Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review: 'Twin Peaks and Philosophy: That’s Damn Fine Philosophy'

Appearing at a time when television’s greatest philosophical questions were “How will MacGuyver save the day with nothing but a wad of  gum and an enema bag?” and “Which toddler will fall on his ass this week on America’s Funniest Home Videos?”, Twin Peaks seemed like an intellectual breath of Douglas Fir-scented air. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series swam in the murky waters of metaphysics, synchronicity, duality, and other philosophical concepts, and these were not just set decorations for a show often dismissed as arbitrarily weird; they were central to its plot and purpose. So Twin Peaks is an ideal topic for Open Court Books’ Popular Culture and Philosophy series.

The nineteen different essays that editors Richard Greene and Rachel Robinson-Greene compiled in Twin Peaks and Philosophy: That’s Damn Fine Philosophy cover much ground incorporating the original series, Fire Walk with Me, and last year’s Return. The writers chew over how the Black Lodge reveals the true self according to Hinduism (Felipe Nogueira de Carvalho’s “Know Thyself, Agent Cooper!”), how Laura Palmer embodies the Madonna/whore complex (Tim Jones’s “Laura Palmer—Madonna and Whore”), the varying degrees to which characters such as Albert Rosenfield and Sheriff Truman live up to Immanuel Kant’s moral code (Jeffrey and Kristopher G.Phillips’s “Albert Among the Chowder-Head Yokels and Blithering Hayseeds”), the degrees to which the series’ female characters possess power (Elizabeth Rard’s “The Miss Twin Peaks Award Goes to…”), the ways The Return reflects the roles of American women (Leigh Kolb’s “The Mother of All Bombs”—my favorite entry in the book), etc.

The two latter pieces I referenced are among the few that deal with the series’ more socio-political point of view, and I would have liked to see more of those types of pieces considering The Return’s more pointed (see Dr. Amp’s rants or Janey-E Jones’s diatribe about being a 99 percenter) yet often muddy (see the way women are often objectified or brutally murdered or the scene in which transgender Denise Bryson is both lauded and mocked) perspective. However, this is not Twin Peaks and Political Philosophy, so fair enough.

Occasionally, writers make the mistakes that are too often made in essays on Twin Peaks, most notably the failure to acknowledge Mark Frost’s role in its creation and writing— a considerable oversight since he is far more aware of philosophical theory than Lynch. Some writers clearly did not read Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, so they dismiss some things that he clarifies in his book as wacky fan theories, such as the fact that girl who swallows the frog-moth in Episode 8 is Sarah Palmer. In “Through Plastic Our Secrets Seen,” Andrew W. Winters makes some comments that will raise eyebrows among the kinds of obsessive fans who’d read this book (Shelly Johnson is discontent at the Double R; a job she specifically says that she loves? Big Ed should be content even though he is married to a woman he never loved? No one but Leland seems troubled by Laura’s death at her funeral?). However, S. Evan Kreider’s “But What Does It Mean?” is probably the only essay guilty of disappearing up its own posterior, which is a great percentage considering how tempting it is to do so when writing about something as byzantine as Twin Peaks. For the most part, the essays are thought provoking, accessibly written, and determinedly entertaining (see “Special Epistemic Agent Dale Cooper”, which Elizabeth Rard writes in character as Cooper). 

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