The Heuretics of Twin Peaks

The ABC television series Twin Peaks (1990­91) was a simulated dream that implied a definite theory of dreaming. In this theory the dream becomes a hybrid of aleatory (chance like) and obsession (determinate) elements, with the chance like, or Hobsonian (see J. Allan Hobson's The Dreaming Brain) elements predominating at some times, and the determinate, or Freudian, ones at others. Thus the Twin Peaks script was jointly composed by computer generated anagrams which formed the basis of the plot to Twin Peaks, and by writers, leading to a rich (and inherently undecidable) hermeneutic brew. Thus, Twin Peaks was not a purely intentional object; it was, in part, also a found object, like a dream. A dreamscape is a landscape of hills and valleys; depending on where you enter it (that is, your brain-state when entering REM sleep), the destination you arrive at may be depressingly familiar (as in a repetitive nightmare) or utterly unfamiliar. No one can predict where a boulder rolled down from the summit of Everest will eventually wind up, while the destination of the same boulder falling from any point on the lip of Meteor Crater can be predicted quite accurately.

Thus much of the strangeness of Twin Peaks can be attributed to the fact that it grew out of the encounter between pure chance and Lynch's determinate obsessions (constraints). The interaction of chance with the psychologically determinate constraints no doubt helps explain the process of creativity in general. Chance provides the grain of sand which irritates the oyster enough to make the pearl. Chance is the co-author of all artworks, and in the case of Twin Peaks its role became quite deliberate and explicit. I take chance to be the central to Lynch's creative method (hence his apparent affinities to Surrealistic practices), and this is precisely the significance of the anagrams that Gregg Rickman, in "The Nine Billion Names of Windom Earle: The Hidden Ciphers of Twin Peaks," (Wrapped in Plastic 16) in the generation of the Twin Peaks plot.

As Rickman implies, Twin Peaks has all of the earmarks of cabalistic black magic; the computer program is the equivalent of an alchemical retort or witches cauldron. He points out that it is very likely that the name "Windom Earle" preceded and helped generate the Twin Peaks plot, though Lynch's pre-existing sexual and occult obsessions obviously drove the process. Surely Lynch's demiurgic attempt to create his own world in imitatio Dei ("In the beginning was the Word") is an interesting fact. His world-spinning went leagues farther than most directors attempt. In general, incantatory magic involving special words, symbols, numbers, and so on, always tries to conjure something into existence.

Consider the following passage of Don DeLillo's novel Ratner's Star:

"Don't look down your nose at esoterica," Ratner said. "If you know the right combination of letters, you can make anything. This is the secret power of the alphabet. Meaningless sounds, abstract symbols, they have the power of creation. This is why the various parts of the mystical writing are not in proper order. Knowing the order, you could make your own world from just reading the writings. Everything is built from the twenty-two letter elements. The alphabet is itself both male and female. Creation depends upon an anagram."

Anagrams are thus connected to magical thinking.

The significance of Ratner's remarks to the young math wizard Billy Twillig is that they come in the midst of a discourse on cabalistic number mysticism:

"The emanations of the en-sof are numbers. The ten sefiroth are numerical operations that determine the course of the universe. Constant and variable... We also have gematria, which you probably heard about, assigning numerical value to each letter of the alphabet. I won't even tell you about the hidden relationships between words that we discover in this way."

Lynch was doing cabalistic numerology, or some hermetic variant of it, when he and Frost created the world of Twin Peaks from a mere name. And make no mistake that that this is exactly what they did do, for the likelihood that they found the cipher after they had outlined the plot is infinitesimal. Before the fact all the cipher had to do was produce some plot (already inhumanly difficult); after the fact it would have had to reproduce the plot. (REAL ID WOMEN; MIRE DALE NOW; DRAW ME IN, LEO­these are all anagrams of "Windom Earle"). In order to maintain any kind of thematic consistency with his previous work, Lynch had to start with a word list, perhaps the product of free association. In fact he probably ran a number of such lists through the name generating algorithm for each character.

