Eckart Voigts-Virchow

"Goodbye suspense goodbye"?
Postmodern TV Crime in The Singing Detective (1986) and Twin Peaks (1990-91)

Twin Peaks

Originally published by Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier: Raimund Borgmeier, Peter Wenzel, Eds. Spannung. Studien zur englischsprachigen Literatur. Trier: WVT, 2001. 132-148. Used with permission.

PHILIP: When I grow up, I be going to be a detective.
And then, unexpectedly, he grins.
Dennis Potter, The Singing Detective (249)

1. Serial Postmodern Crime on TV

In 1990, Dennis Potter wrote a draft version of a screenplay based on D.M. Thomas's novel The White Hotel for director David Lynch. Even if the screenplay was never produced (there seem to be current plans of an Emir Kusturica version), there is a professional connection between the two leading 1980s and 1990s postmodern TV 'authors' of audiovisual culture. Although there is much debate whether television is, or is not, a quintessentially postmodern medium,1 whether Lynch or Potter may justifiably be addressed as TV authors,2 and, in the case of Potter, to what extent he embraced the postmodernist aesthetic,3 there is a clear case for comparing their influential series as epitomes of the postmodernist revision of crime and detective formulae on the small screen.

Within their various national TV environments (TSD: BBC-Britain/Twin Peaks: ABC-USA),4 there are a number of surface similarities: Both series offered a deliberately fragmented and convoluted plot which shaped initial public response as: "[incomprehensible] as the Peking bus timetable" or "strewing enigmas like pine needles".5 Both series are saturated in pastiche and/or parody of TV genres, such as hospital soap in The Singing Detective and the mise en abyme of the Invitation to Love soap in Twin Peaks, or film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction, as epitomized in the meaning-laden vice locales "Skinscape's" and "One-Eyed Jack's". Both series are focused on an investigator (Philip E. Marlow/Dale Cooper) who re-enacts established genre formulae, P.E. Marlow, the Singing Detective, is Chandler's Private Eye Marlowe with a reordered 'e' and with the archetypal first-person narrative voice. Twin Peaks's Cooper is an adolescent American frontier hero, who combines the capacity for ratiocination of a Poe detective with a naive mysticism into an obviously stylized compound of all sorts of investigative ideals.6 Both detectives parade their artifice, as Potter's Marlow is aware of his clichéd appearance and Lynch's Cooper is natural, rational, and mystical to the point of absurdity, e.g. when he spots the reflection of a suspect's motorcycle in the eye of Laura Palmer on a videotape or when he suggests that a 'Tibetan' coupling of enunciated names and gunshots will help in solving the mystery. At the same time, Marlow and Cooper, who both adopt the Chandlerian code of virginity, might be read psychoanalytically as detectives investigating the past and their own psychological make-up.7 It can be argued that both series deal with the abject male body (Lippard 1994: 5-6), psychoanalytically formulated crimes and the psychopathology of family life. Both series use Doppelgänger and dream sequences to interiorize and focalize the outer camera narration, and both experiment with dislocations of sound and image and functional music, disorientating received notions of diegetic vs. non-diegetic sound.8 Their camera preying on beautiful young women victimized by pathological male violence, both works have been attacked for alleged misogyny and the failure to transcend the male white perspective. Toying around with metafiction, intertextuality and autobiography, both works are echo chambers of self-reference (as testified to by Potter's re-enactment of scenes from his 1965 play Stand Up, Nigel Barton and his novel Hide and Seek, the famous Mary Whitehouse court case, Potter's public breakdown after watching TSD, Lynch's signature Lynchisms, his cameo as Gordon Cole, the FBI supervisor, his daughter Jennifer Lynch's Secret Diary of Laura Palmer). Finally, both series were projected as major works by TV auteurs, expensively produced on film rather than videotape and aired on major channel's prime time slots to enhance the public profile and appeal to a fashionable young audience.

This paper seeks to assess both series as postmodernist TV contributions to the detective genre, which has been an obvious target for leading postmodernists such as Alain Robbe-Grillet (Les gommes 1953) and Michel Butor of the nouveau roman variety with its failing detectives, Italo Calvino (Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore 1979) and Umberto Eco (Il nome della rosa 1980), Jorge Luis Borges (La muerte y la brújula) or Thomas Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49).9 As Tani (1984: 40, 43) argues, the "anti-detective novel" (a) frustrates the reader, (b) refuses closure and solution, (c) expresses an avant-garde sensibility of chaos. Consequently, the conventional idea of suspense effects owing to a careful ordering and structuring on the story level of narratives have been a prime target for the postmodernist literature of exhaustion, as John Barth's classic story "Title" (103, 109-10) makes explicit:

Do you want to go on, or shall we end it right now? Suspense. I don't care for this either. It'll be over soon enough in any case.[...]
I'm going, too late now, one more step and we're done, you and I. Suspense. [...]
One more step. Goodbye suspense goodbye.

