The Yi Jing of Twin Peaks

A sea of white clouds lapping at the edges of tree-covered mountains; a partially erased scenery, occulted by a thick mist; a picture in which the watery contents of the sky have poured down to ground level while distant hills could easily be misconstrued for dark cloud formations; a mixing of the elements where the feeling of depth owes less to the laws of perspective than to the vertical placing of the various depicted segments on the surface of the image. This description could interchangeably apply to the opening credits of The Return, as well as to many classical Chinese paintings, including the work of Wang Hui (1632-1717). His painting is reproduced below and is almost a mirror image of the opening Twin Peaks flyover, flipped horizontally (as illustrated in the superimposition of both images used to illustrate this essay).

This is a vision of the world that owes as much to what is not depicted – or “inexistent”. This is a dreamy depiction of reality, a land of myths from the unconscious where tangibility is uncertain and fluctuating. As in Zen gardens, the clouds turn into a sea and the mountains into islands. Who might be sailing upon these oceans? Could one meet Ulysses or the Flying Dutchman on these oneiric waves? Where does one element end and the next begin in this picture, as we float above a hill that secretly veils the presence of giant figures who are as ethereal as their surroundings? Senses can easily be fooled by such a painting dominated by Maya (illusion).

The difficulty in separating clearly one thing from the other in this opening shot, the apparent reversibility of all its elements, can be linked to the intrinsic characteristic of a very Chinese notion, that of the Yin-Yang pair at the root of Taoism. There is the positive and the negative, the male and the female, but there are also elements of negativity inside the positive and of femininity inside the male – and vice versa. Nothing is really ever totally what it seems. Nothing truly IS once and for all, everything is in a state of flux, constantly evolving between being and nothingness, continually changing. In addition to existentialism, this is why it is important to have a look at the Yi Jing, i.e. the Book/Canon of Changes. The return of Twin Peaks after a 25-year gap led one to accept that nothing stays the same forever, that change is part and parcel of what makes us human. Beyond this, the role of mutations and metamorphoses is stressed by the recurrence of Franz Kafka’s photo during the course of season 3. Eternal youth is not of this Earth, as testified by the many white hairs observed during The Return. Nonetheless, Twin Peaks has always played with the notion of cycles, and season 3 is no exception to the rule. Changes within a recurring framework, that’s one of the many paradoxes of the series.

What is the Yi Jing? It’s a compilation of texts and commentaries dating as far as the 12th Century BCE, both a source of wisdom and a tool for divination. It is built around 64 hexagrams, themselves composed of all possible combinations of 8 root trigrams (see below). Each line of these hexagrams or trigrams is either Yin (a split line) or Yang (a straight line). The trigrams are arranged in polar opposites: heaven-earth, water-fire, wind-thunder, lake-mountain. One could argue that they are the building blocks of reality.

I have already discussed the new opening credits of the series elsewhere, basing my analysis on the classical four elements (earth, water, water, fire) and the quintessence, sometimes added to the list as a fifth element. I would now like to propose a similar approach based on the eight trigrams, as they also appear to fit nicely with what we witness during the course of the credits. The camera begins by flying over the above-mentioned cotton-like sea of clouds, resting in the “dales” between the Twin Peaks’ summits. This image invokes “heaven” (the sky) and “earth” (the patches of land emerging from the clouds), but also “mountain”, “water”, and “lake” (the clouds are of course composed of water and they rest between the hills as a sea/lake of sorts). The next scene takes us over the river and its waterfall, a mix of “water”, “mountain”, “lake” (where the water ends its course) … and “thunder” (the absent noise produced by the waterfall, its impact on the lake’s surface). The circular impact of the waterfall seen from above is then replaced by the red curtains of the Lodges blowing in the wind, in a relationship of cause and effect: “fire” and “wind”. Finally, the camera whirls around close to the chevrons of the floor in the Lodges, visual representations of the wavelike (“water”) electric “fire” at the root of reality. The place could also be understood as a different form of “heaven” from the one described at the beginning of this analysis, a transcendental one. The opening credits of season 3, in their depiction of the universe of the series, of its “environment” made of natural phenomena, systematically go through the eight trigrams used in the Yi Jing.

In my upcoming book The Return of Twin Peaks: Squaring the Circle (to be published in May 2021), I mention the influence of Philip K. Dick on the series. In addition to the fact that he was prone to fall prey to various conspiracy theories (see for instance his novel VALIS, in which he believes he is surveilled by an alien satellite in orbit around the Earth), something that resonates with my former post about this subject (conspiracies) in Twin Peaks,  Dick was also very interested in the Yi Jing, something he integrated into the plot of his famous novel The Master in the High Castle (the Fireman?). Dick’s paranoid fictions resonate beautifully with The Return and their belief in the potency of the Chinese Book of Changes echo what takes place during season 3.

