The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
The Detective in 'Twin Peaks'  by Andreas Blassmann

1.4. The Detective in 'Twin Peaks' The Bi-Part Soul

Agent Dale B. Cooper Cooper's first appearance already alludes to his crucial characteristic traits. He is crossing the state line and then enters the town of Twin Peaks, noting the majestic trees growing in the woods. Cooper dictates all kinds of seemingly insignificant details into his 'narratee-microcassette' (and secretary) Diane. The collection of apparently irrelevant material creates a humoresque effect, yet leaves the viewer uncertain about the meaning of this procedure.

We found that it is essential for the classical detective to deduce from details that appear to be peripheral to the case, yet turn out to have some importance within the narrative. Not so with Cooper's litany of daily trivia. Cooper's obsession with that kind of trivia sets him apart from the rationale of the classical detective. Cooper's first appearance could almost identify him as a character in a commercial evaluating food prices and motel accommodations. His enthusiasm in commenting on commercial products appears as both odd and sympathetic. This spiel already introduces a new element in the detective character: the complete involvement in and identification with the commercial world. It is important to note that Cooper does not seem to intend his comments to be ironic. His seriousness reveals an ambivalent, almost schizophrenic state that Cooper occasionally enters.

It is interesting to compare Cooper's mental ambivalence with the traditional detective's 'Bi-Part Soul'. Angela Hague remarks that "the detective-hero has a long history of unusual and perhaps non-rational behavior, a fact that is rarely stressed by critics impressed with the mental acrobatics of logical detection" (Hague, 136). The Bi-Part Soul appears, indeed, to be the only psychological principle that is shared completely by Agent Cooper and Dupin, the classical detective. It is the connecting point where the purely logical and analytic Dupin and the intuitive seeker Cooper meet, namely in a state of mental schizophrenia.

Cooper is, however, far from the detached and almost arrogant distance of the aristocratic Dupin (or Holmes) who lives completely removed from the outside world. Cooper is delighted by trivial details and daily devices, a typical middle class man who enthusiastically embraces the earthly pleasures that consumerism offers. Cooper "demonstrates an uncanny empathy for his new surroundings, noticing the smell of the pine trees and glorifying a piece of pie he ate at a roadhouse diner" (Pollard, 296). The traditional detective's emotional distance has vanished. Cooper links his personality to everything he observes, although one has to question the depth of his superficial observations. Cooper is still a lot traditional FBI agent in the show's pilot (although his 'just the facts' tone often fuses with an unexpected awe), yet his more conventional character traits will soon subside.

Scott Pollard notes that "Cooper pays much closer attention to detail than his training warrants or his job requires. From his details he observes and interprets. Cooper creates a moral surface out of Twin Peaks" and Pollard states that "he reinforces the cogency of that surface" (298).

The following dialogue with local sheriff Harry S. Truman (his Dr. Watson, as the character himself remarks at one point) already points at the strange juxtaposition of Cooper's character as a professional detective and as an admirer of natural details and common middle class trivals:

Cooper: Sheriff, what kind of fantastic trees have you got growing around here? Big majestic ...

Truman: Douglas firs ...

Cooper: (in awe) Douglas firs. (Matter of factly) Can someone get me a copy of the coroner's report? (Lavery, TP Scene Breakdown, P.15)

The obvious and always persisting distance of the classical detective seems often absent in Cooper's case. Cooper is far from merely playing mind games; his attitude towards the world is serious and lacks irony. His approach to mystery is different from that of Dupin, or Holmes who refuses to leave the borders of his own mind: "Cooper is Holmesian only in his predisposition for mystery; he is far too sensually stimulated by Douglas firs, among other Twin Peaks delights, to qualify as a man of cerebral lust." (Nochimson, 145 ). Eagle on the other hand sees Cooper's comments on Douglas Firs not as a connection to the pastoral but "connecting him with travelogue advertising" (Reeves, et. al, 180).

As an investigator Cooper appears unconventional, as I will demonstrate in the analysis of his Tibetan method. As a human character he maintains an ambivalent obscurity which connects him with the classical detective's eccentric and irrational behavior: "Observing him in these moods, I often dwelt meditatively upon the philosophy of the Bi-Part-Soul, and amused myself with fancy of a double Dupin - the creative and the resolvent" (Poe, 66), remarks the narrator in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". In this mental state Dupin's eyes become "vacant in expression" (77), his voice rising to an uncharacteristic treble, a behavioral phenomena that reminds of Cooper's appearance when he discovers an item formerly unknown to him, e.g. douglas firs, cherry pie, ducks on a lake or a box of chocolate bunnies.