Introducing the classic "either/or" suspense in his initial question, Barth instantaneously diagnoses and dismisses the effect he seemed to have been striving for. Tani (47) similarly argues that the essential category of suspense is subverted by postmodernist crime and detective fiction:

What also connects innovative, deconstructive, and metafictional anti-detective novels is a teasing, puzzle-like relation between text and reader, [...]. The relation replaces and changes the function of the conventional suspense, since the reader gets involved in the mystery and in the detection to be only partially or not at all rewarded by a plausible denouement.

One might equally argue that, vice versa, input of conventional suspense also tends to change deconstructive and metafictional novels. Tani goes on to identify an inventory of devices which mark postmodern detection:

- the labyrinth (a mysterious irretrievable past)

- the mirror (a distorted, changed, removed present version of the past, also deception through the narrative process)

- the map (the solution)

As all of these elements are almost invariably to be found in any detection narrative, Tani insists that in postmodernist detection, mirrors and labyrinths reign supreme over the map-making process which does not yield the orientation it is supposed to bring. Should a suspense narrative, therefore, deny to the spectator or reader the reassuring pleasure of reinstating order by mapping the ground and solving the mystery, it violates one of the standard lures of crime fiction, that of verifying Aufklärung both as a way out of the narrative labyrinth, and as the rational teleology of modernity and the Enlightenment, the project of rendering the world knowable (see Schulz-Buschhaus (1998: 534). Post­modernists take to detection narratives, because it can be taken to stand metonymically and transgenerically for the hermeneutic process (Knight and McKnight 1997: 123-24).

Twin Peaks

A "Who's who?" map from Twin Peaks. (Gabriel Jones, 1998)

Probably the most postmodern genres are parody and pastiche, their idiom is irony and the double coding of 'both having the cake and eating it'.10 In terms of the relation between a postmodern aesthetic and the theory of suspense, this may be translated as 'deconstructing intertextually the popular surfaces of thriller and detective narratives (modernism) but at the same time, polysemically participating in its lure and attraction (post-)'. While suspense may be unnecessary for the first trajectory, it is absolutely essential for the second. Schulz-Buschhaus (1998: 526) has noted that the contribution of suspense is paramount in post-avantgardist appropriations of crime novels.11 Schulz-Buschhaus names the resulting effect a "generalised suspense" (my translation), or, as I would prefer to call it, a "meta-suspense", the combination of suspenseful effects on the recipient and a foregrounding of the conditions on which these effects ultimately rest.

Both Staiger (1956: 143) and Pfister (1977: 142) think that suspense is more essential to dramatic than to narrative writing. Suspense is created on the story-level of texts owing to the temporal ordering of narrative segments. A given text (words, images, sound) creates a partial knowledge about the story, both cataphorically by "pointing to subsequent information in the text"12 and by withholding information from the viewer through editing etc. Suspense works bi-directionally along a linear axis of narrative segments, that is, the viewer is kept in suspense about both what has already happened and what is still to happen in a story (see Tan and Diteweg 1996: 152-53). The viewer must form hypotheses as to what is going to happen in the course of a given narrative which would be impossible without narrative anchoring and superfluous if all riddles had been solved to start with (Pfister 1977: 143, Wulff calls this process "narrativization"; 1996: 12). According to Bordwell (1985: 38), this "accords well with the Constructivist notion that schemata coax us to anticipate and extrapolate".

As Marie-Laure Ryan (1991: 174) has underlined, the anticipating recipient is essential to any narrative, which may be reflected by suspense created through superior information on part of the viewer from situations of relative lack of knowledge about the story or even the case of irritating textual traps. It seems absolutely essential that any given narrative builds a narrative cosmos which incorporates an abundance of possible story developments so that the recipient finds ample opportunity to build hypotheses from (fulfilled or unfulfilled) textual indications. Mieke Bal (1994: 114) and Edward Branigan (1992: 75) have created a typology of possible informational relations in narratives:


(1) reader – character – spectator = character mystery
(riddle, detective story, search)

(2) reader + character – (threat) spectator > character suspense

(3) reader – character + (secret) spectator < character surprise

(4) reader + character + (no suspense)

