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Hurricane Bob: Part 2

By Jeff Wood.

hurricane bob part 2

Twin Peaks: The Return in the Year of Our Lord 2017

The Black Star

All opposites contained within each other, in the inversion. Shadow sweeps across the land in the path of totality. Night for day, day for night. Blinding day, blinding night. A procession of Tulpas, Demons and Familiars exposed in the afternoon flash; creatures of corona, umbra and penumbra strobing with the crescents in the half-light. The mirror passes overheard. The fire in the tree. Blackstar. Shadows burned into the memory of needles and leaves, the well, the grasses, the owl, the child, the breeze. The eye that has seen the seeing. Night returns to night, day returns to day.

*

Cooper remembers. Even if it is the memory of something that was only the veneer of an illusion to begin with. In Part 9 of The Return, before he is distracted by a passing pair of cherry-red heels, Cooper-as-Dougie is transfixed by an American flag hanging limp and dormant in the corner of the police station. America The Beautiful plays faintly in the background, scoring Cooper’s memory, his longing – and ours – in misty déjà vu. His purpose is out of reach and somehow obsolete, on the far side of a walking coma. His field of duty and honor is something far and away. Honor has been relegated to the corner of the police station as a kitsch and empty symbol of nostalgia, and Cooper, its principle example, ambassador and defender is magnetized before all that has been lost. The scene is devastating somehow. A tragedy paused within the still-life frames of a piece of video art floating in the oceanic cycle. But mourning is quick these days and the spell is soon broken by a passing woman. The red heels win out, as they easily might before a target – a culture – that has been reduced to its basest impulses, touching something more primal, more reductive, and more urgently barreling toward us.

In the office of Deputy Director of the FBI Gordon Cole, the symbolic reductions continue. But the primal zones to which they refer are darker and more layered, and also more direct. At first encounter, the images on Cole’s office walls are so strikingly recognizable as to be out of character for Lynch: a large photograph of a mushroom cloud behind his desk, and a portrait of Franz Kafka on the opposite wall. Initially, the images seem too obvious, like cheap shots in the production design, until it becomes clear that he means it. These symbols are alive and humming, and he’s not fucking around. The images face each other, in direct communication. We’re merely bystanders to the electric circuit that is Gordon Cole’s power source – the great puzzle and the great puzzler of modernity, of the entire twentieth century. This is where we are, and where our authentic lineage lies. Let there be no doubt. The mushroom cloud is particularly striking because to my awareness Lynch has never employed a symbol so universal, so real, so politicized, or in this case, a symbol that is also not symbolic. A suspension of disbelief necessary in maintaining the fiction suddenly comes crashing to the ground and everything lies in the field together. It is the field to which Kafka and The Bomb refer here. David Lynch in the field – test field, field of duty, fields of energy, memory fields of morphic resonance, and the proverbial overgrown abandoned lot where severed ears might be found. The specific grandeur and epic narrative of “The Bomb” also immediately sets itself up as a companion trope – or symbolic doppelganger – to that other counter-narrative Lynch has so often employed, The Wizard of Oz. It’s a counter-narrative as ground of conflict and reconciliation, the negotiation that happens while we are asleep, or knocked unconscious by blunt trauma. In the case of the Wizard of Oz it’s the dangerous magnetism of a compound behind-the scenes: the behind-the-scenes that’s happening even further behind the scenes. And in the case of Trinity, it is precisely that behind the scenes origin story at its most cosmic, at its most terrestrial, at its most humanoid, at its most reverently desecrate. Trinity is the unacknowledged proto-origin story at the fulcrum of civilization, and Lynch has seized it at the height of his powers. 

