The Process of In/dividuation

In my book Twin Peaks: Unwrapping the Plastic, one of my main claims is that “Twin Peaks is fundamentally about one thing: the “process of individuation” described by Carl Gustav Jung, that is to say, the integration by the various characters of the unconscious elements of their personalities in order to evolve as individuals“. I argued that the Red Room was a secret garden of sorts, a Temenos, which enabled those who visited it to proceed faster down the lane of this integration. It appears in The Return that this is also a place where the whole process can go horribly wrong, as we saw with the Double.

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Before going any further, one must ask the following question: what is an “individual”? What do we mean when we say that someone is “an individual”?  An individual is literaly someone who cannot be divided (in/dividual, as in in/divisible). This claim is of course always something of a stretch – we are all, to some extent, a multiplicity. The person who goes to work in the morning is not exactly the same when meeting his or her parents later in the afternoon, who is also different from the person who spends time with his or her friends in the evening, etc. We are all legion. Nevertheless, the general idea is one of stability from day to day, that we are globally the same as yesterday and that tomorrow we will remain mostly the same as today.

When these various segments of our personality become separated, independant from each other, we are facing serious psychological disorders, shattering the notion of a balanced whole (balance being of course one of the central elements of Lynch’s view of the world). The Return is very much concerned with this idea, about the possibility of people with split personalities – even with the idea that some personalities might be so split from the original that they become “individuals” of their own. Dale Cooper and his polar opposites (the Double and Dougie) is of course the main example one finds in Twin Peaks. But Laura Palmer and her many incarnations, from Madeleine to Page, also fits this description. Interestingly enough, they both visited the Red Room, the place where this process of (dis)in/tegration seems to take place.

My personal reading of the opening credits of The Return, with its superimpositions, tends to give credit I believe to the idea that this process is at the core of the series’ mythology. I have already described and analyzed the various strata of images layered during the original fly over Twin Peaks (see here, for instance). What matters is the fact that right from its first image (besides Laura’s brief appearance in a globe), the series underlines the crucial role of the conflict between Cooper’s various persona.

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The Double and Dougie, polar opposites, cross each other while lying on the ground, under the eyes of Dale Cooper, observing his doppelgängers while it remains unclear which side will win. In order to become whole again, to become a true individual once more, one that has successfully integrated the unconscious elements of his personality, this multiplicity will need to cease (as it does in episode 17).

In Laura Palmer’s case, the final success is of course less obvious, as her Carrie Page double does not seem to remember who she really is (unless we consider the very last moment of the series, when she hears Sarah’s voice?). Something along the way appears to have blocked her process of individuation, her true personality has been veiled by a persona, a blank “Page” who has taken over. Does her final scream mean that she has finally torn the veil and seen through the curtain?

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The Jungian process of individuation can be linked, to a certain extent, to what takes place in Alchemy when described as a way to proceed from mental lead to mental gold – a process of purification, of integration that leads to a better, more balanced whole. Tamara Preston makes this very clear in Mark Frost’s latest book, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, when she writes about Doctor Jacoby’s golden shovels: “The desired transformation through undertaking this assignment he described as a process of ‘intrapersonal alchemy,’ turning the lead of dull, everyday consciousness into the gold of an evolved human soul, the goal of what he described as a hallowed tradition in esoteric philosophy harking all the way back to the Middle Ages. This led to Jacoby offering literal golden shovels for sale“. She actually starts wondering if this quest for personal integration might not be what hides behind the Blue Rose task force itself: “Is that the secret at the heart of the Blue Rose and the work we do? To identify root causes of human misery and evil, do we first have to find them in ourselves?“.

To parody the motto from another famous TV series from the 1990s: “The Truth is IN here“. Could that truth be the quest for immortality?

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Paradoxically, even though we probably live in the most secure and prosperous era ever known by humanity (see Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature), with a global and drastic decrease in violence on every front, the general feeling is nevertheless that we are currently experiencing troubled times (because of 9/11, Trump’s election, the war in Syria, etc.). The arts have relayed this opinion through the metaphor of the zombie, a nihilistic “no-future” character who has become omnipresent in fiction since the turn of the millenium.

The idea that we are currently experiencing a “dark age” is also present in The Return. Whether this reality is supposed to reflect our own or be independent from it (its dark age being the result of the Double’s influence, though the nuclear explosion in New Mexico might very well be the true root of the problem), one can nevertheless note that Mark Frost shows strong concerns regarding  the Trump administration (rightfully so!) and that David Lynch is very preoccupied by the omnipresence of violence and the necessity for world peace (as proven by his actions for the Transcendental Meditation movement).

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Literary theorist Thomas Pavel argues in his 1986 book Fictional Worlds that during times of peace, fictional incompleteness tends to be reduced to a minimum, whereas it tends to be maximized during transitional and conflictual times. Fictional works created during the latter want to mirror the torn nature of reality itself. Strangely enough, although this beginning of the 21st Century is extremely safe overall, with peace, democracy, and the rule of law having reached their highest peaks in history, the general public consensus is the opposite (due to the media’s influence? because of dire threats that we face today, such as global warming or economic cycles?) and supports the idea of a time of crisis, reflected in The Return’s “dark age”.

As with Doctor Jacoby in Twin Peaks, a vast amount of people interpret “this as confirmation of his theory that the United States, and perhaps the world, might be entering into what he saw as a ‘Kali Yuga’—an ancient Hindu term for a ‘dark age.’” (from The Final Dossier). The very structure of The Return reflects this conviction in its strong fictional incompleteness, torn between multiple locations in space and in time, full of questions that remain unanswered, of characters who only appear once or twice before totally disappearing from the script, etc. Instead of the unified world that Twin Peaks once was, before the Double, season 3 depicts a patchwork reality made of various cloths, weaving together different dimensions/universes, always ready to be torn apart (as with Page’s shriek at the end of episode 18).

Beyond the interpersonal level, we are dealing here with the idea of a split in the fabric of things. Instead of torn personalities, the “dark age” theory claims that it’s the world itself that is torn apart, ready to crumble. From the point of view of the personal as well as of the collective unconscious, the process of individuation appears to currently run counter clockwise. Instead of integrating levels of personality and reality, it tears them into new segments. It divides instead of adding, it multiplies instead of simplifying. Lynch’s “unified field” appears unreachable in this universe devoid of unity.

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