Thoughts on Twin Peaks

July 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Christian writer and mystic Angela of Foligno (1248-1309) is one version of a religious figure which gets re-occupied in the television series Twin Peaks in the character of Laura Palmer.  Laura is also the name of Francis Petrarch’s muse, a woman whose beauty inspired him to give up his priesthood in 1327.

Idealizing a woman was common in the poetry the 1300s, as well as the Arthurian legends.  Slavoj Zizek has argued in “Courtly Love, or the Woman as Thing” that while modern versions of love purport to have gone beyond courtly love, it is still very present, and that any sort of spiritual idealization of the Lady is a mask for the most material objectification of woman as thing.

The idealization of the Lady, her elevation to the spiritual, ethereal Ideal, is therefore to be conceived of as a strictly secondary phenomenon: it is a narcissistic projection whose function is to render her traumatic dimension invisible. In this precise and limited sense, Lacan concedes that ‘the element of idealizing exaltation that is expressly sought out in the ideology of courtly love has certainly been demonstrated; it is fundamentally narcissistic in character.’ Deprived of every real substance, the Lady functions as a mirror on to which the subject projects his narcissistic ideal. (90)


Compare to sonnet 5 from Petrach’s Canzoniere:

When I utter sighs, in calling out to you,
with the name that Love wrote on my heart,
the sound of its first sweet accents begin
to be heard within the word LAUdable.

Your REgal state, that I next encounter,
doubles my power for the high attempt;
but: ‘TAcit’, the ending cries, ‘since to do her honour
is for other men’s shoulders, not for yours’.

So, whenever one calls out to you,
the voice itself teaches us to LAud, REvere,
you, O, lady worthy of all reverence and honour:

except perhaps that Apollo is disdainful
that morTAl tongue can be so presumptuous
as to speak of his eternally green branches.


When we compare Angela of Foligno’s writing, we see quite a contrast to such exaltation.  She writes:

I would beg him to grant me this grace, namely, that since Christ had been crucified on the wood of the cross, that I be crucified in a gully, or in some place very vile, and by a very vile instrument. Moreover, since I did not desire to die as the saints had died, that he make me die a slower and even more vile death than theirs. I could not imagine a death vile enough to match my desire.

The stark objectification of the body is a frequent theme in female writers in the Christian tradition, who have been traditionally barred from speaking publicly and preaching.  The writing of female mystics remains an exception to this rule, and so couched in their writing is the politics of subordination.


In Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer’s death turns the town upside down.  Men old and young with the fervor of Petrarch, we find out, were her lovers.  Her mysterious death unites the town in guilt and reverence for the dead teenager.

Like a slightly older Lolita, Laura is both innocent and not-so.  We encounter her through fragmented memories of other characters and through her diaries.  Mysticism, as recent religious studies scholars have argued, is a kind of writing.  While I certainly believe there is room for criticism here, it is true that what most of us encounter as far as mystics are concerned is necessarily mediated by their writing.  How many mystics do you know after all?  Unfortunately, we don’t have access to those who have spontaneously combusted or disintegrated into the ether.  But, as Amy Hollywood shows in Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History, twentieth-century writers (and especially French ones during and after WWII) have been fascinated with mysticism as writing.  Hollywood gives a much more thorough and believable account than Don Cupitt does in Mysticism after Modernity.  What is key here is that writing is itself a performative act, while mysticism is traditionally understood in terms of its radical passivity.  How can such passivity be action, and especially political action – as some writers attest it to be?

Through a close reading of Georges Bataille and the concerns his writing raised in Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Amy Hollywood writes:

For Bataille, the contradiction between subjective and objective, like that between the fictional and the autobiographical, allows his theoretical texts themselves to become “operations” of ecstasy; they continually erect and overturn distinctions between “experience” and “theory,” “subjective” and “objective,” “inner” and “outer,” making the writing of the theory itself an erotic, mystical, religious exercise. (59)

Later she goes on to write:

In Bataille’s postwar writings, the prostitute is the “erotic object” through which men attain the sacred.  In these texts, the objectification of the corpselike other is explicit, giving rise to “a fiction of death” through which both mortality and the sacred can be apprehended by men.  Read in light of Bataille’s Theory of Religion, the prostitute is the sacrificial object through whose death (through abjection and objectification) the sacred is made present. (117)


Interestingly, in Twin Peaks the protagonist is a pseudo-Buddhist (and maybe the “pseudo” is the point)  FBI agent named Dale Cooper.  In solving the death of Laura Palmer during the transition from season one to season two, Cooper arrests Laura’s father, charging him with the raping and slaying of his daughter and a number of other young women.  Laura’s father, who has been possessed by an evil demon named “Bob,” goes through the horror of realizing what he had done.  After confessing, dying of fatigue and guilt, Agent Cooper recites hime lines from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, encouraging him to merge with the clear white light.

I am intrigued at the priestly role adopted by the detective, who helps the Father who is guilty of child-abuse via the demon to die peacefully.  Laura as mystic is a kind of female Christ, her body a sacrificial for the town’s sins; her father a defeated God.

The ratings for the show dropped after the mystery of Laura’s death was revealed.  I attribute this to a lack of ability to read a transfiguring narrative which develops in season two of the series by way of remnants of secret government projects (Project Bluebook was the USAF’s project concerning UFO’s and national security) and Native American myths invoke a new spiritual landscape in America.  The landscape is post-Christian (not anti-Christian!), and the landscape seeks beyond its inherent spiritualism to comment on the re-invention of the state and citizenship.

That is all I have time for today.



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