A narrow meaning of suspense, such as forwarded by Suerbaum (1984: 26) highlights the intentional temporality in distributing information in suspense fiction and insists that a cornerstone of suspense effects is the fact that it reinforces the guarantee of closure and solution. Hitchcock's famous 'bomb plot' example holds that suspense (rather than surprise) is dependent on letting the audience know there is a bomb planted under the table and that it won't go off eventually (see Goetsch 1997: 142-43). It is of paramount importance that the reader/spectator is made to want to know things about the narrative, by getting involved in the narrative and by participating in the control of the narrative. The sense of 'having been cheated', which would be the result of a bomb going off, illustrates that thriller conventions contribute to a sense of 'being partially in control' on the part of the audience. If, on the other hand, it were clear from the start that there will be no satisfactory closure, that the clues given will not resolve the mystery, then there would not be any suspense.

Many interpreters of suspense have described it as a sequence from order to disorder and back (see e.g. Borringo 1980: 41). The viewer realizes the anticipatory capacity of the information given, both in the micro- and macrostructures of a text. The text needs to raise expectations but withhold immediate satisfaction on this need. It seems to be important that the number of possible plot resolutions is low so that the viewer is not confused by unanticipated outcomes (see Prieto-Pablos 1998: 101). Cupchick (1996: 195) has confronted the affective stimuli involved in the creation of narrative suspense with the cognitive disorientation which is the hallmark of modernist literature. The viewer needs both to look for order and symmetry and to anticipate that order and symmetry are feasible. It is clear that sign-saturated postmodernist narratives try to frustrate the conventional desires of the viewers by refusing to furnish narrative closure, but in order to work properly they need to raise anticipatory hypotheses for subsequent destruction.

Crime fiction is not only a staple of postmodernist revisions of modernism, it is also one of the standard genres of TV programming, and therefore the natural habitat of post-avantgardism. The police and detective series is alive and well all over the TV world, especially in characteristically hybrid versions, cross-cutting between thrillers, comedies, hospital and horror series, soaps and drama. Reviewing recent British crime fiction (and acknowledging the influence of the US entertainment industry), Charlotte Brunsdon (2000: 216) recognized a "medicalization of crime" and, in the "later 1990-s [...] a move away from an address to the social in genre". It is particularly intriguing, therefore, to compare two works by acknowledged postmodernist auteurs which share aspects of the format (TV series/miniseries) and the genre (hybrid "medicalized", "de-socialized" thriller, crime and detective fiction) as well as an aesthetic which is founded on the postmodernist revision of the detective and crime novel.

Wolfgang Iser has drawn on the work of Siegfried Kracauer in order to illustrate how the ellipses of trailers activate viewer imagination by providing vision- and soundbites of the shape of films to come (see Iser 1997: 298). Arguably the recurrent self-reference of postmodern television constitutes an autopoietic system in the sense of Niklas Luhmann, creating the Boorstinian pseudo-events which have through the ontological destabilisation of the possible media worlds lost the humanist confidence of the 'pseudo'-affix. Luhmann (1996: 28) terms this the "public recursiveness" of the mass media. Discussing the structural "selectors" of the news media, Luhmann goes on to explain that the violation of norms, moral deviation and conflict are the sine qua non of the mass media and that conflict entails the deferred promise of resolution.13

Luhmann's tenet might be termed a universal rule of mass-media suspense. It equals the suspense requirements for narratives outlined above: Even if the fulfilment of raised audience expectations has to be suspended or deferred, it is based on the implication that one day closure is at least potentially feasible.

2. Ratiocination vs. the Ghostwood Enigma: Twin Peaks

We have seen that suspense fiction moves from equilibrium to imbalance and then back to a sense of order restored. We have also seen that both the mass media and the postmodernist aesthetic favour perpetual or at least lasting imbalances, but in addition, we have noted the importance of the anticipated equilibrium. One of the most radical cases of shattered anticipation in Hollywood is David Lynch's commercially disastrous Lost Highway (1997): the protagonist Fred Madison receives a note ("Dick Laurent is dead") which triggers off the murder of his wife, his subsequent transformation into the car mechanic Peter Dayton and a return to his initial persona in the desert, followed by the death of Mister Eddy/Dick Laurent, enabling Fred to speak the initial message into his own intercom. For Todd McGowan (2000), Lost Highway is a deconstruction of fantasy as "a secure world replete with meaning" (52) and, in its arbitrariness and incoherence, a rejection of "the phantasmic illusion of depth" (69). Arguably the commercial disaster was due to (1) the denial of clues both as to how the imbalance was brought about and how it may be set right, and (2) the problematic habitualization of the postmodern gesture which accounts for the reduced anticipatory value of deconstructed detective narratives (and led Lynch to ostentatious linearity in The Straight Story [1999]). Having been familiarized with Lynch et al., viewers simply do not expect to be offered explanations or solutions. Familiarization is therefore detrimental to suspense effects,14 but, on the contrary, essential to the acceptance of a TV series.

