Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for August 2017

The smell of the oil

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In my freshman year of college, I took a survey course on the history of science taught by Professor Everett Mendelsohn. The reading list included several selections from The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, which amounted to about a third of the entire book. As soon as I read the first chapter, however, I became so captivated that I devoured all eight hundred pages, even though I had plenty of other work to do, and it remains one of the great nonfiction reading experiences of my life. When I discovered recently that Rhodes had published a book over a decade ago titled How to Write, I became excited, and for good reason. I haven’t finished it yet, but a quick browse reveals that unlike most writing guides, which consist of nothing but platitudes, this one is packed with detailed advice for writers at work, from the use of contractions—Rhodes deliberately omitted them from his historical writing, in order to create a more formal tone—to the use of the word “had” in the past perfect tense. (“Sometimes you can quietly shift back from past perfect to past after you’ve established that you’re referring to past events, then shift again to past perfect when you’re through.” That’s good advice.) He even reveals, delightfully, that he used one of my favorite inventions, the McBee cards, to organize his notes:

In those analog days I turned to the tidy system graduate students used of ruled six-by-nine cards punched around the perimeter with rows of numbered holes. I indexed the information I typed onto the cards by a number system that related topics to holes…According to theory, you could line up the cards, slide a knitting needle through a hole, shake the stack, and shake out the cards notched for that topic. The system worked as advertised if you had only forty or fifty cards, but my stack was thick as a paving stone. It took me an hour or more to shake loose cards on a single topic. That was still better than sorting through documents by hand.

But the section that interests me the most is the one in which he discusses the practicalities of structuring a big, complicated work of history and reportage—because I’ve been wrestling with similar problems for the last two years. Like me, Rhodes was a novelist who turned to nonfiction, and he offers the best summary of the challenges involved that I’ve ever seen:

I had a nearly overwhelming quantity of information to organize. Organization took the form of parallel chronologies: the development of nuclear physics and its consequent technology, the lulls and riots of international politics, the biographies of several dozen exceptional scientists, the monstrous twentieth-century elaboration of manmade death. I couldn’t tell all these stories simultaneously. I couldn’t run them side by side, since the narrative line of a book is always a unitary line…So I decided to arrange the several stories in interrupted narrative segments, one and then the next and the next and the next and then back to the first, starting where I’d left off earlier. That’s how the phone company transmits multiple conversations on the same line. Sometimes, to reach a logical stopping point, I had to carry one segment of narrative farther forward in time than the previous segment had moved. When I cycled back to the previous segment, I usually summarized to catch up.

This organization made demands on the reader, who has to hold several narratives simultaneously in her head. In exchange, she gets scale and connection. The Making of the Atomic Bomb is in fact four or five books in one, which is why it’s so long. The alternating parallel narratives clarify historical relationships. Halting one narrative to shift to another sets up the book as a series of cliffhangers, fitting Dostoyevsky’s shrewd dramatic rule—which he learned the hard way, knocking out books chapter by chapter as newspaper serials—that a writer should end every chapter with either a door slammed shut or a door flung open.

Reading this, I felt a shiver of recognition, because these are exactly the issues that I’ve been struggling to resolve for Astounding. If anything, Rhodes had to confront these structural problems at a greater scale than I do—I’m only cutting between four major figures, while he had to work with dozens. But the underlying puzzle is much the same. When you have several narrative threads running in parallel, aside from the brief moments where they intersect, you find that you can arrange your material in an infinite number of ways. As Rhodes notes, you look for logical places to stop and start, and because the dramatic arcs of the various stories can’t be expected to line up exactly, you have to quickly make up the intervening ground whenever you switch perspectives. (I’m sometimes reminded of the challenges that Francis Ford Coppola faced in cutting between between past and present in The Godfather Part II, in which he finally realized, as I have, that the sequences should be relatively long, to minimize the points of transition.) Rhodes also talks about “clothesline” figures, which is an immensely valuable concept for journalists and other writers of nonfiction:

Characters gave me another kind of structural continuity. Leo Szilard happened to have been present at most of the significant turning points of the early atomic age. He grew up in Hungary, whence a core group of émigré scientists came who started the United States government thinking about an atomic bomb; he escaped Nazi Germany; he conceived of a nuclear chain reaction; he emigrated to the United States; he conducted one of the first experiments that revealed that fissioning uranium released enough secondary neutrons to sustain a chain reaction; he co-invented the nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi; he helped design and build the first nuclear reactor; he gave early thought to the consequences of the atomic bomb. Szilard was a clothesline upon which I could hang the story. So was the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who came and went less frequently but whose appearances provided moments when I could examine with him the profound changes that the discovery of nuclear fission would bring to international politics.

