February 6, 2015


The Deep, Dark Meaning of "True Detective" : ...and why it can't seem to win any awards (MATTHEW BECKLO , 2/05/15, Aleteia)

The true reason, I suspect, rests with Rust Cohle and his infamous monologues. Cohle articulates different metaphysical viewpoints throughout the season: we see, in his first lengthy speech, an eliminative materialist convinced that we are all "things that labor under the illusion of having a self"; we see the pessimism of Schopenhauer, which picks apart the imperiousness of human will lurking behind veils of piety; we see an almost Manichean dualism and dread of creation ("The hubris it must take to yank a soul out of non-existence into this meat, and to force a life into this thresher," he says at one point, contemplating the loss of his daughter); and in the final scenes, we see a lurch toward a religious vantage point, an anchoring belief - you might even call it faith - in a communion of persons and a deep, dazzling darkness beyond death.
But despite his philosophical evolution, Cohle's stance throughout the majority of the episodes - a stance mirrored in the action of the series - is Nietzschean. Cohle's famous line about time being a "flat circle" is a clear nod to Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence; but in more profound and subtle ways, the show plunges us into the Nietzschean framework, and in particular, to a crisis of nihilism. All the distressing sights, sounds, and moods masterfully arranged by Cary Joji Fukunaga (who brought home that lone Emmy) are mirrored by Cohle's articulations, and both point toward a fundamental loss of meaning. In responding to claims of plagiarism, Pilzzolatto said:
"Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author; rather these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas." 

In 1881, Nietzsche wrote that the next two centuries would bear the advent of nihilism, "a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end." True Detective throws us helplessly into the mouth of that river: the muggy, desolate swamps of Louisana, where preachers and politicians alike prey on townspeople too busy preying on each other to notice. It is a world seemingly devoid of purpose, a world in which the lone human animal is left to self-soothe through the day with a comforting illusion, exercise its will over weaker souls, or else succumb to the weight of dread.
But then, even the German philologist's positive ideal - a Greek zest for life, a Dionysian celebration of tragic art and music, and a revaluation of values imposed by the life-affirming Overman - is a pipe dream in Rust Cohle's world, which feels like the withered boneyard of the will to power, where only random acts of cruelty and egoism remain. This can only culminate in that unique word the show's creator uses: "antinatalism." Most people will recognize the root from "prenatal" - and antinatalism is, as you might've guessed, a philosophical viewpoint that stands in opposition to birth. We've gone from Nietzsche's "birth of tragedy" to postmodernity's tragedy of birth: the belief that we should, as Cohle recommends, "stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."
We know that when Rust Cohle says that his daughter, through an early death, spared him the "sin of being a father," he speaks as much from a place of anguish as from a place of reflection - that is part of the character's award-worthy complexity. Still, nihilism is very much a live option in the secular age, and the antinatalist terminus of a world that has slayed God lurks in the distance as a live possibility. 

Posted by at February 6, 2015 4:56 PM

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