On the one hand, it is absolutely indispensable for any kind of TV series, whether it is a hospital soap, a sitcom or a cop show, to suspend narrative closure in order to maintain a potential for newly devised narrative segments at a later point. On the other hand, it is paramount to provide narrative anchors which may be recognised by the audience as partial fulfilment of their expectations, from the reappearance of stock characters to recurrent narrative elements. John Caughie is, of course, right in claiming that after "a few episodes, the bizarre is routine in Twin Peaks" (2000: 130), but this serial conventionalising of the unconventional is essential for making the audience switch on. As Dennis Potter's producer Kenith Trodd (91) recently quipped: "[...] who buys a tin of beans wanting to be surprised?" Plot and characters as well as transmission times and serialisation gaps have to be tailored to fit the audience routine in order to keep audience interest. Fortunately (or otherwise), in broadcast TV, viewers cannot flip to the final page in order to solve the mystery, and even if they could, they would not succeed in Lost Highway or Twin Peaks.

On surface level, Twin Peaks conforms to established formulae of crime and detective narratives. Up to episode 16, it exhibits all the essential features of a detective narrative (according to Broich 1998: 97): an initial murder mystery (a young girl, Laura Palmer has been raped and killed), a relatively closed location with a number of suspects (the rural surface idyll of the American small town Twin Peaks, situated close to the Canadian border), an analytic structure focused on recovering past events, the main interest of searching for the murderer, and finally the solution of the murder mystery.

Twin Peaks

Putting the pieces together: Twin Peaks (Lynch Entertainment / Worldvision, 1990)

One major difference between Twin Peaks and The Singing Detective, namely the attitude towards character, may also be covered by the conventional genre formula of crime fiction. Whereas Carrión (1993: 243) convincingly argues that Twin Peaks is a "pure analytic detective story" with little interest in character and a penchant for caricature, Potter clearly aims at "rounding" Marlow and his family network beyond the genre stereotypy. In Twin Peaks, Gothic horror and fantasy elements increasingly infiltrate and subvert the murder mystery. Both, Twin Peaks and the bordering Ghostwood National Forest may justifiably be read as a Borgesian labyrinth which frustrates the readers' attempts to decode the signs (Carrión 1993). As Hague (1995: 133) put it: "Readers of 'The Garden of Forking Paths' recognized where they were, and it was not Sherlock Holmes' apartment in Baker Street." "The owls are not what they seem", is one of the memorable mysterious phrases Cooper is confronted with in his visions, and the viewer never finds out exactly what they are. Huskey (1993: 248) blames the "suspenseful anxiety [Twin Peaks] inflicted on its readers" on its rewriting of the sensation novel for TV, in the very fact that contrary to The Singing Detective, it leaves the crimes supernatural and insoluble by the apparatus of either ratiocination or psychoanalysis. In Twin Peaks, Cooper's visions provide access to the veritable fantasy world of Twin Peaks, but not to the detection of the detective's psychology. The sense of threatening disorder is certainly increased by supernatural and inexplicable puzzling events and characters, such as lost rings, premonitory dreams, the Doppelgänger, BOB and MIKE,15 the mysterious One Armed Man, Giant, Man from Another Place, Log Lady and Major Briggs. Twin Peaks continuously increases the threat to morality from a relatively isolated and potentially explicable murder to a diabolically destructive, inaccessible and unknowable force or principle within humanity (Black Lodge vs. White Lodge). The narrative increasingly subverts those elements which might function as an indicator of anticipation fulfilment. Dolan (1995: 41) convincingly challenges the view that Twin Peaks lost its viewers because the plot became too convoluted. Arguing that, on the contrary, it is much easier to separate five more stringently structured episodes within the second series, he notes that the series moves rather suddenly from "terrestrial, forensic territory" to "the extraterrestrial dimension" (Dolan 1995: 40).

Both of our examples come in the most televisual of formats, as a serial/series, which is anchored in the medial framework of broadcast TV. The reception of both the series Twin Peaks and the miniseries The Singing Detective provide evidence of how the series or serial format is embedded within the narrative strategies of the works. The series, Twin Peaks, is based on "increasing familiarity with the main characters, with the setting, and with background story lines" (Corner 1999: 57). A serial, on the other hand, such as the six-part Singing Detective, may be usefully described as an extended play which does not so much depend on the habitual acceptance into household routines. Television, of course, favours the series (and to a lesser extent serials) economically as they offer the potential of reliable and recurrent ratings and, increasingly, the chance to test the promise of a given series by producing a pilot drama followed by a string of seasonal offerings.

