Twin Peaks: Corridoricity, Ambient Violence and Wounds (pt 1)

by on Nov.08, 2010

Steven Karl wrote the following comment to Joyelle’s post about ambient violence in my book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place:

“… The idea of violence, real, imagined, pop-cultured, implicit/explicit, I think is an interesting topic to explore with Johannes, Raun Klassnik, Dan Magers, & others. I always come back the “violence” in Laura Mullen’s book, Murmur, which in a lot of ways reminds me of Twin Peaks, which I’ve recently began re-watching. Do you think that ambient violence could be an extension to Ngai’s Ugly Feelings (affectation) discussion?”

These comments give me a good excuse to ramble about some of my favorite topics/texts. I’ll start with Twin Peaks.

I think Twin Peaks is certainly a place of ambient violence. The whole film is saturated in violence. Part of the “failure” of the TV series may have been that the violence became so “ambient” – ie it was not just one murder but a constant ambience of violence, reflecting a murder plot which did not “end”, was never “solved,” or it was solved but it had already generated all this remainder, leftover which was in fact, it turned out, the focus of the show.

The characters *catch* the violence, most notably in the case of Leland, but violence is embodied in Bob (who says “Catch you with my death bag” or something like that) who is not of course a body but a kind of spirit of violence. In Twin Peaks, Bob (and Violence) seems associated with mediumicity, technology, artifice, but most of all video/film, and it seems to come out of apertures of various kinds. “Evil eyes.”

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I remember reading a story that the guy who played Bob was actually just a guy moving stuff around on the set and that he was “caught” in the shot of Laura Palmer’s room by accident, and that this mishap with technology changed the entire plot of the movie. The movie production generated the killer. This reminds me of the way our idea of ghosts and spirits seems so largely based on trick photographs and camera mishaps of the 19th century.

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I also can’t help but see how the violence in Twin Peaks is related to rooms and corridors. On one level, Twin Peaks is a remake/parody of Kubrick’s The Shining – and the first thing that draws this parallel is the shots that move down hallways in a kind of ghostly way (there is nobody whose point of view is represented, it creates a kind of ghost presence). The viewer is a ghost? In Twin Peaks, this shot, this “gaze” finds it end point in Laura Palmer’s photograph. Ie it’s not Laura Palmer, but a reproduction.

And part of the ambient violence of Twin Peaks is generated by reproductions: photographs, videos, the double (cousin who looks just like her) etc. Laura Palmer’s character is totally exploded by the series – there are constantly more secret histories about her (she helped out the elderly, she dealt cocaine, she was a nice friend etc). The character of Laura Palmer can’t contain all these possible narratives, it’s absurdly excessive.

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Back to The Shining parallels:

Corridors, Notre Dame professor Kate Marshall’s work suggests, works in 20th century fiction and film as a commentary on mediumicity (or “corridoricity” as she calls it). As in The Shining, a lot of the violence and ghosts come out of corridors (such as the stairs with the fan in the Palmer house) and houses. This is how Kate describes her book “Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction”:

“… I argue that the dominant topoi of modern American fiction, such as the infrastructure, transit networks, and corridors that organize domestic and institutional space, can be best understood as media, for it is in these figures that novels encode their own communicative processes. Novels that explicitly stage the coevolution of media technologies and the protocols of modernity, like John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, often do so by way of an attention to physical transit mechanisms that also operate as communications systems: conduits or corridors for both bodies and information. I contend that these built structures are precisely where the constitutive dynamism of the modern media most clearly emerges.”

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Twin Peaks, like The Shining, is all about corridors, media, bodies and all about the violence set in motion by this intersection. It’s the corridors of the hotel, the corridor in the Palmer household, but most of all it’s the corridors of The Black Lodge, the atmospheric spiritual place inhabited by Bob but also by the “Little Man from Another Planet” and Laura Palmer’s double/ghost.

In fact the whole show ends with that amazing show where Agent Cooper is drawn into the Black Lodge where he catches Bob/Violence himself. The Black Lodge seems to me to evoke movie theaters, crowded as it is with doubles and other cinematic bodies (the small man “from another planet” who speaks in reverse-reverse and moves spasmodically when he dances in a way that emphasizes mediumicity in the same way as Beyonce does in the “Telephone” video):

In this clip the violence seems to come out of the “cuts” – suddenly the little man is standing there (smaller than ever), suddenly Laura Palmer is standing there with her “evil eyes.” Cut cut cut. Spasm spasm spasm. We’re in a media-saturated space.

But this also strikes me: They’re not really corridors, they’re just red curtains. It’s like media that is leaking, that cannot be contained, that (in this clip) bleeds. Cooper’s wound becomes a wound in the TV series, in the medium itself.

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Joyelle on Lady Gaga:

The power shifts that go on in Alejandro for me allegorize this shape shifting, this mediumicity, the image that transfers through a medium and becomes both a material and another medium in the chain through which another material might pour. The recuperation and recirculation of costumes and choreography from various referents including 30’s Fascism, the Weimer-cum-Fosse stagecraft of Cabaret, Gaultier/Madonna’s cone-bras literally weaponized as machine guns, enacts this kind of vulnerability, the wound of the image itself, that might suddenly become an aperture of transmission for something else. Jesus’s wounds, after all, are eternal, always open for business. Eternally re-opened by sin, blood and water issues from them eternally. Like images

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We have something similar in all the costumes and remakes and revisions in Twin Peaks. And they all come from Black Lodge, that evil eye origin that is not an origin, but more like a movie theater (where of course things go dark for the showing of the double-world). And like at the end of “Alejandro,” Cooper’s wounds (first the bloody one, then when he smashes his head in the mirror) function as medium destroying itself.

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Doesn’t the Black Lodge have something in common with Sarah Winchester’s endlessly morphing home, trying to get away from the ghosts of native americans killed by the Winchester rifle?

Yes, it does.

(To be continued….)

2 comments for this entry:
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