Laura Palmer Is So Metatextual, and Other News


On the Shelf

From the cover of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer.


  • Well, Twin Peaks is back, and that means it’s time for you to have An Opinion™ about it. Are you ready? I’m not. I don’t have Showtime and I haven’t watched the original series in years—it’s all I can do to skate by with a few knowing jokes about the Log Lady. To buy myself some time, I’m trying to develop An Opinion™ about The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, a strange 1990 tie-in novel written by David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer. As Lara Williams writes, the book foregrounded the show’s dark depiction of child abuse, which would be fine if it weren’t marketed toward teen girls: “The novel is surprisingly profound. It is unflinching in how it depicts a teenager’s powerlessness in the face of adult male sexuality, and how abuse shapes her burgeoning sexuality. It also contains a complex depiction of how the abuse shapes Laura’s life: her burgeoning addiction to cocaine, which she funds with sex work, the self-loathing she feels as she imagines she invited the attacks … For [professor Kirsty] Fairclough, one of the most unsettling things about the book is how it was marketed to and read primarily by teenage girls. ‘I was a kid when I read this,’ she says. ‘It was a status symbol, a sort of rebellion. I totally connected with Laura Palmer’ … Published before the second season had aired, the book came out just as Palmer’s diary was also being written into the narrative of the show—pre-empting the metatextual conceits of post-internet shows, such as Game of Thrones and Lost.”
  • Cynthia Zarin considers Enda Walsh, an Irish playwright whose work is a study in fragility: “In almost all of Walsh’s dreamlike, darkly hilarious plays, the central character has been sent to his—or her—room. His work explores the liminal space between interior and exterior worlds by stringing up a cat’s cradle of language in which his characters swing between memories, dreams, and reflections—an act in which the audience colludes. It’s unclear exactly how this happens. Some of this may be due to Walsh’s exceptional ability to forge immediate connections, on and off the stage … Walsh says, ‘In my plays, each character reaches a point where something happened that led them to where they’ve ended up. As a child, I was obsessed with running away! I would get about four doors down and then be sent back by the neighbor.’ ”

  • In the academic journal Hypatia, Rebecca Tuvel published a paper defending the viability of transracial identity on the same grounds as transgender identity, thus deepening an already vast chasm between various factions of university philosophers. Jennifer Schuessler writes, “Tuvel’s paper is squarely in the tradition of analytic philosophy, an approach that focuses on clarifying concepts and that relies on blunt logical analysis and sometimes outlandish-seeming hypotheticals and analogies. (Do justifications for eating meat also support cannibalism? Are unwanted fetuses akin to rapists?) But it’s an approach, some of her detractors say, that is unsuited to the subject at hand … The president of Hypatia’s board of directors, Miriam Solomon, a professor of philosophy at Temple University, said the critics of the paper had ‘legitimate concerns’ about the marginalization of transgender and nonwhite voices in philosophy. But she reiterated that philosophical pluralism was an important value, too. Ms. Tuvel’s paper is ‘a very competent example of a certain style of philosophy,’ she said. ‘I think Hypatia should publish such things as well as other things.’ ”
  • Michael Wood takes another look at that staple of art cinema, Antonioni’s Blow-Up, now out in a new digital transfer from the Criterion Collection: “Nothing ages as fast as style, and film is a merciless medium. But certain frozen styles have their appeal, and David Hemmings, as Thomas, owner of the Rolls and famous photographer who was in the flophouse collecting images for a book, is as impressively sulky and obtuse as he always was. I don’t think I had noticed previously how distracted he is throughout the film, how perfectly he fits the role of the man who can’t concentrate on the mystery he thinks he has discovered. There are several remarkable shots where he becomes the sole subject of the movie camera: standing between two prints in his studio, facing us, while the prints show us only their backs; alone in a park, stranded by a high-angle long shot in what feels like a world composed entirely of grass. Antonioni’s camera becomes a model of looking, suggesting that Thomas’s proud claim to be a photographer—this is his excuse for bullying women and invading privacy—involves a different kind of expertise, not looking but collecting. ‘I’ve got to get a shot of it,’ he says of a corpse he has seen, and the phrase might be his motto.”
  • Why do we travel? Why leave home? What’s the point of all that inconvenience? Bernd Brunner wonders if we might just be better off staying put: “It is not usually the glorious monuments … that we remember, but for the most part oddities, involuntary detours, misunderstandings, smells (and stenches), tastes, sounds, and colors; the more-or-less welcome surprises and, yes, the encounters. I was lucky to have caught a glimpse of Arthur C. Clarke on the southern tip of Sri Lanka as he was followed by a frenzied group of Japanese fans. I arrived in Tangiers too late to meet Paul Bowles, but I happened to shake hands with Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent’s partner (and a reason for the local guide to ask me for an extra tip). From other trips undertaken a couple of decades ago, I remember barely more than a few images: a night spent half-awake in a shabby hotel in the harbor district of Marseille. A gun pointed at me at night somewhere in Wyoming, not being aware of the risk you take when sleeping outside on a hot night. A monkey defecating while I was passing underneath a tree in India. Am I ‘well-traveled’? I don’t think so, but what does this mean anyway in today’s world?”