Encryption phase: He ran the names through a computer program like Ars Magna or one of the several available anagram generators available in order to obtain wholly fortuitous phrases containing those words.

Decryption phase: The phrases were used to form the skeleton of the Twin Peaks plot.

Notes Toward a New Research Method

Required materials:
A phone book, a thematic word list, a cryptologist's N-gram frequency table, and an anagramming computer program [=LINK]. (The latter are used by cryptologists to break transposition ciphers.)

1) Compile three long lists: a thematic word-list; a list of family names; and a list of first names.

2) Subject the name lists to trigram analyses, i.e., every permutation of three letters occurring in each name is checked against a trigram database for its textual frequency.

3) For each name these frequencies are then averaged.

4) From the name lists compile two much smaller lists consisting of those names of highest average frequency.

5) The cross-product of the two reduced name lists is then formed (every family name assigned to each first name), and the hybrid trigrams thus formed is used to (again) pare the list.

6) Run the complete word list through each name on the combined name list, and compile those names covering the largest number of members of the word list into a final list.

7) The final list (presumably both anagrammatically fecund and well-seeded from the word list) is then run through an anagram generator programs.

8) See what is produced (Eureka!).

9) Repeat the whole procedure a number of times, using different lists.

Result (if you're lucky): A cabalistic gem such as WINDOM EARLE.

Example: In the case of Dale Cooper, I conjecture that Lynch deliberately encrypted "oracle," while "dope" emerged wholly by chance in the decryption (one anagram of Dale Cooper is Oracle Dope).

Conclusions: Not just Windom Earle's, but a lot of names in the Twin Peaks cosmos can be found to create anagrams relevant to the character. In the case of Windom Earle, well, it has many unusual properties, as that name produces many more anagrams that is usual. Precise comparison: the name Laura Palmer (11 letters) produces 252 anagrams, while Windom Earle (11 letters) produces an astounding 3302 anagrams. In contrast, James Hurley (11 letters) produces no meaningful anagrams, nor does Bobby Briggs (11 letters). Lynch was not doing standard cabalistic numerology, however; instead, he'd subverted the intention of the whole process and played the "Ape of God," like some black magician inverting the Pythagorean pentagram. The evidence is deeply hidden but of an astonishing clarity: Ratner's "numerical values assigned to each letter of the alphabet" are, in this case, their general textual frequencies as determined by information theorists, which for Windom Earle average out to 6.66% (666, the Number of the Beast). One might argue that this is a coincidence except for the fact that the Windom Earle anagrams spell out precisely the same message, e.g., DEMON LIE WAR (the Anti-logos). (The likelihood that the average of the textual frequencies of eleven English letters picked at random should be 6.66% is much less than 1%. Lynch piled on these constraints to make sure that whoever got the message, got the message.)

Reader reactions to Rickman's article are worth noting. Wrapped in Plastic 18 reprinted a letter by John J. Pierce criticizing the article, and his reluctance to accept Rickman's argument that anagrams generated the plot of Twin Peaks is worth noting. He noticed the central logical problem of the anagram theory. He writes (11­12):

. . . the piece on anagrams and numerology . . . seems utterly logical and convincing except for one thing: if Lynch and Frost indeed made up important details as they went along, how could they know that the numerology and anagrams of the characters' names would fit with their evolving conception? For example, did they really intend Bob to be Cooper's doppelgänger all along (contrary to accounts that they didn't even know what Bob was to begin with), and encode that? Or were they (shudder!) being manipulated by some prime mover, who knew the significance of everything before they themselves did?

Pierce is right: Rickman failed to address the central logical problem of his argument, but I believe his observations still hold.

