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

2.1. The Ratiocinative Detective / The Female Victim as Object

Cooper's professionalism and his Holmesian character seem to be confirmed in one of the very first scenes in which he demonstrates his analytical skills. During his examination of Laura Palmer's body in the morgue Cooper's delight and enthusiasm reveal again an almost uncanny empathy that seem to come right out of his Bi-Part Soul, the connecting principle between the FBI agent and his European detective colleagues. It is important to note that in the pilot Cooper is still very much in the role of the ratiocinative investigator who depends on his knowledge and skill, without intuition and outside help. In the morgue scene Cooper stands in the position of his college Albert Rosenfield who sticks to professional FBI methods, yet regards the dead body of Laura as nothing more than dead flesh.

The classical detective never incorporates the female corpse into his investigation, the dead female body is rejected, denied and often the victim is idealized after its death. In order to solve the crime a classical detective like Dupin has to reenact the killing of the women allegorically, i.e. in his head. The murder itself does hereby only serve as a means to demonstrate the brilliant working of the detective's mind. The detective (as he is only reconstructing a 'fantasy') constantly stays in control and does not show any emotions. He is demonstrating his mental skills.

In his psychoanalytic reading of Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" J. Lemay has noted that the body of the female victim is found without the head, an important hint on the mind-body distinction that is an overall leitmotif in the analytic detective story. The male detective constructs, in re-creating the murder in his mind, his own world, his own version of the deed. One could go so far as to assert that the detective commits the murder himself in his mind:

In saying that the narrator and Dupin create the story, Poe puns, for he means to imply that these two characters are also the murderers, the 'creators' of the mystery" (Lemay, 169)

Of course the detective has to keep a distance to his (female) victim. The classical detective stays in control and therefore isolated in his narcissistic maleness. Both Dupin and the narrator (the detectives) and the two Espanayes (the female victims) occupy the top floor of an old apartment house. Lemay decodes this location as a "house-as-body allegory, the symbolic significance of occupying only the top floor is that both couples live only in the mind therefore both deny the body" (171). On a psychoanalytical level one might argue that Dupin is interested in the case because he can get closer to a secret hidden inside of himself. It is the denied female side which is embodied in the figure of Mme. Espanaye, the dead female victim in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue".

Irwin reads the misogynist tendencies of the male detective as a self-related and self-denying neurosis, with the effect that the victimization of the women has to reflect back on the man:

... if the feminizing of the victim's role in Poe's tales signifies the victimizing or abasement of the feminine-coded nonrational elements of the self (the bodily, the instinctual, the unconscious) in relation to a masculine-coded rational analysis, then this structure ultimately ends by victimizing the masculine-coded rationality as well. It ends by reducing rationality to a narcissistic, self-destructive game of no-difference. (Irwin, 70)

Similar to the classical detective's ratiocinative methods Cooper has to penetrate the dead female body in the beginning of TP, thus Cooper reenacts "the penetration the killer committed, a penetration accompanied by gruesome echoes such as ... the stabbing of a knife. The body of Laura is the battleground violated by both the criminal and his heroic pursuer"(Wilcox, 22). Upon penetrating the female body, Cooper retrieves a small paper from beneath dead Laura's fingernail showing the letter 'R'. We will learn later that this letter is part of a series that spells out the name of the murderer: ROBERT. Considering Cooper's fate at the end of the series, the parallel between the detective and killer becomes even more evident.15

The TP pilot maintains the overall design of a common televised detective show. This is also true for the presentation of the dead female body. Laura's body is found encased and wrapped in plastic at the very beginning of the series. Her face offers a sight of aesthetic beauty and appears as a visualization of Poe's concept of the 'beautiful dead woman', an idea closely connected to the male detective's idealization of the female corpse.16

However, in TP the female victim has a persistent background presence throughout the narrative, e.g. her high school photo appears regularly in the end titles of the show. As the analysis of Cooper's 'Red Room dream' will show, the victim is revived metaphysically and even helps the detective to solve the crime. However, in TP "as Lynch [points out], his detective's fascination with mystery precedes the particularity of the case. Dale Cooper comes to Twin Peaks already filled with a passion for mystery, and Laura's death offers him a major occasion to indulge in it" (Nochimson,145). The pilot leads the viewer onto a conventional path of common literary and televised detective stories. Agent Cooper demonstrates a readiness to inquire mysteries that leaves the amused and often cynical distance of the known private eye behind. The fates of the victim and the detective are connected in ways that go beyond conventional expectations. The narrative will reveal that Cooper and Laura had identical dreams, though at different times. This explains, at least partially, Cooper's subconscious need to make contact, and even merge with the victim on a metaphysical level.

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15 Lemay states that the detective, the victim and the killer are 'symbolic doubles': "The murderer and those murdered, the solver and the mystery and the teller of the tale are, symbolically, one person" (Lemay, 171). I will return to this complicated interrelationship in chapter four, where the detective in TP will develop a 'doubled' link to the killer. In a violation of the detective story's basic rules Cooper allows supernatural forces to intrude into his mind. In the end this violation will actually lead Cooper back to the traditional detective's rationality.

16 Elisabeth Bronfen's analyzes Poe's concept in her study "Over her dead body". Having this concept in mind one might consider that the detective always seems to be interested in the looks and the aesthetic appearance of the dead female body. The look of the dead woman serves the sole purpose to demonstrate the detective's method of analysis, i.e. his narcissistic brilliance.

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