So many trees there have been along this road to Genesis. Douglas firs, the Arthurian circle of Sycamores, the endless assembly-line of timbers processed by the Packard Sawmill, a very special log from a forest that has burned, and all the innumerable trees still out there beyond the perimeter, a breeze blowing gently through them, not the least of which that tree that is “the evolution of the arm”. But finally we arrive at Genesis, and Lynch’s tree on fire like never before. Part 8 of The Return is the filmmaker’s apple falling in The Garden. And it landed like a bombshell, clearing the landscape. It’s singular, visionary form and courage were almost immediately and universally acknowledged. For anyone lucky enough to be paying attention and ready to receive it, Part 8 was a gift. As I’ve already implied, it is also Lynch’s timing which is crucial: we were ready for it because the time is now. Part 8 and its prismatic, tactile flowering of Trinity as mythic origin story won’t change the medium. The medium has already been changed by the conditions that have allowed Part 8 to be; and as rendered by the protean archetype of Pandora’s “glass box” with which Lynch opens The Return. But what Part 8 changes is media, if only for a moment, at its scorched heart-center. It’s a once-in-a-generation artwork that all other works may gather round and take heed. Lynch has simultaneously pushed the boat out and run it ashore. The episode made me weep – at the toxicity of our current climate and all we’ve absorbed as individuals, as families, as communities; at the great reverence and sensitivity with which it was crafted; and at the relationship between those two dimensions that made the episode so relevant and effective. The hour-long sequence is nothing short of cathartic, as close to atonement as art can get in the deep interstices between what is abstract and what is material, what is fictional and what is real, what is unspeakable, what is justice, what is history, what is terrible, what is divine. In his endeavor to visualize the genesis of the arch-devil Bob and the archangel Laura, Lynch has taken on no less than the transmutation from Genesis to Apocalypse and back again; the Genesis and Apocalypse of an entire culture whose mythology is self-organizing, despite its convenient ideals; a mythology which is itself split like the atom between what is mythological and what is real. I’d never really thought twice about the title Twin Peaks, or taken it so literally and meaningfully, until now. Twin Peaks is a doubling, a twinning, at every level of the entire ecosystem from its protons and neutrons, to its electrical currents, to its disastrous love affairs, to its repeated episodes of déjà vu. Now we know why; and the atomic zygote is revealing itself insistently in almost every frame. That origin story should give us pause. For the artwork itself can only be a doubling of something else.

As Cormac McCarthy explains rather cryptically in his recent (and only) non-fiction essay, The Kekulé Problem, “The simple understanding that one thing can be another is at the root of all things of our doing.” And perhaps of our undoing. He refers of course to sign and symbol, to the division between the map and the territory. And while the coordinates leading to our eventual destination in The Return are still the object of speculation, Lynch has left no debate as to the coordinates for our point of departure. He has driven his surveyor’s stake into the ground – Trinity. If the first atomic blast is a chain reaction set about by the splitting of the atom, then it is the splitting of our deepest inner selves. It is the final fissure – the one thing that is now another – that myth and matter may now be interchanged. Trinity is a fraudulence of cosmic proportions, the ultimate theft of fire, the most audacious of usurpations, and a deep, deep cauter at the heart of the country, in the heart of the culture. In this sense, above and beneath all else, Trinity is the culture. And Lynch has single-handedly taken up this weaponized archetype and carried it to trial as no one else has dared. Pushing even past Kubrick. Or picking up where he left off. With Dr. Strangelove (1964) Kubrick found the only way in at the time –satire; and not since 1983’s TV movie The Day After has thermonuclear cohabitation been addressed so squarely in the public arena. The Day After was perhaps too unblinking, too traumatic for the public to absorb, perhaps as it should be. It terrified me as a 13-year old, a fiction to close to non-fiction that it must be fiction, mustn’t it?

Lynch has sensed another door in the forest – a door called now – and doors such as these aren’t generally open for long. He has dared to go inside the bomb and see out from the inside, at a time when a society perhaps needs its medicine most desperately, even if that medicine is bound to fail. A culture owes great debt to the seers who vicariously take up and run through with the mantles of hubris, narcissism, entitlement and shame – its irreconcilable injustices – and atone for them in whatever way possible, with full knowledge that atonement is ultimately impossible: the most difficult path. And here we are. Standing beyond the edge of it, knee deep in catastrophe. Knowing that it’s too late; we may only attempt to decode it in every way that we might.

To the Bureau.