In my case, John W. Campbell has become my clothesline character—he was involved in one way or another at nearly every significant turning point in modern science fiction over four decades. And as I try to condense my manuscript to a manageable length, I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to cut everything that doesn’t reflect on Campbell, sort of like the old joke about how to sculpt an elephant: “Start with a block of marble, and chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.” It means losing a lot of great material, but it also whittles down what would otherwise be unworkably long biographies of Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard, while imposing a useful shape on what remains. And it’s nice to know that Rhodes has been there, too. (I’ve also been struck by small coincidences. Rhodes sold The Making of the Atomic Bomb with a seventy-five page proposal, which is exactly the length of the pitch I put together for Astounding. And if you really want to get into the weeds, we even got the same advance, down to the dollar, although it went a lot further back in the early eighties.) I don’t know if I’ll ever write another nonfiction book, but hacking my way through this one has given me a newfound appreciation for the work of biographers and historians. Looking back, it seems that I’ve frequently taken such books for granted, when in fact they represent a series of choices as interesting as the process behind most novels. And if you don’t feel like writing an entire book to learn how it works, Rhodes’s How to Write goes a long way toward showing you how it feels from the inside. As he observes of explaining scientific concepts to readers:

Reading through some of the classic papers in the field, I realized that I could explain a result clearly and simply by describing the physical experiment that produced it: a brass box, the air evacuated, a source of radiation in the box in the form of a vial of radon gas, and so on. Then I and the reader could visualize a process in terms of the manipulation of real laboratory objects…just as the experimenters themselves did, and could absorb the culture of scientific work at the same time—the throb of the vacuum pump, the smell of its oil.

The same is true of the act of writing. And How to Write is as good as any book I’ve ever read at capturing how the oil smells.

Written by nevalalee

August 31, 2017 at 9:17 am

Quote of the Day

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The conditions optimal for cultural creativeness seem to be a marked degree of individual autonomy; a modicum of economic well-being; absence of mass fervor whether religious, patriotic, revolutionary, business, or war; a paucity of opportunities for action; a milieu which recognizes and awards merit; and a degree of communal discipline…When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other. Originality is deliberate and forced, and partakes of the nature of a protest. A society which gives unlimited freedom to the individual, more often than not, attains a disconcerting sameness. On the other hand, where communal discipline is strict but not ruthless—”an annoyance which irritates, but not a heavy yoke which crushes”—originality is likely to thrive.

Eric Hoffer, Between the Devil and the Dragon

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August 31, 2017 at 7:30 am

Asimov’s close encounter

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By the early seventies, Isaac Asimov had achieved the cultural status, which he still retains, of being the first—and perhaps the only—science fiction writer whom most ordinary readers would be able to name. As a result, he ended up on the receiving end of a lot of phone calls from famous newcomers to the field. In 1973, for example, he was contacted by a representative for Woody Allen, who asked if he’d be willing to look over the screenplay of the movie Sleeper. Asimov gladly agreed, and when he met with Allen over lunch, he told him that the script was perfect as it was. Allen didn’t seem to believe him: “How much science fiction have you written?” Asimov responded: “Not much. Very little, actually. Perhaps thirty books of it altogether. The other hundred books aren’t science fiction.” Allen was duly impressed, turning to ask his friends: “Did you hear him throw that line away?” Asimov turned down the chance to serve as a technical director, recommending Ben Bova instead, and the movie did just fine without him, although he later expressed irritation that Allen had never sent him a letter of thanks. Another project with Paul McCartney, whom Asimov met the following year, didn’t go anywhere, either:

McCartney wanted to do a fantasy, and he wanted me to write a story out of the fantasy out of which a screenplay would be prepared. He had the basic idea for the fantasy, which involved two sets of musical groups: a real one, and a group of extraterrestrial imposters…He had only a snatch of dialogue describing the moment when a real group realized they were being victimized by imposters.

Asimov wrote up what he thought was an excellent treatment, but McCartney rejected it: “He went back to his one scrap of dialogue, out of which he apparently couldn’t move, and wanted me to work with that.”