Another element pleading for a close scrutiny of everything Chinese in relationship to The Return is the character of Diane’s Tulpa, portrayed as an aficionada of everything coming from the Middle Kingdom. Interestingly, it is revealed in part 17 that the real Diane was actually the Chinese Yang to Naido’s Japanese Yin, a country where the Yi Jing is also regularly used and respected (as exemplified by Dick’s aforementioned novel). This idea of a negative double (if one can think of Japan as China’s double) is also present in the readings of the Yi Ching: when a hexagram is calculated, its understanding can be enhanced by consulting its opposite hexagram, that is supposed to describe what the situation depicted is not. Diane is very much her Tulpa’s negative image and the reference to Japan – besides the obvious links to Hiroshima hinted at in part 8 and its atomic explosion – makes sense. As the Yin and Yang are supposed to oppose each other while containing each other, so is Japan to China, owing much to its big neighbour (starting with its ideogram writing system), while also being radically other.

A systematic study of the 18 first hexagrams in relationship to the various parts of The Return will further show the intricate links between both works.

1- HEAVEN

The season opens with a prelude, a conversation between the Fireman and Cooper. The Yi Jing’s first hexagram, known as “heaven”, concerns matters of origin. It relates to the seed, the father, the sun. Somehow, both characters could correspond to this description. There is something very fatherly about the way the Fireman takes care of Cooper in particular, and of humanity in general. Also, Cooper is very much the sun to Laura’s moon, as exemplified by their failed alchemical wedding from part 18. But the commentary on the hexagram goes further: “A sunken dragon, do not act”. The first line depicts a potential dragon, for whom time and place are not ready yet. One should keep in mind that in Eastern Asia, dragons are not perceived as they are in the West. They are positive beings connected to water and the air – not the kinds of fiery destructive creatures inherited from the European Middle-Ages. It is not far-fetched at all to guess that Cooper might be the dragon in question, sunken in the realm of the Lodges, about to come back to the world of Twin Peaks after a long wait.

2- EARTH

If the first hexagram is concerned with the father, its follower, “earth”, is about the feminine, the mother, the receptacle for the seed from “heaven”. At this point of the story, it is probably too early to tell which dragon is going to “seed” the mother. The hexagram’s 6th line reads: “Dragons fight in the wild: their blood is dark and yellow”. This might apply to the distant fight between Cooper and Mr. C (note his snakeskin shirt, reminiscent of a dragon’s skin). Once again, they are like the Yin and the Yang, radically opposed while also similar. But who is the mother in question? Who is the woman supposed to unite with “heaven”? The spirit of the earth incarnated is seen as the mare, that represents patience, strength, and the mother. Throughout the series, Laura is continually associated with the image of the white mare – evidenced by the plastic one seen in Carrie’s house, or the one in front of Judy’s diner where she works. The mare is the sacrifice to the gods, as depicted in many shamanic rites. She could also be understood as an image of the person about to be possessed, i.e. ridden by a spirit (whether that be demon BOB, or Dale/Kalki, Vishnu’s tenth and last avatar). One should also note the brooch Laura wears in the Red Room: an inverted dragon, i.e. the opponent of the evil dragon (Mr. C, or possibly Joudy) and/or the mate of the good Dale.

3- SPROUTING

After the initial joining of “heaven” (the father) and “earth” (the mother) comes the time of birth. This is what “sprouting”, the third hexagram, is about. Of course, there is no literal birth occurring in The Return, but several resurrections take place. In part 3, Cooper comes back to life as Dougie Jones in Rancho Rosa (a ranch is a place where one keeps horses). In order to do this, he has to go head first from the womb-like place where Naido resides through the tight canal of an electric plug – a symbolic rebirth. Similar to Osiris’ resurrection, his return depicts him as a toddler of sorts, who needs the help of Jade to guide him through the most elementary daily tasks, such as tying his own shoes (which can also be read as a reference to Mary Madeleine’s cleansing of Christ’s feet in the Christian tradition). One thing is certain: Cooper/Dougie must start anew, as a newborn in a world he does not truly understand anymore.

4- YOUTH

After this birth and the newborn’s first steps, comes the time of “youth”, the fourth hexagram. The process of change depicted in the Yi Jing therefore originates in one’s own home. A gradual regeneration of the Jones’s home is going to take place thanks to Cooper/Dougie. Little by little, he is going to restore the damaged relationship with Janey-E while establishing a close bond with Sonny Jim, who regularly acts as his older brother, guiding him through his new life. The importance of youth is also exemplified in part 4 by Andy and Lucy’s son. He too is the pride of his parents and represents a positive take on the great spaces of the USA, inherited from Marlon Brando and the 1950s. The world might currently be going through the Kali Yuga, but as long as there is youth, there is hope for humanity.

