The original version of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is lost, and it now only exists as copies and as a photograph by Alfred Steiglitz. In this way, as art historians like David Joselit have argued, the avant-garde is based entirely on a copy. I might extend this to suggest that the avant-garde is therefore a cliché; art history and cultural studies are melodramas wherein everyone is typecast. We know what to expect.
We cry when we are supposed to, and we scream despite already knowing that the monster is lurking under the bed. However, when the lights come on, we are left shaken, even though we predicted every twist and turn before the opening credits.
Duchamp, I do not think, wanted to or imagined that he would change the landscape of modern art, and the same is true for David Lynch when he co-created Twin Peaks with Mark Frost over twenty-five years ago. The original TV series, in conjunction with Lynch’s films, created a visual, thematic, and sonic repertoire so unconventional that of course everyone had to copy it. However, what was unique about Twin Peaks was that it was, in fact, a collection of every possible cliché; it was as if, in the spirit of Duchamp and the submission of a urinal to the Society of Independent Artists, Lynch wanted to give the finger to mainstream television. Twin Peaks played back — in a brilliant surrealism, or perhaps hyperrealism, only barely removed from real life — the enticing shames of popular culture, especially regarding the abuse of women onscreen.
So how do you copy what is already a copy? In the two-part premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return,aired last Sunday on Showtime, Lynch is unafraid to imitate himself. There is another death and another series of mysterious clues, but gone is much of the teary-eyed teenage drama (which I loved), and in its place is a distillation of everything “Lynchian.” We are now treated to long stays in the Black Lodge’s Red Room for instance — more perhaps in this two-hour premiere than in the entirety of the original series. This is extremely gratifying in some ways, but I wonder how this will develop vis-à-vis arguments that Lynch has become too self-referential.
On the contrary, I see a more personal and ultimately effective kind of copying here. Several scenes in the premiere are distinctly reminiscent of David Lynch’s paintings and early films while a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It will be thrilling to see Lynch doing his best impression of himself, or perhaps what one imagines fans want from him. This, I think, is the essence of Lynch’s continued criticality and historical importance — to show us what we want and render our desires both glamorous and repulsive.
Each Sunday during its run, since 2012, I watched Girls by myself, beginning in a college dorm and then in several dinky New York apartments. Girls has been a private phenomenon that defined the better half of my twenties, and this Sunday it came to a sobering and surprising end.
The finale is so intimate as to seem small, but it is as epic and poignant as the last episode of The X-Files. Indeed, Girls always made ostensibly insignificant emotions seem vast, affording viewers the chance to experience being at once individually validated and invisibly adrift in a sea of other people’s feelings — both real and projected.
My evolution alongside the series began in part as a comical venture. It provided an arena wherein I could laugh at the foibles I saw so forcefully in myself, which was followed inevitably by a healthy dose of self-hatred as a result of my identification with the characters. It allowed me to indulge my aspirational tendencies and fall in love with what I wanted more than anything — a glamorous emotional legibility.
When Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) began to exhibit signs of anxiety and depression, everything changed. What was once a self-deprecating diversion became deadly serious, and my solo viewing of Girls became claustrophobic as the series progressed. It instilled the fear that my “artistic” self-regard, my masochistic inhabitation of my own thoughts, is destructively bereft of meaning, that it is all a cliché. As I found myself empathizing with the vain but sincere Marnie (Allison Williams), or harboring jealousy toward Hannah’s growing success as a writer, I worried that I was at best morally bankrupt and at worst the millennial stereotype at the center of so many Girls think pieces.
At the outset of the final season, I asked both my best friend and my beleaguered therapist why I found the show so moving, and neither could provide an answer. In approximating my own answer, I understand that I cannot speak to the social truths of the series. Girls was not created for me — a gay man with no lived experience of the rightfully female-centered issues Dunham explores with regard to gender, sexuality, illness, professional advancement and violence. I can only offer a provisional and personal guess about the show’s significance.
It comes down to the ability of Girls to depict and imagine loneliness in a way that no other television show has. Girls presents a beautiful and heart-wrenching parade of broken dreams, false starts, and small triumphs that are at once distant and as close as your own skin. In this way, Girls invited you not to identify with its stories, but rather to position yourself in proximity to them with an unflinching abandon.