Of all of Asimov’s brushes with Hollywood, however, the most intriguing involved a director to whom he later referred as “Steve Spielberg.” In his memoir In Joy Still Felt, Asimov writes:

On July 18, 1975, I visited Steve Spielberg, a movie director, at his room in the Sherry-Netherland. He had done Jaws, a phenomenally successful picture, and now he planned to do another, involving flying saucers. He wanted me to work with him on it, but I didn’t really want to. The visual media are not my bag, really.

In a footnote, Asimov adds: “He went on to do it without me and it became the phenomenally successful Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I have no regrets.” For an autobiography that devotes enormous amounts of wordage to even the most trivial incidents, it’s a remarkably terse and unrevealing anecdote, and it’s hard not to wonder if something else might have been involved—because when Asimov finally saw Close Encounters, which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this week with a new theatrical release, he hated it. A year after it came out, he wrote in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine:

Science Digest asked me to see the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind and write an article for them on the science it contained. I saw the picture and was appalled. I remained appalled even after a doctor’s examination had assured me that no internal organs had been shaken loose by its ridiculous sound waves. (If you can’t be good, be loud, some say, and Close Encounters was very loud.) To begin with there was no accurate science in it; not a trace; and I said so in the article I wrote and which Science Digest published. There was also no logic in it; not a trace; and I said that, too.

Asimov’s essay on Close Encounters, in fact, might be the most unremittingly hostile piece of writing I’ve seen by him on any subject, and I’ve read a lot of it. He seems to have regarded it as little more than a cynical commercial ploy: “It made its play for Ufolators and mystics and, in its chase for the buck, did not scruple to violate every canon of good sense and internal consistency.” In response to readers who praised the special effects, he shot back:

Seeing a rotten picture for the special effects is like eating a tough steak for the smothered onions, or reading a bad book for the dirty parts. Optical wizardry is something a movie can do that a book can’t, but it is no substitute for a story, for logic, for meaning. It is ornamentation, not substance. In fact, whenever a science fiction picture is praised overeffusively for its special effects, I know it’s a bad picture. Is that all they can find to talk about?

Asimov was aware that his negative reaction had hurt the feelings of some of his fans, but he was willing to accept it: “There comes a time when one has to put one’s self firmly on the side of Good.” And he seemed particularly incensed at the idea that audiences might dare to think that Close Encounters was science fiction, and that it implied that the genre was allowed to be “silly, and childish, and stupid,” with nothing more than “loud noise and flashing lights.” He wasn’t against all instances of cinematic science fiction—he had liked Planet of the Apes and Star Wars, faintly praising the latter as “entertainment for the masses [that] did not try to do anything more,” and he even served as a technical consultant on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But he remained unrelenting toward Close Encounters to the last: “It is a marvelous demonstration of what happens when the workings of extraterrestrial intelligence are handled without a trace of skill.”

And the real explanation comes in an interview that Asimov gave to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, in which he recalled of his close encounter with Spielberg: “I didn’t know who he was at the time, or what a hit the film would be, but I certainly wasn’t interested in a film that glorified flying saucers. I still would have refused, only with more regret.” The italics are mine. Asimov, as I’ve noted before, despised flying saucers, and he would have dismissed any movie that took them seriously as inherently unworthy of consideration. (The editor John W. Campbell was unusually cautious on the subject, writing of the UFO phenomenon in Astounding in 1959: “Its nature and cause are totally indeterminable from the data and the technical understanding available to us at the time.” Yet Asimov felt that even this was going too far, writing that Campbell “seemed to take seriously such things as flying saucers [and] psionic talents.”) From his point of view, he may well have been right to worry about the “glorification” of flying saucers in Close Encounters—its impact on the culture was so great that it seems to have fixed the look of aliens as reported by alleged abductees. And as a man whose brand as a science popularizer and explainer depended on his reputation for rationality and objectivity, he couldn’t allow himself to be associated with such ideas in any way, which may be why he attacked the movie with uncharacteristic savagery. As I’ve written elsewhere, a decade earlier, Asimov had been horrified when his daughter Robyn told him one night that she had seen a flying saucer. When he rushed outside and saw “a perfect featureless metallic circle of something like aluminum” in the sky, he was taken aback, and as he ran into the house for his glasses, he said to himself: “Oh no, this can’t happen to me.” It turned out to be the Goodyear blimp, and Asimov recalled: “I was incredibly relieved!” But his daughter may have come even closer to the truth when she said years later to the New York Times: “He thought he saw his career going down the drain.”

