Cocaine Nights and Twin Peaks

These thoughts are the product of being an avid Twin Peaks (and Lynch generally) fan since its inception and reading Ballard’s ‘Cocaine Nights’ for the first time. I don’t think for a second Ballard tried or needed to try to copy Twin Peaks in any sense. His imagination seemed to have been perfectly self sustaining and the trope of the weird small town was not invented by Lynch -just perfected. However some things leapt out at me enough that I felt forced to commit them to writing.

Ballard once reviewed Blue Velvet saying it was ‘like The Wizard of Oz reshot with a script by Franz Kafka and decor by Francis Bacon.‘ Ballard’s gaze is spot on of course; Lynch is both a massive Wizard of Oz and Kafka fan. I think this is pertinent to Cocaine Nights insofar as there is definitely something Kafkaesque about the way Charles tries to penetrate the deeper layers of Estrella del Mar only to be perpetually told he’s looking in the wrong places, or won’t find answers. In the end Charles Prentice is assimilated by the Estrella del Mar machine, a move he believes works in favour of his investigation when really his subconscious complicity is greater than he understands as is his misrecognition of where the power lies.

My Twin Peaks observations are fairly straightforward. The most obvious is that Estrella del Mar is of the Twin Peaks ilk. A seeming small town paradise —albeit of a different kind to TP- with a seething underbelly of crime. Of course as the book evolves we can see that the two, whilst having a kind of structural isomorphy are functionally quite different. Twin Peaks dark side is shunned by the residents or at least repressed. Whereas in Estrella del Mar the life of the place emits directly from crime and deviancy that runs through it.

These are two analyses of societal functioning. Twin Peaks appears idyllic but is shot through with crime and corruption whereas Estrella del Mar appears idyllic in a different way. Estrella del Mar is very culturally active in a middle class way, Tai Chi, pottery classes, gyms, painting and all such activities flourish. The theory employed in Estrella del Mar is that if you awaken people by targeting crime at them in a specific way they become more alive, become involved in the community and want to partake in projects of all kinds. A persistent underbelly of crime in this way keeps people on their toes and keeps the machine ticking over. This is explained as the activation of primal defence parts of the mind which awaken the animal to a more heightened state generally -due to the threat of crime. But of course since the crime is not so perpetual that the state of alert is required all the time, the surplus energy of the people becomes sublimated into the various sports and arts.

In Twin Peaks one might say (if the theory was right) that a) the demographic is different -Estrella del Mar seems a largely 30-60 year old adult population whereas Twin Peaks seems to have a more normal age range of people and b) the crime is just regular crime and not the targeted crime of Estrella del Mar. In this way as ‘normal’ crime it exists only in certain peripheral zones which enable its repression thus disabling the mechanism that Estrella del Mar utilizes.

And what is the apparent driving force of Estrella del Mar’s crime-social machine? The answer is probably the key synchronicity between the two worlds. Bobby Crawford is the name of the part psychopath, part saint who creates and facilitates both the crime and social threads of the town. He seeks to reawaken people from their TV slumbers by generating a wave of aesthetic crime to bring them to life. One of his biggest associations is: fire. We have frequent sections in parts of the book where the protagonist refers to Bobby as having a taste for fire.

Bob and fire, where have we heard that before? Now Bobby Crawford is by no means straightforwardly evil and indeed his connection with the central conflagration of the book is largely rebuked by the end. This doesn’t however distract from his burning down a car and two boats in the course of the story. We’re repeatedly told that Bobby is dangerous and even though the protagonist becomes criminally complicit with him and sympathetic to his methods, we know that Bobby still facilitates rape videos and possibly worse. All the time everyone loves Bobby Crawford and his easy charm and playful nature —he is Bob eager for fun, he wears a smile, everybody runs. Bobby Crawford may have sincere motivations and be morally ambiguous in some ways, however his role as a kind of dark Dionysian agent is quite clear. Twin Peaks’ Bob is largely an unambiguously evil presence, except that there is some sense that Bob’s activities are in a sense just what is fun for him. It is not simply that Bob plots to be and do evil, it is just that he acts according to his nature —which happens to be terrifying and dangerous to humans. In this sense he is similar to Bobby Crawford —and they both like fire.

Another thread of connection I noticed was upon the introduction of Dr Sanger in a ‘tropical suit’. The eccentricity of the tropical suit at the introduction of the psychiatrist immediately brought to mind Dr Jacobi. The similarity continues insofar as the murdered (by fire) Bibi Jansen (a drug troubled young woman) was under the supervision of this psychiatrist. Sanger, like Jacobi is morally ambiguous. He seems to genuinely want to help and at the same time seems to sleep with his young female patients.

Lastly there is Charles Prentice as agent Cooper. Prentice comes to the town to hopefully free his ‘obviously innocent brother’ (a whole Kafkaesque routine in itself) Frank, from the accusation of burning down the Hollinger house which resulted in the deaths of five people. Like K of the Castle, Charles is sucked into the inner world of Estrella del Mar. The same thing that also happens to agent Cooper in Twin Peaks. Cooper readily allows his assimilation into the wholesome aspects of the town and in doing so permits himself to fall in love with Annie Blackburn. Ultimately though when faced with the test of the Black Lodge, Cooper fails. His soul is too riddled with guilt and he is doomed to 25 years of residing therein.

Charles Prentice is seduced by Bobby Crawford into helping with his criminal re-enlivening schema, believing this is the powerhouse of Estrella del Mar. He feels so close to uncovering the secret that he does not spot the dark machinations of the real power seat closing in on him -also involving a woman for whom he has feelings (Paula Hamilton). When Bobby Crawford is killed, Charles Prentice’s guilt makes him pick up the gun that killed him, thus implicating him in his murder and condemning him to plead guilty to it, as his brother has to the fire. Like Cooper, he has been caught by the Black Lodge, just when he thought he was on the verge of solving everything.

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