When Part 8 of The Return is finished we know we’ve been witness to something extraordinary. And so does the cast, or at least they seem to know they’re in the vicinity of it. In the subsequent episode – Part 9 – Gordon, Diane and Agent Tammy Preston adjourn to the steps just outside a morgue in South Dakota to have a smoke, or more precisely, to watch Diane smoke. As with a handful of scenes among the inner circle of agents, this one plays out like a prolonged and necessary meditative reflection on all that has happened, all that must be absorbed and considered. And there is no other way than in real time – whatever that is. Any other route would be insufficient. Clocking in at over two minutes of unbroken, unspoken, lost-in-thought smoking, the scene has already garnered cult status and analysis. It recalls the later work of Portuguese centenarian Manoel de Oliveira. The static shot is at once merciless and tender, and filled with a melancholy that can only be elevated to such palpability when imbued with such considered duration. Something rare transpires between the characters, the actors, and the audience on the back steps of the morgue: a shared and silent requiem – saudade, the Portuguese word for profound longing, or an existential homesickness; a transcendental longing for what has been lost, for what may never be attained, and for what may never be reconciled. Saudade has no direct translation. It might not be described, but can only be experienced and expressed, lived.

Compared with Part 8, and many of the other visually riveting sequences in the series, the dramatic dialogue scenes surrounding them often feel superfluous, in some cases indulgent, and at times even poorly done. They come across as just that: dramatic. Overly melodramatic, bad even. Upon first viewing – such as in the inscrutably bonkers case of Wally Brando, or in the long-awaited and highly-anticipated return of Audrey – it’s unclear whether we’re being giving information that will prove crucial to the plot (or even the anti-plot), or whether we’re being given the runaround and obliged to wade our way through something mawkish and ridiculous. The effect is squirm-inducing and at times even draws exasperation. Yet, miraculously, therein lives the counter-potency. The soap opera effect, heightened beyond what was dished out in the original series, and pages of ‘unnecessary’ dialogue eating up minutes as we plummet toward the final installment, only conspire to remind us that we have no idea what on earth we are watching. This is not prestige TV, engineered to meet with our approval or the expectations of what constitutes excellent, even satisfactory, drama. This is not double-realism, but counter-realism, staunchly resisting plot, character, resolution, believability in every ticking moment, in every molecule of its DNA. Against the radical master-class that comprises the meat of the series, the ocean of cotton candy that seems to be padding it out plays like a maddening babble of small-talk. And at this moment, there is no comfortable place for small talk, either in Lynch’s world or our own. Communication has been weaponized. Until something cracks open and we realize that it had not been small talk at all, but a magician’s patter, destroying all preconceived criteria for what constitutes believability. Such is the current state of media, such is the current state of State media, in the blending of all forms. And if our sitting, twitching President is its current star, Lynch is its Brechtian brujo, its artist-in-residence.