Quote of the Day

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Nature does not seem to care very much whether our ideas are true or not, as long as we get on through life safely enough. And it is surprising on what an enormous amount of error we can get along comfortably. We cannot be wrong on every point or we should cease to live, but so long as we are empirically right in our habits, the truth or falsity of our ideas seems to have little effect on our comfort.

Randolph Bourne, Youth and Life

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August 30, 2017 at 7:30 am

The authoritarian personality

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In 1950, a group of four scholars working at UC Berkeley published a massive book titled The Authoritarian Personality. Three of its authors, including the philosopher and polymath Theodor W. Adorno, were Jewish, and the study was expressly designed to shed light on the rise of fascism and Nazism, which it explained in large part as the manifestation of an abnormal personality syndrome magnified by mass communication. The work was immediately controversial, and some of the concerns that have been raised about its methodology—which emphasized individual pathology over social factors—appear to be legitimate. (One of its critics, the psychologist Thomas Pettigrew, conducted a study of American towns in the North and South that cast doubt on whether such traits as racism could truly be seen as mental illnesses: “You almost had to be mentally ill to be tolerant in the South. The authoritarian personality was a good explanation at the individual level, but not at the societal level.”) Yet the book remains hugely compelling, and we seem to be approaching a moment in which its ideas are moving back toward the center of the conversation, with attention from both ends of the political spectrum. Richard Spencer, of all people, wrote his master’s thesis on Adorno and Richard Wagner, while a bizarre conspiracy theory has recently emerged on the right that Adorno was the secret composer and lyricist for the Beatles. More reasonably, the New Yorker music critic Alex Ross wrote shortly after the election:

The combination of economic inequality and pop-cultural frivolity is precisely the scenario Adorno and others had in mind: mass distraction masking elite domination. Two years ago, in an essay on the persistence of the Frankfurt School, I wrote, “If Adorno were to look upon the cultural landscape of the twenty-first century, he might take grim satisfaction in seeing his fondest fears realized.” I spoke too soon. His moment of vindication is arriving now.

And when you leaf today through The Authoritarian Personality, which is available in its entirety online, you’re constantly rocked by flashes of recognition. In the chapter “Politics and Economics in the Interview Material,” before delving into the political beliefs expressed by the study’s participants, Adorno writes:

The evaluation of the political statements contained in our interview material has to be considered in relation to the widespread ignorance and confusion of our subjects in political matters, a phenomenon which might well surpass what even a skeptical observer should have anticipated. If people do not know what they are talking about, the concept of “opinion,” which is basic to any approach to ideology, loses its meaning.

Ignorance and confusion are bad enough, but they become particularly dangerous when combined with the social pressure to have an opinion about everything, which encourages people to fake their way through it. As Adorno observes: “Those who do not know but feel somehow obliged to have political opinions, because of some vague idea about the requirements of democracy, help themselves with scurrilous ways of thinking and sometimes with forthright bluff.” And he describes this bluffing and bluster in terms that should strike us as uncomfortably familiar:

The individual has to cope with problems which he actually does not understand, and he has to develop certain techniques of orientation, however crude and fallacious they may be, which help him to find his way through the dark…On the one hand, they provide the individual with a kind of knowledge, or with substitutes for knowledge, which makes it possible for him to take a stand where it is expected of him, whilst he is actually not equipped to do so. On the other hand, by themselves they alleviate psychologically the feeling of anxiety and uncertainty and provide the individual with the illusion of some kind of intellectual security, of something he can stick to even if he feels, underneath, the inadequacy of his opinions.

So what do we do when we’re expected to have opinions on subjects that we can’t be bothered to actually understand? Adorno argues that we tend to fall back on the complementary strategies of stereotyping and personification. Of the former, he writes:

Rigid dichotomies, such as that between “good and bad,” “we and the others,” “I and the world” date back to our earliest developmental phases…They point back to the “chaotic” nature of reality, and its clash with the omnipotence fantasies of earliest infancy. Our stereotypes are both tools and scars: the “bad man” is the stereotype par excellence…Modern mass communications, molded after industrial production, spread a whole system of stereotypes which, while still being fundamentally “ununderstandable” to the individual, allow him at any moment to appear as being up to date and “knowing all about it.” Thus, stereotyped thinking in political matters is almost inescapable.

