admit, about this next one, I’m kind of baffled by it—baffled by her profoundly non-twenty-first century psychology, her true capacity to drift in what seems to be a magic, or at least talismanic space, created in part by a deep romantic attachment to objects and writers. I mean, the whole book is kind of structured around her need to bring these stones from a prison that Genet hoped to be imprisoned at (but never was) to his grave. There are a lot of other pilgrimages in the pages as well. But she even makes taking the train to Rockaway or going to a 7-11 to get a large coffee and a donut sound infused with magic. I guess I thought of you because of your own connection to Genet, and to a kind of slowed-down, object-oriented, somewhat romantic relation to other writers, but also because of Patti Smith’s strong relationship to photography. The book contains her photographs, mostly taken of these talismanic objects or places; besides her obsession with coffee, the book seems to be working out an obsession with taking photos. I have to confess to you, the whole thing left me kind of cold, which made me wonder whether I was in some ways depressed, or deadened. I mean, I used to be very romantically attached to certain objects and figures; my book Bluets was an homage to that modality. It is a means of feeling very alive, a means of feeling as though the world is interesting enough to photograph. I don’t feel able to access that space right now. I’m not sure if it’s because of the digital age, my more or less completely American existence, my totally ungenerous suspicion of the politics of Smith’s infatuations, or what. At the very least it made me question how far I’ve come from certain magical states of mind, and wonder if I’m missing anything right now, and if so, what. Because I don’t really miss my more adolescent infatuations with writers or objects; in some ways I feel kind of Zen about the fleetingness of time these days, like I’m just watching my life (by which I might mean, my son’s childhood) go by, and along for that ride, without needing to pick up any stones or document it all in too mannered a fashion. Anyway, curious to know it you’ve looked at the book, what you think.

MD: I’ve not yet read M Train. I was tempted to pick it up recently, but I’m trying to stay on track with reading related to a new video I’ve been writing and now shooting. From a superficial take, M Train feels decidedly old school in its approach. I will definitely look closer as I know it relates to my conundrum with contemporary photography.

“Feeling as though the world is interesting enough to photograph” as you put it, is at the heart of things. Looking at contemporary work by artists who are one, two generations younger than me, I have the sense that many have given up on the ‘world’ and the practice of rendering it via an image. Why bother, it’s all been done to death. Many are opting to make images of images in another round of ‘pictures generation’ appropriation, minus the political critique (in many cases). I can totally relate to an ennui of images, given that we are inundated by them at every turn. It is a real dilemma because I am baffled/perplexed/bored by the highly abstract, photo-shopped appropriations, yet I know the alternative, the romantic, unfettered approach is just as untenable. Photography for its own sake is tough. When it gets linked to writing, performance, even other objects, is when it becomes more viable and interesting to me. Re the ‘magical state of mind’ in relation to reading and writing: in my opinion it grows out of pain, fear, anxiety. A few years back I wrote a text called “Index Cards.” I was in physical pain, weird stuff was happening to my body, I had just moved to Paris for a year with my son and was witnessing his trajectory through the rigid, unforgiving French school system and reliving bad memories of my own French elementary school. “Index Cards” rounds up Benjamin on Hashish, Jane Bowles’s letters, Kafka’s notebooks and diaries and I forget what else, but it was almost as though I was constructing a talismanic cocoon to stave off fear. When I read that text now it brings back the anxiety of the moment, but also the intense investment I had in these writers, and probably the “magical” belief that I’d be saved by them.

Moyra Davey, Fifty Minutes, 2006, video, color, sound, 50 minutes.


MN: That’s really interesting, to think of that magical state of mind as coming out of pain, whereas I was assuming that depression might bar one access to it. I think I’ve always understood turning to texts with the hope that they would save me; it’s objects and landscape I’ve had more trouble with (which makes sense, I guess, for a writer). That difference was something I was trying to work out in Bluets. I guess it’s why I still think of it as a book about beauty.

I was really interested to hear your thoughts on psychoanalysis, in the video transcript “Fifty Minutes,” where you’re looking in on your analysis from the outside, as it were—like, you tell us of your fidelity to the rule of having to speak unspeakable things, but for the most part you don’t tell us what those unspeakable things were. I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about the fate of “free association” in this moment, which some think of as decidedly “post-psychoanalysis”—I just saw my friend Wayne Koestenbaum do an amazing piano performance the other day, which seemed a kind of retro, or very of the present, I don’t know, homage to free association. It seemed no accident that a lot of what he riffed on while playing had to do with the twentieth century, its history of horrors.

MD: There are so many unspeakable things that will probably remain so. Part of the reason I think so much about getting them out, is that the writers I admire are the ones who find a way to do it, to take something taboo or shameful and “make a thing out of it” as Tilda Swinton said apropos of Derek Jarman when he embraced his illness and mortality and made Blue. I have the impression you yourself can write about anything. I think it has to do with really knowing yourself, and not being rancorous. Again, Chantal Akerman comes to mind: she was warm and generous, but she would also speak her mind on a dime if the situation called for it. When you have generosity towards others self-love is possible, or is it vice-versa?