One scene in particular still haunts me accordingly. Early on, in Part 4, Deputy Director of the FBI Gordon Cole pays a visit to FBI Chief of Staff Denise Bryson in her office. The entrance of Agent Bryson is spectacular, and the immediate ease and warmth between the old friends is magnetizing. But the scene then settles into an interminably long exchange of frivolous pleasantries. On one level the scene is so inconsequential that it’s forgettable. But then something else happens. We realize we’re watching a private conversation that has been so formalized that the viewer is left out of the equation altogether, as if it’s all in code, or perhaps not. The theatrical formality of the otherwise intimate conversation (combined with Cole’s hearing impairment) begs speculation that perhaps they’re being bugged; that nothing being said is what’s really being said. What’s more, it’s largely a conversation between two dirty old men, except one of them isn’t… Why are we listening to this and how long is it going to go on!? Our patience is tested to such a degree that things begin to melt. And the effect is so discomforting that it’s paranoia inducing. Are we all being bugged? What the fuck is happening!? The exchange between the characters Cole and Bryson morphs into a conversation between the actors Lynch and Duchovny, and then back again, like an improvisation that became a camera rehearsal that became the scene. And then something else happens in that transformation, as the scene flows backward over the plasma screens and into reality. Reality is what happens. It strikes me as truly marvelous that the FBI Chief of Staff is transgender. It’s not cute, or idiosyncratic, or social justice seeking, but extraordinary. I’d been taking it as Lynchian when I should have been taking it at face value. The small talk is weaponized in a counter-strike: just watch this. Next, a truly remarkable realization occurs, perhaps, and with all probability, the result of coincidence. But the leap from coincidence, to meaningful coincidence, to profound synchronicity is a hair’s breadth, and the scene between Agents Cole and Bryson succeeds in redefining the Lynchian sub-genre of the uncanny in ways unimaginable, as transformative as his shift to digital and the relationship with Reality that accompanies it: When Part 4 aired, on May 28th, there was no Director of the FBI of the actual United States. As we know, Director Comey had been fired and Director Wray had not yet been appointed. In that case, the Deputy Director becomes Acting Director for the interim period, and in this case that Deputy Director is Lynch, sitting in, in Time, as if a puzzle piece had been fabricated to fill a meaningful void across dimensions. Deputy Director Lynch bantering ad nauseam, beside the point, and a little too loudly, with his transgender Chief of Staff Denis Bryson while reality simmers and hums around them darkly exchanging itself for fiction and back again in the great gnostic conspiracy of our time. The thing about conspiracy is that while it’s happening it’s impossible to verify whether it’s actually happening or not, which through Lynch’s lens applies equally to pedestrian reality, or what passes for it.

Which brings me back to the real world, or what passes for it, in 2017. A few weeks ago the President made a speech before the National Boy Scout Jamboree, a gathering of boys mostly ages 12-17. His speech was so grotesquely inappropriate on every conceivable level that the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America (whose previous president, notably, was also Director of the CIA) issued an apology distancing itself from the speech. The apology, as such things go, was a reluctant formality in response to a public relations disaster. And so the speech stands as a rather Lynchian moment, the open sore of someone’s id festering just above and below the surface of what is supposed to comprise consensual, civil society. I would venture that most Lynchian moments are not so public, so frequent, or so frequently occurring in public daylight. Until now. The trans-amphibious insect-thing has crawled out from under its irradiated rock on the periphery of the fire circle, and crawled into our collective mouth – the frog-locust, which is both bellwether and plague. And the fiery glow that offered protection from the wilderness is everywhere now. The monsters have nowhere to hide. Everything is illuminated, there is no night, our humanoid mother-beast is vomiting its toxic spew and our cells are ablaze in the 24-hour atomic daylight.

An Eagle Scout myself, I found Trump’s comments before the National Boy Scout Jamboree reprehensible and disgusting. In the vernacular of Eagle Scouts, and perhaps Agent Cooper’s own FBI, it was an action devoid of all honor. But we know that the criterion doesn’t really apply anyway, because Trump’s speech was not actually for the boys. He may as well have been holding court with his ghoulish minions in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. The speech was for everyone else – for media itself – a demonstration of what he is capable of before boys. Yet the boys were there, in great number. (He had already sufficiently demonstrated what he is capable of before girls.)