I will thus coin Cooper's inner split as a 'consuming' and a resolvent. Cooper is, indeed, an inspired and vital consumer. It almost seems as though he creates a philosophy of consumerism, maybe a protective shield that enables him to get along in a consumer society. A pile of donuts is therefore referred to as 'a policeman's dream' (Lavery, P.34) or the RR diner as the 'place where pies go when they die' (4.11). Sheriff Harry S. Truman is taught by his master that 'one should pause at least once during the day to give oneself a present.' This present turns out to be a cup of coffee (7. 6).

Whenever Dupin falls into this schizoid state, it is merely because he is concerned with the case and the intellectual pleasure he will gain from solving it. The inner split of his Bi-Part Soul is solely dependent on facts concerning the case to be solved. Dupin's split demonstrates a general obscurity and distance towards the real world, which is not included in his criminalistic puzzle:

In 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' Poe associates this mental division ... with the image of a battle of wits between a mastermind and an automaton ... Dupin's analytic power is of such superiority that, compared to him, other men are like automata, slavish mechanisms playing against, and ultimately manipulated by, a mastermind who has the power to see into their inmost beings. (Irwin, 113)

The creative side enables the mastermind to keep a distance from his fellow men who are unworthy of his genius, an expression of a general feeling of despise for the outside world. Therefore the detective's inner split only occurs when he is detecting, when he proves to himself that his analytic genius does still function. Whereas the traditional detective's genius and his analytic abilities distance him from society, Cooper uses his mental superiority, e.g. his ability to decipher body language, in order to merge with the middle class world. Thus, Cooper not only tries to find an ideal middle ground, he seems to strive for a general unity in his attempt to merge detection and emotion:

Cooper's character parodies the detective genre and its Sherlock Holmes-like reliance on a coherent world in which everything can be understood by using deductive logic based on factual evidence. The absence of consistent, coherent meaning in the world is shown in Cooper's equal treatment of facts relevant to solving the murder chase and completely inane and irrelevant facts... facts, experiences, feelings, prices, are recorded with equally deliberate yet random precision. This may describe a postmodern sensibility in which no one fact takes priority over another. (Reeves, et al., FOS, 182)13

Cooper's constant switch between various modes evokes an association with the genius and intellect of the classical detective, yet Cooper appears as a universal seeker, or wanderer who needs to stretch and expand the narrative frame of the detective story. The inherent ambiguity of his methods leaves Cooper's real nature uncertain. In some instances Cooper even appears as an artificial product of the commercialized middle class himself.14

An essential question that consists throughout TP is where Cooper is heading and what his general mission is. Scott Pollard claims that Cooper wants to "restore to TP a unifying principle based in a middle-class nostalgia for the happy days of the post-World War II boom" (Pollard, 299). According to Pollard's point of view Cooper is essentially a conservative character whose apparent openness for Eastern thoughts and dream visions is basically a means to protect a conservative American consumer society. "What Cooper sees threatened is the very community that capitalism created" (298). Cooper is living in a postmodern world which he loves and wants to protect, yet not change. His constantly changing modes are puzzling. The tension between bizarre murder and idyllic life do not seem to really affect Cooper who assimilates quickly to smalltown life in Twin Peaks.

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13 In their discussion on "Postmodernism and Television" (FOS, 173 - 195) Jimmie L. Reeves, et al. ponder the question whether TP is 'reactionary' or 'progressive' postmodernism. Agent Cooper's constant switch of mode, tone and mental states poses similar questions. The character not only balances between the open, progressive seeker and the reactionary protector of middle class. As a decentered postmodern personality Cooper is, naturally, also able to change his mental state within one single scene.
Frederic Jameson identifies the state of schizophrenia as an essential postmodern phenomenon (comp. his essay on "Postmodernism and Consumer Society"). Ihab Hassan includes 'schizophrenia' in his famous table listing schematic differences between modernism and postmodernism. This table also includes other terms that play an important role in my thesis, e.g. antiform, play, chance, desire or indeterminancy (Hassan, "The Culture of Postmodernism", 123-4).

14 In 1993 Lynch directed four commercials for the Japanese coffee brand 'Georgia Coffee'. In these thirty second spots Kyle MacLachlan "goes over the top in his portrayal of Agent Cooper practically every one of his lines is a loud exclamation." (WIP19, 9) The character's eccentricity and schizoid nature are taken to an extreme in those segments, the fact that Lynch (ab)used the Cooper character to sell a commercial product enhances the postmodern aspect of the detective in TP.

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© Mike Hartmann
mhartman@mail.uni-freiburg.de