Dead Girl Walking
when the gravity of trauma can only be measured through the supernatural
Mss X, affirms she has no brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach, no intestines; there’s only skin and bones of a decomposing body. ... She has no soul, God does not exist, neither the devil. She’s nothing more than a decomposing body, and has no need to eat for living, she cannot die a natural death, she exists eternally if she’s not burned, the fire will be the only solution for her. (Translation from Cotard 1880)
I like to think of my clinical diagnosis as rather sexy. “Major depression with psychotic features” — immediately you’ve got questions, right? Me too. Features? Anything that’s got additional features is exciting, like a director’s cut DVD filled with Easter eggs. Instead of commentary or bloopers, the pathologized ennui I suffer from comes in a neat package with detachments from reality. This isn’t psychosis in the form of auditory or visual hallucinations; rather, my brain has a natural inclination to self-destruct upon duress. When I begin to lose myself, I believe that I am a scourge upon the earth, a filthy leech sucking off the teat of everyone and anyone who comes into contact with me. I’m clumsy, I’m stupid, I’m a worthless little garbage gremlin and all that exhausting navel-gazing. But then there’s an even more intense symptom that I find difficult to talk about with those who don’t experience the body memories that ravage the well-being of severe trauma victims. For the sake of this writing, I’ll call them normies.
I don’t know how to explain to normies that I think I’m dead sometimes. It’s not just wishing I was dead. Believe me, I’m well-versed in that one. Nor is it the intrusive fantasies of all the different ways I could choose to snuff it, and the accompanying visions of who would actually cry at my funeral (I’m sorry, it’s delicious when I feel alienated, please don’t thought-crime me). No, I wake up some days and look in the mirror and see a dead body, the same body that others have identified as ripe and ready for taking. It feels cruel to ask anything else of this body, aged beyond its years and remembering things my brain has been merciful enough to discard.
So my brain kills my body. Mind you, this realization isn’t as salient when I’m actually in the throes of these delusions. I can spend hours sitting naked in a bathtub, afraid to turn on the water for fear of the greying sinew encasing my bones washing away. Beyond the fact that I don’t think Drano is equipped for chunks of flesh, I am petrified by the notion that the only way I’m able to accept my past is to render myself dead, as if permission to grieve for my inner child requires an obituary entry. If my experiences were really that bad, wouldn’t I have a body to show for it?
You don’t need to tell me that’s crazy, I know it’s crazy. It says it’s a delusion right on the tin can, for fuck’s sake. But it’s also a coping mechanism developed in adversity, one validated by the world just as much as any Sad Girl Theory or Dissociative Feminism. Much like these concepts, Cotard’s delusion centers the ramifications of interpersonal violence and renders the subject an abstract muted self. In a world that is fundamentally trauma uninformed and is in fact hostile toward genuine accommodation for the disabling features of traumatic experience, this is refreshing and frankly vital. The psychic damage our world perpetuates against survivors is immeasurable, particularly looked at through a socioeconomic lens. Once this perspective is acknowledged, though, the image of the survivor as a frail white woman disintegrating into her canopy bed begins to deteriorate, and the effect of these theories is doubly to legitimize a certain type of suffering and alienate those whose suffering isn’t as consumable. Navigating the affirmation of one’s own experience without wielding waifish vulnerability over those who are incapable of sublimating their trauma in such a Good Survivor role thus becomes one of the biggest dividing point of modern feminism(s). So where does that leave the dead girls walking?
For now I am half-numb, half-raw. A girl who still manages to rise each morning and exit the place I lately must be reminded is called home. As if nothing were less noticeable than the trail of blood left behind me as I go. (Jennifer Lynch, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer)
Camp loves suffering. Camp lives to suffer. Camp is the place where scream queens go to wail into the night. Without art, and more specifically without the sublime love of catharsis that only camp and reckless arthouse abandon can provide, we are left to commiserate in the real world, doomscrolling and practicing vengeance through gossiping about sexual predators in the news. We project our narratives onto existing narratives, ones that live behind closed doors and have no business picking up our psychological baggage so that so-and-so can rot in prison. We do this out of our own desperation for power in our own lives, an attempt at finding closure for that which we know not to burden the state. The other option is to choose life: Life in art.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was booed at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, and I suppose this is an understandable reaction. David Lynch’s TV show had become popular through its idiosyncratic characters and dialogue, less so because of its chilling portrayal of paranormal torture by way of parental sexual abuse. But Lynch’s insistence of bringing the Ophelia of the Pacific Northwest to life in this film is one of the best decisions of his career; by doing so, he subverts the aestheticization of the absurdly beautiful (and dead) Laura, blue-tinted and wrapped in plastic. "I was in love with the character of Laura Palmer and her contradictions: radiant on the surface but dying inside," Lynch later said about the character. "I wanted to see her live, move, and talk."
Before we even meet Laura, we are confronted with Theresa Banks’ death a year prior. Her autopsy exists in direct contrast to Laura’s ceremonious reveal, a dead hooker waitress with no family to contact, her mouth slack-jawed and eyes glazed over. Here Lynch is able to explore poverty in a way he hadn’t since Eraserhead; an unflinching look at the derision that undesirable women are handed by society, held up to the light. The eroticization of death in the Twin Peaks universe (or whatever’s behind the Black Lodge) feels less like a psychosexual compulsion of Lynch’s than a sincere portrayal of the wounds traumatized people bare. I see Laura Palmer’s frenzied eyes bulge as she confides in Harold that “BOB is real, he’s been having [her] since [she] was 12” and I see myself, desperately flailing to family members and trained professionals and hearing myself speak in what must be a different language. Sheryl Lee’s delivery here is spellbinding: I see the confusion, I see the hurt, but most of all I see the anger.
This righteous fury is what has kept me alive. I have never been sexually violated by a ghost or demon (though I’m still young), but seeing Laura experience this cognitive dissonance has given me so much more language for my own internal split between delusion and reality. Indeed, the supernatural aspect of Twin Peaks is the heart of the whole project to me: within this universe, trauma is awarded the gravity necessary to fully comprehend its grasp. Cops and family are useless in this realm, at best bumbling and at worst agents perpetuating the suffering (fuck you, Dale, for real). I am used to suspending disbelief, but seeing another girl fight to be heard on her lone march into oblivion is, well, the most natural thing on this bitch of an Earth.