One thinks of a lengthy scene in Part 11 of The Return revolving around a boy. Compared with so many other static setups and exchanges in the series, the scene beginning inside the Double R Diner, is wonderfully compound, a mini-episode inside the episode. At its center, a gunshot rings out in the street and for a few moments of panic it seems that the diner is under siege. We soon discover that the perpetrator is a young boy. A white boy, dressed from head to toe in hunter’s camouflage; and the gun seems to have been fired haphazardly out the window of his parents minivan. The revelation of the boy is briefly shocking. This type of random drive-by shooting is typically portrayed in the media as being the domain of a wholly other demographic. While at first we assume that the reckless discharging of the firearm must have been accidental, a careless mistake, it soon seems possible that it may not have been. For while the boy’s mother excoriates the father for his negligence, our own focus is drawn quite clearly to another dimension of the scene: the similarity, or doubling, of father and son – in dress, posture, silence – and the boy’s total defiance before Officer Briggs, God, the camera and everyone. The posturing of father and son is so striking that we are drawn out of the scene, out of the action specific to plot or character, and into what is “being said” by it, into the world. Quite directly, as directly as the staged clarity of the scene itself, I could only think of the 15-year assault on American culture by the NRA, an assault which has been utterly ignored over the past year yet which may have been more instrumental than any other single factor in curating sustained support for the current demiurgic irrationality at hand. In one brief scene Lynch single-handedly dissected and dragged into daylight the lineage of that toxic gene. I grew up with guns and hunting, and a reasonable sense of what they’re for and how to handle them, and so I was grateful for that scene. We have been carpet-bombed by a narrative extending from the industry’s most far-reaching and deeply embedded surrogates, a fictional narrative of what guns are about. Touching on the fine line between art and craft, fiction and instruction, there is yet a vast difference between narratives of contemplation (art) and narratives of weaponized politicization (propaganda) – a vast difference between what a tool is and what someone may decide it’s about. And with one shot – a kind of warning shot – the boy in Part 11 has clarified the world by his own constructed place in it. Why act like things are normal, civil – civilian – when they are not? What if we are unaware, as a young boy is, that we really don’t want them to be, without really even knowing why.

In an outstanding article on American violence and apocalypse preparation, Stephen Marche explains:

That’s the real fantasy of guns – that you will someday be in a situation of complete moral clarity, rather than stuck in the muddy welter of decisions otherwise known as everyday life. There will be bad guys and good guys and you will know the difference, and you will be able to act with the ultimate consequence. There comes a time in the life of men and women and countries where the fantasy of just blowing up everything and starting over becomes nearly impossible to resist.

In just a few moments of the camera’s unwavering gaze, Lynch has taken on that crux from the immediate near-side of a boy’s perspective. The gun-wielding child has elevated himself above the banality of everyday life by reverse-engineering the situation. With a warning shot he has answered to a life’s-worth of ambiguity, under his father’s god-like example – clarity and certainty engineered out of a necessity, for the boy, where for the father there can be none. For there is none, really, for any of us. Marche goes on, “In America, the answer is violence. What was the question?” McCarthy, America’s reigning theologian of American violence answered that misplaced question in over 300 pages with his masterwork and biblical origin story Blood Meridian. But the Canadian Marche observes dryly, and in one sentence, “Too many things have been fried here.” In more ways than one. That deepfryer is hung like a bug-zapper over the abandoned bucolic picnic zone, the empty cavity at the heart-center of the country, swaying back and forth in the hot western breeze like a lantern in the night, incinerating us all in its sweeping light. Or at least incinerating our capacity to tell the difference between matters of myth, and matters of, well, matter. The myths of boys, frying and being fried, in the scorched interzone between fiction, history, and a future we are intent on rendering satisfactorily terrifying, Lynchian. Boys frying on the electric picket fences of the new world, and the electrified, Day-Glo jungle gyms of Neverland.

As a teenage scout, I attended the 1985 National Boy Scout Jamboree in Fort AP Hill, Virginia. Reflecting on Trump’s own leg-spreading, crotch-grabbing performance before this years audience of Scouts, I thought back to my own experience at the National Jamboree. As you can imagine, it’s mostly a shit-show. I can barely remember anything I actually did there. I was happy to be quartermaster of my troop, meaning I was charged with keeping all the equipment organized and accounted for, and which meant I had something to keep me occupied. I remember the Beach Boys, some free schwag in the form of an early Apple Computer shoulder-bag, and the opportunity for some exotic patch trading. Ronald Reagan was scheduled to speak but had to cancel due to cancer surgery. As the parent of a boy of my own now, Trump’s intentional recklessness summoned rage in me, and a great sadness, at the terrifying surreality that he wields, the terrifying surreality of the world he has at his disposal, a world neglected of care. As an Eagle Scout, refusing to look away, I thought of another Eagle Scout. I thought of David Lynch, Eagle Scout. I thought of Lynch, clear-eyed and searching, clear-eyed and sad, in a long intimate moment with his spiritual confidant Albert, admitting wordlessly the enormity of the unknown unknowns before them, and the true gravity of what they might bring. I saw him losing Albert (Miguel Ferrer) too soon, too fast; The Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson); and Bowie, as Special Agent Phillip Jeffries – the most potent, enigmatic and pivotal of all The Return’s avatars. Seers, each of them, gone now. And then just Lynch, seeing. Seeing into the interstices. Seeing into the camera, into us. With us. What we share as the puzzlers, fabricators and code-breakers of this nightmare. This luminosity.