One of the most important devices for stabilising viewer acceptance and keeping the recipients involved are the cliffhanging "super lacunae" (Jurga 1998: 476). Wolfgang Iser has described how important editing and "cliffhanging", the creation of narrative gaps or lacunae are:

[The serial novel] generally breaks off just at a point of suspense where one would like to know the outcome of a meeting, a situation etc. The interruption and consequent prolongation of tension is the basic function of the cut. The result is that we try to imagine how the story will unfold, and in this way we heighten our own participation in the course of events.16

Twin Peaks made ample use of this super-lacuna, ending its (short, almost serial-like) first season of eight episodes without revealing the murderer, thus "filling the summer with anticipation and suspense on the part of the viewers of the show" (Birns 1993: 281) and creating via remediation in Internet newsgroups and tie-in merchandise a cult following of amateur detectives (Jenkins 1995). At the same time, however, it may be read as making the generic conventions of TV transparent. Telotte (1995: 165) argues that the shooting of Cooper by an unknown gunman which ends the first season (episode 8) is not just generic soap opera suspense, but also one in a series of self-conscious gestures. Twin Peaks, in fact, until its premature end (dictated by flailing ratings) remains true to the logic of the deferred closure of serial TV suspense. Melynda Huskey (1993: 254) argues that "Lynch skillfully avoids the banality of the closure the plot seems to demand by interrupting the story permanently." For the (smaller) poststructuralist part of the viewing community, the guarantee of closure is less important than the habitualized suspense of the puzzling instalment, as a paradigmatic reaction from the Internet discussion group suggests: "I don't care who killed Laura Palmer. I just love the puzzle" (qtd. in Jenkins 1995: 55).

Twin Peaks

"Who killed Laura Palmer?" Twin Peaks (Lynch Entertainment / Worldvision, 1990)

For the majority of viewers, however, the suspense structure of Twin Peaks seems to have become increasingly problematic after Leland Palmer has been identified as the murderer who is possessed with BOB, and has subsequently died. Catherine Nickerson (1993: 274) argues that "Twin Peaks becomes increasingly removed from the double structure of a detective novel and closer to a purely forward-moving serial narrative." This would mean that after the super-lacuna of the Palmer murder has been solved, Twin Peaks loses most of the suspense directed towards the past murder mysteries, which is only very inadequately compensated by the riddle of Cooper's own conduct at the FBI. The loss of suspense is aggravated progressively by the diminishing anticipation that the status of BOB and MIKE will be hermeneutically useful. As Dolan (1995: 38-39) correctly argues, viewers enjoyed the multi-coded play of Twin Peaks as long as it seemed to offer a detective resolution, a final closure to the suspense. With this anticipation lost, with a plot that "appears to be resolutely linear but ends up proving aimless, audiences feel rightly cheated" (Dolan 1995: 38). BOB may have possessed the killer Leland Palmer, but he dispossessed the series of a lot of its detection suspense.

3. Leaving Marks and Planting Clues: Focalization and Suspense in The Singing Detective

Apart from the micro-suspense created through elliptic visual information which both of these postmodernist series command admirably,17 the overarching macro-mystery one needs to solve in The Singing Detective is built on disgust at and empathy with the suffering protagonist Philip E. Marlow. This suspense is generated and sustained above all by splitting up the diegetic narrative world and by internal focalization. Fragments of past tragedies are audiovisually rendered as virulent memories and hallucinations, making the audience beg to see the real picture through Marlow's mind. In my thesis on Dennis Potter, I argued that The Singing Detective provides an intriguing example of internal focalization. To make this clearer, it is useful to forward Branigan's definition of focalization in audiovisual narratives:

Focalization (reflection) involves a character neither speaking (narrating, reporting, communicating) nor acting (focusing, focused by), but rather experiencing something through seeing or hearing it. Focalization also extends to more complex experiencing of objects: thinking, remembering, interpreting, wondering, fearing, believing, desiring, understanding, feeling guilt. [...] In internal focalization, story world and screen are meant to collapse into each other, forming a perfect identity in the name of a character. [...] Internal focalization is more fully private and subjective than external focalization. No character can witness these experiences in another character. Internal focalization ranges from simple perception (e.g., the point-of-view shot), to impressions (e.g., the out-of-focus point of view shot depicting a character who is drunk, dizzy, or drugged), to "deeper thoughts" (e.g. dreams, hallucinations, and memories); (Branigan 1992: 101-3).