Adorno was writing nearly seventy years ago, and the pressure to “know all about” politics—as well as the volume of stereotyped information being fed to consumers—has increased exponentially. But stereotypes, while initially satisfying, exist on the level of abstraction, which leads to the need for personalization as well:

[Personalization is] the tendency to describe objective social and economic processes, political programs, internal and external tensions in terms of some person identified with the case in question rather than taking the trouble to perform the impersonal intellectual operations required by the abstractness of the social processes themselves…To know something about a person helps one to seem “informed” without actually going into the matter: it is easier to talk about names than about issues, while at the same time the names are recognized identification marks for all current topics.

Adorno concludes that “spurious personalization is an ideal behavior pattern for the semi­-erudite, a device somewhere in the middle between complete ignorance and that kind of ‘knowledge’ which is being promoted by mass communication and industrialized culture.” This is a tendency, needless to say, that we find on both the left and the right, and it becomes particularly prevalent in periods of maximum confusion:

The opaqueness of the present political and economic situation for the average person provides an ideal opportunity for retrogression to the infantile level of stereotypy and personalization…Stereotypy helps to organize what appears to the ignorant as chaotic: the less he is able to enter into a really cognitive process, the more stubbornly he clings to certain patterns, belief in which saves him the trouble of really going into the matter.

This seems to describe our predicament uncannily well, and I could keep listing the parallels forever. (Adorno has an entire subchapter titled “No Pity for the Poor.”) Whatever else you might think of his methods, there’s no question that he captures our current situation with frightening clarity: “As less and less actually depends on individual spontaneity in our political and social organization, the more people are likely to cling to the idea that the man is everything and to seek a substitute for their own social impotence in the supposed omnipotence of great personalities.” Most prophetically of all, Adorno draws a distinction between genuine conservatives and “pseudoconservatives,” describing the former as “supporting not only capitalism in its liberal, individualistic form but also those tenets of traditional Americanism which are definitely antirepressive and sincerely democratic, as indicated by an unqualified rejection of antiminority prejudices.” And he adds chillingly: “The pseudoconservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

Written by nevalalee

August 29, 2017 at 9:01 am

Quote of the Day

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Almost every systematic error which has deluded men for thousands of years relied on practical experience. Horoscopes, incantations, oracles, magic, witchcraft, the cures of witch doctors and of medical practitioners before the advent of modern medicine, were all firmly established through the centuries in the eyes of the public by their supposed practical successes. The scientific method was devised precisely for the purpose of elucidating the nature of things under more carefully controlled conditions and by more rigorous criteria than are present in the situations created by practical problems.

Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge

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August 29, 2017 at 7:30 am

The number nine

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Note: This post reveals plot details from last night’s episode of Twin Peaks.

One of the central insights of my life as a reader is that certain kinds of narrative are infinitely expansible or contractible. I first started thinking about this in college, when I was struggling to read Homer in Greek. Oral poetry, I discovered, wasn’t memorized, but composed on the fly, aided by the poet’s repertoire of stock lines, formulas, and images that happened to fit the meter. This meant that the overall length of the composition was highly variable. A scene that takes up just a few lines in the Iliad that survives could be expanded into an entire night’s recital, based on what the audience wanted to hear. (For instance, the characters of Crethon and Orsilochus, who appear for only twenty lines in the existing version before being killed by Aeneas, might have been the stars of the evening if the poet happened to be working in Pherae.) That kind of flexibility originated as a practical consequence of the oral form, but it came to affect the aesthetics of the poem itself, which could grow or shrink to accommodate anything that the poet wanted to talk about. Homer uses his metaphors to introduce miniature narratives of human life that don’t otherwise fit into a poem of war, and some amount to self-contained short stories in themselves. Proust operates in much the same way. One observation leads naturally to another, and an emotion or analogy evoked in passing can unfold like a paper flower into three dense pages of reflections. In theory, any novel could be expanded like this, like a hypertext that opens into increasingly deeper levels. In Search of Lost Time happens to be the one book in existence in which all of these flowerings have been preserved, with a plot could fit into a novella of two hundred unhurried pages.