It becomes more and more clear that Lynch himself, not Cooper, is the real protagonist of The Return, and we are his accomplices – straddling the invisible, perhaps non-existent line between the creator of this mystery and the one trying to solve it, investing in it with every fiber of his being. Lucid, full-of heart, and corrupted. Not immune to the carnal mayhem, but fully swamped by it, witness, and ecstatic with the medicine that heals as it poisons and poisons as it heals. The black fire of Apollo pulling in the sun so that he may see more clearly, holding that golden ball in his hands, taking it up in his arms, taking it inside, until it consumes him. The splendor of the mighty one. Of the creator.

Last year my two-year old son made a crayon drawing that looked like a kind of hurricane – a furious and beautiful multicolored frenzy of orbital markings with a hole in the center. I used that drawing in Death Stars to illustrate a hyperobject, or in this case, what the vortex of 2016 might look like. There is something universally recognizable in a child’s drawing – the uninhibited clarity of creative genesis, the unpatronizing genius of it, that rings true. Somehow my son’s crayon hurricane perfectly captured the overwhelming globular structure, cosmic terror and immaterial elegance of the hyperobjective systems of our time: global climate, financial systems, social network systems, resurgent nuclear threat and the perpetual motion machine of combustible political memes spiraling into uncontrollable consequences. God-begging hurricane systems passing through our micro-climates daily, minute by minute, instant by instant. We all have access to the swirling portals of the strange, the terrible and the divine now. Our own personal vortices trafficking in the infinite chain of the fractal blooming. Lynch’s Agent Gordon Cole encounters his own the vortex in a radically public-private moment, a moment which is captured on the outside from the various positions and perspectives of the other characters present and observing him. There are many such moments in the unfolding series, scenes that have us observing not only the story and the characters in it, but what seem to be almost personal moments between Lynch, his character and the artistic process presenting itself to him for the deciphering and re-staging. It’s a spiritual riddle, or koan, solved as it is being crafted, and a glimpse of the intimate encounter between a master and his muse, as if it were unfolding in real time, before him, before his character, and before us – which, oddly, is exactly what is happening.

As Trump deploys his own fictions deeper into 2017, deploying them to undermine the potential cohesions and trust in our complex social reality, we may use our own fictions to reclaim what is rightfully ours – our landscape, interior and in the trees, each other. In recollecting the National Boy Scout Jamboree of 1985, I suddenly remembered an incredible incident which came sweeping back into my awareness so clearly that I couldn’t believe I had forgotten about it. The national gathering that July was hit by a hurricane. The Atlantic hurricane made landfall in the middle of the night and by morning a sea of tents where over 30,000 boys had been sleeping lay flattened in the vast field. I remember waking up with the thick green canvas roof of our “Baker” tent on my face. Miraculously, there were no reports of serious injury but the scene we woke up to was gloriously, catastrophically surreal. Scouts emerging bleary-eyed from rumpled piles of canvas, wandering among the wreckage, scared, confused, homesick and ecstatic with excitement. The howling vortex had come and gone. When I went online to confirm a few details about the ’85 Jamboree I was astonished by what I read: the name of that hurricane? Hurricane Bob.

It’s happening again.

 

Jeff Wood

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 
Jeff Wood is an actor and writer from Ohio currently living in Berlin. He is a founding member of the Brooklyn-based experimental film/art group Rufus Corporation directed by Eve Sussman. His cinematic novel The Glacier was published in 2015 by Two Dollar Radio. His essays Monuments of Fire, Death Stars and Never Forget were recently published by 3:AM Magazine. He is an editor of the Berlin Quarterly.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, September 1st, 2017.