Branigan goes on to show, with respect to Ingmar Bergmans Wild Strawberries, the complex narrational structure of even a single shot, and the same could be done with a focalized sequence from The Singing Detective. In the course of the six parts, the viewer is often left in doubt about the source and status of what he sees. The series starts off as a film noir thriller with a conventional first-person narrator detective who is present as an actor in his story and tells this story both on and off screen. We see a wet mean street at night, bathed in blue neon lights and dominated by diagonals. The scene is visually marked as belonging to the thrillerish world of the hard-boiled detective we are soon to meet. Everything is foregrounded as a generic convention: characters, place, time, and narration. Merging Chandleresque pastiche with the spy novel, the narrative world of London in 1945 denotes the dark secrecy and impenetrability of post-war identities.

The Singing

The Singing Detective (BBC, 1986)

Soon we learn that this narrative level uses the film noir convention as part of an internal focalization, a frame narrative: What we have seen derives from the consciousness of the hospital patient Philip Marlow immobilized and socially ostracized in hospital with severe psoriatic arthropathy. "Who? Who was it? Who?" (TSD: 137) continually asks the memorized, threatening teacher in the 1945 classroom about the culprit who defecated on her desk (Philip, who committed the deed, blamed it on his classmate Mark). The question is echoed by various characters. Across the range of discourses this suspense question may be extended to the responsibility for Marlow's psychosomatic leprosy, the spy thriller identity of Mark Binney, Lili, Sonia etc., the plot to cheat Marlow out of his screenplay rights (Mark Finney, Nicola), the responsibility for his mother's affair with Raymond and her subsequent death. The real scenario, which has been clothed in genre fictions in Marlow's mind, gradually emerges. Whereas the detective ceases to investigate the identity of the Mysterious Men in the spy thriller (which makes them visit their 'author' and complain of lacking identity),18 the identity of Marlow's "Marks" comes into focus.

The narrative continues to intermingle narrative levels – hospital soap, memory play and thriller – up to a point which makes it difficult to delimit the various narrative strands. Marlow freely states the postmodernist angle on detective fiction outlined above:

All solution, and no clues. That's what the dumbheads want. That's the bloody Novel. He said, she said, and descriptions of the sky – I'd rather it was the other way around. All clues. No solutions. That's the way things are. Plenty of clues. No solutions. (TSD: 140)

One begins to suspect that the audience will soon be in for further hallucinations which move effortlessly between non-focalized narration and internal focalization.19

Focalization, of course, has to be visually or aurally encoded, and The Singing Detective sometimes chooses to foreground the focalization process (e.g. in musical hallucinations, in dislocated characters, visual and aural effects such as camera tilting or echoing voices from the OFF, read-out punctuation). It is, of course, important for the audience to decide whether they are faced with a hallucination, a memory, or a scene. A crime, for instance, might be encoded to be witnessed by the spectators, to be remembered by a character or to be hallucinated by a character. In The Singing Detective, for instance, a policeman appears on the ward and tells Marlow that his wife was found murdered. Visually encoded through non-focalization or external focalization to operate in a non-hallucinated narrative present, this is subsequently by an variant repetition discovered to have been a proleptic hallucination. Reassuringly, the spectator notices that Marlow's wife is still alive and will be able to lead him out of the hospital, after a climactic shoot-out which appropriates standard suspense/surprise clichés. (The detective ego preserves the final bullet for his hospital ego instead of the second Mysterious Man). Earlier, the detective ego Marlow had looked at Nicola's painting and commented: "I think I know this dame. Her name is E. Lucy Dation. (TSD: 124) – a foreshadowing of this re-integrative (albeit ironic) ending. The Singing Detective retains both the suspense about solving the riddles of the Marlow identity and the generalised "meta-suspense" which addresses the epistemological function of narratives in a chaotic and fragmented world. Similarly to the owls of Twin Peaks, the intimidating scarecrow in The Singing Detective is not what it seems, but after all we learn about its psycho-emotional function for Marlow. True, after the young Marlow, hiding in a tree-top, announces that he is going to be a detective, he addresses this declaration ironically in direct address and supplements it with an ironic (postmodern) grin. In the final analysis, however, Potter's generic labyrinth supports the act of detection or Aufklärung and provides a kind of closure as well as a validation of the quest for a unified self by means of artistic or psychoanalytic processes. Adam Barker (1988: 194) refers to precisely this criterion, the fact that "Potter uses the fragmented narrative of The Singing Detective as a way of constructing a unified character [...]", to distinguish his aesthetics from the rather more Lynch-esque rejection of character in Nicholas Roeg's Bad Timing (1980). The resolution achieves the reintegration of the fragmented narrative worlds by attributing the generic detective trademarks, trench coat and trilby – to the patient Marlow, "veritably the Singing Detective" (my emphasis), as Potter's screenplay reveals (TSD: 248). He remains, therefore, at least in part the generic convention his name suggests.20 The suspense is heightened in The Singing Detective because through permanent focalization the audience invests their emotion in the plight and the past of the sick and incapacitated writer, whereas we never form an affective allegiance to the cognitive generic surface playgrounds of The Singing Detective or Twin Peaks.

