March 8, 2014

True Detective's Detective

cohle smoking.jpgtaking part in a particular pleasure

[Pastabagel and I have emailed about the show.  Some excerpts of his]:

In Episode 3, the preacher says to Cohle, "Compassion is ethics, detective" when he departs the trailer leaving the reformed pedophile Burt in distress.  Cohle replies "Yes, it is."

But if Time was created so things could become, and if acting out of the interest of others is compassion, then we should assume that Cohle is "becoming", changing into something else.  But what?

Cohle asks in Ep. 5 "Why should I live on in history?"  It's an odd line, especially when in episode 1 he tells Marty that he "lacks the constitution for suicide."  But he also meditates on the cross (as an atheist),  "contemplates that moment in the garden, of allowing your own crucifixion."  But by 2012, Cohle has changed.  He's resigned himself to ending his own life, but only after settling this debt- doing what he owes.  One last act of compassion before giving up the only thing he has.  His life.  And once he's willing to do that, then he can do all the things in his life that require selflessness, courage, etc (i.e. things that require faith).  You have to accept the infinite so you can make the right moves in the finite.

And when he does this, when he resigns himself not to his fate but to his eternity of endlessly repeating, at that moment he will actually have faith, because that's when he proves he believes in the eternal.  Only after doing this last good thing does he believe that he could stand the idea of an eternity of rerunning his life, because he knows at the end, he's fulfilled it.  "Nothing is fulfilled--until the end."

According to Kierkegaard, this resignation to the eternal is crucial.  Kierkegaard was not an atheist but a diehard Christian.  He believed that when a man resigns himself to the eternal, to existing in eternity, and gives up everything that ties him to this world then he becomes a "knight of faith" capable of great Christian acts (like the self-sacrifice that is almost certainly coming in ep. 8).  When Kierkegaard wrote about a Knight of Faith, he contrasted the Knight of Faith to the mere Knight of Infinite, the "God botherer"--a phrase used twice in the show.  What did Kierkegaard say the Knight of Faith looked like?  Like this:

Why, he looks like a tax-collector!" However, it is the man after all. I draw closer to him, watching his least movements to see whether there might not be visible a little heterogeneous fractional telegraphic message from the infinite, a glance, a look, a gesture, a note of sadness, a smile, which betrayed the infinite in its heterogeneity with the finite. No! I examine his figure from tip to toe to see if there might not be a cranny through which the infinite was peeping. No! He is solid through and through. His tread? It is vigorous, belonging entirely to finiteness; no smartly dressed townsman who walks out to Fresberg on a Sunday afternoon treads the ground more firmly, he belongs entirely to the world, no Philistine more so. One can discover nothing of that aloof and superior nature whereby one recognizes the knight of the infinite. He takes delight in everything, and whenever one sees him taking part in a particular pleasure, he does it with the persistence which is the mark of the earthly man whose soul is absorbed in such things. He tends to his work. So when one looks at him one might suppose that he was a clerk who had lost his soul in an intricate system of book-keeping, so precise is he.

[Here I said that the reference was clear, but that Cohle did not look like this at all, that he appeared much more like the knight of inifinite resignation, the "tragic hero."]

The point is that the writer is taking the concept and running with it.  If we've already spotted Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, then we are firmly entrenched in the existential project, and we should expect to find references from other existentialists also.  And we do.  The preacher in 2002 tells us that God is dead ("only nearness is silence"). Ep 3 Marty asks Cohle the question from Dostoyevsky, "You know what people would do without God, it would be an orgy of murder and debauchery."  Would it?  Existentialists say no.  Do we have Sartre?  Why yes, we do.  There's angst and despair all over the place.  And the angst is brought on by the burden of freedom, not the absence of it.

Think how often Cohle ruminations on suicide echo Camus's formulation of suicide as the fundamental question of philosophy in the Myth of Sisyphus (a guy endlessly pushing a rock up a hill, over and over, repetition, cyclical.)  But Camus answers it in the negative, faced with a meaningless world, you embrace the absurd and revolt, not commit suicide.  And isn't what they are doing now a revolt?  Kidnapping cops, burglarizing the houses of the most powerful figures in the state?  If this group has been kidnapping kids, if they held power for generations in the state, if they are plugged in all all levels, then isn't acting against them so deliberately a revolt against power?

And if they are embracing revolt, if they are not embracing suicide (but are willing to make a sacrifice, is there a difference?) then they have embraced the absurd, and are on their way to the teleological moment ("Teleos de Lorca, Franciscan mystic"--a made-up guy that invokes Francis of Assisi a second time, reminds us of the teleological stakes, and re-invokes mysticism to bridge us from the ethical paradigm of the characters to the Continental philosophy started by Bataille (who was derogatorily called a mystic by Sartre, all in one shot, how is that for economy of storytelling, take that Cormac McCarthy)).

Revolt: "Fuck this world," Cohle says. Remember how he says it?  Not in anger, almost off-handedly, like he's passing on the offer of a free lunch.  No anger, no big explosion.  Just...resignation. But he only gets around to trying to screw it 10 years after he says it.  And in 2012, it's jumper cable time.  No institutional rules.  And no masked perversion of the established rules.  (I'm a cop who's job is to uphold the law, and therefore I'm the one who can break it).  Rather than commit literal suicide, they commit it metaphorically, by giving up and saying goodbye to everything to take on the very institution that defined their identity.

And if it is a revolt, then we invoke all the ideas of consistent with revolution?  Do we push out of the existential angst of the 50's into the revolution of the 60's and beyond?  The "present" in the show is 2012?  Will we get a postmodern postmortem, an aftermath 2 years later set in 2014? And by then, how much more of the landscape will be swallowed by Carcosa, the corrupting refinery towers that loom in the back of every scene in the show?