Wednesday, 29 October 2014

True Detective: RUST as Mystic

True Detective was/is/will still be a great HBO crime drama- in line with many other great HBO crime drama's like THE WIRE or THE SOPRANOS. HBO has done well with the genre and continues with it. 
However unlike the humanist, secular and often post modern worlds many of the modern televisions series live in, the life-world of True Detective is as traditional as any 60's sitcom or 80's cop show. The line between black and white is clear. There are police and satanists (which have been out of fashion since the satanic panic of the 80's) preachers, teachers, and everything else as American as apple pie.
However where it departs is in its philosophy which to me at first seemed somewhat out of place and strange. Since it was a mix of Christianity, nihilism, and anti-natalism with a coating of an eliminative materialist sense of human nature. My suspicions were confirmed when it turned out the writer of the show was shown to have plagiarized some of the philosophical speeches and that is why he did not understand the inconstancies of the show. 
IF there had been none of Rust's "speeches" the shows narrative of good and bad cops fighting rich guys who are publicly "good" but privately "bad" is as old as the hills. 
BUT because we know that sections were kind of cut and pasted in- we have to take the ENTIRE narrative now with a grain of salt. If the author had actually written the whole thing then it would make sense to 'dig deep' and try and find some easter egg type philosophical gems but alas that would be a waste of time one could spend writing  a blog article or something. 

BUT because we know the writer is a lying idiot and many of the fans are only picking up on what they want to see/hear/attempt to understand then I offer 2 very different takes on the show. 
"If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality?" _RUST at revival tent

The first is RUST as typical American hard working cop, an atheist and deep thinker who wants nothing but to get to the bottom of a case using his unique observation and deductive skills. Like Colombo or that Murder She Wrote lady. For RUST #1 Christianity is presented as the typical dumb sheep religion full of the unfortunate parts of society without any sense of truth, with only a practical function and a place for "con-men" to make money. This is epitomized in the opening credits montage and the handicapped man is shown in religious ecstasy, and in his comments at the Church Tent. I got a copy of the script and got the exact lines which tweaked my interest and in which I first had an intuition that something was wrong/inconsistent with the writing that was being praised as "philosophy." 

But Rust has some "issues", some psychological ones, as part of his shell of a self he created to cope with both the death of his caught and his years of undercover narc work. 
The story tells us his daughter was killed at a young age- (and personally, as a new father to a little girl) I can only imagine the depressing tail spin an event like that could cause a person. This is text book existentialism in the discussions of death, life, care and love. 
He is also a police office who worked in 'drug undercover" which makes him a "Informant" or "rat" and therefore must be full of self loathing or at least anxiety for one thing along side the drug fuelled flashbacks he experiences from years of "under cover" buzzes. You cannot live for years as a fake person like undercover police do and be expected to be psychological stable at the end of it -especially throwing a bunch of drugs new to you into the mix-since it is a type of forced multiple personality disorder- probably not worth the pay check. 
He drinks beer and smokes cigarettes to manage the pain of existence, preaching the philosophy of Schopenhauer via David Benetar. I quote Rust:

"I think human consciousness, is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight - brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal." RUST

This may sound impressive, but it is typical nihilist reasoning. 
RUST 1: Cigarettes, Beer, and Cynicism: MOST existentialists take this route, especially in Europe it seems. :) You know the whole black turtle neck, chain smoking "character" of a existentialist sitting in a coffee shop debating suicide. 

Finally the quote that all the internet loved especially in the fitness circles was this one:

"I see a propensity for obesity. Poverty. A yen for fairy tales. Folks puttin’ what few bucks they do have into a little wicker basket being passed around. I think it’s safe to say nobody here’s gonna be splitting the atom, Marty."

Since this quote wanted to equate being physical thin and fit WITH be atheist AND also with intelligence SO MANY PEOPLE want to think of themselves as fit and smart and so atheist must be part of that too, right? According to Rust, right? 

RUST 2: Contemplative Mystic: contemplating the Garden, transcending the easy dichotomies of good and bad, even carrying a Buddhist mirror for meditation. I quote RUST 2:

"I contemplate the moment in the garden, the idea of allowing your own crucifixion."- RUST (this is a specific mystic practice-Christian even) 

"F***, I don't want to know anything anymore. This is a world where nothing is solved. Someone once told me, 'Time is a flat circle.' Everything we've ever done or will do, we're gonna do over and over and over again. And that little boy and that little girl, they're gonna be in that room again and again and again forever." -RUST (not exactly the linear ontology of time so popular today and much more in like with classical Greek thinking, oriental mystic and even quantum physics) 

"Well, once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning." RUST (sound like HOPE to me) 

The people who would automatically agree with the equation of obesity, religion and being dumb are genially missing the more important Rust's quotes above!

