Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The necessity of narrative?

Just as we were enjoying watching the time slip in our favour on Saturday night, a friend placed in my hands a box, containing discs, containing series two of Twin Peaks. This is a gratification long delayed, and perfectly timed to coincide with these extra dark hours.

Wallowing in the Lynchian soup of ludicrous humour (bubbling hospital food) and surreal discomfort (Leland’s psychotic singing) I played the usual game, trying to discern red herrings and clues, forcing some form of internal logic. This is at least possible with Twin Peaks, in a way it is not with David Lynch’s films, despite the relentless attempts all over the internet to define what they ‘are really about.’

It’s very hard to let yourself drift through images, emotions and scattered speech without wishing some doomed narrative into being. It seems to be a fundamental process that we apply not when we choose but automatically, whether the series of ideas and events appears in words, a film, or the life of another person or indeed ourselves. I sometimes overdo this when reading. I try to note everything, collecting clues, constructing possibilities that are then narrowed down as the story, or what I believe it is, unfolds. At least I rationalise the process later as being something like this.

Narratives that tell us everything without leaving room for some of this kind of mental construction are often dissatisfying, and this is in itself telling. Equally, as with Lynch, the audience can be infuriated when the collating and connecting of elements does not lead to some kind of narrative conclusion, even one that is frayed around the edges, ambiguous. To take an example in words, Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin is famously ambiguous on where the blame lies for Kevin’s extreme behaviour; we can’t decide how much his mother is at fault, if at all, because she is an unreliable narrator of a kind. However, this does not leave us feeling short-changed, or demanding further conclusion.

Lynch does not give us an unreliable narrator through whom a story that could otherwise make sense is filtered to the point where it does not. Instead he often gives us a world where the normal laws of time, identity and our own theory of mind are useless for making sense of it, and it drives us crazy. We want to engage these faculties, and fill in why she said that, and why he did this.

Many of us don’t seem to feel that everything a Lynch film does give us is enough, even if we have a taste for the surreal, the disturbing, and the beautiful. Strangely, life is never a complete, and satisfying narrative either, though for most of us it will always make more sense than Mulholland Drive. For the moment, eking out what is left of Twin Peaks for as long as possible, I am still revelling in the lack of certainty over who killed Laura Palmer. I almost hope I will never find out.

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