5- WAITING

Of course, Rome was not built in a day: “youth requires nourishment and time for growth, and that requires waiting”. The plan designed by the Fireman, exposed to Dale in part 1, needs to be delayed while growth takes place. At this point in the story, Cooper is not yet ready to tackle more than he can take. He still needs to fortify in order to accomplish his task. Even though he is going to win several tactical battles during the course of the season, it won’t be before part 16, when he awakes from his coma, that he feels strong enough to move on to take on his doppelgänger and Judy.

6- DISPUTE

In the process leading Cooper towards “Armageddon”, he will first have to clear up the mess left behind by the Dougie Jones’ Tulpa, which leads to serious tension with Janey-E. In order to uphold their relationship, the storm must first erupt so as to clear the skies – the dispute needs to be resolved, which takes place in part 6. As with the Sheriff’s patient wait in the precedent episode, his wife’s new outburst somehow echoes Cooper’s situation in Las Vegas.

7- ARMIES

Sometimes, to resolves a dispute, it is necessary to bring on the army. Part 7 sees the arrival of the military institution in Buckhorn because of the uncertainties linked to (most of) Major Garland’s sudden reappearance there. It is also in this episode that a clear emphasis is lain on the army’s first atomic test in White Sands, with Gordon’s whistling in front of his office poster, while Cooper exhibits his fighting skills against Ike the Spike. It is the army that is responsible for the arrival of BOB and Joudy in our reality because of the Trinity Test, as will soon become apparent in part 8. They are now trying to control this situation by recovering Garland’s remains.

8- JOINING

The eighth hexagram is composed of the “water” and “earth” trigrams. An ocean flows in the deep hollows of the earth. The Trinity Text explosion digs a hole to this transcendental ocean at the root of existence, the realm of the Fireman. All in all, the hexagram has only one Yang line holding the other lines together, a leader, someone underneath who supports all others. Who could be better suited to fill in this description than the Fireman? In my upcoming book The Return of Twin Peaks: Squaring the Circle, I describe the giant device ringing in his palace as a mix between a bell and a thimble: a thimbell. Warned about the concerning developments on planet Earth (the White Sands explosion, Joudy, BOB), he immediately takes action to sew the ripped pieces of the multiverse together, joining them with each other, while sending his troops (Laura) to save the day.

9- SMALLNESS TAMES

The Return is replete with depictions of the way of life from the American Wild West, whether paintings, songs (for instance Wild Wild West), characters (Mr C as a desperado), etc. One of the main images from old Westerns is that of the rancher, the cowboy. The Yi Jing’s ninth hexagram invokes the image of domesticated animals and livestock, thereby extending the theme of control resulting from “joining” – but whereas the eighth’s hexagram had a single Yang line dominate five Yin lines, “smallness tames” inverts the situation with one Yin line domineering five Yang lines, i.e. violent nature being tamed by civilization. Wild and errant forces are progressively restrained, as exemplified in part 9 with the painting behind the Fusco brothers (without forgetting the Rancho Rosa estates), or with the arrest of Ike the Spike. Little by little, wildness is tamed, and civilization progresses.

10-  WALKING

The process of taming nature depicted in the former hexagram is not necessarily oppressive, dictatorial, and the errant wild forces in the world might seek guidance from father figures. This is probably what takes place in part 9 when Laura’s ghostly apparition comes to Gordon’s door, in Buckhorn. A father’s role is to protect his children, to teach them how to walk on their own so that they can face the hardships of existence and life’s many dangers independently. A wise leader steers people on the right path and it is this guidance that Laura seeks at her creator’s door (Gordon or Lynch himself?).

11-  PROSPERING

Once the process of civilization has been established and children have learned to walk on their own, life brings many surprises. While hexagram 12 will bring “clogging” and despair, its predecessor on the list focuses on success, or “prospering”. The cycles of life continue their revolving motions and the time for sowing the seeds of success has arrived. When one acts in accord with the natural order, seeking to bring prosperity to everyone, triumph is the result. In part 12, Cooper/Dougie rips the fruits of his work in Las Vegas when his relationship with the Mitchum brothers suddenly becomes excellent. This moment creates a community around him that will be most useful to bring him back to his old self and beating his Double in part 17.

12- CLOGGING

Inversely, the next part of season 12 depicts the downhill side of its predecessor. While things are going well in Las Vegas for Cooper, there is much hardship in Twin Peaks notably, stagnation and decline. The process of the Yin and the Yang is a dialectical path, not a straight line to success. The good thing, though, is that even in the midst of darkness, one can always expect a certain element of light.