Something similar appears to have happened with the current season of Twin Peaks, and when you start to think of it in those terms, its structure, which otherwise seems almost perversely shapeless, begins to make more sense. In the initial announcement by Showtime, the revival was said to consist of nine episodes, and Mark Frost even said to Buzzfeed:

If you think back about the first season, if you put the pilot together with the seven that we did, you get nine hours. It just felt like the right number. I’ve always felt the story should take as long as the story takes to tell. That’s what felt right to us.

It was doubled to eighteen after a curious interlude in which David Lynch dropped out of the project, citing budget constraints: “I left because not enough money was offered to do the script the way I felt it needed to be done.” He came back, of course, and shortly thereafter, it was revealed that the length of the season had increased. Yet there was never any indication that either Lynch or Frost had done any additional writing. My personal hunch is that they always had nine episodes of material, and this never changed. What happened is that the second act of the show expanded in the fashion that I’ve described above, creating a long central section that was free to explore countless byways without much concern for the plot. The beginning, and presumably the end, remained more or less as conceived—it was the middle that grew. And a quick look at the structure of the season so far seems to confirm this. The first three episodes, which take Cooper from inside the Black Lodge to slightly before his meeting with his new family in Las Vegas, seemed weird at the time, but now they look positively conventional in terms of how much story they covered. They were followed by three episodes, the Dougie Jones arc, that were expanded beyond recognition. And now that we’ve reached the final three, which account for the third act of the original outline, it makes sense for Cooper to return at last.

If the season had consisted of just those nine episodes, I suspect that more viewers would have been able to get behind it. Even if the second act had doubled in length—giving us a total of twelve installments, of which three would have been devoted to detours and loose ends—I doubt that most fans would have minded. It’s expanding that middle section to four times its size, without any explanation, that lost a lot of people. But it’s clearly the only way that Lynch would have returned. For most of the last decade, Lynch has been contentedly pottering around with odd personal projects, concentrating on painting, music, digital video, and other media that don’t require him to be answerable to anyone but himself. The Twin Peaks revival, after the revised terms had been negotiated with Showtime, allowed him to do this with a larger budget and for a vastly greater audience. Much of this season has felt like Lynch’s private sketchbook or paintbox, allowing him to indulge himself within each episode as long as the invisible scaffolding of the original nine scripts remained. The fact that so much of the strangeness of this season has been visual and nonverbal points to Lynch, rather than Frost, as the driving force on this end. And at its best, it represents something like a reinvention of television, which is the most expandable or compressible medium we have, but which has rarely utilized this quality to its full extent. (There’s an opening here, obviously, for a fan edit that condenses the season down to nine episodes, leaving the first and last three intact while shrinking the middle twelve. It would be an interesting experiment, although I’m not sure I’d want to watch it.)

Of course, this kind of aggressive attack on the structure of the narrative doesn’t come without a cost. In the case of Twin Peaks, the primary casualty has been the Dougie Jones storyline, which has been criticized for three related reasons. The first, and most understandable, is that we’re naturally impatient to get the old Cooper back. Another is that this material was never meant to go on for this long, and it starts to feel a little thin when spread over twelve episodes. And the third is that it prevents Kyle MacLachlan, the ostensible star of the show, from doing what he does best. This last criticism feels like the most valid. MacLachlan has played an enormous role in my life as a moviegoer and television viewer, but he operates within a very narrow range, with what I might inadequately describe as a combination of rectitude, earnestness, and barely concealed eccentricity. (In other words, it’s all but indistinguishable from the public persona of David Lynch himself.) It’s what made his work as Jeffrey in Blue Velvet so moving, and a huge part of the appeal of Twin Peaks lay in placing this character at the center of what looked like a procedural. MacLachlan can also convey innocence and darkness, but by bringing these two traits to the forefront, and separating them completely in Dougie and Dark Cooper, it robs us of the amalgam that makes MacLachlan interesting in the first place. Like many stars, he’s chafed under the constraints of his image, and perhaps he even welcomed the challenges that this season presented—although he may not have known how his performance would look when extended past its original dimensions and cut together with the rest. When Cooper returned last night, it reminded me of how much I’ve missed him. And the fact that we’ll get him for two more episodes, along with everything else that this season has offered us, feels more than ever like a gift.

Written by nevalalee

August 28, 2017 at 9:17 am

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