The Mythopoeia of Twin Peaks
I am going to do my best to write on this week's subject without revealing any hardcore spoilers for those that haven't yet seen Parts one and two of the premiere of Twin Peaks Season Three. If you are skittish, however, you might want to skip this post until after you've seen it.
What is mythopoeia anyway? I'm going to try and sound smart and not say "According to Wikipedia..." like a college freshman mid-term paper, but that is totally where the following information came from. Mythopoeia is a term coined by J.R.R. Tolkien that is intended to be defined as 'myth-making', and has since been co-opted to refer to literature and film genres with myth-like fantasy narratives. That is not my definition. Mine is one probably closer to Tolkien's, a genre-definer and not a worker within one. I am aligning my use of the word with the act of making myths. Myths, for humans, are extremely powerful as they contain archetypes and truths disguised inside digestible narratives. I think that the creation of a myth goes further though, the act of mythopoeia goes further in that it creates for itself (if it has sufficient energy and truth as its DNA) a place in our environment, myths have the potential to construct a magical niche in our physical world as well as in our collective unconscious.
David Lynch has done this with Twin Peaks. Wait, if I was going to examine the 'mythic elements' in Twin Peaks, shouldn't I be writing this post on a COMPAQ computer and posting it to some 90s era web forum? No, I don't think so, because I don't think that Twin Peaks achieved the state of myth until last Sunday night with the airing of the premiere of the new season. There were a few elements in the premiere that stood out in this regard. One was the use of particular phrases. At certain points in the premiere you hear phrases such as "Gosh!", "Golly!", and "Shoot". These phrases are an extension of the larger Lynchian oeuvre, as they refer back to the simpler (and yet more dangerous and complex) time of the 1950s. These simple one-word phrases carry so much weight though, as they connect the new premiere with the 'feel' of the original series. That innocence, that rootedness in the mythic place that is Twin Peaks, would have been difficult to achieve with using these mid-twentieth century turns-of-phrase.
Another aspect, and this one might be a bit revealing but I can't make my argument without it, is the appearance of The Arm. If you've seen the original series or the film 'Fire Walk With Me' then you are familiar with some of the characters or tropes in the Black Lodge, where Agent Cooper meets Laura Palmer. In last Sunday's premiere we are reintroduced to all of those familiar characters, some of which have changed yet are the same, they have evolved. This evolution of the original narrative, which was at the time (and still largely is) inscrutable, pushes Twin Peaks into the realm of myth and gives it more agency in the real world than it previously had. Myths always show an evolution, and they always give us a snapshot of a place like the one we live in but with significant differences. When a character says 'Gosh!' We are seeing maybe a quirky character treatment. When a vernacular spreads across all of the characters, we are seeing the birth of a mythic world. When characters we know evolve, retaining some of their original characteristics but also taking on new ones, we are seeing the birth of a God. The Arm is the ruling deity of Twin Peaks, one that is carrying it out of the frame of a genre and into a usable myth, to be embedded in our subconscious and glimpsed in the real world.
The Black Lodge is an alchemical symbol. It is a representation of duality, of dual being. It is a place of pure unconsciousness. In last week's post I brought up the concept of reification. Reification is required by a myth. A myth requires its own energy, energy not given to it by us, by our imaginations, by ourpsyche, our aura, our energy field, our orgone box buried beneath fox furs in our secluded suburban back yard baked with sun. Twin Peaks, with the beginning of the third season, has reified certain elements inside itself. Those extensions have now become something that humans have not seen for thousands of years, a new myth. The Arm, alchemical duality, and a sense of place enforced and engendered by a language of politeness and understatement long dead, have dredged themselves from the bottom of the waterfall and have stumbled out into the world.
At this writing, episodes three and four are now in the wild, but there is something different in them, an absurdity. This comical commentary reinforces Twin Peaks as a place, but not the place as a myth. The myth making was done and, it seems, is now gone. This reinforces my convictions. David Lynch, for all his genius, is still a human. While we are able to call up denizens of Hell and bind them to our will I don't believe that true myths were created by us. Mythopoeia, in Tolkien's sense, is not about humans creating myth, or humans writing in mythical genres. Tolkien was chasing after something deeper. Myths, the truly mythic forces in the world, come forth of their own mystery and volition. By reconsecrating the circle, by spreading the salt, by tying the rope, Lynch loosed upon the world a new myth. This new myth is growing and evolving and is changing us like its brothers and sisters from so long ago. It is a supernatural alien force.
Watch closely, as the series unfolds. Don't look at the old characters in new situations. Don't watch as the world of Twin Peaks spills across the old continent of North America. Don't watch as Lynch picks up his brush and paints for us nightmares. Unfocus your eyes, look for things in this work that stand out just a little. That vibrate a little bit differently. This is the new myth that is Twin Peaks, this is a myth making itself, this is mythopoeia. This is a new source of power.