13-  KINDRED

Hexagrams 13 (“kindred”) and 14 (“great holdings”) focus on the sort of communities a leader can build in order to achieve their aims. Now that Cooper can walk on his own, and now that he has brought prosperity to his community, a clan progressively emerges around him, a synergy that will eventually bring him back to Twin Peaks and beyond. Of course, as a mirror image of this process, Mr. C also manages to gain control of a mob after his arm-wrestling session against Renzo at the Farm. But Mr. C is too much of a lone wolf to really take advantage of this gang, whereas Cooper will bring his people along with him to the Washington State in part 17.

14- GREAT HOLDINGS

Someone “of high (spiritual) wealth who remains modest and accessible”, a ruler who is “modest, virtuous, and benevolent” is supposed to benefit divine help from heaven according to hexagram 14. The commentary goes further: “people of great spirituality can heal others and can see into the future”. Andy’s selfless goodness is rewarded in part 14 as he is the one chosen by the Fireman to receive a vision of future events in Twin Peaks and beyond, and he becomes Naido’s guardian angel (and holder, literally). He constitutes the perfect transition between the collective leader of “kindred” and “great holdings” on the one hand, and the more personal virtues of “humility” and “delight” coming next on the list.

15-  HUMILITY

“The humble person accepts whatever change sends, improvising and creating accordingly”. During his life, Ed Hurley has had to show a lot of flexibility in order to deal with the complex imbroglio between his wife Nadine and his true love, Norma. Across the years, he has gone from disappointment to disappointment, taking each blow with utmost dignity. The wise person is supposed to be stable as a mountain and to occupy the middle. The one who does that possesses the power of humility. When he comes to the RR in part 15, after Nadine has given him her blessing, Ed decides to let things follow their course with Norma, still as a rock – and everything finally turns out according to his wishes. Another possible example of humility in part 15 is embodied by Freddie Sykes, who exhibits humility of a different sort, not afraid to act when deemed necessary but as self-effacing as Ed nonetheless. Both Ed and Freddie are similar in many ways.

16- DELIGHT

If humility is a form of wisdom, making use of others’ delight to move toward unity while following deeper convictions is another one. “Only one delight, the delight in the spiritual, is lasting and ultimately satisfying. All other delights are external—mere entertainment and playing. The spiritual transcends our isolation, joins us with others, and leads our souls to dance to a music that resonates through the universe in a song of delight”. Cooper’s awakening in part 16 definitely brings delight to Janey-E, Sonny Jim, and to all the members of his group of friends. Beyond the amount of joy he brings them as his former personality resurfaces, it is important to notice how focused he remains on his one true goal: to fight BOB/Mr. C and save Laura. Inversely, the fugitive delight felt by Audrey as she finally finds her way to the Bang Bang Bar and starts to dance is probably too centripetal to truly achieve anything lasting. While Cooper brings delight to others, Audrey remains trapped inside her own dream, unable to reach others. As a result, the dream collapses.

17- FOLLOWING

Beyond the delight Dale brings people, it’s his charismatic personality that helps him lead them. His friends follow him because he is able to inspire them, to give them a vision. He is the center of attention, the one around whom everything seems to gravitate, as exemplified in the sequence at the Sheriff’s office in Twin Peaks, when everyone gathers in a semi-circle around him and Diane (and one could make a case that Diane is nothing more than a materialization of his own anima, finally reintegrated in part 18 as a result of the “sex magick” ritual performed in a New Mexico hotel). Of course, Dale’s magnetic power over those who surround him might also be the reason for his final downfall. Much more so than a leader, one is supposed to follow the Tao, the path. Actions are followed by results, and Cooper’s actions in parts 17 and 18 might have proven too self-centered. The one leading is also supposed to be a follower in the end, something that Cooper’s hubris might have neglected.

18- POISON

The second line of the Yi Jing’s 18th hexagram reads as follows: “Manage mother’s poison”. Opposed to the gathering of a community ready to follow a leader in the paradisical location of Twin Peaks depicted by hexagram 17, “poison” symbolizes disease in a body, group, or nation. Things don’t function properly anymore and the wasteland spreads. Odessa, the term of Cooper’s odyssey back to his Penelope (Laura/Carrie) represents this desert (reached from another desert, the place where the first atom bomb exploded in White Sands). Carrie’s front yard is left abandoned, dry and desolate. Reality has been poisoned by mother’s poison (Joudy/Sarah), emanating from her den in Twin Peaks – the Palmer residence. On the other hand, change must come through the poisoning of old orders. Carrie’s final shriek appears to put an end to Joudy’s power over reality and bring a possible regeneration for the future, the end of the Kali Yuga. Perhaps Cooper and Laura proved able to “manage mother’s poison” after all, setting the world on a better future track. The worst is not always to be expected.

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