MN: You know, not to repeat myself, but I find myself not thinking very much about taboo or shame these days. If I do, I’m a little more prone to thinking about the relationship of white people to abjection—like, what forms of abjection does whiteness create and depend upon for power; how does a white obsession with abjection serve as a means for white folks to access the abjection that is forced upon other bodies, namely brown bodies, poor bodies. There are parts of this bridge-making that seem worthwhile and powerful to me, and parts that seem really loaded and ugly and damaging. I think all this is partly why I have a harder time getting TOO excited about the notion of Knausgaard writing about his shit in the New York Times as a big transgression (though I may like it for other reasons). The shit of the lauded white guy isn’t the same as other people’s shit. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it, like I say, for other reasons (I grew up loving Bukowski’s beer shits, too). But it’s important to remember that these gestures circulate in a context. Maybe this brings me back to Patti Smith—whom I adore, of course—and her beloved Beats, and Artaud, and Paul Bowles, and Rimbaud, and Genet, to some extent—all these white guys who were looking for some kind of magic or freedom or gravity or eros or danger in non-Western cultures, thinking European or American culture having foreclosed certain possibilities. I was transfixed by many of these figures in my youth—a lot of it THROUGH figures like Smith, who led me to many of them—but having grown up, it just doesn’t play for me anymore in any simple fashion.

MD: I’m not a-political, but when I read, I don’t make political choices. I follow my nose, I read what interests me, what will feed me, I “read to write,” as per Barthes, mostly. So that can take me anywhere. I’m very seduced by happenstance and dérive as a way to not feel totally overwhelmed by choice, more so now than ever as my reading has, by necessity, slowed down. I of course take your point about the shame of white privilege. I feel it. If they were not already, our eyes are being opened daily to institutionalized racism. It’s a fast and furious outpouring, and the rage is palpable. In terms of literature everyone has their threshold—my sister in law, a very smart, principled, feminist abstract painter has been reading Céline her whole life, because it feeds her in some elemental way. But to me he’s repugnant and I’ll probably never read his books.

Below is a passage from one of the Knausgaard novels that sums up what I’m looking for when I read: “The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the types of literature that did not deal with narrative, that were not about anything, but just consisted of a voice, the voice of your own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet. What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person?”

He could easily be referring to one of your books . . .

Those are some morning thoughts! I know we’ve got to get back to photography soon. But to break my long silence, here you go.

MN: “What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person.” This is complicated, as it posits the author as the gazer, rather than the viewer. I’ll think on this.

Xoxo
Maggie


Postscript

Hey Maggie, I finished M Train a couple of days ago, I too read it in the skies on my way to and from Montreal. I wasn’t expecting to like it, from some reviews I’d read, and from your perplexed account, I imagined it would be abstract and in the ‘babble’ mode of some of her earlier poetry. It definitely has a magical, through-the-looking-glass quality. The idea of the portal-transport to other worlds and spaces is a big fixture of the narrative, and the whole episode about the explorer-club, I totally didn’t get. I pretty much glided over those chapters. But what I did appreciate, and frankly found seductive, were the mundane details of her life, and the portrait she draws of simplicity and being unfettered by the usual baggage we all carry, her ability to pick up and leave with nothing but a few t-shirts and a notebook; her addiction to ritual; her addiction to coffee (not at all snobby, she’ll drink anything, even the most rot-gut), and finally, the way she writes about losing things, all the objects that seem to slip through her grip. She does a very Hervé Guibert thing in that she compensates for the loss by recreating the object through writing, a process I find profoundly comforting.

Even though I’m sure she’s giving us a very edited version of what must be a complicated life, I—being someone who can’t leave the house without a minimum 24-hours rounding up of pills and potions and soul-searching over which camera to bring—was awed by the sense of freedom she conveys in relation to her movements and displacements over continents.

I had to remind myself several times that I was reading the same Patti Smith who did Horses, an album I’ve listened to countless times over many years and connects me to an utterly formative moment in my life. To this day that music gives me chills, and maybe because of it I’m willing to give Patti Smith a pass on many things I might otherwise have less patience for. As for her use of photographs in the book, they have a vaguely Sebaldian quality. None of them feel particularly iconic, but are there in the service of the narrative. They are unpretentious, like the 7-11 coffee.

Ever since I read these words of yours a few weeks ago: “I’m just watching my life (by which I might mean, my son’s childhood) go by, and along for that ride, without needing to pick up any stones or document it all in too mannered a fashion,” I’ve not been able to get them out of my head. You conjure such an image of pure ‘being,’ a state, an idea that continues to fascinate and elude me (‘Being’ and ‘non-being’ as per Woolf, from her essay “A Sketch Of The Past”). I’ve been writing about this idea again for the new video, this time in relation to Chantal Akerman

Those are my thoughts for now, Maggie, all over the map, I know, and most unfinished.

To be continued…as usual.

Xoxo
Moyra