The second RUST is not as typical. Instead this Rust is a deeply spiritual man. A man moved by death. And in this RUST we find a man who practices Christian mysticism, is open to the mystery of the cosmos, and who gets more confessions out of people then any other person in their police department due to his ability to talk about their inner life and motivations and reflect on the bigger picture, not unlike Socrates or a good priest. Even carrying a meditation mirror and having visions, which of course are written off as 'drug induced' hallucinogens in the style of what William James called "medical materialism" which is a new religion today, with doctors as the high priests. Rust is even critical of traditional religion (as typical mystics can often be) he even brings in some anthropology when he says:

"Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain. Dulls critical thinking." 

BUT this quote just emphasizes his mystical leanings and his ultimate vision at the end of the show-which was written off as another hallucination. 

BUT, BUT, BUT since the writer of this show just plagiarized the deeper parts, then some of us who actually like to thick about philosophy would be on a wild goose chance to try and find a coherent whole to the story. :) 


  1. Andrew Cutler’s prior blog, “True Detective: Rust as a Mystic” had me plunged in an existential crisis of my own. Intentionally or not, his review was scathing. Calling the writer of the show, “A lying idiot,” who uses plagiarized philosophy to obfuscate an incoherent story and highlighting the seemingly incongruent elements of the protagonist’s personality had me questioning my own taste, my own sanity, my own life! Hyperbole aside, I had wondered and was convinced for awhile that I’d been duped by a good, but not great piece of fiction that used psychobabble interspersed with plagiarized philosophical works in order to give the illusion of depth where none existed. Upon further reflection, however, I stand my initial opinion that the show is in fact brilliant and that Andrew Cutler is succumbing to “neckbeardery.”

    I think it would be difficult to criticize the artistic elements of the show, and Mr. Cutler knows better than to go there! Shot against some truly beautiful scenes and masterfully framed by its director, True Detective is a visual tour de force that immerses the viewer into a part of the American South that very few, Southerners included, is ever exposed to. “People out here, they don’t even know the outside world exists. Might as well be living on the fucking moon,” Rust Cohle grumbles to his partner. And the shots reflect this lunar environment, providing truly unsettling backdrops for an intensely naturalistic and brutal plotline. “This place is like somebody’s memory of a town, and the memory is fading,” Rust speaks for the viewer, as we feel that something just isn’t right in this place.

    This is the genius of True Detective, a show not about coherent philosophies, anti-natalism, or even a murder mystery. It is the quintessential fish out of water story as we are plunged into a world, vicariously through Rust, that is saturated with foreboding, “I don’t like this place, nothing grows the right way here.” What is a fish out of water story? “The main character or character finds himself in an unusual environment, which drives most of the humour. Situations can be swapping gender roles, as in Tootsie (1982); an age changing role, as in Big (1988); a freedom-loving individual fitting into a structured environment, as in Police Academy (1984); a rural backwoodsman in the big city, as in "Crocodile" Dundee, and so forth. The Coen Brothers are known for using this technique in all of their films, though not always to comic effect. Some films including people fitting the "fish-out-of-water" bill include The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man.” (Wikipedia)

    Just as Rust Cohle is a fish out of water in rural Louisiana, so too are we a fish out of water in the world that we have been thrust into. His existential feelings of alienation and disconnection are all too familiar to anyone who lives an examined life, exacerbated by the fact that his alternative perspectives lead him to feel as if he inhabits an entirely different world. That is certainly a familiar feeling for me, and I’d be willing to bet that the philosophically inclined experience this type of existence more often than not. Thoughtful people languish in doubt, skepticism, and a profound sense of seeing beyond the obvious narrative, which is unpleasant and anxiety provoking. Rust Cohle’s case and attitude metaphorically embodies this as he tries to wake up those around him to no avail. They simply aren’t thoughtful enough to overcome their myopia of philosophical ignorance.

  2. But what of Rust Cohle’s personal philosophy, does it make sense? If Rust Cohle’s philosophy is at times incoherent, it’s because our own also is. If Rust Cohle’s anti-natal philosophy is plagiarized from Thomas Ligotti’s Conspiracy Against the Human Race, it is because our philosophies are also plagiarized narratives which are frequently dissonant. His pessimism is steeped in a personal tragedy, “Think of the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of non existence into this... meat, to force a life into this... thresher. As for my daughter, she spared me the sin of being a father,” he says of his daughter’s untimely early death. I can imagine Rust Cohle saying those words shortly after reading a Ligotti book, or hearing him muse about eternal recurrence after reading Thus Spake Zarathustra. Just as we seek answers and solace in whatever philosophy matches our emotional state, so it seems does Rust Cohle. It’s not that the writer is a “lying idiot,” as Andrew Cutler charges, but that he’s writing Rust as a real human being, which is entirely unconventional for entertainment.

    Unfortunately, as audiences we now expect our media to be neat and tidy. As Mark Twain once so eloquently stated, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” So if True Detective seems at times loose, if Rust Cohle’s philosophy seems incoherent, it’s because the show is written uniquely honestly. Of course the truth is stranger than fiction, fiction has to make sense. True Detective makes perfect sense. It is the world that we live in.

    -Sean Illes


Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.
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