On the hypothesis that the references of particular anagrams to particular plot elements could not have been accidental (the implication of his "control experiment," which deserves some discussion because of what it has to say about the relationship between statistics and hermeneutics), then it is simply not plausible that any plot element was composed before its anagram was generated. What this fact immediately implies is that that plot element must itself have been generated from the anagram. What's misled Pierce­and perhaps in turn misled Rickman himself­is the notion that, however it may have been written, the narrative of Twin Peaks was done in linear order, with all of the connecting material between events composed before moving on to the next point in the sequence. On the contrary, if the anagram theory is true, what Lynch/Frost and crew did is play "connect the dots." Earl S. Welks, in a letter in the same issue as Pierce's, says as much in his letter on the anagram theory, though notes that "Rickman's gematria is more speculative than his temurah (anagramming)" (12).

What we see in this misunderstanding is a conflict between two incongruent viewpoints, one whose conception of truth-to-life is based on storytelling traditions and another that is based on statistical intuitions. The problem is that the storytelling viewpoint is based on archetypes that become inaccurate and irrelevant in unfamiliar territory, and unfamiliar territory is just what Twin Peaks is. Archetypal thinking is futile in dealing with aleatory composition techniques like Lynch's.

Here are some of the anagrams of Windom Earle that Rickman lists:

For the above, here is a provisional dictionary of terms:
ID (sex)
LOIN (sex)
WOMEN (sex)
MEN (sex)
DEMON (satanic)
LIAR (satanic, as in "The Father of...")
MAD (insanity)
DREAM (insanity)
OWN (possession)
RODE (possession)
RED (bloody)
LAWMEN (righteousness)
DEALER (fate)
MIRE (filth)

Thus, "We're loin mad" would mean, "We're sexually insane." "I rode lawmen" would mean, "Earle and Cooper became Bob's property." "Mire Dale Now" would mean, "Cast Cooper down into this filth."

What is Lynch's point in playing such games? Far from being incidental (or accidental), such ploys are central to both Lynch's concerns and his methods. His point is about the creation of a world. All artists create worlds­but how many of them follow the prescription of John 1:1? What are Lynch's obsessions, after all? Prostitution, drug addiction, rape, incest, murder, mutilation, a nonstop litany of depravity and violence. Lynch understands the occult obsessions of many serial killers (to use negative examples): Manson's abyss, Ramirez' pentagrams, Dahmer's candlelit altar, Constanza's Grand Grimoire. Like Lucifer, the serial killer seeks the absolute domination of and mastery of reality: Dahmer tried to lobotomize his victims and make zombies of them before killing them. Lynch's bizarre, world-generating cipher (Windom Earle) is simply a commentary on this frenzy to manipulate and control­as well as the author's signature on his work. His films are always the same, though, riddled with strange sexual violence and disgust, inhabited by galleries of fetishizing freaks, manifesting the blackest aspects of the occult.

Finally, for the connection between anagrams and Gregory L. Ulmer's Fetish Project [] see the special issue of the Princeton Architecture Journal on the fetish. The article by Jeff Kipnis argues that the best model of the generalized fetish­what fetish logic does to the methodologies of evidence and argument in disciplinary study­is a computer program that is an anagram generator.

Coda: Wrapped in Plastic 21 (February 1996) reproduced a (brief) letter by Twin Peaks writer Harley Peyton on Rickman's article; he was the writer who, apparently, created the character of Windom Earle. Peyton claims that he created the name by a combining the surname of actor William Windom with the name Mad Dog Roy Earle, "the character played by Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra" (18). "That is," he says, "in fact where the name came from­but oh those many connections. . . . " (23).

Peyton's revelation suggests that Rickman needed originally to draw a distinction between Windom Earle and the other names of characters, corresponding to the First Season/Second Season roles played by the anagrams. While it still seems obvious that Windom Earle was anagrammed (by someone) before the Second Season scripts were written, it is not quite as obvious that the name was intentionally generated for that purpose. Question: How frequently do randomly chosen names anagram as copiously as Windom Earle? An uninvestigated problem.

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