We have seen that the postmodernists attacked the detective story both because it is popular and because it reinforces the expectation of a plot resolution and, on a more philosophical plane, the idea of Aufklärung. Both The Singing Detective and Twin Peaks participate in the conventional mise-en-scène of the film noir thriller and crime TV, thus creating a suspense which is, however, foregrounded and partially destroyed in the narrative. In terms of suspense, this works as long as as (1) the subversion of the promise of closure comes at the very end of the narrative, or (2) the viewers do not seek this kind of suspense in the first place. Whereas both, The Singing Detective and Twin Peaks therefore toy around with multiple encodings, threatening and subverting the suspense structure of traditional detection, Twin Peaks apparently did not sustain the suspense created from both the murder mystery and the anticipated closure as long as The Singing Detective. It is clear, then, that the anti-humanistic soap suspense of Twin Peaks undermines the philosophic grounding of the suspense created from detection on TV more thoroughly than the fragmentary humanism of Dennis Potter's focalized serial Singing Detective.


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1 These arguments point out its ceaseless flow, fragmentary overabundance and self-reflexive hyperconsciousness. See for this standard assumption of the 1980s and 1990s Goodwin (1993), who reviews interpretations of MTV as the pivotal postmodern format, Collins ([1992] 2000), Connor (1989: 158-72), McHale (1987), Nelson (1997: 111), and, of course, Thomas Pynchon's Vineland.
2 Joost Hunningher (1993) has highlighted Jon Amiel's immense contribution to The Singing Detective, while John Cook (1998: 218), reviewing the production history, sees it as a Potter-Amiel co-production. Rosalind Coward (1987) was the first to voice doubts about the concept of a "TV author" Dennis Potter, arguing that this is an ideological construction. Similarly, Creeber (1998:18) has criticised biographical approaches, opining that Potter's work "deliberately calls into question the whole notion of 'authorship'". In the case of Lynch, Lavery (1995: 5) has suggested along the lines of criteria forwarded by Eco that an authorial presence would have impinged on Twin Peak's "cult" status, while Rosenbaum (26) has marginalized Lynch's auteurist input when compared to his first success Eraserhead.
3 Heinz Antor (2000) has recently aligned Potter with a New Humanist aesthetics and, similarly, Vernon Gras (2000: 96) has argued that The Singing Detective is "a great postmodern work" and an example of dialogical ethics. Chris Lippard (2000: 123) has introduced Hassan's term "posthuman" to denote the dramatisation of conflicting memories. He concludes that Potter is a "Janus figure", both pre- and postmodern. Against the postmodernist thesis voiced by Ib Bondebjerg and Timothy Corrigan, Glen Creeber has argued, Potter's longing for "the vision of a better, holier and more organic world" is modernist rather than postmodernist (1998: 146). Paul Delany (1988: 518) points out that "The Singing Detective never declines into an exercise in post-modern smoke and mirrors, because its central theme is such a painfully direct exorcism of guilt, betrayal and sexual disability." Robin Nelson suggests that Potter's narrative logic is modernist, but the 'multiple coding', his bridging the gap between modernism and popular culture is post-modernist (1997: 200-7). I have myself pointed out that in spite of his adaptation of postmodernist techniques, Potter always kept his anti-materialist teleology intact, countering the surface fragmentation with a drive towards closure and interior re-centering (cf. Voigts-Virchow 1995: 281-83; 2000: 76).

4 I will subsequently use the abbreviation TSD for references to the published script of The Singing Detective.

5 John Russell's Sunday Express review of TSD and Fredric Jameson, qtd. in Lavery (1995: 13).

6 See for this Michael Carroll (1993). Consider his name Cooper (Gary? James Fennimore?) and his Watson character, Harry S. Truman, ironical both for his President namesake, who was "mythically identified with small-town, Mid-West America" (Carroll 1993: 289), and the epistemological promise which is subverted in the series. His tape reports to an absent narratee, secretary Diane (the goddess of hunting?) performs the first-person narration of the detective, avoiding, however, the standard device of the voice-over.

7 Seesslen (178-79) proposes the idea that Lynch's detective (as his Kyle Maclachlan persona) is marked by an extra-uterine learning process after a premature birth (expressed in his innocent naïveté, alienation, and stasis). In this reading, informed by psychoanalysis, Cooper revisits his paradisiac birthplace, the twin teats of Twin Peaks, completing his birth until he is tainted by knowledge. This reading would make Twin Peaks compatible with the old Marlow's re-enactment of the coming of age of his youthful Marlow alter ego. Seesslen also holds that Lost Highway, for all its narrative fragmentation and multiple coding has ceased to be postmodern precisely because it lacks the characteristic postmodern irony.

8 A full analysis of narrative sound-image montage and lip-synchronization in Potter's work is still pending, but see Voigts-Virchow (1995: 112-23); for the influence of Potter's lipsynchronization on Alain Resnais et al. (one might add the hospital choreography of Woody Allen's musical Everyone Says I Love You from 1996 [see Marinov 2000: 203]). For sound and music in Twin Peaks see Drexler (1997) and Kalinak (1995).

9 See Schulz-Buschhaus, Wellershoff, Broich in Vogt (1998); Tani (1984).

10 See Hutcheon (1988), where she holds that the ironic/parodic 'repetition with a difference' signals the inescapable intertextual implication (ex-centric complicity) and avoids the impossible vantage point outside of culture. The rejection of "the politics of irony" noted by Hutcheon (1994: 1) might indicate a move away from the postmodern aesthetic.

11 "Daß der Kriminalroman in diesem Kontext vorrangig der Steigerung wie der Vervielfältigung romanesker (und anderweitig ausgedörrter) Attraktivität dient, ist etwa dem Umstand abzulesen, daß post-avantgardistische Autoren mehr als irgendetwas anderes das Moment der Geheimnis­spannung zu entlehnen pflegen, um es dann sowohl in großräumigen wie in kleinräumigen Bogen von Suspense einzusetzen."

12 Wulff (1996: 2), who argues that suspense hinges on cataphorical extraploration, the anticipating activity of the reader.

13 "Bevorzugt werden Konflikte. Konflikte haben als Themen den Vorteil, auf eine selbsterzeugte Ungewißheit anzuspielen. Sie vertagen die erlösende Information über Gewinner und Verlierer mit dem Hinweis auf die Zukunft. Das erzeugt Spannung und, auf der Verstehensseite der Kommunikation, guesswork" (Luhmann 1996: 59).

14 The re-reading takes away the element of surprise, but there remains, of course, a recidivist suspense of both experienced variation in the narrative and, in emotionally charged reception processes, the paradoxically suspended knowledge of what will happen in the face of the intensity of what we desire to happen (see Prieto-Pablos 1998: 111).

15 For the idea that MIKE and BOB might be viewed as future manifestations of the characters Bobby Briggs and Mike Nelson see Nickerson (1993: 274).

16 Iser (1980: 191). The German version does not differentiate between "suspense" and "tension": "[Der Fortsetzungsroman] unterbricht im allgemeinen dort, wo sich eine Spannung gebildet hat, die nach einer Lösung drängt, oder wo man gerne etwas über den Ausgang des soeben Gelesenen erfahren möchte. Das Kappen bzw. das Verschleppen der Spannung bildet eine Elementarbedingung für den Schnitt. Ein solcher Suspens-Effekt aber bewirkt, daß wir uns die im Augenblick nicht verfügbare Information über den Fortgang des Geschehens vorzustellen versuchen. Wie wird es weitergehen? Indem wir solche und ähnliche Fragen stellen, erhöhen wir unsere Beteiligung am Fortgang des Geschehens (Iser 1994: 297)."

17 For a few examples of the visual re-enactment of film noir suspense, see Voigts-Virchow (1995: 243-44).

18 Complaining "We don't know a bloody thing about our – who or what or why or – I mean, it's all blank, ennit?" (TSD: 230), the two Mysterious Men are clearly descendants of Pirandello and the slapstick duos of the silent movie. They bicker "like two Beckett figures" (Corrigan 1992: 188), and they remain frustratingly marginal like Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

19 For Marlow as focalizer, see Creeber (1998: 169-70); Voigts-Virchow (1995: 103-5).

20 Consider also the multi-faceted irony of Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" as extradiegetic musical accompaniment (noted in Voigts-Virchow 1994: 57).

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